All season long, Greg Otto and Tierney Sneed have discussed Homeland, and spent Monday talking about what they're hoping to see in the next iteration of Showtime's hit spy drama.
Tierney: The finale was an improvement on the trainwreck that was the second half of Season 2, though we are still seeing a lot of what made Season 1 so brilliant. I find Saul's position at the end of Season 2 the most interesting. So Brody may or may not be a terrorist. (What else is new?) Carrie is aiding and abetting a terrorist, and will struggle with her love for him versus her duty to her country. (Next!) But Saul is in a completely different place than he was at the end of Season 1, or even last week's episode. For one, he believes that he smoked out Estes's mission to kill Brody (he doesn't know about the Quinn confrontation), an assassination that could have prevented the latest attack (at least as far as he knows). Secondly, he is clearly overjoyed to see that Carrie, his work-wife, has survived the attack, but will have to acknowledge the fact that if the "presumed dead" Carrie Mathison is alive and well, so too may be "the presumed dead" Nick Brody, and the two of them are behind something fishy. Does Carrie tell him the whole story? Does Saul trust her when she does?
Greg: It's really difficult for me to answer those questions, because the ending has flipped this series on its head and allowed for a myriad of possibilities in the future. But what we do have is the foundation for a third season that is more of a spy novel than we have gotten in the prior two, in that Season 3 will, at least in some way, hopefully focus on the hunt for Nicholas Brody. It sounds like the setup for a John LeCarre novel, something Executive Producer Alex Gansa has already said he aims to use as inspiration in Season 3.
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For all of the sappy plotlines, we knew going into this season that we were going to get a heavy examination of Carrie-Brody's relationship. Despite being turned off by all of the (to borrow David Estes' term) "squishy" interactions, I think the relationship does exactly what this show has always wanted it to do: make things more complicated than just "good guys v. bad guys." Now it looks like we will get a story where viewers will wrestle with the grey area of "Can a person be good and bad at the same time?"
Tierney: In some ways, Estes and Brody were on similar journeys, oscillating between "good guy" and "bad guy." There was even the parallel scenes in which both men stood in their bedrooms, looking vulnerable in their undershirts, as they were confronted by the persons who held the keys to their secrets (Quinn and Dana, respectively). That Estes was in the process of disrobing, while Brody was getting dressed may have been a hint that Estes's journey was about to come to an end, while Brody's was just beginning. Either way, I don't think it's an accident that the "good guy" characterization was explicitly applied to both characters. Though it makes for a simple plot parallel, the politics of this good guy/bad guy dynamic in Homeland have been far more complicated.
I have trouble believing that Brody's hands are really clean this time around. Season 2's finale was a clever inverse of the first: The bad guy whose plot was foiled becomes the good guy who's framed. But I am still inclined to Emily Nussbaum's theory that Brody was in on on Nazir's long con (even though she has seemed to abandon it). Why was he so enthusiastic about killing Walden if he was a good guy "forced" to do it? What about that look he gave Carrie when she said she was choosing him over her career—was it a pang of guilt about the bomb about to go off? And why were they sneaking out of the service in the first place?
I have feeling the show is not going to answer these questions, and rather start Season 3 as a clean slate for our major characters. But as we hoped, Carrie and Brody's devotion to each other was not just a soap opera-type romance, but a force that is driving Homeland into its third season.
Greg: While it is still unknown (and could be explored in following seasons) if Brody had more to do with the CIA bombing than we've been shown, Gansa also took to the Internet airwaves to say Sunday's episode pretty much ended any hope of Nussbaum's theory being valid. Yes, Brody's weird internal moment prior to the bomb going off will raise doubts to his real motives, but then how do you explain the cabin scene, where Brody and Carrie are talking about being together once and for all? If Brody's true intentions are simply to destroy the CIA, he doesn't need to lay on the lovey-dovey stuff. That memorial is happening whether or not Carrie decides to confess her love for him, or vice versa.
However, that doesn't mean we can suddenly root for Brody, and hope his name will be cleared as a hunt goes down in Season 3. I thought one of the most important scenes for setting up Season 3 was the Saul-Carrie confrontation, where Saul pulls no punches ("You're the smartest and the dumbest f*cking person I've ever known" may be the greatest line in Homeland's history) by reminding Carrie of Brody's sordid history. It will be interesting to see if the writers hook us into rooting for Brody to finally be cleared, or lead us to believe that you can never outrun your past.
Tierney: I did hear that Gansa clip, but I didn't agree that the episode entirely invalidated it. Sure, there were some holes in her theory, but no larger than the ones the show has already left open. With Gansa's comments, as well as the general direction the show has taken over the course of two seasons, it's clear that Carrie and Brody's relationship is a major focus for Homeland, and not just a cover Brody would be using for a long con. But if the show is allowed to sneak a major terrorist into the United States by shaving his beard, I am allowed to hold on to my Homeland fantasies, at least until the Season 3 premiere.
Will Saul stay in the CIA driver's seat? He and Carrie appear to be heading into Season 3 as the big cheeses at Langley, with Saul the ranking agent, and Carrie being offered station head. It will be interesting to see them be in charge, rather than the underdogs flying under the radar. We know their flaws as spies very well—Saul is too emotionally attached, Carrie is, you know, crazy. So with the Brody fall out, I think their motives will be a main point of exploration, especially since up until this point we have been led to believe they are pure. Alyssa Rosenberg is pushing the Shady Saul theory again, but that would be too heartbreaking for me to even contemplate.
Greg: Was Carrie really crazy this season, though? We were led to believe that she has been mentally stable since around episode 5. There were no manic-depressive moments after she realized she was right about Brody. But she was right about Brody because she was harnessing the genius behind her illness. This time around, she missed the "bigger, Abu-Nazir-worthy" plot, partly due to being well medicated. Carrie is going to have to wrestle with the fact that Nazir's plan worked this time around, despite her "sixth sense" leading to Nazir's death. Would she have seen the long con had she been ignoring her medication? I think Carrie is going to have to come to a decision next season: How do I do my job well, but keep my mental state stable?
And speaking on leaps of faith, while I thoroughly enjoyed Sunday's finale and where this show seems to be moving, the way we got here was sub-par. The BlackBerries, Abu Nazir in America, a helicopter operating in Northern Virginia airspace without a peep from the FAA, Season 2 will always be remembered for the absurd plausibility that was given to us on a weekly basis. If every one of our characters is stuck making tough choices in Season 3, I hope Homeland's writers follow suit and choose to bury the "the-plot-is-what-we-say-it-is" method, and head back to letting viewers navigate the grey areas of their characters instead of questioning the black-and-white details of the plot.
Tierney: I think the lack of "crazy Carrie" moments this season was less the result of a deliberate narrative that Carrie was taking control of her disease and more a shortcoming of the show being overwhelmed by the other plot lines. I would have gladly traded in the entire hit-and-run twist to see Carrie attend some therapy sessions or get a legitimate prescription (as opposed to pilfering pills off her sister as we saw in season 1). But I don't think Homeland gave us any actual indications that Carrie indeed was better, even at the cost of some of her intuitive abilities. I think it got a little lazy.
I couldn't agree more about the plausibility factor. There are so many interesting "choices" (to borrow the finale's title) our characters have had and will have to make that really make this show compelling, some of which you outlined above. All the absurd plot twists might work for a less "serious" show like Scandal or Revenge or even 24. But Homeland aspires to be much more than that, and it needs to start acting its Emmy count.
Tierney Sneed is associate editor of U.S. News Opinion. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greg Otto is a news editor at U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at email@example.com.