December 16th, 2012
When Homeland’s first season ended, it offered what some viewed as a clean slate: Carrie’s memory was wiped, Brody’s secret was safe, and it seemed to set the table for everything to go back to normal as though nothing had ever happened. And when the second season began, there was certainly some semblance of stability, every character going on with the new version of their lives.
“The Choice” draws a similar picture of the post-Nazir era for Brody and Carrie, in that they believe they have a clean slate, that this is the second chance Carrie referred to earlier this season in the motel room. And yet just as the early part of this season exploded any sense of stability more quickly than we would have imagined heading into the season, so too does any post-Nazir calm disappear with great efficiency.
It’s a thematic parallel that fell into place for me as I was watching the finale, one which did little to assuage my frustrations with a central principle of the season but did much to piece together how and why certain storylines were constructed leading up to this point. The season makes more sense as a result of the events in “The Choice,” but it didn’t necessarily become any more successful than the mixed bad heading into the finale, capping off a season of television that I admire for its commitment and question for its choices.
I will spare you a long treatise on the season as a whole (in part because it’s a busy time of year, in part because so many others are writing them), but I want to tie one particularly maligned storyline to the theme discussed above before outlining my central frustration with how this finale went down.
I’ve always argued that Dana and Finn’s car accident has served a purpose, although this argument has largely fallen on deaf ears. I fully understand that the storyline felt like a distraction, but that was partly the point. It was a microcosm of the season’s larger storyline, in which the show explored how much of a tragic event can ever truly be buried. The swiftness with which the accident was swept under the rug, the victim’s family paid off handsomely in order to keep quiet, was a lesson to Dana that a traumatic personal event can be entirely swept under the rug in the name of politics. Every emotion that she couldn’t suppress was being suppressed by the Vice-President in order to protect his own political reputation, and her inability to suppress this—exploding in acts of adolescent frustration that others have mocked as childish—was what separated her from someone like Walden, or Estes, whose very job is to suppress—or redact—their actions.
Brody’s family has always represented collateral damage, even if Quinn doesn’t bother to include them in the potential collateral damage had he gone through with killing Brody as intended. I’ve always valued their presence, and valued the hit-and-run storyline, precisely because it keeps this from becoming a show about people who are trained to deal with these situations. Rather than place Dana in danger, the show chose to create a scenario that made visible to her—and through her—the realities of political life so as to further highlight the psychological struggle Brody faces and the impact of that struggle on his family. It also became foreshadowing of sorts, the parallel to Brody and Carrie’s bolt from Langley following the terrorist attack perpetrated with Brody’s car: just as Walden’s profile kept him from stopping to help, so too did Brody’s profile keep them from sticking around. Regardless of how one enjoyed the storyline—that’s a different discussion—I do feel the finale placed it within a thematic framework that proved crucial to the episode’s struggle to find a clean slate in the wake of the attack and Brody’s subsequent “framing” (I’m keeping it in quotes only because I still lack conclusive evidence to discredit Emily Nussbaum’s theory). I continue to find that theme important, and resist any suggestions that Dana’s storyline didn’t contribute to the thematic work that “The Choice” brought to the forefront in a moment of false calm.
Where this theme starts to fall apart from me is when we turn to Carrie and Brody’s relationship. This season has been what I’d term a false epilogue, in that a season that began looking like a post-script to last season—Carrie’s a teacher! Brody’s in Congress!—quickly turned into a continuation of that season’s storyline as the truth returns to the surface. Nearly every secret emerged that looked as though it was hidden, and new secrets were kept and revealed with similar frequency. And so it’s fitting that “The Choice” is also a false epilogue, looking like it’s the denouement right up until the moment that bomb explodes outside of Langley. But what bugs me about “The Choice” is that it seems so enamored with the idea that Carrie and Brody’s love is the real victim here, and that their chance to be together was what was truly destroyed when that bomb went off.
It is perhaps unfair to suggest that the episode prioritizes their love exclusively given that we also get shots of its impact on Jessica and the kids, but there’s this tragic note to Carrie and Brody’s parting that I just don’t buy. This is fine, as far as I’m concerned, as there is always room for a show as layered as Homeland—and yes, I still believe it is layered—to be read or interpreted in multiple ways, similar to how Emily’s referenced theory operates in conjunction with other points of view. However, throughout “The Choice” it felt like the writers were the ones too invested in Carrie and Brody’s relationship, as opposed to Carrie. Between the dialogue and the music, I found myself rolling my eyes not at the idea of the two characters being in love, but rather at the uncritical gaze through which the episode viewed their relationship. Although I will give credit to Ganza and Stiehm’s script in that Saul—always the voice of reason—expresses his misgivings, even his rebuttal read as though it was Carrie imagining Saul’s disapproval rather than a real conversation between those two characters.
My issues with the conclusion derives from my frustration with how it glamorizes their relationship, as though they really were star-crossed lovers, the terrorist and the CIA operative who fell in love at the wrong time in the wrong place. It flattens both of their characters, positioning Carrie as a character who is forced to choose between love and career to find happiness and privileging Brody’s relationship with Carrie over his connection with his children or his faith or any other facet of his character that felt swallowed up by it all. The idea of splitting the characters up for a third season is a smart solution narratively, and could allow the show to refocus the characters in more productive directions, but the idea of their love being this tragic loss that will forever bound them to one another never connected with me in the way I believe the writers intended. Before this episode, I felt the critical view of their relationship was possible within the way the characters were being framed by the story: based on what I saw in this finale, and how the “Previously On” segment before the episode reframed the rest of the season, I am simply not where the writers believe I should be, and it damaged my impression of the finale and the season as a whole.
It did not do so irreparably. The theme I focus on above really resonated with me during the finale, as I was right there with the episode when Brody’s video came back to haunt him just as we had forgotten about it, and I appreciated the commitment to a major and substantial loss of life that cannot simply be erased by Saul as the new deputy director as much as he might want it to be a clean slate. I continue to find the show brave in its unwillingness to keep a clean slate for long, and believe that this approach could create a compelling third season with Brody’s story—and that of his family—continuing to appear on the slate. The issue is that I don’t want to be asked to care about this because of the romantic tragedy of it all, and at times “The Choice” felt like it wasn’t giving me a choice in the matter, something I’d consider far more problematic than a hit-and-run or another elaborate scenario designed to extend the life of these themes and stories for another year.
- I may have more thoughts tomorrow as I read other reviews, and I’ll leave them here if so.