Warning: This of course contains spoilers of last night's Homeland Season 2 finale.
One of the clearest things to emerge during Homeland's inconsistent second season is that the show is good at commenting on itself. A common argument amongst its defenders goes something like this: the series works "because its crazy plot elements are grounded in character in a totally unexpected way: the craziness is reflective of the way Carrie Mathison sees the world."
I'd argue that Homeland took up for Carrie (Claire Danes) this season and overcompensated. While Carrie's erratic behavior was mostly confined to extreme occupational risks and her undying infatuation with Brody, we were at least familiar enough with her to expect as much — the show itself, on the other hand, took wild, implausible turns on a regular basis. Carrie's open flaws made her extraordinarily human; the show's just made it seem like more of a show. Homeland, two seasons in, remains a terrifically acted, well-paced, often exquisitely scripted show - but when Saul (Mandy Patinkin) looked Carrie right in the face last night and called her "the smartest and the dumbest fucking person I've ever known," I rolled my eyes. "I'm still so aware of the writer's room," my friend Zach wrote to me in an email mid-season. "Nothing seems to happen organically, it's all really herky jerky, one thing and then the next. Which is sort of what TV is."
Saul was on the nose, though. His smartest-yet-dumbest critique applies to the show overall, but it speaks to Carrie specifically. Last night, she arrived at the notion that she needed to choose between the C.I.A. and her love Nicholas Brody, a soldier-turned-terrorist-turned-Congressman-turned-C.I.A. ally. She was ready to give it all away; even ready to turn down a job offer from Saul that might get her back in good favor at the agency. All for love. All for this relationship that amounted to the sappy back and forth ("So." "So." Seriously.) you see in the clip above, whose distinguishing features existed only in subtext and the wacky journey that got Carrie and Brody to such a stock scene.
It's infuriating to watch this character throw away her genius for a man who with ambiguous morals, to put it simply, but isn't that often the way it is? Love is life's greatest distraction. It threatens to overthrow everything. It can be a disease in a blessing's disguise. Here, Carrie's humanity turns mundane enough to be stereotypical: she's this really nuanced and courageously written female character that we're seeing is so eager to turn off part of herself for a man.
Carrie and Brody won't be together for a while, not just because we'll wait another nine months to potentially see them again on screen together. Thanks to the release of a video confession he recorded back when he was supposed to do that other al-Qaeda bombing, Brody will be blamed for the bombing at former Vice President Walden's memorial - and yet Carrie provided him with a way to flee the country. Is he responsible for this one? He seemed to know exactly when to leave the funeral to avoid being exploded and the bomb was in his car. The New Yorker's extremely perceptive Emily Nussbaum doesn't think so, and she also brilliantly underscores the detrimental tidiness of this season finale: it made for a "black and white moral rewrite" that finds the corrupt dead and the heroes living. It all worked out a little too neatly for a show that fueled on ambiguity for so long.
New York's Matt Zoller Seitz wrote a more forgiving, extremely sharp response to the finale, which reads in part:
...This episode felt like an inversion of last season's finale, in which Brody was plotting a bomb attack against Walden but aborted it at the last second, and Carrie believed he was a terrorist and did all she could to expose/thwart/catch him.
Indeed. Carrie has gone from not trusting herself to the point of electing electroconvulsive therapy to trusting herself so much that she not only didn't shoot Brody when it became clear that his car held the bomb, but also assisted him in fleeing the country. This yin-yang plot structure is a cool trick for a show to pull off, but then, in theory, so is calibrating story arcs to the synapse firings of your mentally ill protagonist.
The latter has a wearying effect, and for me, the former does no better. Last season's finale grabbed me by the throat and demanded my investment in the fate of this character. This year's took me by the hand while my grip was already loosening.