Which choice, exactly, does the "Homeland" season finale's episode title refer to? Carrie alone has half a dozen to make -- whether to choose Brody or her job, whether to believe he's not responsible for the car bomb that kills 200 people at the Vice President's memorial, how to get him out of the country when Al Qaeda has released his video suicide note, to cross the border with him or go home to clear his name. Or is it Brody choosing Carrie over his family? Jess boxing up Brody's things? Quinn deciding that murdering Brody isn't part of his "guy who kills bad guys" job description? Estes releasing Saul?
We think it's just one, the one the "Homeland" writers had to confront as the second season came to a close: What do we do with Brody?
It's clear from the episode's opening scenes that simply pairing him off with Carrie won't work. The sequence in the cabin is disquieting; with agendas and mania now replaced by grocery bags and potato-juggling, the vibe between the two is awkward instead of intense. The crickets and rustling of the woods are very loud as they discuss what's next for them "for real" -- and not just because Quinn is lurking nearby with his monocular, waiting for a chance at the kill shot. The lying and gamesmanship that took up so much space in their affair has left a vacuum.
And Carrie can't choose Brody over the CIA, not for long. Saul impatiently but implacably repeats to her that THIS is her life, this job, that she can't have it both ways. Carrie gets nasty with the "I don't want to die alone like you're going to"-type comments, and Saul tells her she doesn't know "a g--damn thing," but of course, she does. She knows he's right. And so do the "Homeland" writers; thwarted romance aside, this is a workplace drama, and if Carrie isn't in this workplace, the attendant dramas cease to function.
Nor is killing Brody an option for the show, any more than it is for Quinn. Damian Lewis is the ranking Emmy-winner; that's a tough downsizing to justify.
So, "Homeland" splits the difference. Carrie does choose Brody over her job -- but moments after the two sneak out of Walden's memorial to make out, a car bomb rips through the atrium where the memorial is taking place (the way it simply overtakes and atomizes Estes is disturbing), killing 200 people and sending Brody on the lam while presenting Carrie with an even less appealing choice.
We don't know if Carrie's decision to leave Brody at the border is going to work out for her. For all her pleading to Brody that "this isn't goodbye," Brody sees that she doesn't know quite how to choose contentment. "This was love, you and me," he tells her sadly, but the past tense doesn't escape her notice, or ours. The show's choice, meanwhile, might be the best one it could have made. The bombing kills Estes, leaves Saul in charge, and ends any fears that the polygraph and subsequent blackmail standoff between the two men will jeopardize Saul's career. More importantly, it reopens the file on Al Qaeda, who manages to stay a step ahead of the CIA even as Abu Nazir's body is buried at sea. Walden's death wasn't just vengeance for Abu Nazir; it was a critical distraction that enabled a much deadlier terrorist act, took out his other sworn enemy (Estes), and ties Brody back into the story by framing him for the tragedy. Al Qaeda doesn't just use his car; they release his video suicide note as a way of claiming credit for the bombing, and terrifying the country with the concept of an enemy within.
It's unclear how Brody is supposed to disappear into the Canadian interior, realistically speaking -- thanks to the video headlining every news broadcast between D.C. and the border, he's the most recognizable man in the time zone, plus he's a redhead -- but the fact that everyone's seen it means… everyone's seen it. Jess and the kids all see it, revulsion rippling across their faces, and even if Carrie hadn't chucked his phone out her car window, they'd never take Brody's calls now. They might not anyway; Jess has almost finished boxing up his things already, and when Brody comes home to pick up a suit, Dana confronts him. The things Carrie said at the end of last season add up. Brody agrees that Carrie's not crazy, and when Dana realizes what that means about her father, she literally backs away from him. "It's like you just don't know anyone," she tells him, stunned, talking about herself.
But the sundering of the family's trust in Brody allows the show to go on to other things. Jess is ready to move on with Mike. Brody has more or less deeded the father/husband job to Mike already. The video is awful for the family -- the last shot of Dana in the episode is of her pulling the curtains, against the news vans that have begun arriving on the lawn -- but it's an opportunity for the storytelling, to close a door and walk through another.
The bombing features some grim imagery, Saul saying the Kaddish over row after row of sheet-covered bodies, Nazir's body sinking in an inky sea. Recent events in Connecticut made it tougher to watch than it might otherwise have been (a last-minute title card suggested that this might be the case), and the acting is beautiful, but wrenching. On the phone with his wife, Saul sticks to single words so as not to break down. When she asks whether Carrie survived the attack, Saul's faint "…gone" is heartbreaking.
When Carrie appears in the background of a long shot, though, calling to him; when he can't hear her, at first, because of course she can't have survived; when he turns to find her there, that fatherly beaming… it's gorgeous. And it, too, is an opportunity for next season, to explore their relationship, evolve it.
To pick up the pieces
"The Choice" created as many opportunities and choices for the show as it could, the only way it could. Pulling Brody and Carrie apart while confirming the truth of their shared feelings will motivate them both in their quest to clear his name. (If in fact his name should be cleared. Carrie's first instinct when she comes to after the bomb blast is to assume Brody's responsible, which is telling.) Quinn's failure to eliminate Brody could send him on a vengeance mission, down a shame spiral, or into a closer partnership with Carrie. Saul's battlefield promotion could mean interesting new conflicts, but also makes it more credible that Carrie can return to the CIA after turning her great love loose at the border. Yes, she gave herself up to Brody, "completely," which is a thing of bravery and rue… and also, technically, treason.
And Galvez might get a few more lines next season. Meet us here to find out.
Odds and ends
Carrie tells Brody that, the day she left for college, her mother told her father she was "going to CVS" and never came back. Carrie hasn't heard from her since. Part of her wariness about choosing Brody may stem from her sympathy for her mother's burden -- and concern that Brody can't carry it: "My dad was pretty impossible … he has what I have."
We'll miss David Harewood as Estes. He did a great job graduating that character from hidebound bureaucrat to genuine baddie, and his scenes with Patinkin were highlights. (The finale features Saul calling Estes "Javert" while enjoying one of our favorite snacks, Town House crackers and peanut butter.)
The president still has not appeared onscreen. Who do you think they should cast as the Commander in Chief?
What y'all had to say on Twitter about the finale:
So this is turning into The Hills episode where Lauren chooses Jason over Paris? Lame. #homeland— Abby Gardner (@abbygardner) December 17, 2012
Saul doesn't act like a brat when he gets milk, Dana. #Homeland.— Vlada Gelman (@VladaGelman) December 17, 2012
Mandy Patinkin talks about "Homeland" on "The Colbert Report":