written by Alex Gansa & Meredith Stiehm / directed by Michael Cuesta
Against expectations, Homeland managed to pull off a good finale to cap an inconsistent sophomore season. It often felt like everything leading up to Brody's (Damien Lewis) interrogation in "Q&A" was a worthwhile postscript to the brilliant first season, and then the writers didn't really know what to do and started leaning on increasing silliness. I haven't disliked season 2 as much as some people have, but it was clearly inferior to the award-winning first and often tested your faith. However, "The Choice" was a pleasant surprise, aided by the fact many people thought it couldn't pull itself out of a hole.
However, the first twenty minutes or so felt weak in many respects. It was like watching the finale of my nightmares, where it didn't feel like there was much to be watching now. Brody whisked Carrie (Claire Danes) away to the log cabin where they famously first slept together in "The Weekend", but all we got was a more awkward attempt to replicate the romance of that season 1 episode now both characters are unburdened by secrets; while Saul (Mandy Patinkin) was detained by Estes (David Harewood) until black ops assassin Quinn (Rupert Friend) could complete his mission to kill Brody. Things certainly became interesting once Quinn revealed he has an ethical code; deciding to let Brody live and scare Estes into calling off the hit, because there's simply no threat to national security and Brody deserves to be rewarded for his help in catching Abu Nazir.
And then the finale really started to offload some surprises. I don't think anyone was expecting Vice-President Walden's funeral at CIA headquarters to be targeted by a massive car-bomb, and the sequence was handled with confidence and skill. It also made more sense of Nazir's unconvincing and hazy masterplan, if you accept he's a terrorist leader prepared to die in order to execute a deeper plan. I especially liked how this section of the finale cut between two funerals: Walden's memorial attended by high-ranking officials, and Nazir's respectful but regimented burial-at-sea (no doubt inspired by what happened in real life with Osama Bin Laden's corpse). Of course, what really galvanised the finale were the repercussions of this act. Al Qaeda have successfully framed Brody for the atrocity, by ensuring the explosives came from the vehicle he drove to the funeral in (don't the CIA have bomb checks?), and later released his recorded confession to the media. So now everyone thinks Brody's a despicable terrorist, including his devastated family, and even the heart-to-heart he had with Mike (Diego Klattenhoff) looks suspiciously like the farewell of a suicide bomber.
One question that's always asked of Homeland is this: how long can it keep this story going? It struggled after Brody was exposed as a brainwashed terrorist operative, but what can the third season bring to the table? Carrie has decided to believe Brody's claim he knew nothing about the bombing (which I'm inclined to agree with, knowing how nervous he got last time), and has helped him flee the country with fake IDs. Will the next season check in with Brody as a government fugitive trying to leave the country, or only occasionally? The latter would make more sense, but then what was the point of keeping Brody alive? It would have made more sense to have just killed him here, with the cruelty being the world will forever think this valiant war hero was a mass murderer. The fact he's still around suggests the writers have a plan for Brody, but I'm not sure if I'm interested in any of the directions they'll have to choose for his character.
Estes is dead, but Quinn will presumably chase after Brody, perhaps as part of a manhunt storyline once everyone agrees Brody didn't die in the blast. After all, from Quinn's perspective, Brody pulled the wool over his eyes and should have been assassinated at the lake when he had the chance. Also, what will Carrie tell Saul about her disappearing act for hours? She attended the memorial but left to do what exactly? Will Saul believe whatever excuse she gives, or know she helped Brody escape the country? I assume Saul won't think Brody was behind the bombing, seeing as he knows the released confession was relating to a previous plot?
"The Choice" was definitely the kind of gut wrenching episode we needed to end this difficult season on, because it offered major changes that could revitalise the series. But it might also just prolong a storyline that's avoided the perfect thematic ending. You have to wonder what's going to be happening come the fourth or fifth season if the writers are apparently so keen to keep Damien Lewis involved because he has chemistry with Claire Danes. A chemistry that, to be honest, was less compelling without season 1's uncertainties over Brody's loyalty, and might just get less and less enjoyable...