Any hour of TV that features the public execution of one of its main characters is going to be pretty emotional. And indeed, judging by Twitter, Homeland’s third season finale brought at least a few viewers to tears. The second half of the episode—where Iranian authorities grab Nicholas Brody, Carrie Mathison realizes she won’t be able to save him, and a crane hoists the ex-marine into the air by his neck—presented Brody’s death in unflinching, moving detail. Carrie covertly drawing a star onto the memorial wall at the CIA was just about perfect as a final shot; for one last time, Brody has her breaking the rules.
But the death wasn't actually that shocking. As telegraphed in that safe-house scene where Brody said he hadn’t expected to get this far and had no idea what he’d do back in America, his character had no future.
What was more surprising was that this was a happy ending.
A few episodes back, it seemed like Homeland might be up to something deeply subversive. Season Three had thrown a parade of punishments at its characters (Carrie’s stint in a psych ward; Saul’s cuckolding; Brody destitution) and at innocent bystanders (the kid Peter Quinn shot in the season opener; the imam’s family in Caracas; Javadi's ex wife and her daughter; the Iraqi policemen at the Iranian border). Saul’s plan to defang Iran via a secret coup seemed too far-fetched, too reminiscent of America’s troubled history of interventionism, to actually work. Having it fail would be a tough but bold creative choice that might have explained all the bleakness this season. Maybe, Homeland could have decided to say, Peter Quinn was right to wonder whether any greater good could justify the collateral damage caused by the CIA's meddling. Maybe, it could have said, America shouldn't try to play god.
Instead, the show ended up offering a more comforting justification for all the carnage and moral compromise this season. Saul’s scheme works out, and Iran assents to nuclear inspections. Not only that, but our characters are pretty much OK. Saul’s out at the CIA, but he gets to vacation with his seemingly recommitted wife in the Mediterranean, pull in a huge private-sector salary, and not have to try and manage Carrie anymore. Carrie receives the station-chief promotion she has long wanted, and her pesky pregnancy takes care of itself when her dad offers to raise the kid. Brody dies a hero. Hurray for assassinations!
To be fair, Homeland seems a little ambivalent about the fact that it has again reduced thorny questions of policy and morality to a mere backdrop for its main characters' psychodramas. The conversation between Brody and Carrie at the safe house feels like the show’s writers trying to head off criticisms:
Carrie: “Wanna tell me what’s going on with you?”
Nicholas: “I just took a man’s life today, Carrie.”
Carrie: “He was a bad guy, Brody. … Worse than bad. He sent kids, chained together, tens of thousands of them, into the Iraqi lines to clear minefields.”