"It was always about him," Majid Javadi tells Carrie Mathison through a mouthful of cigarette smoke as she tries in vain to keep Nicholas Brody from the gallows pole. "That's what you care about. Maybe the only thing." Well, never let it be said that Homeland couldn't diagnose its own problem.
"The Star," Homeland's third season finale, saw the show finally say goodbye to Brody — its leading man, its central examination of war-on-terror blowback, the male half of its Romeo & Juliet romance — and it gave him about as gutwrenching and genuinely sad a send-off as a character on a big cable TV drama can get. The woman who loves him fights and fails for minutes on end to save his life, then to persuade him not to simply give up on it, then to just give her another minute or two on the phone with him, then merely to watch and witness as he's hoisted into the night sky by the neck. He accepts his fate with as much calm and discipline as we've ever seen from him, grateful that he'll no longer have to be anyone's soldier. She desperately tries to make final contact with him, climbing a chainlink fence, screaming his name, maybe — maybe — being seen by him as he chokes to death in the hangman's noose (the uncertainty of that will likely haunt her the way the whispered words of the informant who told her Abu Nazir had turned an American POW would way back in the series premiere) before the baton of a guard sends her crashing back down to earth, jarring editing making it every bit as disorienting to us as it is to her. You could quibble with some of the choices in this scene if you must — the way Brody's holding-his-breath face couldn't help but look a little silly in this very serious context, the way the audio and crowd shots felt cribbed from a similar sequence in Game of Thrones — but the horror and melancholy of it all had a way of side-stepping any complaints for as long as Brody dangled from that rope.
Once we left the scene of the crime, however, it all came roaring back, starting with this episode's handling of Brody and his love affair with Carrie itself. It's probably not a great sign if you're laughing out loud at a show's handling of a character it needs you to love deeply because it's about to kill him, right? With trademark Homeland subtlety, "The Star" featured multiple shots in which Brody faced the man in the mirror, tried to wash himself clean, literally scrambled to wash the blood from his hands — a lazy, corny way to depict his inner struggle with metaphor.
And sure, the tension of his exit from General Akbari's office following the assassination was palpable enough to erase any plausibility questions for the moment. Yeah, actually, it does seem like if you get lucky and the administrative assistant isn't out there when you exit the room, you could stroll out of IRGC headquarters after killing its leader without anyone noticing until you were all but clear of the grounds. But by the time Carrie staggers away from Brody's execution, the plot holes are deep enough for her to fall right into one. None of Javadi's men think it's odd to leave an American intelligence officer alone while arresting the country's most wanted man alongside her? The Iranian government's in such a hurry to off the high-profile American political figure responsible for the biggest assassination in its recent history that it publicly executes him the day after his capture, without interrogating him for information or leveraging him against the U.S. diplomatically or in PR terms? Hell, given the way they put him on all the talk shows in Tehran, the government doesn't simply cover up Brody's involvement in the assassination altogether to avoid embarrassing itself? Saul's involvement in the assassination and Javadi's subsequent mellowing of Iran's foreign policy is an open enough secret for Saul to get the nickname "Maestro" in Langley, but that secret never leaks?
That's just on the level of plot mechanics. As narrative, it fares little better. By the time the safehouse-ensconced Brody and Carrie start making their plans for the future on a foundation of dialogue that would make a daytime soap think twice, I was back to rooting for him to get shot on sight by the guards at the gates, or blow his own ginger balls off with the gun he tucked in his pants. "Brody, I'm pregnant." "I think it sounds like the only sane fucking thing left." Good gravy, Homeland — only Peter Quinn's out-of-character characterization of Carrie and Brody's relationship later in the episode — "I think they call that love" — saves that one-two punch from being the cheesiest lines in the history of the show.
But the fundamentals were the show's biggest obstacle all night. Simply put, Brody is the most famous beneficiary of network clemency in the history of the New Golden Age of TV Drama. When showrunners Alex Gansa & Howard Gordon planned to have Brody go through with Abu Nazir's operation and blow himself up at the end of Season One, Showtime intervened, convinced that it was Brody's romance with Carrie, not the show's then-nuanced take on the war on terror's human cost nor the cast's skillfull performance of that cost, that moved the needle for viewers. How can you make viewers pray for this cat to get another implausible life when he's this far past his sell-by date? When you've got "yeah, it's about time" playing in your head the whole time you're watching a character march to his execution, there's gonna be a disconnect between what the show wants you to feel and the real thing. Brody's execution was grim, tragic, even repulsive, yes. But it was also a relief.
And like the Tower of David in Caracas, Brody's exit left countless structural problems with this season exposed to the elements. For example, why was Dar Adal elevated to a main character just for the show to remove his raison d'être? Instead of emerging as an antagonist to Saul's supposedly kindler, gentler approach to intelligence, as he had during Season Two and as seemed likely during the early episodes, Adal just became Second Beard from the Left, an additional scowling middle-aged man to stand around in conference rooms and gently agree or disagree with Saul's decisions. Even helping sell Brody out, with the say-so of Senator Lockhart and the President himself, amounted only to a falling out mild enough to be patched up over a weekly diner date with Saul a few months later.
Same question regarding Peter Quinn. At first it seemed like his accidental assassination of a terrorist banker's young son would turn him into a loose cannon, but perhaps full up on the loose-canon quota with Carrie's deliberate descent into mania, the show never went anywhere with that at all. Indeed, Peter stays a loyal enough company man to plug Carrie in the shoulder when it looks like she's going to screw up the mission just to clear Brody's name. He's at the CIA memorial service in the end, for crying out loud. Way to go rogue!
And for God's sake, why was there a Dana/Jessica Brody storyline at all? It ate up seemingly a quarter of the season's screentime but accomplished nothing except reminding Brody he's made a mess out of everyone's lives, landing Dana a gig as a hotel maid, and bumping Morena Baccarin and Morgan Saylor off the show. Homeland's perpetual problem is not knowing when to quit its characters, and the Brodys were the toughest of all.
In the end — and I mean the very, very end, the last thing we see this season and, I'd imagine, the last thing a lot of people see of Homeland at all — the biggest head-slapper of the night was the final scene. Carrie's upset that Director Lockhart won't commemorate Brody on the CIA's wall of heroes, even though he wasn't a CIA employee, even though he legitimately did turn traitor and kill a bunch of people in service of that treason (including the freaking Vice President!), even though holding this guy up as a hero to the world would bring with it all sorts of politically unanswerable questions? Okay, fine. As Javadi said earlier, Brody's all Carrie really cares about (certainly more than her potential new gig as Istanbul bureau chief or the impending birth of her and Brody's child, both of which she's ambivalent about at best, which, way to invest the audience in the resolution of those questions, Homeland).
But what's her grand gesture in Brody's memory, her way to make all of the death and murder and betrayal and love and sacrifice worth it, the final image with which Homeland leaves its audience? Carrie Mathison, CIA genius. . . takes out a sharpie and draws Brody's star on the wall, like a middle school student responding to a bad grade on a science test by writing "SCHOOL SUCKSSSSS" on the bathroom stall, only the middle school student stands a better chance of not getting caught. It's absurd. It reduces this romance we're supposed to believe is worth moving heaven and earth for to Carrie doodling "Mrs. Carrie Brody" on her notebook. It posits that a man's public execution can be avenged with graffiti in a lobby. It's how Homeland wants us to remember it. Fine by me.