Monday, December 17, 2012

Homeland season 2 finale - coming full circle

This time last season, we saw "Homeland"'s lead protagonist help thwart a terrorist attack without even knowing it, only to end up wrongly convinced that the would-be terrorist was innocent. Flash forward a year and we find the same protagonist totally blindsided by an attack that all evidence indicates was committed by the very same would-be terrorist. Yet this time, she once again - though for very different reasons - convinces herself that he's innocent. Only this time he really is. Or is he?

It's a neat little twist that encapsulates, for better or for worse, the evolution of the relationship between CIA agent Carrie Mathison and twice (maybe thrice) turned POW Nicholas Brody. That dynamic has always been at once the show's greatest strength and its greatest weakness, creating situations that have somehow managed to be both emotionally compelling and logically implausible. From a narrative standpoint Brody's trajectory was stretched, painfully, to a breaking point, yet it was impossible to imagine the show - or Carrie - without him. How would the writers resolve this catch-22?

Well, they punted, which means that for the time being they can have their cake and eat it, too. Brody can go all Richard Kimble, or he can just disappear forever or at least until Carrie either vindicates him or confirms his guilt, or he can be killed between seasons or next season, but whatever happens will be much-needed new ground for him. And Carrie can still nurse her obsession with Brody by trying to clear his name, but her focus, too, will necessarily shift to figuring out Nazir's plot and other terrorist plots that will no doubt be linked to it.

I've had my problems with this season, but the finale worked for me. It did a great job incorporating callbacks to both last season and the beginning of this season, from Carrie and Brody's cabin tryst to Brody's suicide video (brilliantly used in a way I did not anticipate) to the last conversation between Brody and Dana before the attack. In each instance, the echo of the earlier scene underscored all that had changed in the interim, as well as the ultimate question of whether anything had really changed at all - at least with respect to Brody. Did Carrie succeed, in the end, in saving his soul? Or was he playing her all along, carrying out the long con on behalf of Nazir? At the critical moment, she decides to believe that he was framed by Nazir, as he insists. But it may be that the alternative was simply too terrible for her to face.

As for us (slightly) more objective viewers, the show gave plenty of hints that the truth could go either way. The terrorist plot bore similar hallmarks to the one Brody was involved in last year - first a diversion (the "foiled" plot), that would allow Brody critical access, followed by the real attack. There was certainly something very odd about his demeanor just before the explosion, as Carrie herself remarked on, and we never did see the whole of his last meeting with Nazir. Plus there was his surprisingly quiet acceptance of the dissolution of his career and family, like that of a man who knew he had nothing left to live for and had made his peace with it. By contrast, all his romantic interludes with Carrie had an air of unreality about them, a sense that not even Carrie believed they were more than fantasies.

But on further reflection, I'm inclined to believe that Nazir did set Brody up - planned the whole thing, "Arlington Road" style, from the moment he first suspected Brody's loyalties were wavering. I've wondered all along why Nazir would entrust the real plan to such a loose cannon, even one he had such influence over, knowing that he had backed out once before. What more Nazir-like than to incorporate that wavering *into* the new plan? And the release of the videotaped "confession" felt wholly unnecessary to the plot except as a way to punish Brody for his previous betrayal; I can't imagine Brody consenting to that part of the plan, knowing the effect it would have on his grieving family.

Besides, Brody's demeanor, while odd at times, generally seemed too calm for a man about to die - at least when compared with how he was the last time, a point hammered home by that final interaction with Dana (very nicely played by both Damien Lewis and Morgan Saylor). It was striking that Dana was finally able to admit what she at some gut level must have known all along - that he *had* intended to carry out a suicide attack before - and that she nonetheless genuinely seemed to believe, even after the bombing, that he had changed and wasn't responsible this time. I don't entirely trust Carrie's instincts when it comes to Brody, but I do trust Dana's.

Finally, while I've never given much credence to the theories I've seen floating around on the Internet that Saul is al-Qaeda's mole, it does seem like the writers are making us wonder about him, too, by conveniently placing him far from the Walden memorial service and elevating him to a higher-powered position at the CIA. And Saul was one of the few at the CIA who had access to the Brody video. (Crackpot theory of the day: Saul planned the whole thing to bring back his estranged wife. Hey, it worked!) In all seriousness, though, I refuse to believe that he had any hand in the bombing. He knew Carrie was going to be there, and I can't believe that he'd be willing to make her collateral damage. That beautiful expression on his face at the very end of the episode, when he sees she's alive, said it all. If that turns out to have been fake, I am done with the show. But I don't think it was.

Random observations:

-No opening credits?

-I didn't really buy Peter Quinn's reasons for standing down, but is it wrong that I found his thinly veiled threat to Estes - cheesy as the "I kill bad guys" line was - oddly sexy?

-R.I.P. Estes and Mama and Finn Walden. Can't say I'll miss any of them. But was Galvez at the service? I hope not...

-While I've found Dana intensely annoying for much of this season, I really felt for her when she had to watch that terrible video of her dad. In a way she's in the same position as Carrie was in last season: wondering how she could have been so very wrong about a person she thought she knew. And it could be that, like Carrie (though in reverse), she *wasn't* wrong after all.

-There was something odd about the silent signaling between Carrie and Brody at Walden's memorial service and the timing of their exit. I had a foreboding all along that something was going down at that service, and when they got up, I knew it. But the fact that Carrie initiated their departure is, if anything, evidence in favor of Brody's innocence...unless you're crazy enough to believe that Carrie is in with the terrorists.

-I liked the intercutting between the two "services," underlining the connection between Walden and Nazir. (Really hope there's not supposed to be some kind of meaningful parallelism between Estes' presiding over one service and Saul over the other.)

-With Brody's face all over the news as a wanted terrorist, I can't fathom even Carrie's contacts helping him cross any borders...but we'll see. Also, even if Carrie succeeds in proving that Brody was set up, there's no explaining away that damning video. The chances of Brody ever being able to return to the U.S. seem pretty close to zilch. I do hope he gets a chance to clear himself in his family's eyes, but that doesn't seem likely to happen, either, or at least not any time soon.

-Overall verdict for season 2: Not as good as the first season, but still very entertaining television; consistently great acting made up for the wild improbabilities in the plotting. Haven't decided whether I'll be recapping next season, but I'll certainly be tuning in for the premiere.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Homeland - Season 2, penultimate episode

I had some catching up to do this weekend on "Homeland," and fortunately was also able to watch tonight's episode - the last one before the season 2 finale. I don't have time for an extensive recap, but just a few thoughts.

First, a word on the previous two episodes: there's no doubt the show's plotting took a turn from improbable to ridiculous, between Abu Nazir's "24"-esque kidnapping of Carrie, the VP's assassination-by-Pacemaker (though apparently the part about pacemakers being hackable is at least partly true), and Carrie's going after Nazir into a dark mill armed only with a lead pipe. (Though to be honest, what bugged me most were all the scenes that took place in what purported to be a safe house in D.C. that looked anything but safe and like anywhere but in D.C.) The one plot thread I did like, however, was the one involving the truth about Peter Quinn's identity and his real mission vis-à-vis Brody. The reveal set up a very interesting conundrum for the show, and especially for Carrie, if she only knew: if Nazir dies, Brody dies too. A fitting sequence, in a way, in light of the weirdly codependent relationship between the two men and Carrie's obsession with them both.

But Carrie *doesn't* know, and this week's episode opted for dramatic irony over moral dilemma, as Carrie keeps mum about Brody's involvement in Walden's death while zealously flushing out Nazir from his hidey-hole. That underground sequence leading up to his capture, while silly, was pretty gripping, even if I did wonder where all the FBI agents disappeared to only to show up conveniently at the last minute. Nazir's death, however, was anticlimactic; or maybe just the reactions to it, which were fairly muted, though Carrie's expression was a real study - a mix of emotions that ended with something like that smile we saw back in Beirut. Methinks she'll have a very different reaction to Brody's death, assuming it happens.

And that's the million dollar question now: will it happen? Will the show finally let Brody die? Rumors have been circulating for a while now that Damien Lewis has signed on for additional seasons, and the heart of "Homeland" has for some time now been the relationship between Carrie and Brody. But the show's milked that for just about all it's worth, and I can't see any way it can sustain Brody's character arc now that he's lost everything except Carrie; it's not like those two have any realistic hope of going off the grid together, Carrie's fantasies notwithstanding. The only way he could possibly be saved is if Saul somehow gains the upper hand over Estes, or if Peter Quinn, who did seem a bit conflicted every time he looked at Carrie, somehow finds a way to let him off the hook. Still, neither Saul nor Quinn strike me as remotely likely to jeopardize their lives or careers for Brody's sake - or even for Carrie's.

If Brody does bite it in the season finale, I can't say I'll miss his family - at least not bratty Dana or dopey Chris - or the sight of his marriage painfully dying by inches. It was something of a relief to watch him and Jess finally put the damn thing out of its misery, and that last, quietly moving heart-to-heart between them was outstanding, probably my favorite scene of the episode. Morena Baccarin's really done well this season with a role that could have been - and sometimes was, despite her best efforts - tedious, but she managed to make poignant. The car scene also felt like further confirmation that Brody's trajectory is nearing its end. It might, however, just be the end of a chapter. We'll know which this time next week.

Random observations:

-That Roya, she don't mess around. Her yanking Carrie's chain wasn't surprising, but it was still jarring in its viciousness.

-So glad Galvez turned out not to be the mole, though that was a rather obvious red herring I fell for anyway. I suppose he could still be the mole, but I doubt it.

-Poor Saul, done in by lie detector tests and his loyalty to Carrie. Does Estes have to end every season by torpedoing someone's CIA career? Damn him. But Saul's not going down without a fight, and he's better equipped for it than Carrie ever was.

-I guess Dana was only stating the obvious about Mike being a better dad than Brody, but man, that was cold, if not totally uncalled for.

-Funniest exchange (paraphrased):
Chris: That place was awesome! They made your bed for you!
Dana: You idiot, that was mom.

Seriously, Chris?