Spoiler Alert: Do not read on if you have not yet seen the Season 3 finale of Showtime's "Homeland," titled "The Star."
In the real world, we know how attempts by the U.S. government to intervene in the internal affairs of problematic sovereign states work out: with the years-long chaos of Iraq's post-2003 civil war, for instance, or with the image of Oliver North, decked out in full military regalia, before Congress, confessing that he thought the Iran-Contra scheme, in which the U.S. used the proceeds of clandestine arms sales to Iran to effect regime change in Nicaragua in the 1980s via the anti-leftist Contra movement, was a "neat trick." The U.S.'s experience of foreign interventionism has a complex history, shot through with unintended consequences, moral ambiguities and few discernible successes.
Last night's season finale of "Homeland," at once less suspenseful, more elegiac and more heart-rendingly emotional than we were expecting it to be, showed the reverse case: where foreign intervention, however ham-fisted or shambolically managed, turns out to be a smashing success that alters the very dynamics of international relations. At one point towards the end of the episode, Saul, decked out awkwardly in his post-CIA uniform of loose-fitting shirt and jaunty hat, returns to the island villa he's sharing with Mira brandishing croissants, wrapped curiously in a cake box tied with string (is that the way they do croissants on the Greek islands?), and Mira reads aloud a newspaper report hailing the agreement of the Iranian government to open its nuclear program to international inspection in exchange for an end to sanctions.
The implication is clear: Saul's cunning, high-risk plan to effect a thaw in U.S.-Iran relations by turning Javadi, using Brody to assassinate Akbari, and having Javadi installed as a covertly pro-U.S. figure of real power and significance at the head of the Iranian intelligence service, has succeeded. Saul has won, and so has the very idea of foreign intervention. Celebratory croissants, clearly, are in order -- and not just for Saul and the CIA, but for the writers of "Homeland" themselves, who surely would have been overjoyed at the huge stroke of fortune delivered to them by the real-world events that have unfolded in Iran, where a newly elected moderate president has come close to brokering a deal to freeze the Iranian nuclear program in return for sanctions relief, as the season has progressed.
Throughout the three seasons of "Homeland" to date, Saul has never seemed entirely comfortable looking happy or relaxed; his default modes are the stern stare into the middle distance, the clenched-jaw march down the hallway, the care-weary slump in the office chair late at night. But looking at Saul in that scene, as he squinted past Mira into the Mediterranean sun with a look of genuine, rapt contentment on his face, the happiness seemed un-concocted for once, and it was possible to conclude from that spectacle of pure satisfaction that foreign interventionism is an unalloyed, unconditional good -- a "neat trick," just like Oliver North said before Congress in the mid-1980s -- and that peace between would-be belligerents is a simple process of getting the right dudes to do the right things at the right time.
But "Homeland" is too sophisticated a show to deal in neat absolutes, and last night's finale did a good job of highlighting the ambiguities and moral costs of the kind of foreign policy adventurism, untramelled by the constraints of law or congressional mandate, this season has ended up being all about. "What about Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch?" Carrie asks Saul, the plan to extract her and Brody from a safe house in the desert gone horribly awry, as she begs him to do something to save the father of her child from execution. It's one of the most unintentionally hilarious lines of the show: when you're set free from international law and killing people off the grid, no matter how well-meaning or noble the plan may be in its ultimate design, the time for appeals to Amnesty International has long passed. Brody's death, when it does come, is a scene of chillingly affecting brutality -- and even though his exit denies Carrie the opportunity to complete the smaller, personal mission she had set for herself this season in parallel to the larger, agency mission (namely, to rehabilitate Brody in the eyes of her CIA peers and an unforgiving public, who still think of him as the Langley bomber), there's resolution of a kind. At one point, after Lockhart rebuffs her request to pin a star to the wall of the agency in recognition of Brody's sacrifice, she tells her new boss: "He was a U.S. marine who was captured and tortured for eight years. Who are we to judge him?"
That, really, has been the point with Brody all along. "Everyone sees him through your eyes now," Javadi tells Carrie after he has her hauled in to meet him following Brody's capture. It's a decent point, and a decent patch of dialogue in a finale that, at certain points, such as when an Iranian military man leans in to Carrie at the safe house and says, "The colonel is aware," threatens to degenerate into pastiche. If nothing else, the finale gave us a quick snapshot of every major character in their emblematic posture: Saul in his puffy shirt, looking on with resigned pride at the commemorative ceremony; Peter Quinn, alone in a car park, dragging on a cigarette in his favored ensemble of gray shirt on gray jacket and waxing moodily on the meaning of love; Dar Adal yucking it up over waffles and coffee at a diner, mischievous marsupial grin worn effortlessly over the top of his too-big jacket; and Javadi himself, slicking on the moral salesmanship to Carrie in his shiny suit, looking as he always does, like a vaguely untrustworthy carpet salesman.
Much has been written about the show's producers originally intending Brody to be a one-season character only. As it happens, he was a two-season character who recognizes the inevitability of his own death before the audience does. When did Brody resign himself to his death? Was it when he was dragged out of Caracas back to the U.S., drug-addled, limp, and forced to squeeze out one more mission? Or was it when he first heard the military's doofy extraction plan for him, leaving everyone around him incredulous? He certainly knew the end was near when he and Carrie drove to the safe house outside of Tehran, windows down and staring longingly into the fields. "I was born in the desert," he tells Carrie, his voice trailing and he thinks about the cyclical nature of life.
We like to think the moment of resignation was actually when Brody reunited with Dana since the bombing at Langley. It was the first time we saw genuine emotion coursing through Brody the entire season, and the first time we got a sense of Brody's remorse: to be a better father, to clear his name, to be leaving a legacy so terrible for his children that they would change their last name. Suddenly Carrie and Saul's speech about "one last mission" and "redemption" made sense to him, which is when, we think, Brody decided he has nothing else to live for past amending his legacy. Brody's death in Tehran is not so much an optionless ending but the willful act on Brody's part to redeem himself. Finally the cockroach has had enough. Brody's execution by hanging in a public square filled with cheering people was savage and uncomfortable, but if you had switched on the television at just that moment, you might have thought the scene was a hero's welcome.
It's also fitting that Brody's demise follows in the tradition of Abu Nazir, the terrorist and father-like figure to Brody who sacrificed his own life in order to blindside the CIA with the bombing at Langley. But Brody's swan song is really best summarized in his speech to Carrie at the safe house here:
"There's a man in Caracas who's a doctor who called me a cockroach. Unkillable, bringing misery wherever I go. This is about redemption, you said it. That's a fucking joke. In what universe can you redeem one murder by committing another? ... I'm a lot of things. But I'm not a marine anymore. I haven't been for some time."
At multiple points throughout the finale we see Brody washing himself. One scene has him in the safe house, looking at himself in the mirror as he bathes his face and wrists, that vaguely simian mouth, underbite pushing the bottom lip forward, resting under beady, determined eyes. Another time we see him in prison, hours before his execution, washing himself as he gets ready to die. The point is probably labored a little: death, for Brody, is a kind of cleansing.
"Homeland" was renewed for Season 4 in October, meaning that the show's producers have at least a dozen or so more episodes to play out fun things like how Carrie and her baby will assimilate to life in Istanbul, where Carrie will become the youngest-ever Station Chief appointed at the CIA. Brody is dead, and he's not coming back to the show by any stroke of magic (if he does, then the show's REALLY jumped the shark). Carrie's pregnancy is finally addressed, both to Brody in person and four months after his death. Carrie, now eight months pregnant, confronts what we've been thinking all along: How on earth is she going to be a mother? What kind of mother will she be? She admits that carrying the baby was her last attempt at keeping a part of Brody alive and close to her, but the question of whether she'll keep it, or leave the baby to be raised by her father is left in the air.
The finale also leaves doubt about the entire casting of "Homeland": Is Mandy Patinkin off the show for good, or will Saul continue working with Carrie now that he's in the private sector in New York, and concoct a Javadi-esque plot to oust Lockhart as the director of the CIA? Just as Season 2 ended with Carrie's future at the CIA in shambles, Season 3 ends with Saul's tenure at the CIA at an end. But other questions arise now that the show's Season 4 structure is roughly shaping up: Will Peter Quinn, Max, Virgil and chums join Carrie overseas? Or will we be introduced to an entirely new cast of characters? What will happen to Dana and Jessica? Does anyone even care? And what of Chris Brody, the forgotten man of the series, left glumly unpacking the dishwasher with a vaguely overwhelmed look on his face in the permanently washed out background of the suburbs of Washington, D.C.? If we're left with one regret from this series, it's that we still don't really understand Chris -- like, really get him at a deep level, you know? (We don't.)
Will you continue watching "Homeland" for Season 4? What did you think about the season finale -- did the ending justify Season 3's slow start? Sound off in the comments below.
The best quotes from the finale:
"Homeland" Season 3
"Homeland" Season 3
"Homeland" Season 3