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.


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