Brow Beat

Homeland Really Did Get Good Again. But Let’s Hope It’s Always a Little Bit Crazy.

HOMELAND (Season 4)
Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson and Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in Homeland.

David Bloomer/Showtime

This season of Homeland was a reconstruction project. After the sins of the last season and a half—which, if you need refreshing, involved one outlandish plot after another revolving around the overblown true love story of Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis)—the new season began with a sick wink. Corey Stoll, who joined the show as a CIA agent—seemingly taking over Lewis’ spot—was murdered in the very first episode. We will not make the mistake of holding onto a leading man for too long ever again, the show seemed to be promising. With tonight’s extremely anti-climatic finale, Homeland was making another promise: We will never be too ludicrous again. But what if a little bit of ludicrous, just not too much, is Homeland’s essential ingredient?

Homeland spent this season trying to make up for what had come before with all sorts of clever reversals and changes. Carrie stalked through the first half of the season in a morally reduced state. She was still extremely skilled, but her skills had curdled. Carrie’s super-power, her uncanny knack for connecting and communicating with Brody, was quickly sullied and put to uncomfortable, pervy use when she turned the young Pakistani Aayan into an asset by taking his virginity. (He, too, was summarily executed half way through the season. Homeland was not messing around about the disposability of its leading men.) Carrie also almost let her daughter drown in a bathtub. She ordered drone strikes and then robotically defended even the ones that killed dozens of innocent people. She even went so far as to order a drone strike against Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), her beloved mentor and friend. Carrie has always been the avatar of Homeland itself, and her failings felt like the show acknowledging some of its own. Her imperfections this season were not only the source of her strength, her talent, her vision. Sometimes they were just ugly.

Carrie ultimately came to her ethical senses, but her renewed moral clarity didn’t help the CIA with its mission. Previous seasons of Homeland have ended grimly—with assassinations, hangings, bombings—but also with silver linings. Brody doesn’t detonate the suicide vest; Abu Nazir is dead; an asset is established in the highest levels of Iranian government. But this season’s storyline was a complete whupping for the CIA. “A lot went wrong,” Quinn (Rupert Friend) said in the finale, seriously understating what had occurred: botched mission after mission, heavy causalities, an embassy invasion, the exposure of all the CIA assets in the region. This, too, felt a like penance from Homeland itself, an admission that sometimes everyone can try their best, and things can still go horribly wrong.

Meanwhile, and in a far less meta register, Homeland put together a taut and suspenseful story. Freed from the burden of Brody and all his emotional baggage, Homeland felt fresher than it had since its first season. The show was in a kind of sustained conversation with both serious ethical questions and recent headlines—Benghazi, Pakistan, drone strikes—and yet it was tightly plotted, high-octane, and entertaining as all get out. Danes’ and Patinkin’s great performances were bulwarked by excellent supporting work from a host of actors, including most especially Nimrat Kaur as ISI agent Tasneem Qureshi, an agent who was, at last, Carrie’s equal.

If Homeland were doing things like it used to do them, last week’s amped up and kind of crazy episode—Quinn almost succeeded in assassinating a terrorist, except Carrie got in the way—would have led to a finale that was just as hyperactive. But this finale was the least eventful episode of Homeland that has ever aired. I kept waiting for a car bomb to go off, for the seemingly nice guy in the park to have ulterior motives, for the phrase “normal life feels good” to be a jinx and not just a statement of fact.
Instead, Carrie seems to embrace motherhood. She, Saul, Quinn and Lockhart share a drink, like colleagues who work regular jobs. She hashes out some issues out with her own mother. Quinn and Carrie make out against a car. Quinn and Carrie don’t get together because she has an emotional epiphany too late. (Homeland still has a lot to learn about how to execute a love story.) Saul finds out what Dar Adal was doing in Pakistan just by asking. The climatic moment of episode: Carrie finds out Saul is positioned to be head of the CIA again and the two just stare at each other.

I have, previously, given Homeland a very hard time for its zaniness, its implausibility, its ludicrousness, its plots about pacemakers. This understated and reasonable finale was none of these things. A little crazy may be just as essential a part of Homeland as it is a part of Carrie Mathison, but I have to respect a finale that did not sour a very solid season. If I was left wishing for one really solid plot twist, well, it had been two seasons since Homeland left me wishing for anything other than the show’s end.