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Homeland: Season 3 final episode reviewed

Homeland

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

THE death of a major character always marks a watershed in a TV show’s history. The best shows thrive on their ability to remain unpredictable (such as Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead) and unsentimental in terms of who they keep or discard.

Homeland concluded its third season on Sunday night (December 22, 2013) with the death of one of its biggest assets: former Marine Nicholas Brody, played by Emmy winning actor Damian Lewis. It remains to be seen whether this will prove a folly.

At the moment, the jury’s out. Immediately after the show aired in the US, its executive producer and showrunner Alex Gansa said that disposing of the character felt like ripping off a band aid that allowed for the possibility of a fresh direction. He admitted that writing Brody had become challenging.

It was a brave decision, while the manner in which Lewis departed was both shocking and poignant.

Having been inserted into Iran to kill a high-ranking official (Akbari) in order to allow the CIA to insert Javadi as a puppet replacement, Brody fell victim to political gamesmanship despite the best efforts of Carrie (Claire Danes) and Saul (Mandy Patinkin) to get him out alive.

An extraction plan put into play by Saul was quickly over-ruled by incoming CIA head Andrew Lockhart (Tracy Letts), allowing Javadi to conduct a successful manhunt for Akbari’s killer. Brody was subsequently tried and hanged, thereby strengthening Javadi’s claim to power.

Brody’s end was ruthlessly and efficiently handled, evidence of Homeland at its absolute best. Given the situation he now found himself in, it was the only logical outcome unless Gansa and company really wanted to take a flight of fancy.

And yet, as moving and powerful as Brody’s death ultimately was, it did serve to highlight several of Homeland‘s weaknesses. And these are flaws that quickly need addressing.

As good as the show is when dealing with political intrigue, it’s frequent decision to drift into needless melodrama is a big handicap. Not content with allowing Brody to say goodbye to Carrie over the phone, for instance, the final episode had her attending his public execution and even climbing a fence to shout his name so that he could see her during his final moments.

Such a decision was almost laughable and completely unnecessary. Would a sympathetic Westerner have been allowed to get that close to the situation, let alone leave uninjured (let alone alive) if she had declared her sympathy for a fellow American in the middle of Tehran’s cauldron on hate? The decision to include the scene exposed the sometimes soft underbelly underpinning the show.

Likewise, the scenes that followed Brody’s execution, that took place four months after it. Anyone expecting a set-up for season four and a cliffhanger resolution may have been disappointed at the softly, softly final moments which, it could be argued, made the show look directionless.

Had the season faded to black following Brody’s departure, then minds would have been ablaze with rumours and speculation about what might happen next, while trying to process the enormity of what had just occurred.

Instead, we had Carrie posted to Istanbul and deciding that she wouldn’t be a fit mother (the second betrayal of Brody in this episode if she decides to stick with her decision), Saul entering the private sector (but looking decidedly retired), and Lockhart overseeing things as the new head of the CIA. There was even a memorial ceremony for fallen CIA officers that neglected to include Brody until Carrie added his star to the wall with her own pen.

But none of these scenes carried as much impact as Brody’s final moments. And, if anything, his absence was immediately felt, just as it had been during some of the earlier episodes in this particular series.

Another problem that Homeland now faces is its continued ability to really be taken seriously. Whereas season one was brilliantly constructed, tightly woven and scarily possible, season two began to loosen that grip, while season three – despite some brilliant moments of intrigue (usually involving Saul) – entered the realms of the fantasy.

The decision to make Iran the new enemy, while certainly relevant to current global concerns early on, slowly began to feel like a wish fulfilment fantasy. And by that I mean enabling Saul’s plan to plant an asset deep within the Iranian government, let alone insert Brody to carry out an assassination, felt like a political wet dream that held little basis in reality.

Admittedly, the US government has past history for attempting such coups from within (such as a failed attempt to depose Hugo Chavez) but to do it so successfully here felt a little self-congratulatory, especially given the eventual pay-off of having Iran agree to allowing the West to access its nuclear programme in exchange for a relaxing of trade sanctions.

Again, it begs the question, where can Homeland go from here? It’s new world order created by Brody’s act of heroism and sacrifice is now so far removed from reality that maintaining any credible tension going forward is going to be a difficult act to pull off. Should it have tackled the hot potato that is Iran if the decision was always going to be to stray so far from reality?

We’ll undoubtedly tune in to find out once season four rolls around as, for the moment at least, there’s intrigue enough to see how Homeland recovers from the loss of one its undoubted assets, especially if the ever-excellent Patinkin and Danes are kept in play, and Letts and Rupert Friend are given more to do.

But this could now be a show that’s living on borrowed time.

Related: Alex Gansa discusses Homeland’s future and Brody exit