And so the tragic tale of Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) ends. In Homeland's season three finale, "The Star," after the tortured Marine-turned-terrorist fulfills his ostensibly redemptive mission by killing General Akbari (Houshang Touzie) so CIA plant Javadi (Shaun Toub) can take power and influence Iranian policy, the Agency sacrifices Brody with presidential approval to cement Javadi's position. The act, spearheaded by incoming CIA director Sen. Lockhart (Tracy Letts) and Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham), betrays Brody as well as Carrie (Claire Danes), who is pregnant with his daughter and dreaming of their life together in the States, and exiting director Saul (Mandy Patinkin), who attempts to extract his asset before stepping down.
Brody, for his part, dies willingly. He tells Carrie, who watches him hang and climbs the fence holding the mob of onlookers back so he can see a loving face as he goes, that he does not feel redeemed, that one act of murder cannot wash away a previous one. Ultimately, Brody's death serves its purpose: Javadi ascends and loosens Iranian policy, just as Saul, who moves on to the private sector, said he would. But despite Brody's sacrifice, which changes perception of him (amongst the intelligence community, if not larger U.S. society), Lockhart refuses to memorialize him with a star on the wall of CIA HQ alongside other fallen agents. Carrie, who is to be the next station chief of Istanbul and may or may not contain her craziness and raise the daughter who scares her/reminds her of Brody, slyly draws him one with a Sharpie.
The finale raises many questions: Can a murderer be redeemed? Did Homeland redeem itself after a relatively weak second season? What does the loss of Saul mean to the CIA? Is Carrie stable enough to be a mother and/or be station chief? Are she and Quinn (Rupert Friend) going to work together in Istanbul and get it on? Complex deputy editor Justin Monroe and senior staff writer Matt Barone debate this and more.
Justin Monroe: When season three started, I was watching begrudgingly. I'd tired of Carrie's bipolar episodes and the melodrama of her relationship with Brody. Plus I found it weird to look at Damian Lewis with a shaved head. Once it was revealed that Carrie's institutionalization was part of Saul's old-school spy ploy to get to Javadi and compromise him, I found myself watching more eagerly. And I found this finale to be a compelling and poignant end for Brody. It befit his inner turmoil and had all the deception and political machination that I want from Homeland.
Matt Barone: Watching Brody's final scene last night, with him hanging and Carrie breaking down, I realized something: I've been detached from Homeland for a long time now. I watched this third season, but more of out of some kind of personal obligation than a vested interest. I think the second season is still to blame, and how much it ruined how excellent the first season was. And this season definitely had some great moments, because this show has an amazing cast who always bring it, even when the writing doesn't do them much justice. But for every episode like last week's "Big Man in Tehran," the season's strongest hour by far, we had to endure through ones in which the show's creators overestimated our concern for Dana and the Brody family. And considering that all we got as a result was that scene at the hotel between Brody and Dana (as any kind of family catharsis), everything early into the season with his family seems pointless in hindsight. So as I watched Brody's final moments last night, I felt less impacted and/or emotional and more like, "OK, that finally happened." This was a very ambitious season, from the writers' and producers' standpoint, but, ultimately, I don't think it was a huge success. A minor success, and even an uneven Homeland is of a higher caliber than most other shows, but I just can't connect with it anymore.
Justin Monroe: I agree that Brody's family life was less compelling but that has more to do with suspect acting, for me. In theory, at least, it's interesting to see what happens to the family left behind by Brody and how the villainization of their father and husband affects them. And that motel scene worked for me. It solidified that, for Dana and probably the rest of the family, it's better that Brody just die already so they can move on with their shattered lives. By the way, what shows are you connecting with?
Matt Barone: Besides Breaking Bad, since it's over... Sons of Anarchy, Boardwalk Empire, The Walking Dead, American Horror Story: Coven, The Returned. I connect with Mad Men and Justified when they're on. I'm starting to get into Masters of Sex, finally. Orphan Black. Game of Thrones, of course.
Justin Monroe: Some great shows in there, though I think Sons of Anarchy struggles through weak side plots, cardboard characterizations, and ridiculous schemes that keep the club whole before it delivers truly stunning and heartbreaking moments like it did in the recent finale. And Walking Dead, for me, is the epitome of a show that I watch but don't particularly care about because the acting is often suspect and it cares too much about zombie set pieces. (Oh no! Zombies falling through the ceiling! Now breaking through a vine wall! Now amassing and knocking over fences! Fuck. Outta. Here.) I genuinely felt something for Brody in the finale and the season overall. He is a tragic figure, an honorable man who was tortured and manipulated by terrorists and his own government to the point that he's lost a sense of who he is and any honor he has. The second season was a struggle but in this season, I felt more of the tragedy that made him so great in season one, when he's curled up on the floor at night thinking he killed his best friend, knowing he's trapped by Nazir and only really wanting to pay back a single man who called in a drone strike that killed a boy he loved.
Matt Barone: Honestly, it might boil down to the fact that Homeland's world isn't one I typically gravitate toward, meaning the CIA, spy plots, etc. I never watched 24, for example. I started watching the first season after reading glowing reviews, and I was hooked by the characters and the plotting, but once those were betrayed, at least to me, in season two, I lost that hook and it just became an uneven show about a world I don't normally connect with.
Justin Monroe: As far as plotting goes, I think you're not giving this season enough credit. It's one thing if you don't go for espionage plots, but this season had great plotting, from the opening con, to the turning of Javadi, to cleaning up Brody and turning him into a usable asset whose alleged terrorist bombing allows him to assassinate Akbari, to the final betrayal of Brody, which fulfills the promise of Saul's plot to open up Iran. That's masterful stuff there.
Matt Barone: But in between all of that plotting, we get scenes like Brody in that firefight, taking the phone call from Carrie, telling her that "[she's] always had faith in [him]," a ridiculous and overly melodramatic moment that took me out of everything else that was happening.
Justin Monroe: The fact that you can say that and not be put off by scenes between Rick and Carl in The Walking Dead baffles me. Ridiculous melodrama is 99 percent of Rick's character.
Matt Barone: But The Walking Dead has been like that from its first season. I'm used to that, and I like that show's world enough to look past those moments and just enjoy the ride. The Walking Dead is a very flawed show that I still enjoy for its moments of greatness (which do exist) and for its horror/zombie elements. I grew up loving zombie movies. I can't help that. I didn't grow up reading John le Carré novels. Also, the con between Carrie and Saul, earlier into the season, never clicked for me in its execution. It felt like a cheat when it was revealed, because going back and watching the episodes before it, nothing in Carrie's reactions to Saul made it seem like that was happening, and I'm talking about scenes when there's no one else in the room with them.
Justin Monroe: She's imbalanced, so though she knows/thinks they're working this angle together, she's also in a mental ward with her thoughts, and she clearly doesn't fully know what to believe. That never bothered me. What did you think of Brody's public execution, Akbari’s widow spitting in his face, Carrie being there, climbing the fence?
Matt Barone: I like how quiet it was, how intimate it felt. They didn't feel the need to overplay it or make it this moment of shock. The whole scene was handled very well. As a piece of storytelling and filmmaking, I respect it a lot. But, again, I wasn't hit hard emotionally, and I think that comes back to me just not being invested in the show like that anymore. I felt something, but nothing like when other characters on TV shows died this year, like Richard Harrow, or Tara Knowles.
Justin Monroe: Personally, I felt more in life and death for Brody than I did for Tara. Richard, well, he's just in a class above and neither of these shows comes close to what Boardwalk Empire did with him. I did pause for a second when Carrie climbed the fence. Like, wouldn't that possibly draw attention/give her away? But I guess love makes you do some crazy things. Plus she's crazy to begin with. How do you feel the show is helped or hurt by Saul no longer being in the CIA, this transition to a new director, Lockhart, and Carrie's promotion to Istanbul station chief?
Matt Barone: Saul is my favorite character, so at first it bothered me. I don't want him to be off the grid. I want him in those war-rooms. But now I'm willing to bet that next season introduces some new major threat, to which Saul has some personal/historical ties, and Carrie will call him and ask for his help, bringing the old crew back together. Maybe as a consultant, which will further piss off Lockhart and keep that tension alive. And I'm not sure how I feel about that. There was a time (i.e., a week ago), where I said I wanted Homeland to just become the Carrie/Saul show, but now I don't know how that will be. The best stuff in season three came at its end, with Brody, so how does the show recover from losing him?
Justin Monroe: It was nice to see Saul looking happy on vacation with his wife, to hear he's making three times his old salary in the private sector. The show did a good job showing how fucked one's personal life is if you want to be any good in the CIA. Saul's stress was enough to give viewers agita.
Matt Barone: Yeah, I'm happy for him in that way, too. He certainly deserves to put his feet up, get some sun, and eat some croissants.
Justin Monroe: I'm not sure where they go exactly. Last night I thought maybe Carrie handpicks Quinn for Istanbul, and maybe she does, but his personal conflict over not being a good father and over killing that boy earlier in the season would have to change his role, no? He can't be a badass gunman anymore if he was at all serious about what he said. It's entirely possible that they introduce a whole new crew of people and problems. And though Saul's old-school espionage paid off, Lockhart's stated mission was to do away with that style of intelligence work. So how does that affect what Carrie does? I also wanted to note that Javadi reminded me a lot of Scar from The Lion King. Of course he was going to be a part of betraying Brody! (Even though, yes, it did make sense so he could firm his hold on the reins of Iranian power and covertly help the U.S.)
Matt Barone: Speaking of Quinn, I wanted more from him after he killed that kid. That was a rough moment, but they abandoned his character after that, save for him shooting Carrie during that motel mission. A lot of shows do that, especially The Walking Dead, where they forget about an interesting character after giving them a big moment, but with Quinn it bothers me because you can tell there's so much going on with him. I want to know more about him, but we just saw him smoke a bunch of cigarettes and give Carrie pep talks. The Javadi/Scar comparison is pretty great.
Justin Monroe: Maybe Quinn's story develops more in season four. I'd like to see him in Istanbul in whatever capacity. Maybe he could train Carrie's daughter to become a CIA assassin on some Hanna shit! Do you feel Brody is redeemed? How important is it that we get credit for our actions, like Saul for his spy work (Lockhart gets that credit) and Brody for his mission (Sharpie star on the CIA wall)? Does the star really matter if, to the public, he remains a terrorist? (I'm not sure if he does or doesn't.)
Matt Barone: That's a good question. I guess it would be good to see at least one more scene with Brody's family, to see how they're reacting to his death and how the media has spun it. Between he and Carrie, he does feel redeemed, but, like you said earlier, he's a tragic character, so the lack of universal redemption feels appropriate. Even in death, he's misunderstood. And, to further support something else you said, that is good storytelling. It would have been really lame if he had this big moment of redemption, with Dana hugging him all teary-eyed. So he does feel redeemed, but if only in the viewer's, Carrie's, and the CIA members' eyes. And that's probably the most we or Brody could have asked for.
Justin Monroe: At least the terrorists hate him again! (I think.)
Matt Barone: There's something powerful in seeing him walk to his death surrounded by all of these people who hate him, except for Carrie, who's powerless in that moment. Maybe in time, when I'm removed from this season, I'll appreciate it more. Your points here were all good. I'm still riding on the highs of Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire, and The Returned. It's unfair for me to compare Homeland to those shows, which I've been doing internally. I'm definitely going to watch season four. I just need to approach this show like I do The Walking Dead: fully aware of its flaws but able to accentuate the strengths in my mind while watching. The more I think about it, last night's finale feels like a great way to end the show, as a whole. All three major characters have resolutions. The driving force behind the show is gone. Do you think Homeland would be better off ending altogether now?
Justin Monroe: I don't know that it would be "better off." I think it could end here and that would work just fine but there are certainly places it can go. Carrie's new role as a mentally unstable leader (mother and station chief) is promising for me. I can't imagine she just dumps the kid with her dad without feeling horrible about it and ultimately facing her fear and accepting the child as her last remaining connection to a man she loved. I'm curious to see where Lockhart and Adal (jackal that he is) take the Agency. So yeah, it would be fine if it ended here with this major resolution, but there's plenty more that the show can explore.
Matt Barone: It's similar to when Jimmy Darmody died on Boardwalk Empire. And that show, of course, rebounded amazingly in subsequent seasons. Well, maybe not that similar since Boardwalk has always had dozens of characters outside of Jimmy and Nucky, whereas Homeland has always been more intimate with its amount of characters, and losing Brody has more intimate ramifications. As long as they give Saul something substantial to do next season, I'll be back and ready to see where it goes. As much as I want him to be happy, I also hope he gets pissed off again, because few actors on TV do "aggravated" quite like the god Mandy Patinkin.
Justin Monroe: Ha! Agreed. I think Homeland will flesh itself out with new characters in Istanbul that contribute to the series. If we learned anything from The Wire it's that institutions like governments chew up individuals and spit them out. Nobody is bigger than the machine.