Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck might not seem to belong in a review of a searing cable drama about terrorism, but bear with me, OK? In the climax of Show Biz Bugs (1957), in which Bugs and Daffy compete for the right to claim top billing in a show, Daffy decides he’s had enough of being bested by the rabbit and hauls out his trump card, self-immolation. “I must warn those with weak constitutions to leave the theater for this performance,” the duck says, then swallows gasoline, nitro glycerine, gunpowder, uranium and a lit match, and explodes. “That’s terrific, Daffy!” Bugs exclaims from the wings, over thunderous applause. “They loved it! They want more!” “I know, I know,” says Daffy’s ghost, floating toward the rafters. “But I can only do it once!”
As knocked out as I was by the first season finale of Homeland, a part of me worries that the series might be the self-immolating Daffy Duck of cable dramas — incapable of topping itself in future seasons because the nature of its achievements this year are innately singular, and can only be diluted by a storyline that stretches out for two-plus years. (I have the same fears about American Horror Story, and I remember having them after Twin Peaks finally revealed who killed Laura Palmer, then sort of stumbled along until ABC canceled it.)
I even worry that the only major tactical mistake that Homeland made in its 90-minute season-ender was letting Marine Sgt. Nick Brody end his weird odyssey free and unharmed at the end. If producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa had let Brody swallow the match, so to speak — and complete his suicidal terrorist attack, or get shot or otherwise neutralized in the State Department bunker, or be talked down by his teenage daughter Dana, or his wife Jessica or Carrie, and sent to prison — the series would have still dazzled as a stand-alone while leaving us lots of plot and motivation questions to chew over. Brody’s statement on the phone to Abu Nazir — about how it might be more advantageous to have a fifth column influencing U.S. foreign policy rather than a sleeper agent plotting a bloodbath — makes dramatic sense, and it works as a setup for a second season, one set in the heart of executive branch power rather than on the military-intelligence fringes. But it’s damned hard to imagine how a scenario like the one that Brody laid out to Nazir could produce TV more exciting than the season that we just finished watching.
You can read the rest of Matt’s recap here at Salon.
Matt Zoller Seitz is the publisher of Press Play and TV critic for Salon.