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

Television
by David Chute
December 16, 2013 4:11 PM
8 Comments
  • |
Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody on "Homeland" Showtime

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.

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8 Comments

  • Jimmie | March 9, 2014 1:40 AMReply

    I think the writing in the first season was awesome, and it had potential to become a great series. I don't care that he was 'supposed to die' in the first season. I think they could have slowly chipped away at his remolded self and put him back together as he was before it all. The father-daughter relationship in the beginning could have grown to be quite powerful. The family didn't have to become the cookie-cutter versions of themselves. In fact the plotline would be more interesting showing the pain and sacrifice Brody and his family make in the effort to rebuild themselves. I'm quite aggravated by the lack of sustainability in decent television shows. I've learned the keys to success are constant slow progression with occasional bursts , modest pandering, reasonable time frames, and tell a damn story. See: Elementary, House of Cards, Shameless, Intelligence(just kidding), Life(starring Damian Lewis), and I'm sure there are more out there.

  • Lorenzo | December 21, 2013 10:14 AMReply

    Completely disagree with the entire article. I guess I should go have my head examined.

  • Ron | December 18, 2013 2:49 AMReply

    "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"

    You are joking right?

  • DavidC | December 18, 2013 12:36 AMReply

    Paul, thank you. You made my day. I haven't made anybody that angry in about twenty years.

  • Paul | December 17, 2013 7:22 PMReply

    David Chute, you are a complete moron, especially with that closing paragraph. What an idiotic, simplistic way of interpreting the finale, which was a disappointment, but not for the reasons you presented. You are an imbecile...

  • AK | December 17, 2013 1:58 PMReply

    Uh, actually they did make it work. If anything, this finale shows how well it did work. Brody was supposed to die in season 1, but influence from Showtime forced them to keep him around. They were talented enough writers to rework their plan and create 3 excellent seasons around the character.

    The show was never just about Brody. Of course it was painful to see him die, but it was time to move on.

  • Angela | December 17, 2013 1:05 PMReply

    "One thing's for sure, though: People who say they're happy to see Brody go should have their heads examined." Thank you, thank you and thank you!
    Amen to this.

  • abc | December 16, 2013 4:44 PMReply

    So on the money with the last paragraph!

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