Whoa. We need a minute. Partly to catch our breath – unlike most of the characters in the feature-length season finale of Homeland, which featured more prolonged periods of intense, heavy breathing than an asthmatic’s dirty phone call – but mostly to let the last couple of hours of relentless, riveting television sink in.
From Brody’s opening valedictory monologue to the grim closing scenes of Carrie suffering a seizure during ECT, hundreds of volts zipping through her brain and wiping away the truth about the man she’s been pursuing in more ways than one, this episode encapsulates the entire series in miniature: the occasional wobble here and there, but for the most part, an unerring, exemplary, extraordinary piece of drama.
So, Abu Nazir’s meticulously laid plans to assassinate Vice-President Walden, the Defence Secretary and assorted Chiefs of Staff failed – not thanks to Carrie or Saul Berenson or even grumpy and guiltily complicit David Estes, but to a sixteen-year-old girl as prone to sulking, shouting and swearing as any other adolescent.
As we foresaw last week, it was Dana Brody who prevented her dad from carrying out his suicide bombing at the State Department, and while it was as much down to her delaying tactics as her emotional eliciting of her old man’s promise to come home (we’ll never know if, given more time, Brody would have pushed the trigger in spite of his daughter’s pleas), she undoubtedly saved the day.
Of course, the fact that she saved a group of men that deliberately conspired to kill more than 80 children highlights one of Homeland’s many great strengths: the show has consistently blurred the boundaries between right and wrong, constantly questioning the very nature of good and evil. Nazir is a terrorist who believes in jihad, yet his plan involving Brody and Tom Walker was motivated by righteous outrage and revenge. The V-P believed the death of Nazir and its attendant benefits were worth killing innocent kids for. Who are the real heroes and the villains in a war like this?
Brody has been wrestling with this dilemma all season long, and his struggles have never been better depicted than here. Damian Lewis has been compelling from the off and the climax of his character’s journey to impending martyrdom is delineated by a sequence of breathtaking moments, all involving Morgan Saylor’s Dana.
The scene where she walks in on him praying in Arabic is a heart-stopper; the moment the ex-marine can’t hug his daughter because of the bomb strapped to his chest is another jolt to the cardiovascular system; and Brody’s side of the phone conversation between the two of them, the camera right up in Lewis’s face to capture every drop of sweat and anguish, is as fine a performance as we’ve seen for some considerable time. ‘You look like shit,’ Walden remarks, and Brody does – thanks to the actor bringing him so convincingly to life.
Claire Danes has been equally captivating throughout, and while she can’t quite top last week’s stunning depiction of a major manic depressive episode, the flipside scene at the beginning of Marine One in which Saul finds her at home, haunted, hopeless and drifting, is magnificent: stark but subtle, raw yet refined.
‘I’ve been better,’ Carrie replies when her former mentor asks how she is, imbuing three words with the resignation and despair of a Sylvia Plath anthology. As fine as Danes is at showing Carrie’s strength, intellect and determination, it’s these fragile moments that are the most heartbreakingly memorable.
Thanks to its marvellous leads, a predominantly excellent supporting cast and only sporadic lapses in scripting (it would be remiss not to point out that lines like ‘The world is about to end and we’re stood around talking!’ are a horrible crime against dialogue) Homeland has been enduringly complex, endearingly absorbing and inexorably watchable from start to finish.
This year’s big Homeland question: There’s plenty of tantalising loose ends left over for the second season, which is due to air in the US in September, but we can sum them up thus: WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
This year’s not-so-big Homeland question: Will any television bad guy in the future ever deliver a line as poignant as Abu Nazir’s ‘All of life’s wasted time is behind you now’?
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 6th May 2012 on Channel 4.
What did you think of the finale? Let us know below…