Watching Homeland, Showtime’s Emmy-winning original series, it’s always been difficult not to feel as if you’re on a bit of a thrill ride. While the first season was rife with suspense as to Brody’s (Damian Lewis) true motives and exactly where his loyalties lay, the second season has been less “roller coaster” and more “out-of-control freight train.” New characters, notably the benevolently nefarious CIA assassin Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend), and journalist/Abu Nazir contact Roya Hammad (Zuleikha Robinson) were introduced and added an element of mystery to the plot. While the newcomers to the cast added a new dimension to the series, the despicable Vice President Walden (Jamey Sheridan) loomed with a cutthroat, Machiavellian presence over most of the new season—a season that culminated with more plot twists than Chubby Checker walking down the Burma Road.
Heading into the season finale, the writers of Homeland had a golden opportunity to take the easy, comfortable route and create an entire episode of gun battles and car chases with Quinn stalking and attempting to kill Brody, now an expendable loose end that CIA chief David Estes (David Harewood) wants eliminated. The writers throw us a brilliant curveball as Quinn, previously portrayed as an unfeeling, almost Terminator-like machine dedicated only to accomplishing his mission, refuses to kill Brody and instead informs Estes that if any harm comes to Brody in the future, Estes will pay with his life. It’s a skillful plot twist that deepens the Quinn character immensely. It also sets off a chain of events that frees Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) from Estes’ grip and allows him to continue on as the conscience of the show. Saul’s integrity, whether he is navigating the labyrinth that is CIA politics or the extreme danger of CIA field operations, is the one constant of the series. The writers are smart to keep that integrity intact, as it is through that integrity that we are kept subtly aware who the “good guys” are.
The personal and professional life of CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) has always been a central plot line of Homeland, and in the season two finale, those two worlds again collide. Carrie has made professional brilliance (combined with personal life decision-making that would make O.J. Simpson shake his head) her calling card, and in this episode, she doesn’t disappoint. The love affair between Carrie and Brody, ill-advised to the point that it’s probably illegal, has rekindled, and Carrie’s willingness to sacrifice everything for him, including her career at the CIA, highlights her vulnerability and provides a constant unpredictable aspect to the character. Factor in her mental illness and his status as a terrorist/congressman and an explosive stage is set.
The final major twist comes just as a happy ending appears in sight; it is a scene where the writers have managed to completely surprise the audience by making two characters who were killed off in previous episodes—Vice President Walden and terrorist mastermind Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban)—the main focus of a plot point that violently jerks the entire series in a different direction. This portion of the plot is so powerfully unexpected that the killing off of several of this season’s supporting characters and one major character is seen as collateral damage (to borrow a phrase from the CIA). Again, there is no comfortable or predictable writing here, just skillful storytelling that completely sucks the viewer in.
Finally, the scene is set for future episodes as Carrie chooses not to accompany Brody into hiding, but promises to clear his name, sparing us a season three that would have most likely been a cheap, action-heavy production reminiscent of The Fugitive, and instead setting the table for something much more cerebral, which has become standard operating procedure for the writers of Homeland.