Homeland’s Season Two finale, “The Choice,” came with only a portion of the anticipation that Season One’s brought. As it turned out, after one of the most surprising – yet somehow expected – conclusions I can remember, Homeland fulfilled my hopes for a classic send-off while also maintaining the new direction the show will go. In many ways, the shock of watching Estes’ body disintegrate into a rush of flames was like watching the writer’s howl that they no longer cared about blurring the line between reality and fiction and now would, quite literally, blow the lid off everything the show has been expected to build. Naturally, the creator’s of Homeland couldn’t have expected the scrutiny that this season has endured, yet watching them throw every angle possible at the viewer has to signal a sense of aggression about what this show can be and what the world wants it to be.
“The Choice” begins with Peter Quinn watching Brody as he retreats to his cabin for a night alone with Carrie. Inside the cabin, Carrie explains that she cannot be with Brody and work in the CIA. She must choose between him and her job. Meanwhile, Saul, still held captive, warns of Peter’s assassination to no avail. The following morning, Carrie grabs breakfast while Brody prays and Peter chooses not to take a shot on him. That night, Peter tells Estes that Brody isn’t a bad person and he only kills bad people. At the funeral for Vice President Walden, attended by hundreds of high-ranking officials, Carrie tells Brody that she chooses him. While Abu Nazir is buried, a bomb from Brody’s car goes off at the funeral, killing almost everyone. Now Brody will be seen as a terrorist. Carrie helps him flee the country.
Taking up most of the first part of “The Choice” is the reality of Carrie and Brody’s love. To my mind, the constant banter between them has gradually gotten goopy, routine, and redundant. The prolonged scene in the cabin possessed neither the strength of a love slowly finding freedom or the perceived suspense of an assassin on their tails. Similar to the Dana Brody angle that plagued the mid-section of the season, this diversion felt like a set-up that indecisively spiked with a whimper. Peter’s moment of decision, presumably coming as he’s about to shoot Brody in the back, doesn’t occur on screen nor does it seem motivated by anything but a random scrap of writing. His conspicuous plea to Estes, “I kill bad people,” pronounces the theme in an embarrassing tie-off. While long form television has recently been compared to literature, the difference may lie in watching the mechanics of creators trying certain angles only to watch them disappear for better ones. Only in television can you actually see these pieces at work.
In many respects, “The Choice,” is the tale of two halves. The first, a laborious and plodding thirty-five minutes (unnecessary considering the extra length of the show) and a stunning, sharp, and exciting second half. Has Homeland become 24? Well, sort of. But the tightly wound characters are so taut with convictions that when shit goes “bang” it does so with a furor as yet unseen in television. What works well here is the explicit realization that Brody has indeed been a small pawn in Abu Nazir’s huge network of terrorism, one that attacks from the inside and infects insidiously. While most of Homeland has been built, like America in the past decade, on the conceit of stopping terror, the finale proposes that our future will force us to learn to live with it. In light of recent events in America, this statement carries even more resonance.
While this show, and television in general, has yet to push the boundaries of visual storytelling, this particular episode contained noteworthy images. The shadowy firelight on Carrie and Brody in the cabin emerged as a visual metaphor for the fissure of distrust that will always linger between the two characters. Abu Nazir’s wrapped body being pushed off the side of the boat plunges into the water like a figurative torpedo digging into the façade of sleepy American life. It’s hard to recall a more poignant metaphor on the small screen. Likewise, the editing, from the staid burn of the first half into the chaotic – though no less grounded – second half, lends itself to old fashion cinematic construction.
So what would I say about Season Two? The evolution of Homeland has been a compelling comment on the state of television and entertainment in America. There was a great, impossible to reach, hope for this show, mostly manufactured by viewers who unrealistically wanted a more exciting version of Mad Men and The Wire. Homeland was never that, yet what it is still exposes a smart progression from the mindless storytelling inflicting most network drama. There’s something trashy on the inside of Homeland, but something incredibly intelligent rubbed on the outside. Perhaps Saul said it best when describing Carrie and, as it stands, describing the show as well, “You are the smartest and stupidest agent I’ve ever met.” [A-]