Homeland, Season 3: Episode 12 – “The Star”
Written by Alex Gansa and Meredith Stieham
Directed by Lesli Linka Glatter
Returns to Showtime in 2014
Here’s something that will probably not happen: viewers’ opinions of Homeland‘s third season will change in the coming weeks and months, becoming a little more positive in retrospect instead of being a barrage of vitriol. You probably won’t see this series very high on critics’ end-of-the-year lists if you see it in on those lists at all. And despite those lists being weird exercises in the first place, there’s something about the last third of this season that really works and deserves some kind of recognition in its own right. I, too, wouldn’t stick this on my personal top ten list of 2013 – there’s just too much good television – but the Homeland writers really handled the conclusion of Brody’s story with grace and have set the stage for next season in a way that ought to make people’s ears perk up instead of elicit more groans.
If I had any doubts that Brody might walk out of this alive, as soon as he tells Carrie the story about where he grew up and then about the doctor in Caracas, he was a definite body in the ground. The death sequence itself is rough. We’ve seen plenty of executions on TV – the most recent, well-executed (I just deleted that after I wrote it, because I was being completely oblivious, but now it stays!) one I can think of being Ray Seward earlier this year on The Killing – but when someone writes and stages one well, it can be incredibly affecting. This maybe fell just a little bit short on the emotional level, but it totally worked viscerally and brought to attention just how horrific a scene like this is. That it did just miss the mark is more a fault of the writing prior to “The Star,” rather than the stuff that’s in this episode itself. It’s hard to be as invested in the Brody-Carrie love story as Alex Gansa, and the whole bit in the safe house when they say they were destined to be in each other’s lives is a load of crap, but “The Star” also mostly avoided going too far down that route. The final moments Carrie and Brody share in person involve some arguing and then a kind of sweet, platonic shot of Carrie sitting over a sleeping Brody. The subtlety there where the writers could have had those characters in a more physical situation is greatly appreciated for those of us who just can’t get over that nagging apathy towards whatever the hell that romantic relationship is supposed to be. The scene that does really work is the phone call that Carrie and Brody share while the latter is in his prison cell. Again, it’s not too overt, shoving that relationship down our throats. It’s fueled by the talents of the lead actors and even more so by the writing that has Carrie asking Brody to just stay on the phone for a few more seconds. Granted, I’m usually a crier and this scene didn’t quite get the tear ducts going, but there is an overwhelming sense of relief while watching that feels something like “Yes. This is how this scene is supposed to go. I’m on board.” And I know that feeling has been absent for a lot of people all season.
There’s also some more stuff in “The Star” that doesn’t make much sense, but this just seems to be a part of Homeland now. Plausibility comes second to entertainment, however that entertainment is defined (action, dialog, directing, etc.). I’m less interested in nitpicking those things and more interested in wondering what Homeland is going to look like without Damian Lewis (and let it be said now: many thanks to him for his consistently great performance as the troubled, complex Brody and farewell). With the announcement of Jessica and Dana not being main characters next season – or characters at all, most likely – Homeland is free to make itself the Carrie Mathison Show again after Saul took the reins for most of this season. I can’t imagine most of the other actors not being a part of the next version of Homeland – Saul will certainly be back if the writers know what’s good for them, and Quinn will probably be the first person Carrie handpicks for her new team in Istanbul. What, though, will be the style of next season’s storytelling? Season three has veered between inconsistent character beats and scattered bits of espionage. With people like Lesli Linka Glatter behind the camera, those action set pieces are some of the most exciting on television (watching Brody get out of Akbari’s office and then the building is absolutely thrilling if also nonsensical), and I would certainly welcome back a Homeland that focuses more of its attention on superb, slow-burning plotting leading up to big payoffs. That said, when the series has done successful character work, it’s at its best. The problem is that good character work has been rare since the first season. So, if we get introduced to, say, another love interest for Carrie, I’m less confident about that in the long run than I would be with a Justified kind of structure of having a self-contained, season-long arc with a new baddie while the character work comes in when appropriate. Whatever happens – and, also, however they decide to handle how Carrie is going to function in this series as a new mother – a fresh start is exactly what Homeland needs, and now it has one.
Homeland, for me, used to be one of those premium shows like Game of Thrones or Justified or Downton Abbey that was just under the elite things like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Since about the halfway point of its second season, it has probably written itself out of that tier. On the basest level, it’s still a whole lot of fun if you don’t think about it too much, even though thinking about it made it fun to begin with. It’s maybe too early for me to say how season three overall stands as an entity. But I know that I especially enjoyed this finale and “Good Night” from a couple weeks ago – so much so that Homeland hasn’t necessarily dropped out of that aforementioned tier once and for all. Hopefully, some of the viewers that dropped out this season will come back next year to see what kind of changes have been made. In any case, thanks to those who have read along with these reviews this season and hopefully see you next year.
– Sean Colletti