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'Homeland' Finale Recap: [Back] Into the Woods

By Alex Smith, Hollywood.com Staff

Holy finale, Batman. My brain hurts. Zero percent of my Homeland finale predictions from last week came true, so now everything I said last Sunday night just makes me sound like a raving lunatic. I can hear the showrunners giggling in my ear with their perverted sense of personal glee, because they obviously think/know that they're so goddamn smart. This finale sort of turned itself out and brought some serious goods - without fully resolving some of the more contentious plot points of the second season (I think), and the major twists gave us a mini-reboot while letting a lot of old questions linger (I think?). There's a lot to juggle. Let's get down and dirty.

The show starts off with a very blatant homage to "The Weekend," the much-celebrated episode from season one where Carrie and Brody hashed out a lot of secrets while pretending to have playful sex. I don't know if we're pointing to the fact that the relationship in the old lake cabin is still a case of high manipulation, but I can't put my trust in Brody. While Carrie and Brody are doing weird domestic tasks and kissing on the lips, Quinn is hiding in the forest, keeping tabs on his mark. The minute Brody is alone, Quinn is supposed to pull the trigger. Carrie is opening up about the disappearance of her mother, Carrie is in bed with Brody, and Carrie is off to buy croissants. Quinn sneaks up behind Brody while the creepy ginger is deep in his morning prayer… but Quinn can't follow through. Carrie still has no idea that Quinn exists as a assassin. Before entering the real world, Carrie has to make a decision about her future with Brody; Carrie can't be in love with Brody and keep her job at the CIA - she'll have to make a choice.

Through all of this, Saul is locked up in a holding chamber of sorts at the CIA. Estes is growling into his phone, making sure Quinn does his job. Quinn is eating tuna right out of the can. It is possible that Quinn is eating cat food since it is too dark to get a good look at the label on his dinner. Regardless, the first half of this finale moves with such horrifyingly deliberate pace that I tried to stay calm and tried to keep my body under control. I think I changed sitting positions every three minutes. There was a deep atmosphere of dread - Carrie and Brody might function fine in their alternate universe, but returning to the real world makes everything spin out of control. In Saul's own words, "something terrible is going down." Sure, Saul was speaking about the assassination of Brody, but still. It applies.

Quinn decided not to kill Brody on his own accord. Because, according to Quinn, he is "the guy that kills bad guys." Is Brody a bad guy? Not in Quinn's eyes - without Brody, Nazir would still be alive. Also, Estes would destroy Carrie for the second time if Brody was to die, and that wasn't something Quinn was ready for. I think Quinn is maybe in love with Carrie, and I believe his judgment is a little cloudy. But that's just me. I want Brody dead, sorry I'm not sorry. Brody just can't actually love Carrie, and I will do anything to protect Carrie's heart. Brody is too smart and stoic for that bullshit. Quinn lets Estes know that if Brody ever turns up dead, there's a bullet in Quinn's gun for Estes' head. Killing bad guys. Yikes.

The mechanics of regular life begin to churn, and everyone begins to slowly fall back into their old roles. Brody catches up with Mike, delivering the news about his split with Jessica and the fact that Mike's opportunity to permanently swoop in has arrived. Dana gets a French braid. Chris has a soccer game. Jessica has bad hair. God, this family knows what they want out of life. This finale sort of clears up all of the domestic drama that lingered inside the Brody household, opening up new roads for that awful wife and those awful kids.

Saul greets Estes with the new nickname Javert, which is a wonderful Les Miserables reference - Saul must be excited for the 2012 holiday movie season! Estes lets Saul know that he's in the clear, and uses the word "redacted," which is a word I really enjoy because I think it sounds cool. Saul looks slightly confused, but he packs up his things. One of the greatest touches to this episode is the attention to the little things, the miniscule physical steps these characters put themselves through. Everyone is gearing up for the dual funeral event of the year - Estes is speaking at Walden's service at the CIA while Saul oversees the sea burial of Nazir. While Brody gets ready to head to Walden's event, Dana questions Brody about the day of the vest (aka the season one finale). Brody tells the truth. Just like that. Dana fully understands what her father was going to do, from the horse's mouth; the bonds of family are strained to their limit but remain unbroken, because Brody presents himself as a changed man. As much as I've disliked Dana this season, I do think she has a wonderfully complicated relationship with her father, a mix of bizarre respect and bitter hatred.

*A brief detour: during this sequence of events, Saul enjoys some milk that he requested from Estes, therefore putting himself on the opposite end of the milk spectrum than Dana. In this milk theme, Dana is clearly the mole. Boom.

Saul and Carrie have their hallway reunion after a few days apart, and Saul lets Carrie know that she'll be offered a position as station chief. Carrie noticeably balks, sputtering on about needing time before she makes a decision. Saul gives Carrie his coldest eyes and iciest tone, laying down the law nice and thick - Carrie cannot be in love with Brody because Brody will always be a terrorist; "it's crystal clear." Carrie is upset, going on the attack, but Saul keeps his cool. Because Saul is always right. I absolutely adore Mandy Patinkin on this show, and I really hope there are many awards waiting for him now that season two has wrapped. The man really knows his way around the f-word, and that's something I greatly respect.

Saul calls Carrie the smartest and dumbest person he knows, and he's (yes, always) right. I love this interaction because, in sharp and somewhat brutal fashion, the question of Brody's trustworthiness is pushed into the foreground of Homeland. Sure, it's an element of the show that simmers under almost every single conversation, but here we see an unraveling woman and her steadfast mentor hashing out these buried emotions in the open. It makes for exhilarating television, and one of the reasons that Homeland is still so great amid any missteps. Some of those missteps are about to come, hiding behind greatness. Oh boy.

We get nice juxtaposition between the two funerals, where Saul wears a nice hat on the boat dispensing of Nazir and the Vice President's wife has taken too many Xanax to take off her sunglasses at her husband's funeral. Understandable. There's a mention of Walden's involvement with capturing Osama bin Laden, which may have just been Estes' way of taking Saul's earlier upcoming movie reference and putting Zero Dark Thirty on the table. Nice move, Estes! There's also some great veiled references to the drone attack that killed Issa, which I appreciated greatly. Carrie and Brody make a brief getaway from the funeral so Carrie can explain that she's picking Brody over her profession. This is the worst decision ever, Carrie. Brody makes a weird face during their exchange and Carrie questions him about what he's feeling; he shakes it off, the opposite of sadness. Brody then notices that his car has been moved, sitting right in front of Langley. The car explodes.

Everything in this finale has been so measured and meticulous, so this explosion literally rocks the fabric of the entire episode. Is everyone dead? When Carrie comes to, she aims her gun at Brody, screaming and using her best dangerous words. Claire Danes uses that steely force with tiny chin wobbles as only she can do. Dirty, battered, and bleeding - Carrie and Brody work through their insecurities and distrust, resulting in Carrie having a mini-breakdown. She loves Brody, as Brody reminds us that Nazir is mentally insane. Nazir would do anything to follow through with his plans - turn himself in, commit suicide, use Roya as a diversion, keep Brody in the game? LET'S HOPE SO. Obviously. Carrie realizes that no one will believe Brody, so she takes Brody and runs. As Carrie is wont to do.

Carrie and Brody head out, planning some outrageous route that wiggles up through Canada and ends on the Island of Misfit Toys; Carrie has always had an escape plan for herself in her back pocket. First, Brody needs a fake passport if he's running. Back in DC, Saul arrives on the scene to learn that there are almost 200 dead; Carrie and Brody are still missing and therefore presumed dead. Cynthia (the VP's wife), Finn, and Estes are all confirmed dead. Wow. With Estes out of the picture, Saul is in charge. Saul gets the most beautiful call in the history of everything while dealing with the smoking remains of the attack - Sarita, Saul's estranged wife, checks in to make sure everything is okay. She hears his pain when he mentions that Carrie is missing in action. Saul left Carrie a voicemail that is maybe the saddest, sweetest moment of their relationship. Sarita is coming back to the United States. "Yes," Saul whispers. I'm glad this couple is back in action.

Brody gets his picture taken by the fake passport man, and then hangs around until the paperwork is complete. The news is on a television, and we see that the terrorist group behind the bombing has released the video Brody recorded in the season one finale, the video that Saul found at the beginning of the season. NO WAY. YES WAY. Another element of my prediction is put right down, correct? Brody can't be working for Nazir if this group was so willing to give up his secret to the entire world? I'm terribly confused by the motive behind this zany move, and I will still never trust Brody. Brody's family is also watching this unfold on the television set in their living room while being questioned by the CIA; to say Chris and Dana aren't doing well is an understatement. Dana needs some of Cynthia's Xanax/Valium/Whatever. Also, Cynthia's sunglasses.

We can't undo that video of Brody. The video is now out in the world. Which brings me to my big issues with the final moments of the finale - are we really making Brody into a good guy? The gnarly meat of his character was always the fact that he so genuinely played with the line between flawed evil and struggling good. Can we take Brody as simply good guy, driven by his love for Carrie? I don't think so, and I'd hate to see his show fall apart from that development. Regardless, Carrie has to say goodbye to Brody in the woods - she can't say goodbye to her job, to the CIA. Not now. Again, the emotion in this scene doesn't work for me because I will never believe that the emotional connection between these two is honest. I think Carrie has lost herself in Brody, but I feel like Brody knows how to take care of his romance. And by "take care of his romance," I mean behave like a triple agent of death. I just can't with this man. Brody heads out into the darkness, making his weird journey to momentary safety. Carrie climbs back into her car.

Who knows how this will all play out next season. I can't even think about that because my soul feels like it's melting out of my eye sockets. Carrie returns to Saul as he prays over the 200 dead, and the look of joy in seeing Carrie alive brings an end to the season. Season one was a miraculously ambiguous and ambitious foray into dramatic long-format storytelling; season two wasn't as practiced and immediate, but I appreciated the desire to expand. Television needs to push, and it just might be the case that Homeland tried to push a little too hard in its sophomore run. However, I always prefer pushing too hard over not pushing enough. We'll need to build the hunt for these "new" terrorists in season three, but will Brody be a major player? How far will we jump in time before the next episode? Questions! I just want to handcuff someone to a pipe in an old mill and make him/her answer all of my questions via FaceTime.

All in all, I'm pretty damn happy with the big moves in this finale - the pacing in the first half of the episode versus the second half gave me the shivers, especially with the funerals acting as the switch. Save for the development of Brody, we're in a good place. I like my characters down and dirty! I like hating my characters most of the time! Network execs, please stop making everything so squeaky-clean! Pray for Carrie. Pray for Brody. Pray for Homeland. I can't wait to go to bed next Sunday with a clear mind, like Carrie after she was zapped last year. Cool, empty comfort. I love-hate my cloudy Homeland brain. I'm going to miss it. I'm going to miss you. Don't get lost in the woods. This isn't goodbye. Goodnight.

[Photo Credit: Showtime]

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