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TV IS THE NEW CINEMA: Shocking 'Homeland' Season Three Finale Admits Failure (SPOILERS)

Thompson on Hollywood By David Chute | Thompson on Hollywood December 16, 2013 at 4:11PM

The shocking "Homeland" season three finale was an admission of failure. They couldn't make it work so they're tossing it out and starting over.
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Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody on "Homeland"
Showtime Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody on "Homeland"

The "Homeland" finale was an admission of failure. They couldn't make it work so they're tossing it out and starting over. (Nonetheless the first telecast Sunday drew 2.4 million viewers, a high for the Showtime series.)

That was my Tweet, written immediately after watching the episode Sunday night. Allow me to elaborate.

The "it" was what I took to be the central project of the show, which was dramatizing the struggle to hold onto humane impulses in a ruthlessly pragmatic and therefore inherently inhumane profession. To hold onto seeing people as human beings, with inherent value as such, rather than as "assets." 

I took this to be what the "24" veterans on the show, such as producer Howard Gordon, were up to: questioning that program's seeming assertion that the efficacy of torture was all that mattered in the end.

In opposition to the undergraduate debate-club scenarios of "24" (what if a bomb was about to go off and we had 15 minutes to get the bomber to talk?), "Homeland" gave us a man broken by torture and reassembled as a terrorist, and an ultra-mensch old school CIA agent who still believed in "protecting his people," complicating the issue in several iterating ways.

And then, of course, we got Carrie and Brody, who in their relationship asserted the importance of seeing each other as anything more than agent and asset. This was never just a Hallmark Chanel soap opera. The stakes couldn't have been higher.

Carrie and Brody wanted to hold something back. They wanted to do their duty, to be good soldiers, while also remaining individual human beings with subjectivity intact. The show was set up to explore how naive they were; to ask if this was even possible.

They clung to the illusion that it might be possible right to the end. Almost a form of existential heroism.

Carrie: "I happen to believe that one of the reasons I was put on this earth was so that our paths would cross. And yeah, I know how crazy that sounds."

Brody: "I don't think that sounds crazy at all. I think it sounds like the only sane fucking thing left to hold on to."

To put it another way, what is this all in aid of? Saul stated his view when confronting the realpolitik decision that all his gimlet-eyed CIA colleagues had embraced, that successful-asset Brody's mission will be even more successful if he dies: "I don't know why we're doing this, anymore." If we, too, have come to regard human beings as fodder, then truly, what are we fighting for?

The "Homeland" finale is an admission of failure. Not even the news from Tehran, a nice piece of QT-style revisionist history that reaffirms Brody's "success," has the effect of overcoming the underlying sadness, the deeper failure.

We felt again and again that the showrunners, too, wanted Carrie and Brody to survive. In many segments of an industry that is still mostly about wish-fulfillment, that would have been enough to save them. They would have stretched credulity to the breaking point to make it happen. In Season Two, they actually did. In the end they decided that this was impossible, leaving it up to us to determine whether they were right or gave in too easily.

I tend to think that one of the great purposes of fiction is to show the world, on occasion, as it should be rather than as it is. So it's not absolutely clear to me that arguments for "realism" should always carry the day. One thing's for sure, though: People who say they're happy to see Brody go should have their heads examined.

This article is related to: TV, TV Reviews, TV News, Homeland, Television, Television


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.