It has been noted that our relationships with TV shows can get pretty anthropomorphic. There’s the show that disappoints you constantly, but to which you keep coming back; the show that’s really comforting if a little boring; the show that delights you, except when it loses its temper. My personal relationship with Homeland has—obviously—reached toxic levels. If you came over to my and Homeland’s house, Homeland would be the braggart who thinks he’s so smart, but whose every observation is more pretentious and embarrassing than the last; I would be the infuriated-beyond-manners partner eye-rolling and sneering and not letting anything go. You could not run away fast enough.
And so I am more surprised than anyone about what happened while watching the season finale of Homeland, “The Star.” I cried. Three times. I do not believe I was allergic to anything in my living room. Homeland finally did what it should have done seasons ago and killed Nicholas Brody. And the very nicest thing I can say about this development—and this is not meant to be damning with faint praise—is that in addition to being a relief, a plot point that finally pushes Homeland out of a deep record skip, it was also just sad.
Sad and right. For a season and a half, the show has co-signed the craziness that Carrie and Brody were “put on this earth for [their] paths to cross.” The writers have loved Brody and Carrie’s love not wisely, but way, way too well, and it has come at the expense of every other aspect of the show. But in the season finale that love story finally took its proper place: as the animating quality of Carrie the character, not Homeland the series. Carrie can contort herself in ludicrous ways to save Brody, but Homeland is at its worst when it is contorting itself in perverse positions to save Brody, because, as Carrie does, it thinks it cannot go on without him.
The question of what Carrie can “see” has always been central to Homeland, which from its very start asked: Can a crazy woman see more clearly than anyone else? In the pilot episode, Carrie saw what no one else could: that Brody was a terrorist. And she has continued to “see” Brody in ways no one else can. But “The Star” was about Carrie having to readjust her vision, to accept that she and Brody could not have a future. Homeland, finally, could see straight, where Carrie could not. The tip-off came when Carrie and Brody were in the car, driving through the Iranian desert to the safe house, and Brody tells Carrie he was born in the desert, where his father was stationed. “I can’t believe I didn’t know that,” Carrie replies, which is remarkable not because Carrie and Brody have spent so much time together sharing their lives but because Carrie has obsessively spied on every single aspect of Brody’s existence.
Pretty quickly into this episode, Brody is resigned to the facts: Life for him is going to be extremely difficult logistically, ethically, emotionally. It’s Carrie who has to figure out how to accept this. Carrie has an arc; Brody is already at the end of his. When Brody scoffs at the idea of his redemption, telling Carrie, “In what universe can you redeem one murder by committing another?,” it’s Carrie who has all sorts of B.S. excuses. When Brody is unconvinced, she tells him about the baby. She needs to get him back on board with the idea that they could live happily together forever. “There will be a life,” she declares, which, given what’s to come, is obliquely oracular: true, and yet not at all what she means. There will be a life, but it will not be one the three of them share.
The three seasons of Homeland split right in half with “Q&A,” the last really great episode, acting as the divider. Up to that episode, Carrie was absolutely devoted to getting the CIA to see what she saw: Brody the terrorist. And in every episode since, Carrie has been absolutely devoted to getting the CIA to see what she saw: Brody the good guy. With “The Star” she finishes that mission, which is made explicit in Javadi’s speech. He tells Carrie that she has to let Brody die—not that there’s anything she could do to stop it—because her mission has been a success. Carrie got what she wanted, “for everyone to see in him what you see,” Javadi says. “Everyone sees him through your eyes now.”
But Carrie herself still needs to see more, and so she goes to watch Brody hang. Such was this episode that I had competing voices mouthing off in my head, the skeptic and the emo-gushball. The skeptic had a lot to say about this romantic hanging. Carrie went to Brody’s execution with Fara’s uncle? Is she really trying to get him killed? Did there need to be small children standing against the barricades cheering Brody’s murder? If you have something to say about Iran, Homeland, you should just say it!
But the emo-gushball in me was just, well, looking around to see if she was allergic to something. Of course Carrie had to be there. She had to see for herself, while also exhibiting, for the last time, her extraordinary second sight when it comes to Brody. He told her not to come, but she was right to go: He needed her there so he could die looking at the only person who ever really, really saw him.
Once Homeland committed to Brody’s death, other things started to make sense: The CIA starts to behave like the CIA, which is to say, willing to lose an asset to avoid World War III. Carrie can come home and say everything about how she can’t care for a baby that we, in the audience, have been saying since she got pregnant. There were still, obviously, absurd and annoying details. Turns out the architect of our recent talks with Iran was Saul Berenson! And that you can be the youngest-ever bureau chief at an important station even if you are totally unprofessional and cuckoo! But those details paled for me next to the scene in which Carrie says, “I’m so fucking sad,” the most powerful moment about the long arm of grief and violence that this show—one all about the long arm of grief and violence—has ever featured.
I don’t think I ever really care to watch Homeland again, even if Carrie is swagging around Istanbul. That’s a show I wanted to watch two seasons ago, before I lost faith in Homeland’s ability to be coherent. But if this is the end of Homeland for me, I’m happy to finish with an episode that reminds me I never did only hate it.