There were plenty of stumbles during what was, in the end, an uneven third season of Homeland. For all it got wrong in 2013, however, the season ended in near-perfect fashion, eschewing the insane twists and turns that have characterized much of this season by giving us a raw, powerful, and devastating season finale. Not only was it one of the better episodes of television this year, it may have been the saddest hour of 2013.
Showtime finally allowed Homeland to do what it should’ve done last year: Kill off Nicholas Brody. Part of the tension in the episode came in wondering what ridiculous plot twist the writers would come up with to save Brody in the end, and the almost unexpected twist came when they didn’t save him at all. Nicholas Brody was publicly executed, hanged from a crane arm. He didn’t fight it. He didn’t struggle. He was at peace with his demise, and as he hung from a crane at 4 a.m. in a public square in Tehran, he locked eyes with the woman carrying his child and he slipped quietly into death, leaving a haunting image of him hanging lifeless from the crane arm for what felt like an eternity.
I felt no happiness, and I got no satisfaction in Homeland‘s decision to kill off Nicholas Brody, but it felt right. It was a fitting end for a man who has basically been dead inside all season long. Only in the safe house, after Carrie told Brody that she was carrying his child, did Brody show any sign of life, agreeing with Carrie’s assessment that she may have been put on this Earth to intersect with him. “That doesn’t sound crazy at all,” he told her. “It sounds like the only f**king sane thing to hold onto.”
Unfortunately for Brody, even after his improbable escape from Tehran, Dar Adal would sell him (and Saul) out, not out of any animosity, but because that’s the way it had to be. This is how the CIA works, and not even Saul Berenson could heroically save the day. In one of the few times this season, the CIA acted like the CIA should, giving up a heroic asset for the greater good. They did so over the objections of Saul, who called Adal and Lockhart “f**king pu**ies” for doing what really had to be done to ensure that the plan to install Javadi as Iran’s new military leader would work. I think even Saul understood, deep down, that sacrificing Brody was necessary.
It worked, too, as the episode’s epilogue revealed. Four months after the death of Brody, tensions between Iran and the United States had begun to ease. Sanctions were lifted, and Iran let in inspectors, although it would be Senator Lockhart — newly installed as the CIA Director — who would get most of the credit, while Saul relaxed in a vacation house with his wife over croissants. It was his crowning achievement, and it “only cost him his career.”
To Carrie’s credit, she also seemed to accept Brody’s fate, understood that it was for the overall good. She didn’t try to enact any kind of revenge against Lockhart or Dar Adal. In fact, she enthusiastically accepted her new post as station agent in Istanbul, where she will pick her own team and oversee Javadi. Carrie’s problem is the baby growing inside of her, her inability to be a mom, and the sense of sadness she feels in carrying around a constant reminder of Nicholas Brody. She wasn’t happy, either, that Lockhart refused to memorialize Brody on the wall of the new CIA, but even that she accepted without much of a fight, quietly protesting by using a Sharpie to honor Brody with an impermanent star on the wall. It was one of several gut-wrenching moments in an episode that did right by one of its stars. Nicholas Brody needed to go, but it doesn’t mean we won’t miss him.
There are a lot questions about Homeland going into the fourth season without Nicholas Brody, and mostly without his family (Morena Baccarin and Morgan Saylor will not be returning as series regulars next year). Saul no longer works for the CIA, and there doesn’t appear to be a way back for him. Carrie has been assigned to Istanbul, but we don’t know how her baby will affect her ultimate decision to leave. There are no immediate threats, and the force that has driven much of the plot over the past three years is dead.
Where does Homeland go from here? “When it’s over it’s over. Pull down the shades, you’re done,” Saul told Dar Adal over coffee, in suggesting that he would not return to the CIA. But it also feels fitting not just to the season, but to the series. Last night’s season finale felt like a great way to wrap up the entire shebang, and I’m sure — unless there’s a dramatic turnaround in the fourth season – that many viewers will cut their losses after last night’s episode and leave well enough alone. We may look back on the third season finale one day and consider it the last high point of the series, and think to ourselves that it’s where the series should’ve ended. Barring a major turnaround, and a compelling new set of circumstances, it may end up being where the series ends for me.