Tuesday, 20 December 2011

HOMELAND, 1.12 – "Marine One"

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

I loved this finale. It was everything I was hoping for, knowing that Homeland doesn't have the luxury of being a self-contained miniseries but has to leave a door open for season 2, and beyond. It all made sense to me, it felt real, the characters were handled superbly, the acting was superlative, and the final (literal) shock left me with heart palpitations. Even the decision to extend the episode to a feature-length 180-minutes didn't cause a problem, because there was enough story here to go the distance. A superb end to what's been a brilliant freshman season.

"Marine One" felt more like a political thriller than ever before, as Sgt Nick Brody's (Damien Lewis) plan came into sharp relief: attend an event with the Vice-President (whom he blames for causing the deaths of 86 children in Iraq with an immoral, disavowed air strike), then, after accomplice Walker assassinates a random target on the doorsteps of the venue, detonate his suicide vest after he's ushered into a secure room full of dignitaries and high-ranking politicians, thus avoiding the metal detector scan amidst all the panic. I really liked this plan. It wasn't too far-fetched and ridiculous, but instead allowed for fantastic moments of sweeping action and tight tension. The standout sequence being Brody's cold sweat moments as he tried to summon the courage to blow himself up in a confined "panic room", only for the vest to fail and require him to repair its wiring in an adjacent toilet. Lewis was incredible every step of the way, and Michael Cuesta's smart direction really put you into the mind of Nick Brody. My heart was in my throat throughout. Incredible.

It was always going to be difficult to involve Carrie (Claire Danes) in this last episode, after her affair with Brody was exposed and she's been forced to take leave by Estes (David Harewood), but the finale coped just fine. Her manic phase was over, leading to depression, compounded by her realisation she loves Brody—thus adding heartbreak into the equation because his actions have cost her job. But a go-getter like Carrie wasn't going to lie around in bed eating chicken soup all day, so it wasn't long before she was at the VP's engagement as a spectator with Virgil (David Marciano) trying to piece together what's really going to happen. The fact she had an epiphany about Abu Nazir's masterplan, including Brody's suicidal role after the sniper "near-miss", was then dealt a hurtful real blow when confidant Saul (Mandy Patinkin) refused to believe her wild theory and sent men to arrest her!

It's incredible how much drama you can squeeze from the simplicity of someone being disbelieved by people in a position to act. Danes was equally as good as Lewis in this episode, filled with instability and desperation. The way her mental illness has come back to bite her has been very cleverly handled. What was really interesting is how Carrie actually did manage to save the day, by getting Brody's daughter Dana (Morgan Saylor) to call her dad during the lock-down—knowing she's the best link to Brody's sense of humanity as a loving father. Again, Lewis's performance was beyond reproach. His phone conversation with his upset daughter, pathologically unable to lie when she asks him to promise he'll be coming home, was truly amazing work. This wasn't just a tense battle to prevent the death of a roomful of VIPs, it was the battle to save a man's soul, and you really felt that.

And, for now, Carrie's frantic actions and Dana's suspicions ultimately prevented Nazir's revenge on American soil for the death of his young son. But there was none of the expected celebration, as nobody even realises Carrie's theory was correct about her theory, including herself because she has no idea Dana talked her father out of becoming a martyr. The only good news was that Saul believed in Carrie's theory that something happened to Nazi in an eleven-month period of inactivity to bring about this current crisis, and managed to uncover the redacted air strike files that implicate the Vice-President and Estes as being complicit in the knowing murder of innocent kids. But even that's something Saul knows can never become public knowledge, because it would be used to recruit more anti-American radicals overseas.

A seriously brilliant finale. The way it setup for season 2 also made sense and could be worthy of exploration, as Brody hasn't lost his desire to get revenge for those innocent children, so he's simply lied about his vest malfunctioning and persuaded Nazir that he'll be more use as a political figure. This also confirms that the VP asking him to run for office was never part of Nazir's plan, but is indeed an unexpected and desirable consequence. Not only that, but Brody now has real blood on his hands after he executed Walker to prove his continuing loyalty to Nazir.

And then there's the epilogue, set days after the events presented, with Carrie volunteering for electro-shock therapy to cure her mental illness. I really wasn't expecting this show to go down that route, if only because this surely means she'll only ever have a desk job at the CIA again. Or am I wrong in that assumption? I guess Saul has some leverage with Estes to get Carrie back to work, but we'll see. And just when you thought the show was wrapping up, it dealt one final blow: Carrie absently remembering Brody talking in his sleep about Nazir's son, meaning he was aware of the whole reason Nazir wants revenge against the US, but seconds after she was given anaesthetic and an electrical shock to the brain that may damage her short-term memory!

There was so much to love about this episode. I'm very interested to see how the writers handle season 2, although it will definitely be a tougher job for them because they can't be ambiguous about Brody any longer. It might also be annoying if they have Carrie forget most of her misgivings about Brody because of her treatment, so we have another season of her to essentially coming to the same conclusions again. We'll have to wait and see how the writers tackle the obvious issues, but it perhaps would have been better if Homeland had been a miniseries with a beginning, middle and end.

Overall, Homeland has been the nicest surprise this year. An intelligent and engrossing drama that knew exactly how to operate, with a clear and refreshing emphasis on characterisation. I can't even think of another TV show where you're hoping the heroes will succeed, but you're also sympathetic to the villains. It's this delicious grey area that Homeland really excels with, because it better reflects real life.

written by Alex Gansa & Chip Johannessen (story by Alex Gansa & Howard Gordon) / directed by Michael Cuesta / 18 December 2011 / Showtime