Homeland Season Finale Watch: Marine One

The first season of Showtime's Homeland came to an end tonight with the cleverly titled "Marine One." Without question, the show is one of the best new series on television (if not the best) and thankfully the season finale only served to solidify that status. Another impeccably acted and written episode, the drama stuck to the kind of storytelling that has made it both so believable and so riveting thus far. Primarily a slow-burning character based drama, Homeland proved that you don't need constant shoot-outs and explosions to create intense and enjoyable television (although there were a few gunshots fired and one particularly nasty explosion, it was never the focus). Last night's episode wasn't perfect but overall it was pretty damn satisfying. Homeland eschewed the opening titles for some new ones and “Marine One” opened with the ominous...

Day 1

First of all, the addition of the titles instantly made me think of the 24 ticking clock. And as bad as that may sound, they were actually quite effective not only to structure the narrative and pacing but also to provide the 'ticking clock' style suspense in a uniquely reversed fashion. How many days will it take for the episode's narrative to play out? Three days - the day before, of, and after the VP intends to announce his candidacy for president (also known as the day before, of, and after the Nazir planned, Brody and Walker executed terrorist attack). Day 1 begins with Brody recording his suicide(-bomber) note and, all shot in a single take, it's another display of Lewis' acting prowess. Brody reasons with us - the camera - explaining his actions and while the tape will play a significant role later, for now it's just a powerful few minutes. He truly believes this is the right thing to do, despite the love he bears for his family and the glaring contradictions in his words.

Meanwhile, Saul arrives at the still battered Carrie's - who's actually declining, with a turn from manic to depressive - and we learn, as expected, that she's never going to be able to return to work for the CIA. And even though they can't possibly stick to that in the coming seasons (or can they? will she just freelance or consult?) it was nice to see a commitment to believability in acknowledging that after what she's done, there is no way she could return to active duty. Of course, this is only one more reason why Carrie's mental illness is at an all-time high and it's a pleasure (oddly) to watch Danes play the splintered CIA analyst slash manic-depressive completely lose it. The scene between Saul and Carrie is touching as first ("Mr. Barenson") but ends bitterly because, well, she can't get over or stop thinking about Brody. Carrie's funk continues through Virgil's baby sitting duty while everyone else prepares for their big day.

Brody leaves the suicide tape at the rock drop-off, Walker breaks into a old lady's car in order to sneak into the residents only zone and the Vice President, Estes and Elizabeth Gaines are at a pre-announcement party. The way that Walker sneaks into the protected area is rather clever in its simplicity and yet, with a sniper on the loose one would think that every car would be pretty thoroughly searched (and I don't think Walker would just tape the lady to the chair for two days). At the same time, the Vice President's soiree plays like they're going through the motions - an awkward nod to Gaines to remind us who she is (and why we should care about her when, well...) as well as Estes trying to persuade the stubborn VP to alter his announcement plans. Of course he will not. Thankfully the third strain, Brody's final preparations including getting caught mid-prayer by Dana, was the real focus of the closing moments of Day 1. The sequence is brilliantly crafted with several great moments - her surprising him, his conversion confession, Dana giving him shit and finally, Brody convincing her that it should stay their little secret.

Day 2

The first day was relatively still. Everything was building, the quiet before the storm. There is no time to waste Day 2. No quiet character moments, everything is a much more frantic lead in to the big event and director Michael Cuesta stylistically mirrors the narrative shift in intensity and immediacy. It begins with Carrie waking up to the radio. She hears about the VP's announcement event and it dawns on her that having all of those high ranking government officials in one place makes for the perfect and logical target for Abu Nazir. She's soon running after this lead while Saul is chasing down her hunch regarding the impetus for Nazir's plot - namely the drone attack that killed Isa, the details of which he finds in a redacted file and brings to Estes. Estes entertains the notion for a second (mainly because he's worried that his and the VP's involvement will be uncovered) but since the information came from Carrie, it's immediately deemed the ramblings of a crazy woman. At least, that's the line Estes feeds Saul. It's this kind of layering that makes the show feel so painstakingly crafted and intricately weaved in terms of both the narrative and the characterization.

This is also the point that "Marine One" really starts to gain momentum and ratchet up the suspense but, true to form, the writers are careful to build it slowly, piece by piece. Brody is well aware that his day has finally come and so are we as the audience. The show cleverly toys with that dynamic in many ways and one of my favorite was how he's unable to get a proper goodbye from Jess before taking Chris to karate. She brushes him off because she thinks she'll see him later, his face says otherwise. Dana - who's already more than a little suspicious with her Dad - is left behind and continues to prove he's a shitty marine, sorry, continues to press the issue and inconvenience Brody's preparations. Morgan Saylor is really terrific as the Brody daughter as the episode once again showcases the young actress' talents, easily going toe to toe with Lewis (and soon with Danes). The sequence with the door between them, him playing with the vest and her clearly growing more and more concerned, is another of many memorable moments from the young series that showcases the often brilliant writing.

Finally. The moment the season has been building towards - the terrorist plot. Estes and the VP are arriving in a limo and discussing how Saul has found the redacted document about the drone attack. Saul is having Galvez try and find more information about the same attack while he's stuck waiting at the event (setting off metal detectors). Carrie and Virgil soon show up and take front row seats. Last but not least, Brody arrives on the scene and walks into the sights of Walker, in position in the old lady's apartment. And then, Walker shoots Elizabeth Gaines which was not only unexpected but genius in how it allowed Brody to be rushed through the metal detectors with his vest remaining undetected. The intensity continues to build as Brody is ushered into the bunker and realizes that the VP is no where in sight.

And just when you think the show's focus became plot heavy, it shifts back to the characters and the emotional and situational intensity that their relationships can create, first with Saul's betrayal of Carrie (who once again is both right and seemingly nutty - although how do you not see the brilliance in her 'marine one and marine two' realization?) and then with Carrie confronting Dana and Jess at the Brody's. While Brody deals with the not as interesting malfunctioning vest, the scene at the Brody household is great, starting with Carrie's confrontations and ending with her being hauled off as Dana calls to her father just as he's about to blow the room. In the end, his family (like I've said since "Achilles Heel") is able to keep his hand off the switch, which then puts a big target on his back.

Day 3

After the high(er) octane second act that was Day 2, the show shifts back to a more restrained and calm delivery for the day after the attack. Day 3 finds Saul playing CIA avenger, using information and secrets his accumulated over the years to first make the VP grant him access to the redacted file and then to threaten Estes that he might just take all the information to the New York Times. Sure, they'd like the story about how the US government sanctioned a school bombing but Estes is right, that would only serve to recruit more terrorists and foster more international distaste of American foreign policy (holy shit, the show has me discussing politics). Carrie is released from custody into her sister's care but is payed a visit from Brody, in what is Danes and Lewis' final scene of the season together, which is heartbreaking for many reasons (selfishly because I want to continue to watch them on-screen). He finally convinces her that he's clean and she finally hits bottom. Danes earns her Emmy when she tells her sister to take her to the hospital.

That's not all for Brody though, as he's still got that target on his back. When he returns to the rock drop, his taped confession is missing and in its place another chalk line, signifying a meet. The former partners, Brody and Walker, are re-united for the first time and, to be fair, I would have expected some more fireworks. In fact, the whole sequence is one of the few of the episode that rings a little false. I don't buy that Nazir would renew his faith in Brody (even if Walker has no real value anymore) and actually believe that this long-con embed within the government scheme will work - the longer Brody has back in society and back with his family, the less likely he is to do anything that Abu Nazir asks of him in the future (unless he's coerced by a certain tape). Either way, Nazir is convinced (or at least is willing to let Brody believe that), the target shifts to Walker's back and Brody takes him out for real this time.

Two Weeks Later

Brody and Dana, one of the more interesting relationships to develop over the course of the first season, close out the episode sitting together on the roof with a cloud of ambiguity hanging above them. She still seems wary and all too aware of how close he came to not coming home that day. He's also seemingly aware of her suspicions and yet, they both obviously still love one another. A difficult road lies ahead. And speaking of loving relationships, two weeks later Saul's barging in on Carrie at the hospital in the pre-op ward. And what kind of procedure would Carrie be having after she admitted herself to the hospital? Some good old fashioned electroshock therapy. Carrie convinces Saul that this is what she wants and needs, and, after discussing the latest Nazir developments - how the drone attack killed his youngest son named Isa - and highlighting some of the side effects - memory loss, but only short term - he stops fighting and accepts it.

All drugged up right before her first treatment she starts remembering her time with Brody and has one of those moments where something clicks - Brody screamed the name Isa in his sleep, a fact that I also had not remembered until now. Frantically trying to fight the anesthesia and hold onto the thought, she loses the battle and we watch her get shocked. Danes is creepily good in the scene. A great way to end a great first season. My only complaint is that I'm not sure how they will be able to sustain the show into a second or third season with Carrie already out of a job. However, I am definitely excited to see what the writers have planned and there are so many unanswered questions left to propel the show into Season 2. Who has the Brody confession? And if Brody losses faith in the cause will it come back to bite him and how? Or will Carrie get her hands on it? Who is the mole inside the CIA? And now that Carrie is out and Saul is pissed, will he be feeding her information for them to work on the side? Or will Homeland turn into a sitcom with Carrie and Virgil opening up a freelance spy company? We have to wait until at least summer 2012 to find out.

Showtime's Homeland will return for Season 2 in 2012. It stars Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Mandy Patinkin and Morena Baccarin. It was adapted for American television by Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon from the Israeli series Prisoners of War (or Hatufim) by Gideon Raff.