There are several ways to view the current season of “Homeland,” but for those committed to stick with the show, the most logical attitude – in the various stages of grieving – would be acceptance.
What started out as one of the most bracing shows on TV – one that had President Obama famously clamoring for episodes, and which seemed to parallel reality in prescient and provocative ways – largely settled for becoming a more conventional spy thriller, albeit one with a blue-chip cast. The high-wire act was perilous, and while the show didn’t exactly land with a splat, it did take a pretty steep fall.
All that serves as preamble, in a way, to Sunday’s third-season finale, which capped off the plot in which Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) – after a stint as a heroin addict in Venezuela – was offered a shot at redemption: Go into Iran and kill its head of security, opening the way for a U.S.-controlled Iranian asset, Javadi (Shaun Toub), to rise within the hierarchy of the Revolutionary Guard and fundamentally alter the hostile relationship between the two countries.
Yet while the focus on Iran would seem to mirror current events as the U.S. has negotiated with the regime there – in much the way the show anticipated a U.S. vice president with a pacemaker becoming a remote-control target – the truth is before Sunday, “Homeland” had veered into a different mode. Yes, the show was still tense, sharp and spare, but its ambitions felt downsized – becoming a lot closer to the fifth season of “24” than the first one of “Homeland.”
The finale (and yes, be warned: SPOILERS are ahead if you haven’t watched) seemingly braved breaking this pattern, leaving the impression that Brody had been publicly hanged for his crime, that Saul (Mandy Patinkin) was out of the agency and Carrie (Claire Danes) attempting to move along with her career. If the whole thing was ending there, a great deal could be forgiven.
But as we know, “Homeland” has been renewed, followed by reports that Brody’s family, played by Morena Baccarin and Morgan Saylor, won’t be returning as regulars. That leaves two options: Genuinely reboot the show, and basically start over; or find another miraculous way to raise Brody from the dead, like some modern-day Houdini. (While the second certainly seems unlikely, past performance would suggest that in “Homeland”-land, all is not always as it appears.)
Perhaps that’s why this last episode, while beautifully done, risks looking considerably worse in the rear-view mirror.
Whatever the upcoming season holds – forging ahead with new players, or mimicking the opening of “You Only Live Twice” – it’s fair to say the next permutation of “Homeland” will represent a very different proposition than the one the Showtime program initially appeared to offer. That likely includes diminished expectations on the awards circuit, if the usually star-struck Golden Globe nominations are any guide.
Having almost literally blown up the show once already, and now threatening to do so again, it’s hard to see a smooth road back. Yes, the war against terrorism might persist, but the fundamental relationship that defined the series is over — or at least, should be. And since there’s really no point in getting angry about that, or grieving over it, all that leaves is to accept it, or move on.