In Slate’s Homeland TV Club, June Thomas will IM each week with a different partner—policy experts, intelligence researchers, critics, and even Slate commenters. This week she chats with David Haglund, the editor of Slate’s culture blog, Brow Beat.
June Thomas: David, this time last year we were discussing the Season 1 finale. This time around, after a season that was less favorably received (though I still loved it), the capper felt less satisfying to me. On the good side of the ledger, many threads were tied up; on the bad, even though it was a big reset (no more Abu Nazir, no more David Estes, no more Big Bad Bill Walden), I feel like I know the broad strokes of next season: Carrie fighting for Brody’s reputation or perhaps to keep him alive, and Saul struggling to keep Mira near without neglecting his agency duties. Am I crazy to think I know the minds of the hyperactive Homeland writing team?
David Haglund: Oh, June. I suspect you are right about where the show is going, but you are drastically understating the badness of this episode. It wasn’t just unsatisfying; it was preposterous. The autumn-cabin romance scenes, complete with fireplace; Quinn’s unbelievable change of heart, followed by his ridiculous threat in David Estes’ bedroom; the horrendous parenting of Nicholas and Jessica Brody. I could go on and on (and will!). People have been floating some crazy theories about what devilish, unsuspected plot twists the season finale would reveal. A lot of those theories hinged on the idea that the Carrie/Brody love story was a feint, that it was all leading to some wild plot twist that no one could see coming. Wishful thinking. The writers have been trying to get us to take that romance seriously this whole time, never more so than tonight. And they have failed in disastrous fashion.
Thomas: OK, for perhaps the first time in 12 weeks I’m not going to argue about the plot holes and the writers’ attempt to make us suspend disbelief in everything except the power of lurve. It failed my ultimate test of being dramatically credible. That said, the moments between Brody and Carrie were incredibly tense. At several points in that episode I wondered if one of them was going to kill the other. This held right to the end. When Carrie pulled off the road before their final parting, and Brody pointed out that they were back in the woods, I flashed on the murderous scene with the tailor before I thought of Brody and Carrie’s happy cabin times in the woods. And when they put their hands on each other’s throats, I wondered which one would tighten their grip first.
Haglund: If only. Am I wrong that one of the main reasons this episode was unsatisfying is that, not to put too fine a point on it, Brody didn’t bite it in the end? Even in the one moment where it looked like Carrie might finally put him and us out of our misery, after the bomb went off in his car outside the Walden memorial service, I didn’t ever think that she would really pull the trigger. And he can’t kill her: Claire Danes is and will forever be the star of this show. Which also undercut some of the suspense in the love vs. work conundrum. It had to be work, finally; the only question was how the show got there.
Thomas: You’re probably right. I didn’t think Brody would survive the season finale. Even leaving aside the question of whether his walk into the woods was credible (and what the hell he’s going to do when he gets to Lake Selby—Junes are super-nice, but who in their right mind would help a stranger who the news is saying killed more than 200 people who were serving their country?), leaving him alive but out of the picture just creates another off-stage presence looming in the shadows. That’s the last thing this show needs.
Update Dec. 17 at 12:56 a.m.
Haglund: Here’s the thing: I don’t doubt that a show with Saul as a new director rebuilding the CIA, and Carrie as his most brilliant but also most unstable analyst could, in theory, make for pretty good television. But do I trust these writers anymore to make good television? I do not. When we talked about the finale of Season 1, I told you that my main concern was that I thought the show was fundamentally unserious. Well, that concern was confirmed in spades throughout Season 2, and never more so than with this finale. (What kind of mother makes her children watch their terrorist father’s confession on the evening news?) And the dialogue has deteriorated, too. (“Not sad, the opposite”?) So why should I tune in next year?
Thomas: Oh, David, how I wish I could be a good opinion slinger and vigorously defend the greatness of the show. But deep down I know you’re right. I care very little for plot holes and credibility gaps (even in this episode, when we were supposed to believe that the death of Abu Nazir has made people so relaxed about security that at a memorial packed with high-ranking officials of the clandestine agencies, two attendees can just leave and wander about CIA headquarters, even though they’re both just visitors?), but you’re right, the romance between Brody and Carrie was ultimately not enough to justify all the nonsense the writers served up. The show’s greatest—at this point perhaps its only—asset is its amazing cast. For Season 3, I am guessing that more viewers will be hate-watching or snark-watching, but I don’t think the audience will disappear. Still, the writers have definitely failed this season. They’ve left me disappointed.
Haglund: Yes, the cast is always the saving grace. I still love Mandy Patinkin as Saul. And Claire Danes, too, though not so much as Carrie Mathison: That character just hasn’t been served well enough by the writers, and Danes can only do so much. As for other viewers: Perhaps some people will enjoy the drama of that massive explosion, but for me, it just illuminated the smallness of the series. A giant blast kills 200 people, and the only victims anyone wants to talk about are Carrie and Brody? What about, I don’t know, the director of the CIA? Wasn’t he in there, too? For that matter, who is the director of the CIA? Have we ever met him? And, since Brody did not plant the bomb (that’s what I believe, anyway, along with Carrie), and Abu Nazir is dead, what terrorists did make that happen? No one we’ve met, right? Rather than filling out the world with lesser players who could rise to these occasions, we’ve spent the last 12 episodes worrying about, e.g., a teenage hit-and-run. A gritty procedural about counterterrorism could be really exciting, even if there were occasional howlers. But Homeland has not been that show, and I don’t have faith they’ll that they’ll turn it into that show next year.
Thomas: At times I’ve enjoyed the way Homeland narrows our focus—it has worked well as a way of saying, “Look, if these few dedicated, hard-working, supersmart individuals can’t make this intelligence business work, what hope is there for the massive bureaucracies that do it in the real world?” But you’re absolutely right about the Langley bombing showing the other side of that microfocus—the dead are just nameless, faceless bodies. (I felt a little guilty associating the sight of all the bodies that Saul was saying kaddish over with Gone With the Wind.) We’ve never met the CIA director, but from a TV business point of view, that doesn’t surprise me. Shows don’t cast people until they have something significant for them to do—otherwise they’d have to pay to keep them available for the show. The best we can say for what happened tonight was that we know a little bit more than we knew before: We know that the Waldens won’t be a plot device anymore. We know that Estes wasn’t the mole. We know that there really is a mole at the CIA—otherwise, how did the car get moved to such a sure-kill spot? We know that Carrie will get to return to the CIA for real. And we know that when one major terrorist is killed, there are always more in the wings ready to step up. Some of this seems like a positive step for Season 3—I was tired of Estes and the Waldens and Abu Nazir. Like Carrie and Brody, I’m excited and a bit apprehensive having a clean slate.
Haglund: We also know that Quinn is a guy who kills bad guys. And Dana and Chris Brody know some things, too: Their dad’s a terrorist, and their mother has very poor judgment about what they should and shouldn’t watch on television. Dana also knows that her dad is now, in a major twist, an over-sharer. But do we know the mole, do you think? That is, have we met that traitor already? (If so, who is it?) And is Damian Lewis still going to get second billing next season? I fear that the answers to those questions are 1) no and 2) yes, but I hope the answers are reversed.
Thomas: Regretfully, I’d give the same answers to your final question, and with the same hope. We also know that Carrie Mathison had a mother. Oddly, in this clunker of an episode, that felt like the clumsiest info dump—not only did Carrie tell Brody (and us) about her mom’s long walk to the CVS, she also invoked her planning advice when she took Brody to her super-secret-stash storage locker. I’d say the odds of meeting mom next season are pretty good.