‘Homeland’ Finale Shocker: A Death in the Family

Wow. Season 3 of Showtime’s CIA thriller ended with a bang, but was the show’s shocking death the right move? And where will things go from here? (Warning: Spoilers galore!)

12.16.13 3:03 AM ET

About halfway through “The Star,” Sunday night's Season 3 finale of Homeland, bipolar CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) calls the love of her life—U.S. Marine-turned-Afghan-POW-turned-Al-Qaeda-terrorist-turned-CIA-asset Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis)—on a secure Langley cell phone. I won't divulge too much about the context of the call because I don't want to spoil the season's denouement before you've had a chance to click away. (Fair warning: If you still haven't seen the finale, stop reading now—the rest of this story will consist of nothing but spoilers.)

Here's what I can say: Carrie's best-laid schemes have gone awry yet again. She needs to reassure Brody that all will be well—that the CIA will swoop in and iron everything out. “I want you to know I'm going to call Saul as I soon as I hang up with you,” she shouts, her words colliding in one frantic, rapid-fire run-on. “He's going to fix this clusterfuck. He's going to bring in every fucking...”

But Brody interrupts. “Carrie, Carrie,” he says calmly. He inhales. He stares into the distance. He's almost whispering now. “It's over.”

Brody is right. Carrie is wrong. And Homeland has a shot at being a better, more interesting show because of it.

I mention this scene because it struck me as a neat encapsulation of (and perhaps an apology for) the dynamic between Brody and Carrie that became the beating heart of Homeland sometime near the start of Season 2 and then overstayed its welcome (before overstaying its welcome some more). Carrie and Brody like each other. More than they're supposed to. Brody gets into some sort of fix. Carrie finds a way—usually against what one might call her “better judgment”—to save his neck. As a result, their pas de deux continues, and Homeland's overarching narrative becomes a little more improbable and convoluted every time. Brody's successful escape in the wake of the Langley bombing at the end of Season 2 is a perfect example.

When Carrie tried to repeat the trick in “The Star,” she sounded less like a top intelligence officer than a junior Homeland writer pitching series creator Alex Gansa on yet another plot twist engineered to elongate the Carrie-Brody romance. But Gansa wasn't buying it. The whole Carrie and Brody narrative had run its course. There was no more story left to tell. In fact, Brody was becoming an albatross—a character that figured into less than half of Season 3's 12 episodes and threatened to empretzel the entire series if he somehow escaped from Tehran after assassinating General Danesh Akbari (a.k.a. the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard).

So Gansa said enough. No more eleventh-hour miracles—the inevitable finally has to happen. And so did Brody. Ten minutes later he was hanging from a crane in the center of a square in Tehran, twitching his last as a horde of vengeful Iranian onlookers chanted, “Allahu Akbar!” 

Killing Brody was the right decision. I know some viewers are going to object. Last Sunday, I wrote that “next week's finale can go one of two ways: it can follow the silly logic of a television love story and reunite Carrie and Brody yet again (two new parents on the run) or it can adhere to the less forgiving logic of international espionage (Saul's extraction plan was always implausible, wasn't it?) and kill Brody in Tehran.”

I predicted that Homeland would pick Door No. 2. The Internet was not happy. “I totally disagree,” wrote my Daily Beast colleague Tricia Romano (no relation). “I think the key to this show is Brody and the duality & whether or not he is ‘on our side.’”

“The romantic story line is what gives this show the suspense, authenticity and flexibility to change on a dime,” continued a commenter named maya1812. “COMPLETELY DISAGREE!” added another named Cavas. “If the[y] kill Brody, they kill the show!” And someone named Miss Ray just posted a :( emoticon.

I get it. I also adored the initial stages of the Carrie-Brody affair. I also think Damian Lewis's performance was stellar in episode after episode: vivid, cryptic, and (against all odds) believable. And I also find it difficult to imagine Homeland without him. But watch Sunday's finale again. It represented the most convincing possible case for why Brody had to go.

Consider two scenes in particular: the one in which Carrie and Brody spend the night together in a CIA safe house east of Tehran, awaiting their Navy SEAL saviors, and the one in which Carrie meets with high-level Iranian intelligence officer Majid Javadi, who is now working for the CIA. The former, complete with a surprise pregnancy revelation, seemed like it had been transplanted from a mediocre soap opera. “I happen to believe that one of the reasons I was put on this earth was so that our paths would cross,” Carrie cries. “And yeah, I know how crazy that sounds.”

“I don't think that sounds crazy at all,” Brody purrs.

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They look at each other for a few, meaningful seconds. Brody speaks first.

“I think it sounds like the only sane fucking thing left to hold on to,” he says.

“Well, OK then,” Carrie sighs. They both smile.

That's what a show with more Carrie and Brody would have been like. So no thank you. I didn't sense much of a spark the first time Cupid speared them in Carrie's cabin by the lake, and the sporadic, supposed deepening of their love over the next two seasons always felt inorganic and imposed—more plot device than natural development.

The scene between Javadi and Carrie, meanwhile, was masterful. The SEALs never made it to the safe house. The Iranians came instead, taking Brody and leaving Carrie behind. Now Carrie is confronting Javadi. She wants to know where Brody is. She wants to see him. “Don't you dare do anything to harm him,” she warns.

But Javadi is in control. Earlier, he got on the horn with acting CIA director Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) and tipped the domino that would soon lead to Brody's demise. Now that Akbari is dead, I am in charge of the manhunt for his murderer, he said. If I don't find Brody, I look weak. And you need me to look strong in order to have sway here in Tehran—and to do your bidding. Saul refused to give Brody up. But new CIA director Sen. Andrew Lockhart (Tracy Letts) had no such qualms. Hence Brody's capture—and Carrie's tête-à-tête with Javadi.

Carrie is still insisting that Javadi stop Brody's execution when Javadi interrupts her. “Or what?” he sneers. “The plan is a success. You and Brody pulled it off.”

“But not if he dies...” Carrie says.

“More so if he dies,” Javadi replies. He's right, of course. In a tidy little knot of plotting—the perfect bow on top of the elaborate CIA scheme that all of Season 3 has been leading up to—mission accomplished means that Brody must die.

And then Javadi does something even more remarkable. He seduces Carrie. He sees into her soul. He convinces her. He works her. “It was always about him,” he says. “That's what you care about. Maybe the only thing... Who Brody is, that's for Allah to know. But what he did, there can be no debate. It was astonishing and undeniable. And what you wanted, which was for everyone to see in him what you see, that has happened. Everyone sees him through your eyes now.”

Now that Brody's story has come to a close, this is the show that Homeland should be: a precise, plot-driven exploration of 21st-century intelligence gathering in the explosive, enigmatic Middle East, with a formidable antagonist to contend with. As Javadi tells Carrie—perhaps foreshadowing Season 4—“You misunderstand me. I think you of all people would understand that no one is just one thing.” I take this as a hint that Javadi might serve the same purpose in Season 4 that Brody served in Season 1—as the double agent whose inscrutability always keeps us guessing, propelling the series forward.

And this is the show that Homeland could be. All of the pieces are in place. Carrie is moving to Istanbul to head up the bureau and oversee Javadi. Her baby with Brody is on the way—a new off-hours challenge for the writers to explore. Saul is out—a casualty of Lockhart's new regime—but he'll almost certainly get roped back in. (“You'd come back, wouldn't you?” says his old colleague Dar Adal [F. Murray Abraham]. “In a heartbeat.”) Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) is still teetering on the edge of Carrie's personal life; perhaps he'll be her new paramour.

Earlier this season, I asked Gansa about Saul's decision to sell Carrie out in front of a Senate subcommittee. We later learned that it was all part of their joint plan to flip Javadi, but we didn't know that at the time, and Gansa wasn't about to spoil the surprise. But he did say something that, looking back, seems like it had as much to do with Sunday's season finale as with the episode we were actually discussing.

“That’s really the idea: the difficult calls that you have to make and the people you have to sacrifice,” he told me. “What’s interesting about the intelligence community is that when you speak to intelligence officers, both active and retired, the appetite of these agencies to eat their own is enormous. People get sacrificed. The institution is always put in front of everything else.”

On Sunday night, Homeland put the institution in front of everything else and ate one of its own. Here's hoping that Season 4 justifies the sacrifice.