"Homeland"--"The Choice": Notorious
The mark of a great television show is more than the sum of its parts; exceptional acting and writing, a compelling plot, character development, its ability to take us to new or different places and to exceed our expectations. That's not to say it will be without flaws. Even as we have found fault with "Homeland's" second season, and the writers and producers have admitted their missteps, it's impossible not to admire their desire and ability to step outside the lines.
"The Choice" jumped right into distasteful waters with Carrie and Brody's exceptionally awkward romanticism. Of all the plot points people complain about, this is the one that truly grates, makes my skin prickle. Carrie's foolishness and Brody's sudden calm and easy smiles, were unnerving. Their "easy" rapport--Brody juggling potatoes like he hadn't a care in the world--was uncomfortable and odd. How could Carrie feel anything but fear and disgust? Carrie emptying the bullets from a gun and then placing both the weapon and ammunition right back in the drawer together, symbolized what's been wrong with this show. It made no sense. But the quiet calm, the beautifully shot moments of Quinn waiting and watching across the lake, eating dinner from a can, ratcheted up the tension every moment it lingered, and spoke to what "Homeland" gets right.
If we already adored Rupert Friend's "guy who kills bad guys," his conscience and stand against Estes only added to Quinn's appeal. Likewise, David Harewood took Estes on a journey this season, slowly revealing his darker side and his willingness to do anything to protect himself. Clearly Estes didn't realize the depth of our Saul love--but the writers did, and Estes suffered the consequences. Saul did not for one moment buy Estes' turnaround, neither did Saul hesitate to jump back into the action, while simultaneously moving forward with his own plans. Saul's (and Patinkin's) ability to reveal his emotions with such restraint is remarkable; when he offers to make Carrie the youngest station chief in CIA history, Saul locks right onto her "dilemma" and calmly, but effectively lets his anger explode. Saul reminds that Brody "...is a man who put on a suicide vest (Carrie), that's who he is, that's who he'll always be."
And if the first thirty minutes of the show tiptoed slowly and carefully through Jessica packing Brody's things, his meeting with Mike and return home began to send us hurtling toward its conclusion. Brody's new good guy routine did not sit well with me, and though it seemed impossible to move forward with this character's duality, by gum--they did it. Brody wasn't just asking Mike to keep taking care of his family because he and Jessica were splitting, Brody knew he was leaving the country--or did he? Brody told Dana he wasn't that man anymore, but his body language spoke otherwise. When Dana walked in on Brody in the bedroom, the bond father and daughter had always shared was visibly severed; Brody made no attempt to move toward, or hug Dana. There was no warmth between them. And in the dark car with Carrie, as they drove to get money and passports, oncoming headlights finally gave away Brody's panicked expression.
It seems impossible and utterly insane that writers/producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon could keep us guessing about Brody, yet here we are at another season's end, wondering whether or not Brody was in on this inconceivable attack. It is plausible that Nazir set up Brody, or that Brody had a hand in this terrorist act. The juxtaposition of Nazir's burial at sea and Walden's memorial service, of Saul's solemnity and Carrie's incomprehension as she rose from the floor, disoriented and momentarily feeling betrayed, left the audience reeling along with its characters. The hour's final moments are filled with sadness and beauty...Saul, leaving a tentative message on Carrie's voicemail, unwilling to accept her among the dead. His quiet conversation with Mira, and his recital of the Mourner's Kaddish over the hundreds of bodies left us as breathless as Jessica, Mike, Dana and Chris watching Brody's taped confession--as emotional as Saul when he sees Carrie alive. "The Choice" cannot erase "Homeland's" flaws, but it does cement its standing as a great show.
Notes: Quinn and Estes each got great lines. Quinn to Estes: "You haven't made a bad move in your romantic life?" Estes: "What is all this squishy bullshit?" Here's hoping Quinn is retained as a major character.
I'm very much looking forward to Saul as the Counterterrorism head, and hopefully, the writers will give us a third season that focuses on the better relationship--that of Carrie and Saul. The show would do well to step back from Brody, perhaps even disappear or kill him, and concentrate on Nazir's replacement and (as was referred to in the conversation between Carrie and Nazir) his organization's commitment to never ending war.
Not for nothing, but my theory wasn't far off. I did not--in fact--pull it out of my ass.
Here's a post-finale interview with Alex Gansa: