Here's the thing about Homeland: Brody should have died (blown himself up, or blown himself and the vice president up, or blown himself and his daughter up, or been caught and killed by Carrie and/or Saul) at the end of Season 1. Yes, we love Damian Lewis, but Brody needed to go; Carrie (Claire Danes) and Saul (Mandy Patinkin) would then move onto another challenge in Season 2. Yay, Homeland.
That is not what happened. And – stop reading now if you have not watched Sunday's finale – Brody is still with us going into Season 3.
As it turns out, Homeland is a love story instead of a spy thriller. I was looking for Brody to double-cross Carrie, and force them into a situation in which she would have to take him out; I was wrong. Instead, in a twist that truly did surprise me, a car bomb – presumably orchestrated by Abu Nazir's organization – laid waste to a significant portion of the main cast. Brody is now exposed to the world as the terrorist he was (or possibly is), and though Carrie could have disappeared with him, she is going back inside: "I'm going to clear your name, Brody," she vows. It sets up a third season that could have Brody in it, but really should not.
Saul, meanwhile, provided the spine of the finale; he is bereft, but also empowered.
I found this season meandering, maddening, and unintentionally funny. While I never thought of Homeland as a document of realism, it has filled its hours with such nonsense that I've been stupefied by the decision-making. Worse, though, it has made me dislike the lead characters: Carrie is awful (selfish, pigheaded, terrible at her job), and Saul is useless. While I very much look forward to liking Homeland again, can I like these people again? God, I hope so.
I'm hardly alone; it's difficult to measure real viewer feelings through social media, but both critics and ordinary viewers seem, at the very least, less enamored of the show than during its superlative, Emmy-winning first season.
I have attempted to trace the problem in a list of moments during which Homeland fell apart for me. I've spoiled the finale already, but I'll reiterate: if you care about spoilers and are not caught up, read no further. I'm starting with the two-part finale from Season 1 — when I got a sinking feeling! — and going through every episode of the second season. And since what drives me crazy is subjective, please offer your best and worst Homeland moments in the comments section! Off we go…
This introduction was updated after the finale.
“Marine One – Part 1”: Season 1, Episode 11
Carrie has gone off her medication and had a break as a result. She's been fired. She's supposed to be sequestered in her home under the care of family and friends (of course, she doesn't really have friends, but Saul and Virgil are around). Brody is armed with a suicide vest to take out Vice President Walden (Jamey Sheridan) at a big, public event where he announces he's running for president. Sniper and fellow terrorist Tom Walker creates the crisis that forces Walden, Brody, and the cabinet into a bunker that would be the perfect spot for Brody to blow shit up.
1) Most ridiculous line knowing what we know from Season 2:
Saul about Carrie: “We shouldn’t kid ourselves. She’s never going to set foot in Langley again.” IF ONLY, SAUL.
2) Insubordinate Carrie moment:
Carrie gets out of the house and starts snooping around the area where the vice president's event is going to be. Fans might, um…recognize this pattern.
3) Irritating Dana instance:
Having walked in on Brody engaged in Muslim prayer, coupled with some other weird behavior on his part, Dana has become suspicious of and worried for her father. I actually think that Morgan Saylor is a good actress faced with a fairly impossible task on Homeland, but this thread does her no favors. She has to engage in extensive begging that Brody not go to the announcement — “I still think that you should stay here" on endless repeat — and I do recall wishing for Dana's death when I first saw this episode. (I was more sympathetic when I re-watched; poor Dana.)
At the end of the episode, a shaking, sweating, ready-to-die Brody is all set to carry out the suicide mission. (The way he looks, by the way? I would be so sure he was about to vomit that I would have gotten as far away from him as possible, and therefore would live!)
Then: The vest doesn’t work. It. Doesn't. Work.
“Marine One — Part 2”: Season 1, Episode 12
Brody is still intent on blowing up Walden. That does not happen. Brody convinces Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban) to take a more peaceful path in their terrorist operation — and then shoots Walker. Carrie, shaken that she was wrong about Brody, voluntarily undergoes ECT treatment. The season ends.
5) Irritating Dana instance:
When Brody has fixed the suicide vest and is going to pull the cord, Dana calls! I'm sure they'd put her right through in a national security crisis. Her badgering is supposed to be heartbreaking; I thought, were I Brody, it might have inspired me to pull the cord? Dana, by the way, absolutely knows at this point that her father is a terrorist. That seems to have been lost in Season 2.
As Brody tells Abu Nazir that he should just get close to the vice president as a congressman, let us honor the worst dialogue of the season: “At the very least, I’d be able to influence policy at the highest levels,” says Brody. “Why kill a man when you can kill an idea?” muses Abu Nazir, who apparently is another person on Homeland who is bad at his job.
Season 2! Episode 1: “The Smile”
Carrie, recovering at her father's house and teaching ESL, gets called upon by the CIA to go to Lebanon — where Saul is — to talk to a former source of hers who will speak only to her. On the Brody front, he is now in Congress and meets Roya (Zuleikha Robinson), his new Abu Nazir contact.
7) Insubordinate Carrie moment:
I felt fine about all of the setup for the season here and was happy to give Homeland the benefit of the doubt. But the season premiere does end with Carrie defying logic and safety and direct orders, going off by herself in Beirut to evade captors — and “Smile”-ing about it, as the episode title indicates. I guess we're supposed to embrace this characteristic of Carrie's? Hate it, though.
Episode 2: “Beirut Is Back”
Dana starts her flirtation with Finn Walden after a school encounter in the season premiere (cue music of dread). Carrie, in Beirut, is a panicky nervous wreck. Mike (Diego Klattenhoff) starts his tedious investigation of Brody. Carrie's source yields good information about where Abu Nazir will be, and after some hand-wringing, they decide to trust Carrie and go after him. Brody thwarts it. Afterward, Carrie disobeys orders — ARGH! — to go and grab stuff out of her informant's husband's office. This episode has a wonderful ending, the best of the season. Carrie returns to her father’s house, having nearly succeeded in getting Abu Nazir killed. It’s a triumph, but she’s deflated: She has no job and, therefore, no life. Saul is going through the intelligence she gathered during her disobeying snit and finds Brody’s (unused) I’m-a-terrorist-and-here’s-why tape. Carrie had been right all along about Brody. It’s great.
8) Laughable technology moment:
Sometimes I text someone who lives in the same city as I do and they never get it. Or they get it hours later. Therefore, the scene in which Brody is brought in to witness what seems to be an extremely classified operation among the joint chiefs of staff — just come on in, Brody! — drove me up a wall. When he learns the target is Abu Nazir, he takes out his BlackBerry and texts Abu Nazir’s lackey, who gets it immediately and spoils the assassination attempt. IN LEBANON. If I sat on my couch and texted my girlfriend that our house was on fire, maybe it would go through right away? Or maybe we would burn up in flames and die!
Episode 3: “State of Independence”
Saul leaves Beirut and fools those jerks at the airport (“Jewish, right?” “American.”) in order to bring home the damning Brody tape safely. Carrie listens to jazz, stays up late writing a report. She gets yelled at by her dad. Brody prepares for the speech he’s going to give to impress Vice President Walden. Roya tells Brody that he has to go get the terrorist tailor in Gettysburg (who had given him the suicide vest in Season 1) before the CIA gets to him. The tailor, Bassel, is a pain in the ass from the beginning, and everything goes to hell; Brody kills him. Carrie gets tired of being at her father's house, goes back to her apartment, gets depressed, swallows some pills to kill herself, changes her mind, throws up, and is fine. (Sigh.) After Brody misses the event because he was killing Bassel, Jessica (Morena Baccarin) and Brody fight, and she tells him if he can't tell her the truth, he needs to leave. At the end of the episode, Saul shows Carrie the Brody tape; it's a lovely moment. But this messy hour is the one when my inner voice turned into my outer voice, and it began yelling, “No, no, no, no, no, uh-oh.” Most people I follow on Twitter revolted after Episode 10, “Broken Hearts”; to me, “State of Independence” is the worst of the series by far and when things started to go to hell in earnest for Homeland.
9) Laughable technology moment:
There are a few times in this episode when Brody answers the phone for Jessica when he probably should not have. Like when he has Bassel in the car and they've gotten a flat. And here too: Bassel clubs Brody over the head. Brody chases him through the woods and tackles him; Bassel is impaled on a stick. (I've run through the woods and I've never been impaled — you?) They have a discussion about Bassel’s family in Syria, whether Brody can drop him at a hospital (no), and then Jessica calls. BRODY ANSWERS. Jess gives Brody shit, Brody lies…Bassel moans. Brody kills Bassel while on the phone with Jessica. Is this the lowest moment of the series? Yes. Here's the scene:
Episode 4: “New Car Smell”
The four-person investigation into a massive terrorist event begins, with new character Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend), Saul, Carrie, and Virgil (I don't count Max — sorry, Max!). Quinn is a mysterious black-ops guy. Carrie deliberately runs into Brody and they have an awkward conversation about how she’s fine now. She implies to him that her being back at the CIA has something to do with him. “If she’s back in play, it’s got to be about me,” Brody tells Roya. They agree he should reinitiate his relationship with Carrie. He calls her to get a drink at his hotel (he's left home). Carrie blows the entire secret surveillance operation that has lasted five seconds.
10) Foreboding Dana and Finn bits:
I didn’t really pay attention to these Dana-Finn exchanges when I first saw this episode. “So, brand-new car for your birthday, huh?” “Obnoxious, right?” “Yeah, big time.” “Gotta take the perks where I can get 'em.” “Poor little rich boy.” “It’s a sweet ride, though, right?” They will run someone over in the sweet ride in the next episode. And that's not the end of the foreshadowing of the worst plot twist of the season: Dana and Finn go up the Washington Monument, and when Dana says she wants to break up with her boyfriend before doing anything with him, she says, “He’s nice.” “But I’m nicer.” “No. You’re meaner.” “So it’s the car.” Can we go back in time to stop the hit-and-run? Please, scientists, what else are you doing?
11) Insubordinate Carrie moment:
This episode veered dramatically from how we all thought this story would unfold — in that Carrie arrested Brody at the end — and the Homeland writers got some credit from critics for upending traditional TV narrative structure. Do people still feel that way? I didn't at the time, and still don't. First of all, I didn’t understand Carrie going to meet Brody for a drink. At this point, Brody thinks that Carrie and the CIA now know he’s a terrorist; but if she did know, why would she hang out with him casually? Why would she ever tell him anything? Why would he pry in a teasing way? No: If Carrie were working on an operation involving Abu Nazir and/or Brody, she would never have a drink with Brody! This illogic is crystallized in her saying during the drink, “I’m circling a certain terrorist” in the same cadence one would say, “I landed that account” or “I’m shorting a lot of Facebook these days.”
And then she goes up to his room. He’s not happy to see her, but they’re still pretending until she lays it all out: their case against him, her personal anger toward him. We see the predatory, steely Brody from Season 1 — “I’ve had a pretty good run so far,” he says, threatening her that he can get away with anything. (Where did this guy go?) Yes, it’s great to hear Carrie say, “You’re a disgrace to your nation, Sgt. Nicholas Brody. You’re a traitor and a terrorist, and now it’s time you pay for that.” It should be a moment of strength for her. But her crestfallen cry face at the end shows us it’s not. I was making that same face in my living room after this episode because, despite some entertaining moments, I felt like this show makes no sense, was adding up to nothing, and was flailing around like a dying fish on a dock.
Episode 5: “Q & A”
“Q & A” — during which Brody is in custody nearly the whole time — has been everyone’s favorite of the season. I liked it too. The Brody interrogations by Quinn (very bad cop — he stabs Brody through the hand) and then Carrie are intense. Lesli Linka Glatter should be nominated for a Best Directing Emmy for this episode. Carrie gets into Brody’s head, for sure: Both actors are tremendous in this interrogation scene. “If I stopped lying, I would say, ‘Brody, I want you to leave your wife and children and be with me.’” Brody returns home to his family with an (almost) plausible story about his crazy behavior, and Carrie ends up alone on her couch drinking white wine.
12) There’s just one problem:
Finn and Dana run over the woman in his sweet ride and then zoom away. This plot is such a disaster, I have no words. I would like Procter & Gamble to manufacture some words for me to describe what a bad idea this thread is, how crappy the “payoff” has been, and how totally unnecessary it was. Until I hear back from P & G about those new words, I’ll stop here.
Episode 6: “A Gettysburg Address”
So much incompetence in this episode. It starts out with them unable to record Roya’s meeting with a terrorist and then losing him in the subway. There's a lot of Finn and Dana agonizing. Brody makes his deal with the CIA official in this episode; it seems sort of incredible for a terrorist to strike to save himself and his family. So why does he turn into a whiny baby? Having told Carrie that Bassel, the tailor, is dead, agents go to search his shop — Abu Nazir's men storm in, shoot everybody, and take the explosives (right? I don't even know what they were) out of the wall where they were hidden.
13) Finn/Dana hell:
This catastrophe takes up so much of “A Gettysburg Address.” So unnecessary, such a mistake. I'm starting to think thrillers just need to stop involving the children of the main characters.
14) Worrisome Carrie moment:
After the tailor shop operation goes bad, Carrie storms into Brody's office. (Why wouldn't Saul handle such an important thing, or even David Estes [David Harewood]?) “Have you been lying to me? Don’t you touch me, don’t you fucking dare!” She cries that famous Claire Danes cry. We’ve all cried at work once or twice, right? I know I have. But really: This is too much. Relieve this woman of her (still unofficially held!) job now.
Episode 7: “The Clearing”
This episode is notable for being an entire waste of Saul’s time. He goes to the prison where Aileen — the blonde terrorist from Season 1 (Marin Ireland) — is being held to ask her about the guy Roya met with, who presumably led the Gettysburg massacre. She jerks him around, they have a few compelling scenes (the two actors are great together, as we saw in Season 1’s road trip), he woos her with wine and cheese, her information leads to nothing; she was using Saul to kill herself.
15) Worrisome moment for women/all humanity:
On their way to a weekend-long fund-raiser, Jessica asks Brody about what Mike told her: that Brody killed Tom Walker. And Brody admits it. She's upset for 10 seconds, and by the end of the episode, it's never mentioned again! The women on this show are ridiculous. Just ridiculous.
16) Brody + Carrie = No!
Carrie comes to the woods near the fund-raiser to reassure Brody about Mike's investigation. They end up making out. He asks whether she’s just “handling” him, and she says she doesn’t know. And then he complains: He wonders how and why she makes him feel good. He says he feels used. The terrorist who’s getting his life back feels used. Here's a clip of this anger-producing scene:
17) More whining from Brody
Finn and Dana tell their parents about the hit-and-run. The Waldens start covering it up, but Brody takes Dana to the police to report it. To do so, though, would be to alienate him from Walden, so Carrie has to stop it. Brody sees that this is true; Dana runs away. “This is not OK,” he rants at Carrie. “None of this is fucking OK!” You know what’s not OK, Brody? Being a terrorist!
Episode 8: “I’ll Fly Away”
Brody loses his mind because of all the pressure he's under. He yells at Jessica, becomes semi-catatonic, freaks out on Roya, and quits terrorism. Carrie goes after him to bring him back; she takes him to a safe house, tells him her fantasy about their happily-ever-after existence, and they have loud sex. The Dana/Finn storyline winds down in this episode; she visits the dead woman's daughter, who's been paid off and who tells Dana never to report the crime or they will take the money away from her. We see that Abu Nazir has come to the U.S.
18) Brody speaks for the audience:
Carrie goes to Brody to tell him that he needs to go meet Roya. He’s curled up in a ball. “Everything’s falling apart,” he says. “This is a nightmare.” Pretty much, Brody.
19) Insubordinate Carrie moment:
There's more than one in “I'll Fly Away,” but the credibility crusher is at the end. Brody is with Roya and the guy they've been trying to track down, who led the Gettysburg operation and is key to the attack they're planning. Carrie, Virgil, and Max follow them in a van to a remote area in the country somewhere. After spending the whole hour (and the past several hours) defending Brody and what he can do for them, Carrie argues to Quinn that they rescue Brody and take down Roya and the guy. She once again defies a direct order. A helicopter lands and takes Brody and co. away; Carrie yells at Quinn like it’s his fault. Fire her. Fire her yesterday.
Episode 9: "Two Hats"
Brody is off the grid, and they fear he is dead. We see Abu Nazir and Brody talk, which ends with them embracing. Brody calls Carrie and tells her to get his family and take them somewhere safe. Saul continues to be suspicious of Quinn and finds out he's working for Lord Voldemort — I am kidding! He is working for some CIA black-ops menace named Dar Adal. Brody tells our CIA friends that there is going to be an attack the next day at a naval base where Vice President Walden will be greeting returning troops, and they set about thwarting it. Jessica and Mike have sex at the safe house. After Roya and her crew are arrested to stop the attack, we see that Estes will have Quinn kill Brody as soon as they don't need him anymore. (But they do still need him, so they abort that for now.)
Sometimes Claire Danes overacts. Most of the time she doesn't, and sometimes when she does, it still works for the Carrie character, who is forced into mind-bendingly ridiculous circumstances. The climactic scene of this episode was a bunch of terrorists moving batteries from a truck to a van in the clear light of day; it is possibly the least frightening visual one could conjure. The CIA team takes them down and looks to find Abu Nazir in the group of those captured. Carrie approaches the man they think might be him. In a voice that goes from quaver to scream, she says: "It's not him, it's not Abu Nazir, it's not him, Sandman is not here, WE DO NOT HAVE SANDMAN." I burst out laughing.
Episode 10: "Broken Hearts"
It's later in the day after the terrorist takedown. Saul meets with Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham, love you!), who tells Saul he's too sensitive for their line of work. Carrie's car gets hit by another car. Brody comes to the safe house and has awkward exchanges with Mike, Dana, Chris, and Jessica until Abu Nazir calls him to say he's kidnapped Carrie and he'll kill her unless Brody gets Walden's pacemaker's serial number for him. Brody goes to Walden's residence and scrounges around his office to find the number. Abu Nazir releases Carrie; she makes no move to alert anyone to what Abu Nazir's plan is. And so, Walden has a heart attack in front of a murderous Brody. Saul gets taken into custody. Carrie defies orders — I've stopped listing these instances individually, by the way, lest this get too repetitive — and goes back to look for Abu Nazir, and that is how the episode ends. (As I mentioned earlier, this episode caused a number of negative reactions among critics.)
21) Laughable technology moment:
There's no one sadder than I am about the death of BlackBerry. I hate virtual keyboards. And I wish BlackBerrys could do something as sophisticated as the effortless video chatting Brody and Abu Nazir pull off, but they can't even load a Yelp page. Those tremors you may have felt during the airing of this episode were caused by tech nerds laughing at Homeland.
22) Finn/Dana hell:
Maybe the scene between them will pay off in the finale? Finn does seem awfully morose when he comes to talk to her. But my god, why did anyone think the following bit of dialogue was OK? Dana: “Whatever we felt, we broke it. We killed it, just the same way we killed that woman.”
If Homeland were a different show, we would have been waiting for Carrie and Abu Nazir to confront each other this whole time instead of wondering whether Carrie and Brody will ever overcome their obstacles as if they're Sam and Diane on Cheers. Regardless, the conversation does take place, and it's pathetically unsophisticated: “You're the terrorist!” “No, you're the terrorist!” is basically the gist of it. So disappointing.
24) No no!
Damian Lewis is a gifted actor. He was unbelievable in Band of Brothers and The Forsyte Saga; he was stunning in a quirky BBC movie called Friends & Crocodiles, and on my beloved, cut-short Life on NBC. He deserved his Emmy for Season 1 of this show. And he is laughably bad in his intense scenes in “Broken Hearts.” There is no greater evidence that this show has spun out of control than that actors like Lewis and Danes have started to seem like caricatures. Watch:
Episode 11: "In Memoriam"
Carrie sneaks around looking for Abu Nazir. The CIA people show up, and she lies to Quinn about how she got away, covering for herself and Brody. Quinn tells her that Walden died. Saul is in trouble and is being rail-roaded. After a season of not caring who the mole might be — remember the mole? — suddenly they think Galvez (Hrach Titizian) is the mole (I think so too). Dana is a pain in the ass. Quinn tries to send Carrie home; Carrie doesn’t go home. Estes tells Saul he’s fired. Carrie goes in search of Abu Nazir, finds him, and they kill him. Estes tells Quinn to kill Brody. Brody cries when he finds out Abu Nazir has been killed. Brody and Jessica decide to separate. Brody goes to Carrie’s house. Quinn is watching them — ruh-roh.
25) Go Roya
The death of Abu Nazir is anti-climactic, setting up a finale that will, unless something even more insane happens, pit Carrie against Brody. [Update: I was wrong — something more insane did, in fact, happen] But in the scene when Carrie interrogates Roya, I did find myself…rooting for Roya! Carrie tries to do her empathy thing that works on Brody, and Roya humiliates her by laying bare Carrie's Achilles heel in her love for Brody and the sacrifices Carrie has made for him. “You idiot whore! You think you understand me!" I'm fairly sure that we're not supposed to think that people like Quinn and Roya, who think Carrie is weak and dangerous, are right. But that's what it's come to for me and Homeland. I'm so sad about it.
Episode 12: "The Choice"
Carrie and Brody are back at her family's cabin together, where they went in Season 1. Quinn is watching them. They discuss their future. Quinn goes and tells Estes he won't kill Brody. Saul is in custody and, in my favorite line of the season, says to Estes, "Well, if it isn't Javert." (Saul, like Jean Valjean, is then set free.) Saul tells Carrie she can come back to the CIA officially, but she says maybe she wants "other things." Saul makes one million good points about Brody, such as, "It's crystal clear; you cannot be with him," and, "You're the smartest and the dumbest fucking person I've ever known." Brody and Carrie go to Walden's funeral. Saul oversees Nazir's "funeral," a burial at sea — it's two funerals of two men at odds! Brody and Carrie sneak off. Brody notices his car has been moved: because it's a car bomb. Carrie turns on Brody for 10 seconds. He says that Nazir must have done this to them. She says no one else will believe him, and they have to flee. Saul is told that Carrie and Brody are presumed dead. Brody's terrorist tape is now on TV. Saul's wife calls; she's coming back. Carrie isn't going with Brody on the run. Saul says a prayer for the dead; Carrie walks in. Saul smiles. The season is over.
26) Does the president exist on this show?
I'm not going to get into how strange I've always thought it was that the vice president on Homeland is all-powerful. Obviously, he's supposed to be modeled after Dick Cheney — the rare exception in a generally ineffective office. But the president, presumably, is a live human being. One who would have been at the funeral of his vice president, and who would have been killed in the attack. But he wasn't — because he wasn't at the funeral, or because he survived? I'd love to know! Just a mention.
27) Laughable technology moment
Once Abu Nazir was killed, they would have found his magical BlackBerry and would have seen the multiple calls between him and Brody, as well as a mysterious number that Brody texted him. Which brings me to…
Carrie knows that Brody got Abu Nazir the pacemaker's serial number in order to save her. Isn't it worth a conversation about what happened, and how they basically ended up co-conspiring with Abu Nazir to kill the vice president of the United States? Brody was with Walden when he died: what happened, how did that go down? These are things I would ask someone pretty quickly when weighing whether I wanted to spend my life with him.
29) And finally: Poor Quinn has gone crazy
In his reasoning for why Brody gets to live, he says that it would destroy Carrie. "As for Carrie," he says, "I have never seen a better intelligence officer."