The article below contains spoilers for "The Choice," the Monday, December 17th episode of "Homeland."
Well, it wasn't like we were expecting a happily ever after.
Season two of "Homeland" was brought to a quavering end last night in the Michael Cuesta-directed "The Choice" by revealing what's in store for the next year (or, given the way the series has been running through storylines, maybe just the next year's season premiere) . Brody (Damian Lewis) was left on the run, apparently set up by whoever's left at al-Qaeda (led by Israeli actor Alon Aboutboul as the man taking credit for the attack) to take the fall for a terrorist plot that he wasn't actually involved in this time, that martyrdom video surfacing to make it look like this was all part of his plan. Even Carrie (Claire Danes) thought that was the case for a second, awakening in the rubble after the explosion and pulling a gun on her lover, his comment about how someone had moved his car seconds before the blast not enough to dissuade her that he hadn't known what was coming. Brody has gone from a bad guy everyone thought was good to a good guy everyone thinks is bad, and when they confirm out he's not among those many bodies Saul (Mandy Patinkin) was standing amidst at the episode's end, he's going to be enemy number one.
As clunky as it was getting there in these last few episodes, it's not a bad note on which to end the season -- it's an intriguing turn for the character of Brody (if not as intriguing as the idea of him still harboring destructive intentions) and it puts Carrie in the double agent position this time, as she returned to the CIA with a major secret, determined to clear Brody's name. It also separates Brody and Carrie again ("We came so close"), and if this episode demonstrates anything, it's that "Homeland" can't survive much of the two together when they're not trying to manipulate one another with competing agendas.
The scenes of the pair returning to Carrie's family's cabin (the setting of the season one episode "The Weekend") highlighted how difficult the transition between high stakes terrorist plot and personal drama is, and how the show wasn't able to, in this case, navigate it. Carrie and Brody sitting in front of that fireplace discussing the future of their relationship and his next career choice seemed ludicrous given the context -- it wasn't long ago at all that Brody was reporting to Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban) and helping murder the Vice President, and now they're having The Talk about their lives together and playing house out by the lake.
The chemistry between Danes and Lewis has always been a major asset of the series, but it's best served as an unexpected complication in their respective situations and as a counter to the loneliness and isolation of the paths they've each chosen -- how do you navigate having an electric, undeniable connection to someone you can't trust? The prospect of their considering a normal life together after everything that's passed is difficult to swallow even without the plot complications.
Nazir is dead, but was there ever any reason to believe that all of al-Qaeda was gone, that everyone who knew about Brody's involvement was dead or captured or that he and his family wouldn't have to go into the previously discussed witness protection? The assumption of safety felt utterly inexplicable, and when Carrie's dilemma was posed as one of a relationship versus a career, with Saul offering her a chance at becoming a station chief, it seemed like someone should have pointed out that by any logic she'd be giving up a lot more than a job.
The dischordant domesticity of the scenes of our two beloved, crazypants protagonists discussing their relationship was paired with a more familiar melodrama from Quinn (Rupert Friend), who solved the whole "Estes (David Harewood) wants Brody dead" problem by suddenly and uncharacteristically declaring that black ops types have feelings and can be shippers too. Quinn noted that Brody's info was good, that he had "never seen a better intelligence officer" than Carrie, and he, basically, thought these kids might just make it work. Then he threatened a CIA director in a way that suggested that government sanctioned hitmen have an alarming amount of autonomy. With Estes gone in the blast, here's guessing that if Quinn makes a reappearance, it'll be as part of the team tracking Brody down, sorry for having trusted him. Either way, it was a development more fitting for a goofy blockbuster movie than the show "Homeland" started out with.
If this last stretch of the "Homeland" season has been disappointing, and I've of the opinion it for the most part was, it's because it's found the series morphing from a nuanced thriller that took place in a heightened but somewhat realistic world to one that takes place in a more cartoonish space. Quinn's shifting of alliances, Brody and Carrie's heated declarations ("This was love, you and me"), that "insurance plan" box full of fake passports and piles of cash, the route to take a freighter from Newfoundland into international waters -- it's more "Bourne Identity" than "Zero Dark Thirty."
And while there's nothing wrong with "The Bourne Identity," the change comes at the expense of the series seeming to drop IQ points as it goes along and resembles more and more executive producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon's last hit, "24." Part of what made that first season so fascinating is that the characters had a status quo to maintain -- bosses to please, facades to keep up, families to convince. Its domestic and terrorism storylines ran close and were dependent on one another. The leaps the show's made between storylines this season have become ever more jarring as that distance has grown, which is part of the reason the attempted return to normalcy in the first half of "The Choice" felt so awkward. It's difficult to suddenly turn the volume back down.
If "Homeland" takes a more standard espionage angle in its next season, it could and probably will still be plenty entertaining, but it seems poised to lose the human element that set the series apart in its initial arc. In the finale, it was only Saul (and a great performance from Patinkin) who brought that sense of palpable shock and sorrow, who seemed like a man who had just lost friends and coworkers as well as one about to be tasked with investigating an attack on U.S. soil. In that phone conversation with his wife Mira (Sarita Choudhury), in which he wouldn't ask her to come home but was so grateful when she suggested it herself, or when reciting the Kaddish while standing in front of two hundred corpses, he was the beating heart of this episode, and a reminder of how good the series can be.