“The Choice” to stay: Sam Lim and I discuss the season finale of Homeland

carriesaulSam Lim: Where do we even start with the finale? Boy. Let me first say that it met — and exceeded — my expectations (not by a lot but enough). The beginning dragged out the way I expected a Carrie-Brody escapade into the woods would, even with Quinn right behind them (since they didn’t know). The fact that Quinn did not take out Brody and his subsequent reasoning (as explained to Estes…more on that in a minute) did not surprise me in the least; I expected that as much.

Before I make fun of Estes (again), I do think the conversations Carrie and Brody had in the cabin were really rather poignant. Here you have two very battered (physically and emotionally) individuals, and it’s like they can only be themselves and (almost) completely honest with each other. I say “almost” because Carrie — for all her ridiculousness — still has a shred of doubt about Brody (you see that look on her face after Brody found the gun? It was like a “Hehe. Let’s not play with guns now, dear” type of look), though he seemed to win her over fairly easily as always.

Now, as for Estes, gosh, what a tool. Everything always has to be about him. The sad part is there are real people just like him in real life. I suppose it’s part of what makes Quinn’s line to him somewhat schadenfreude-inducing: “I’m a guy who kills bad guys.”

The episode doesn’t really take off (action-wise), though, until Walden’s funeral, I thought. I particularly enjoyed the great ironies of Brody’s encounters at the funeral. First, he is greeted by Walden’s grieving widow, who is completely oblivious to the fact that the guy who basically murdered her husband is escorting her to her seat. Then there’s his handshake with Estes, completely unaware that the man had a hit out on him until less than a day before. I have to say…I chuckled.

Let’s talk plot flaws real fast, since they’re my favorite. Isn’t it sort of conspicuous when both Carrie and Brody leave the funeral early? And am I being too cynical to think it strange that the CIA building is absolutely deserted except for where the funeral is taking place (sure, Walden has deep ties to the CIA and the funeral might be on a weekend, but still, it’s the CIA!)? Carrie and Brody (both, again, with bright yellow visitor badges) just waltzed right into Saul’s empty office and probably would’ve engaged in a bit of inappropriate behavior in another man’s office had Brody not spotted his car. Speaking of which…

BOOM! Damn, that completely and utterly surprised me. That moment made me sit up, and I had to pull my jaw off the floor a bit too. Did you see that coming? I did not. It certainly took out one of the key players we had previously discussed needing to be booted (Estes, it appears, drew the shortest straw. RIP Estes.). That blast, combined with Brody’s tape (released by whom exactly?), just established the ground work for season three. At least season three won’t just be Carrie and Brody on the lam, trying to get away from Quinn for twelve episodes.

So from that standpoint, I can’t really say I’m disappointed with the finale as I had thought I would be. As morbid of an incident as the CIA bombing was, it certainly adds a new dimension to Homeland’s story arc. Your thoughts?

Jay Pinho: I like your assessment: the episode “met — and exceeded — my expectations (not by a lot but enough).” That’s basically where I’m at too. Part of me thinks that what made this episode particularly effective was not that it wrapped up a bunch of loose ends from the previous few episodes (it didn’t), but that it managed to throw in enough twists and surprises to make us forget about them. That’s probably not a sustainable approach in the long run, but it managed to work well enough for the finale this time.

By the way, I’m curious why you weren’t surprised that Quinn decided not to assassinate Brody. Why did you expect that? It caught me off-guard, because Quinn’s disregard of Estes’ order suggests Dar Adal is even higher up the CIA chain than Estes was, which is a bit strange considering Estes was the deputy director. (Either that, or black ops really does operate as if it’s an entirely different agency, with its own hierarchies, etc. That’s more likely. Still, it was a bit jarring to see Quinn so blatantly threatening Estes. And enjoyable. I’ve come to like Quinn.)

brodyAs you said, though, Estes’ death was necessary. We’d spent plenty of time leading up to this episode talking about how someone needed to die, and it kinda makes sense that it was Estes (not exactly the most multi-dimensional character on the show).

Here’s what I find interesting, though: the ambiguity surrounding Saul. I’ve already commented a bit on blogs about this, and there seem to be very few people who read anything sinister into Saul’s scenes in this episode. But to me, the show seemed to be dropping some pretty obvious clues throughout the episode, but especially during and after the CIA explosion. First, there was his comment to Carrie, when he promised her a station chief position, that “Estes owes me one.” How so? As Estes himself explained in the prior episode, he could keep Saul tied up in bureaucracy and hearings for the rest of his life. Wouldn’t he be even more empowered to do so now that Brody wasn’t going to be killed? Saul would simply look like a lunatic for spouting off about a plan to assassinate Brody because it wouldn’t have even happened. So why was he so confident that Estes would “owe” him?

That was the first clue of this episode. But there have been other ones scattered throughout the entire series: Saul refusing to complete the polygraph in Season 1, the fact that both prisoners he’d been let in to see (Brody’s torturer in Season 1; Aileen in Season 2) ended up killing themselves, at least one of whom definitively did it with something that Saul left in the room with them, etc. But then in this Season 2 finale, something about the way they kept switching back and forth between the impending carnage at the CIA and Saul’s grim face aboard the military ship was, to my mind, meant to start stoking suspicions. Oh, and also: he could’ve easily been the one who released that suicide tape of Brody. He had it in his possession, after all.

Similarly, you could potentially read a lot of his comments in two completely opposite ways. When he leaves a voicemail for Carrie, for example, he says, “I’m looking for you.” And when he asks for the names of the dead, it could be viewed as him hoping Carrie is alive or hoping she’s dead. Same with his facial expression in the final scene when Carrie shows up: it seems like a smile, but it could just as easily be something more like shock.

Anyway, I don’t think Saul is a mole. But it definitely seemed as if the Homeland creators wanted us to wonder about it. Yet Alan Sepinwall never even mentioned this possibility in his review, and multiple people who later commented on his site thought it was an absurd idea. Is it?

Sam Lim: I’m glad you touched on Saul, because I still honestly do not know how to read him. He’s quite simply the most confusing of the main characters (in my opinion). I really don’t know if I ever saw him as a mole, but I could see how possible dots could connect. I feel like his personality, that strange almost disconnected matter-of-factness, is supposed to evoke feelings of security and loyalty. But I have seen questions about how two prisoners committed suicide after visits from him, and I can see where the mole argument might come in.

But, overall, I have a hard time believing he’s a mole. I feel like (and perhaps Homeland‘s writers want us to feel this way) that — for all his butting heads with Estes — Saul’s very much a company man. The way he lectures Carrie on her relationship with Brody, the fact that he’s the one leading the Nazir burial (did that surprise you? I just bought it as he’s a high up and had been on the Nazir investigation team, so he was the guy). Perhaps his stance with Estes is fueled by his belief that he’d be able to get Quinn to corroborate his assassination accusations. I really don’t know, though your point about Saul having the Brody tape is also very plausible.

I do think his smile at the end when he saw Carrie (very reminiscent of Carrie’s smile after getting away from that dude in Beirut) was a bit strange. Did it betray a hint of anything but pure happiness? I don’t know. Then again, I’ve never had hundreds of colleagues and my workplace blown to bits, so perhaps it was a moment of genuine relief to see a familiar face that was presumed dead. Either way, I think it should set up for an interesting season three. If he is indeed a mole, you really have to wonder how many seasons they can squeeze out of Homeland before it devolves into 24-type insanity.

As for why I wasn’t surprised at Quinn defying his orders to take out Brody, I think two reasons: 1) I alluded to that somewhat in my thoughts last week that I thought Quinn would eventually decide it wasn’t worth killing Brody after Brody resigns and just wants to disappear (I did not see the Brody tape coming out though), and 2) Damian Lewis plays one of the two main characters, and the series would take a decidedly different form if either Carrie or Brody disappeared completely (I just didn’t think the Homeland writers would kill one of them off after just two seasons). It’d be like Jack Bauer getting killed in the second season of 24 (and we really don’t want Homeland to turn into 24). Aside: I would’ve preferred to use an analogy to The Wire here, but since you haven’t seen it (*ahem!*), I went with 24. Haha.

One of the big questions I had though is: why was Carrie being considered for station chief? Didn’t she get kicked out for being an unstable walking liability? You would think that repeated acts of insubordination and rogue operation would get her shut down for good, but she keeps getting brought back. Did that seem at all a bit of a stretch to you?

What are your prognostications for season three? What kinds of twists do you see ahead?

Jay Pinho: I’m mostly with you on Saul. It’s not that I actually think he’s a mole; it’s more that I think the show left some scenes deliberately open-ended (such as that last scene with his smile; and I hadn’t even noticed the symmetry with Carrie’s smile in the first episode of this season — good catch) in order to stoke curiosity for next season. I was just surprised at how little traction that theory was getting online. Hm.

I’d forgotten about your Quinn prediction! Another good catch. That’s basically exactly what happened: he realized it wasn’t worth it, and it didn’t achieve any legitimate goals anyway by that point. By the way, the show’s writers (who promised Quinn would definitely be back for Season 3 — good call!) have already alluded to the possibility of Brody playing a small (or nonexistent) role next season:

“I do think,” he said, “that there is value in the fact that he’s still alive and still in the world somewhere, even if he doesn’t make an appearance in season three. And I’m not saying that’s necessarily going to happen. But the fact that he’s still alive would mean something to Carrie.”

But Gordon also acknowledged that any motivation they would have for keeping Lewis in the fold wouldn’t come from the fact that he’s the reigning Emmy winner for lead actor in a drama series.

“Obviously, you can’t let the tail wag the dog,” he said. “All the awards in the world won’t give rise to a character or a story that’s either run its course or had whatever shelf life it has. As Alex has said, we love this relationship, it’s become one of the defining pillars of the show… Whenever the relationship is no longer the center of the show. I think as tempting as it is, and as afraid as we are, you can’t let all the awards and acclaim — and Damian’s brilliance — dictate the story in terms of where it needs to go.”

As for prognostications, it’s extremely hard to guess with this show. After last week, who would’ve thought we’d have found Brody and Carrie in some wooded fire lane near the Canadian border, saying goodbye as his suicide video airs all over the world? They certainly keep us guessing, that’s for sure.

estesNevertheless, I can’t resist a few thoughts. The show needs new conflict for next season. With Brody at least somewhat out of the picture, Estes dead, and Abu Nazir put out to sea, we really only have Saul and Carrie left in terms of main characters. And presumably they won’t be at loggerheads with each other — or, for that matter, with Quinn, who has no major problem with either one of them. On the one hand, they could just start all over with the Next Villain — whoever that was that appeared on the video tape taking responsibility for the CIA bombing — but I hope they don’t make this one of those serial shows where every new season presents a new terrorist. I think they’ll come up with something more creative.

The challenge is figuring out what that might be. Is it possible the show will actually pit Carrie against Saul, with him finding out she “aided” in the VP’s death, and thus Saul remains suspicious of her for allowing Brody to escape as well? Carrie hasn’t yet told anyone that Brody survived, but in that they were both listed as “presumed missing,” you’d think Saul could put two and two together and figure out roughly what happened. For his part, Saul has to investigate the CIA bombing, but too much retrospective investigation could get tiring if Homeland isn’t careful.

The other thing is, what role will Brody’s family play? Will they just disappear?

What do you think?

Sam Lim: Ok, I see where you’re coming from on Saul. I wonder if most folks just aren’t sure what to make of him. Interesting note from the show’s writers about Brody though! I hadn’t seen that. I think it’s good that they’re not writing it around the reaction to Damian Lewis’s acting prowess, ’cause that’d just be downright silly.

As for my thoughts on potential season three plots, I think the Carrie-Saul relationship will fall into further conflict. Saul’s too smart not to pick apart holes in whatever stories Carrie may tell re: Brody. I do think a new main character will be inserted into the storyline, much like Quinn was in season two. I don’t know if it’d be a terrorist character though. I’m kind of leaning toward someone higher up in the government becoming more of a player and tasking Saul with figuring out what the heck happened at the CIA bombing.

Now, if Saul were indeed a mole, that’d make for some interesting (if not predictable-ish) storyline, I think, since Carrie may well be tasked to work with Saul on this, and the two of them would have secrets the other doesn’t know. If they dig deeper, I do think Quinn’s role may become pivotal though, since he knows things not many people know (i.e. the whole thing with Estes ordering a hit on Brody).

As for Brody’s family, other than them adding Mike officially as a member of the family, I think they fade somewhat into the background. Or perhaps the media crush after Brody’s leaked tape digs up more info we didn’t know and somehow helps connect the dots for Saul’s investigation? I don’t know where that’d lead, but my point is: I think they’ll be somewhat irrelevant in season three, unless the writers just want to showcase Dana’s annoying moodiness once in a while.

As you noted, it’s so hard to guess with this show, and all this is exactly that—just a guess. I will say, though: I’m thankful they didn’t leave us with a terrible cliffhanger in the season finale. That would’ve been awful. In the meantime then, let’s find a new show to critique until season three starts? 🙂

Jay Pinho: So it looks like that’s our two-man consensus: Saul and Carrie’s relationship takes a turn for the weirder. Or at least, it becomes more complex. I like your prediction of a new main character too: I think that will be necessary, especially after killing off Abu Nazir, Walden, and Estes all in the space of three episodes.

I also can’t see much way forward for Brody’s family at this point, at least not in a prominent way. This past season, Mike seemed to be making some progress (with the help of his alcoholic colleague) in figuring out what Brody was up to. Could it be that, now that the secret is out (and in a big way, with the release of Brody’s suicide tape), Mike will reverse and try to help clear Brody’s name? Someone (can’t remember who) already noted the irony of the finales of Season 1 and 2: in the last episode of the first season, Carrie was the only one who believed in Brody’s guilt. And at the end of Season 2, she’s basically the only one who believes in his innocence. Anyway, the problem with this potential storyline is that this would inevitably bring Mike and Jess into conflict, and no one wants to see that because that’s…boring.

Yes! Time for a new show. Have you ever seen Boardwalk Empire? I’ve heard good things.

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