[Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers for “Homeland” Season 6, including the finale which aired Sunday night.]
Peter Quinn died as he lived: charging headfirst into a mess created by Carrie Mathison, saving her and killing himself in the process. As infuriating as it sounds at the onset, Quinn’s death in the Season 6 finale of “Homeland” fit because it mirrored his mentality so well. Quinn spent much of his time on “Homeland” ignoring his own well-being in order to protect Carrie’s, dating all the way back to when he refused to kill Brody because Quinn knew doing so would hurt her. That’s why driving kamikaze-style into a hail of gunfire, with Carrie crouching behind him, is as apt an ending as it is tragic, maddening, and final.
We wanted more for Quinn, but it always felt like too much to hope for, especially after his near-death in Season 5. While some may believe he should’ve been put out of his misery then, Season 6 clarified things for a character worthy of an epilogue. Quinn is dead. There’s no cliffhanger this season. He’s gone, and Carrie will certainly be drinking her guilt away for years to come.
But Quinn’s mental damage was evident long before Carrie woke him from a coma in Season 5; a decision that pushed Quinn’s internal pain to the surface in frightening new ways. Quinn, after all, was the one who stabbed Brody in the hand during an interrogation and spent his off-duty hours drinking himself to death (in Season 4) or shooting heroin with Brooklyn prostitutes (in Season 6). He was never OK, and the debate over Carrie’s influence on him being more or less OK will rage on long after his death.
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What we do know is that Rupert Friend honored Quinn year in and year out, finding fierce belief in a complex emotional identity. This wasn’t just a man torn between personal belief and the duties of his job, but an officer who struggled to identify the difference. He was picked up by the CIA from a foster home when he was just 16 years old, tutored under Dar Adal, and enlisted as the youngest SAD officer in the history of the agency at 18. His life was built through the CIA and framed by early tragedy. What he was asked to do for the job defined him in a way difficult to imagine, but not unlike what 18-year-old army recruits go through when they’re deployed overseas.
Except, perhaps, that Quinn’s job demanded even more secrecy. With that and his young recruitment in mind, it’s hard to imagine how he found the nerve to defy orders when asked to kill Brody. He did it for Carrie, a human choice as much as a romantic one, and this reasoning pushed Quinn to become more and more suspicious of his leaders, culminating in his attack and near-assassination of Dar Adal in Season 6. It’s quite a journey, especially when you remember Quinn was a minor character at the start of all this.
And here’s where Friend’s triumph is magnified. Quinn’s arc, now complete, is a massive undertaking even before including the physical transformation demanded in the final season. First, we had to believe in Quinn as a lovelorn supporting character who needed to be somewhat overwhelmed, but not totally pushed aside, by the mondo passion and bonkers drama inherent in the Carrie/Brody romance. Once Brody was out of the picture, the audience needed to reinvest in Quinn with the same vigor of the former lead. While “Homeland” itself stuttered slightly during the transition, Friend was resolute; notching up his intensity gradually and carefully building the character as more and more information was revealed.
Even Quinn’s actual romance with Carrie played out well, much to Friend’s credit. After a fight in the writers’ room over whether or not it should even happen, fans remained fervently split over the the couple known as “Quarrie” to the end. Friend, for his part, played into Carrie’s craziness by being the reliable rock: Showrunner Alex Gansa deserves credit for all the times Quinn called Carrie out on her bullshit, from her risky plans with Brody to ordering a drone strike on Saul in Season 4. But Friend showcased a restraint that I greatly appreciated: He knew someone had to ground the scenes where Carrie goes off the rails, and so often that person was Quinn.
In Season 6, he had the unique challenge of taking on both roles: the madman and the realist. Made into a shadow of his former self by Carrie’s fateful choice in Season 5, Quinn wandered through the season like a ghost. He lurked in Carrie’s basement, a living reminder of her shame who still — even after she told him what she’d done — kept working to protect her. Carrie would have never uncovered the conspiracy without Quinn, but he was the crazy one all of a sudden, throwing a reporter down the front steps and taking Carrie’s daughter hostage. She had to fight to protect him, instead of the other way around.
And yet, even in those intense scenes, Friend was the one who kept moments authentic. Never did he lean so hard into Quinn’s debilitations that we lost track of who he was and why he made these choices. His expressions were carefully conveyed and speaking voice perfectly evocative of both authority and pain. Even when he was shouting like a monkey in Episode 11 — a scene Friend said was one of his favorites — Quinn felt real, which made his death all the more painful.
“It’s more like a leap of faith,” Friend said in an interview at a recent “Homeland” screening. “You know when you love someone, and you don’t really know why, but you know that you do. It’s more like that then, ‘Well, I know I should love them. They’re kind, generous, faithful, and beautiful.’ That’s not love. That’s a weird logical choice. I think when this gets good, it’s when logic is done and magic takes over.”
Friend then laughed at himself, noting that it sounded like a “hokey” explanation, but he genuinely believed that’s what needed to happen for those scenes to work. And in that gray area between hokey and genuine belief, that’s where Peter Quinn lived. He was a true hero, and one who could only show who he wanted to be, who he really was, through a tragic end. His final episodes brought closure to his relationships and defined his purpose.
Could Quinn have been more than a gallant protector and suffering hero? In another world, yes, but in “Homeland,” his ending could never have been happy. As hard as it is to accept, his life was defined by a job that took it from him, and that’s exactly how it had to end.