Part 3: The End Never Justifies The Means
Maybe I’ve been spoiled by so many brilliant series ending exceptionally over the past couple of years, starting with The Americans and following through with Jane the Virgin and Mr. Robot in the past few months. But I walked away from the last minutes of Homeland mainly dissatisfied with what I saw.
Most of the back half of the final season has dealt with the suspicious crash of a helicopter carrying the U.S. and Afghani Presidents after a tentative peace deal. Both Carrie and Saul spent most of the time after that trying to stop the over-his President Hayes from not only going to war in Afghanistan, but starting a nuclear conflict in the Middle East. The difference was approach: Saul spent most of the back half trying to bend a President who was increasingly listening to an ultra-conservative advisor (Hugh Darcy in full oily mode) and Carrie formed an alliance with Gromov, the Russian spy who had been allied with her and spent it trying to make her defect to the Russians — which she did in the last two episodes.
Of course, when Russia obtained the black box — which revealed the crash was completely accidental — Hayes refused to do anything to obtain the box, and the Russians refused to hand it over because they wanted something in exchange — Saul’s contact in the Russian hierarchy. Carrie did everything in her power to obtain the information rationally, but due to the fact the only way she could get it was through Saul’s death, she was forced in the finale to put an op in effect to kill Saul.
The problem with this storyline is that it’s plain not believable. The only constant through this entire series has been the relationship between Saul and Carrie. It’s been filled with tension, there have been multiple betrayals, but after everything that happens, the two share a bond that goes far beyond mere mentor and student. The idea that Carrie would allow her blind devotion to protecting her country — and the way they tried to tie this into Brody’s mission in Season 1 wasn’t close to subtle — would lead to her decision to attack the man she basically loved like a father — is completely and utterly impossible to me.
Equally inexplicable is Saul’s behavior. Considering that he spent all of his efforts trying to avoid a war in the Middle East — was willing to make deals with the head of the Taliban and a Pakistani prime minister who tried to have him killed several years earlier — it is utterly ludicrous that he wouldn’t do anything possible to prevent a nuclear exchange. The explanation he gave to Carrie in their final confrontation was even more surreal. He first said that his contact was the only Russian one they had since Allison Carr — the Russian mole and Saul’s lover in Season 5 — betrayed all of their assets — which is sort of sensible. But for him to argue that the costs of tens of thousands of soldiers lives in the Middle East was a) a regional conflict compared to the greater threat in Russia, and b) the cost of doing business, didn’t sound like something Saul would say. David Estes or Dar Adal, definitely; Saul Berenson, who has been the voice of reason, and more importantly of compassion for the entire series? No, it doesn’t work.
So Carrie went through with her plan, and tried to have Saul killed. The fact that she didn’t follow through didn’t make it any less sickening. So she goes to her backup plan, which meant going to see Saul’s sister in Israel, saying that Saul had died. The Russian asset was exposed, and killed herself. War was averted. And Carrie was now burned in the U.S. Her reaction: “Saul loved me, he trusted me, and now that is gone!” and Gromov’s reaction that this was: “The cost of doing business.” Basically the reaction was that espionage guts everything.
The epilogue two years later didn’t exactly warm me up either. It was revealed that Carrie had basically spent the last two years writing a book called ‘Tyranny of Secrets’ in which she exposed all the Agency’s and government secrets in her time there. Saul was retiring from the agency, when he got a call from one of his old contacts. In it was a copy of Carrie’s book, and buried in it was microfilm revealing a key Russian secret.
I expect that the fact Carrie has still remained loyal to her country and has renewed her relationship with Saul is supposed to be a happy ending, but I can’t bring myself to see it that way. The dedication of her book: ‘For my daughter, in the hope that one day she understands”, just sets up ‘the cost of doing business’ as being too high. Carrie has turned her back on every single connection she had in the U.S., burned bridges she can never restore, lost her family, and somehow the idea that somehow she’s ‘doing what’s she great at.” In The Americans’ ending, Elizabeth and Philip lost everything that they had as agents to, but at least after all the horror they still had each other to hold on too. Carrie has a relationship with Gromov (Costa Ronin was much more effective playing a doubtful KGB agent in The Americans, by the way) which is just based on a lie. Her daughter will be raised to think of her as a traitor. And maybe Saul knows the truth (and the shot of his face near the end shows he did understand) but the odds are he’ll never see her again. There’s just no joy to be found in any of it.
Homeland was a far more erratic series than so many others of the Golden Age, but it could be frequently and often brilliant too. But like Mad Men and The Good Wife, it couldn’t stick the landing. Maybe it would have had more relevance if we weren’t living in the era of a pandemic — compared to what we’re going through now, nuclear annihilation seems positively tame — but I have a feeling even if had aired last fall, it would still seem out of touch. It doesn’t quite lay to waste everything that came before — this didn’t play like Lost or Dexter — but I have a feeling it will not make rewatching it easy. Homeland, in its way, was the perfect series for the post 9–11 world, but like 24 Gordon’s other masterpiece, it badly blunted itself near the end. I really hope Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin don’t come back in six years with Homeland: Enemies Foreign and Domestic. I think it might even be more out of touch than the final incarnation of 24 we got or the finale here.