Damien Lewis as Nicholas "Nick" Brody in Homeland's season finale. Photograph by Kent Smith, courtesy of Showtime.
Has there ever been a television character more heartbreakingly (and unfairly) maligned than Carrie Mathison? I spent half the night trying to think of real-world parallels (Copernicus, Nouriel Roubini, Randy Quaid’s character in Independence Day) but couldn’t even come close to finding someone who was so right on the money but who suffered so much for it. The final scene from last night’s Homeland was quite devastating, and impossible to shake. Even under anesthesia, Carrie can’t stop working—her brain won’t stop functioning, try as she might to stifle it.
What’s so cruel about Carrie is that her biggest asset—her killer instinct—has also been at the root of her downfall, right from the first episode. It’s what makes her such a good spy, but also such an unreliable source for information. And Brody? I can’t imagine I’m the only one who wishes he’d have flicked that trigger. Because now we’ll have to sit through another season of him torturing Carrie and smugly saluting important people every chance he gets. Sterling acting work from Damian Lewis during the bunker scene, though. The Emmy nomination must be a mere formality now.
Last night’s episode opened with the words “DAY ONE” and Brody making his explanatory “why I did it” video, which is inexplicably in black and white, even though most camcorders these days do shoot color. “My name is Nicholas Brody, and I’m a sergeant in the United States Marine Corps,” he says. “I have a wife and two children [his voice shakes a little] . . . who I love.” After 12 weeks of speculation, Brody lays his motives for killing hundreds of people on the table: “This is about justice for 82 children. Whose deaths were never acknowledged, and whose murder is a stain on the soul of this nation.” So there’s that.
Saul drops in at Carrie’s house, where he greets a despondent Maggie. Carrie isn’t eating, she hasn’t left her room in three days, and she’s very much in the comedown from her epic manic episode. Saul, while proffering the “elixir of the gods” (chicken soup to us mere mortals), admits to Maggie that Carrie’s career is damn near over. Then he visits his poor protégé, who begs him to continue the investigation, and whose lip quivers at the mention of Brody. “Why did he do it? Rat me out to Estes,” she asks him. “I can think of 100 reasons,” Saul replies, Brody running for Congress being just one of them. But despite knowing that Brody has cost her everything, Carrie can’t quite quit him. “My God,” Saul says, “you’re in love with him.” Ding.
Brody, meanwhile, appears to be in Tom Walker’s security locker downtown. He goes to a park and stashes the memory card with his goodbye speech on it between some rocks, making a yellow chalk mark to confirm its position. Walker, dressed all in black like an unironic cat burglar, is also acting suspicious—he breaks into a lady’s car while she’s at bingo and hides under a coat on the back seat. We wonder why, but then it all becomes clear when the lady (Mrs. Salmon) gets in and begins to drive home, but is stopped at a roadblock on her way into the parking garage. Security is tight because of the Vice President’s speech tomorrow, a guard tells her. Walker waits until she parks her car, puts a gun to her head, and then proceeds to make himself comfortable in her apartment (by which we mean tie her up and gag her, cut circular holes in the window, move the furniture around, and set up his sniper rifle).
VP Walden is hosting a fancy-schmancy fundraiser to kick off his campaign, and Elizabeth Gaines is there, of course, since she appears to be the Dick to his Cheney. “Thank you for convincing me three years ago to accept the vice presidential nomination,” he tells her, before launching into his stump speech: “We will throw down the gauntlet, all of us in this room, promising to put America first again.” Brody isn’t there, but Estes is, and he pleads with Walden to consider changing the venue for tomorrow’s speech, since, you know, it’s an open space and there’s a mad terrorist sniper on the run. But Walden’s all blithely unconcerned, and tells him to drink his Champagne, because it’s Billecart-Salmon, or whatever.
Virgil’s taking care of Carrie, who’s remarkably ungrateful and turns up her nose at the spaghetti all’amatriciana he lovingly cooked for her. Over at the Brody household, the family’s having dinner, and Brody says grace, asking God to take care of his family with the light of his love shining on them, or something similar. Everyone looks impressed by his impromptu blessing, even Dana. Later, we see Carrie lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, and Brody doing the same. He gets up to go to the garage to pray, and is in the middle of kneeling when . . . he’s interrupted by Dana. “What are you doing? What’s going on?” she asks. The obvious answer would be “yoga,” but Brody flails around, not knowing how much she saw. Eventually he tells her the truth—he’s converted to Islam. Dana tells him her mom would never understand. “So it’s our little secret then,” he says.
DAY TWO: Carrie wakes to the sound of a news report on the radio about the VP’s big speech, and she runs into the bathroom looking for her pills. She also manages to persuade Virgil to take her out for a drive. So she gets all dolled up in a ratty baseball cap and a waxed jacket, and leads Virgil over to the “State Department,” where security is running high and various important personages have assembled, or, as Carrie puts it, “half the government is going to be in one spot, and we’ve got a terrorist on the loose.” Carrie knows a single sniper isn’t the biggest threat today, but when she yells words like “terrorist,” policeman look at her funny. Eventually she tells Virgil she knows she isn’t wanted, but she’s the same person she’s always been, and he needs to be on her side now.
Saul goes to Estes with Carrie’s theory about Abu Nazir—that he suffered a personal loss, which prompted his fallow yellow period. Saul, ever the consummate rattler of cages, has also dug up an old classified report that appears to be some sort of predator drone briefing. Estes is unimpressed. All Saul’s going on, he says, is a crazy collage assembled by a crazy woman, and he needs Saul too much right now to see him in jail.
Brody bids farewell to his son (for the last. time. ever), and tries to hug Jessica, but she runs out the door and says she’ll see him later. Brody looks as if he’s about to have an anxiety attack. He goes to his room and tries on his suicide vest, when he’s interrupted by Dana. AGAIN. The door’s locked, so she talks to him through it, about how his praying freaked her out and she really doesn’t think he should go to the thing today, and how worried she is. But his car is here, so he quickly dresses, and then when she goes to hug him goodbye, he pushes her away (there’s little more telltale than the rustle of a thousand ball bearings, don’tcha know).
Estes and Walden are traveling downtown, and Estes tells the VP that Saul has “found a redacted document that exposes the mission.” The VP is pissed, because he thought that specific paper trail had been buried long ago. “This cannot get out,” he tells Estes. Saul, meanwhile, is doing more digging, and gets Galvez on the case over at Langley. All signs seem to point to a drone strike, and Galvez offers to do more research, but Saul says he’ll look into it later.
Carrie and Virgil are walking around by the State Department, and Carrie’s still saying things that make Virgil nervous, like “You attack here if you’re planning to take them all out. A group of people that’s almost never in the same place at the same time.” Then she sees Brody, who’s getting out of a limo, and starts to question what he’s doing there. The VP’s limo arrives (would it not be a fancier car? not in the budget?) and Walden gets out and greets Brody, who stiffly salutes him. Walden is calmly chatting with Elizabeth when suddenly Walker’s gun goes off, and Walden’s covered in pink mist from his now-dead friend. Brody stands around numbly as Walker shoots a second person, and then a third, but a Secret Service agent hustles Brody inside, where all the metal detectors are going crazy, so nobody notices that he’s, you know, wearing a bomb vest. Walker, finished with his mission inside Mrs. Salmon’s apartment, ruffles the horrified lady’s hair and leaves.
Carrie suddenly knows exactly what’s going on, and calls Saul to tell him that this is just stage one; Brody’s going to take everyone else out in wherever they’re huddled. Saul says, “Yeah, sure,” but he obviously doesn’t believe her, and he summons a security guard to gently take Carrie away. “She’s one of ours. She’s unstable,” he says, Carrie sees the goons running toward her and persuades Virgil to give her his keys. Virgil, like the mensch he is, sets up a distraction so she can get away.
Brody’s hunkered down in a room with some VIPs, including the Secretary of Defense, who gets annoyed when he discovers the bathroom is out of hand towels. But Brody can’t relax till Walden arrives, and when the VP finally enters, it’s go time. Abu Nazir’s voice flashes through Brody’s head: “Remember Issa.” He grits his teeth, flicks the switch, and . . . nothing. Faulty wiring. So Brody runs into the bathroom, shaking and sweating, and attempts to fix the circuitry.
Dana, meanwhile, is listening to Foster the People (of course she is!) when she sees the newscast about the assassinations downtown. The doorbell rings, and it’s Carrie, who doesn’t have time for pleasantries. Your dad is a terrorist, she tells Dana. He’s working with Tom Walker, and he’s about to kill hundreds of people. Carrie gives Dana a phone so she can call her dad and talk him out of it, but Dana, ever the sly teenager, tells the police there’s a crazy woman in her house instead and runs out the front door. Jess arrives home with Chris and is similarly irate that the woman her husband slept with is now yelling crazy things on the front lawn, so the police come, handcuff poor Carrie, and lead her away.
But she was right! And deep down, Dana knows it, so she picks up the phone and calls her dad, right as he’s about to flick the switch on his bomb vest a second time. “She said that you were working with Tom Walker. That you’re a terrorist,” Dana says. “I’m not!” Brody replies, furious, and you can tell that he really means it—that in his head he’s so much more than that. But the idea that this might be his legacy to his children seems to calm him down, and he promises Dana that he’ll come home. Suddenly, shaking, twitching, apoplectic Brody is quiet again, and tears run down his face when the VP tells him he looks like shit as he’s escorted out the door.
DAY THREE: Walden is officially announcing his candidacy for president, which he didn’t get to do yesterday because of that whole people-getting-shot thing. Jess talks to the police, who want to know if the Brodys will be pressing charges against Carrie. Saul, meanwhile, goes to visit the Vice President, whom, we discover, he worked with for three and a half years. He hands Walden the redacted file, but Walden tells him it’s a turd and he should let it lie. If we know Saul, though, that’s not his style. Instead, he brings out his trump card: CDs detailing the atrocities prisoners were subjected to at the hands of US guards. “Coercion,” Saul says. “Cruelty. Makes for very unhappy viewing. And you gave the orders.” The VP is unimpressed. “You’re blackmailing me?” he says.
Maggie goes to bail out Carrie, but guess who’s waiting for them outside the police station? Brody (who’s stalking whom now, exactly?). Brody has decided his mental cruelty towards Carrie hasn’t been quite sufficient yet, so he subjects her to a vicious scolding. “For the last time, Carrie, I am not who you think I am,” he says. He also tells her the Estes informed him of her condition, and she needs to get help. In other words, he needs to shame her so much that she never bothers him again, because without knowing it, she discovered the truth about his plot to kill the VP, and that scares him. But Carrie doesn’t see through his story, so she apologizes, says she’ll never bother him again, gets in the car, breaks down, and asks Maggie to take her to the hospital.
Estes meets with Saul and shows him a video that details his and Walden’s complicity in the school bombing that killed Issa. Walden knew there was a school near Abu Nazir’s compound, but he gave the order anyway, knowing that innocent children would be the “collateral damage.” Saul is appalled that Estes knew all this and went along with it, because without it, there would have been “no dead children, no cover-up, no Carrie Mathison shoved out of the agency.” He threatens to go right to the New York Times as a whistleblower, but Estes shuts him up. Telling the world what really happened, Estes says, would give terrorists the “biggest recruitment tool since Abu Ghraib.” He does get an awesome speech, though. “We’re all about projecting American power now,” he says. “You wanna play softball spy games, you go join the Germans and the French.”
Brody goes back to the park he hid his memory card in, but guess what? It isn’t there. It’s been removed by Walker, whom Brody finally meets face to face under a tunnel. Brody has to squirm his way out of the fact that his bomb failed to go off. “We both got to the same place,” Walker says of his conversion to Abu Nazir’s side. “I just got there a lot quicker.” (In other words, Brody was a lot more of a challenge to break down than Walker was.) “I’m close to the President of the United States, Tom,” Brody says. “That puts me in a unique position.” Turns out Nazir’s been listening to the whole conversation, and he agrees, saying, “Why kill a man when you can kill an idea?” But he needs a demonstration of Brody’s commitment, and there’s a problem, or a “wild card,” he says. In other words, now that Walker’s fulfilled his mission, he’s too dangerous to keep around. So Brody coldly shoots him in the head and leaves.
TWO DAYS LATER: Saul runs to the hospital to see Carrie, who’s about to have electroshock therapy. Saul begs her not to, but Carrie’s adamant. She’s lived with this too long, she tells him. It’s only getting worse, and now she’s lost everything. She can’t live with it anymore. Saul tells her she was wrong about Brody but right about Nazir: His son Issa was killed in a drone strike two years ago. “Saul, do you think there’s any chance I could appeal my termination?” she asks him. “No,” he replies. So she goes into the operating room, where as she’s going under anesthetic, she has visions of her and Brody at the lake, happily walking in the woods, in bed . . . and Brody’s nightmares, where he screamed the name “Issa” over and over again. “Don’t let me forget!” she mutters, but the doctors assure Maggie it’s normal, and our last sight of Carrie is her face clenched in agony as the electricity hits her brain.
Dramatic? Yes. Who else found it impossible to sleep after a full 90 minutes of adrenaline? Nevertheless, a few questions remain, most of which will hopefully roll over to next season. What happened to Walker’s body? Why is Brody so mean? Will Saul blackmail the VP to get Carrie her job back? Will Carrie end up going freelance with Virgil? Who’s the mole in the CIA? And why, why, why does Abu Nazir have such an incredibly catchy turn of phrase?
We caught up with Homeland co-creator Alex Gansa for his thoughts on the season; click here to read the interview. And many thanks for reading along during this series. It’s been a lot of fun, and we look forward to more WashingTelevision in the spring.