“Homeland" wrapped a superior fifth season in a surprisingly reflective, somber mood on Sunday.
(Spoilers ahead, so skip this post if you're not in the mood for those.)
The world is saved (for now). There was no titanic, convulsive, "24"-styled battle between Good and Evil. There wasn't even a battle, or one on-screen anyway.
Someone -- someone important -- may have died. Or not. Let's just call that final scene "inconclusive," although I think most of us can pretty well guess how it will conclude next season. The gimmick of holding the sword of Damocles over the head of a beloved castmember is now such an established part of a season finale that we've all come to expect it. No big deal.
But of far greater signficance, no civilians were killed in the sarin gas attack — and you are almost left to wonder whether "Homeland" (which wrapped production before the Paris attacks) sensed that a horror of that magnitude, even fictional, would be almost too much for viewers to absorb. All season "Homeland" skirted the edges of the real world, seemingly drifting over into it at moments, and even relishing the illusion (dialogue, you will recall, was dubbed a couple of episodes ago to acknowledge the Paris attacks). But that was a horror too far.
Verisimilitude — a casualty of some past seasons — was clearly one of the desired goals this season, thus achieved with an Edward Snowden storyline, a Syrian refugee camp one, even ISIS. "Homeland" wanted to put viewers on the edge of their seats, then push them over into the screen, tumbling into the messy, fraught, irresolvable world that it captured — from the austere cleanliness of Berlin, to the grime and chaos of the camps. Mission pretty much accomplished.
But Showtime's "Homeland" also used the final episode to restate the big themes and ideas that resonated this season — the show's best and most compelling so far. One of those was this: The fate of nations, and of history itself, rests with the individual.
Individual actions lead to broader repercussions or consequences, with each action, like a pebble in a pond, circling outward. Those ripples may intersect, merge, become muddled, but they all begin with a first principle, a single act, that single pebble splash in the pond.
The big questions then were this: If individual actions can change everything — a sort of dialectic of the common man — and if the invisible hand of history is guided by just one person, then what exactly constitutes personal decisions? What are the ethical or emotional bearings that guide that hand?
The horizons of the CIA’s corrupted Berlin chief, Allison Carr (Miranda Otto) were limited — or at least stretched all the way to St. Lucia, and a little bar on the beach that made killer daiquiris.
By contrast, journalist Laura Sutton (Sarah Sokolovic) saw her life’s role as nothing less than the advancement of all human rights: She was a Rousseau with a laptop and trove of leaked documents that would give her the leverage she needed to set all the world free from tyranny.
But when she was finally presented with her own Hobson's choice — and almost everyone had one of those this season — she sacrificed all, including her place in history, to save one man: Numan (Atheer Adel).
Meanwhile, Saul (Mandy Patinkin) -- a drowning man before the season — grabbed a life preserver in the form of Allison. He could no longer see his role on the larger world stage, or didn't bother to. He was having too much fun with Allison, and she, in her own way, with him.
But he would have his revenge.
Qasim — Alireza Bayram — was the person upon whom an entire season turned. The reluctant terrorist who refused to commit an act of terrorism, who saved Quinn (Rupert Friend), who saved Berlin and — if you care to buy into the sheer gravity and depravity of the plot that was to be Allison's final evil mission — he even saved the Arab world itself. (Recall that Allison was told to allow the terrorist attack to go forward, because the Russians believed that its sheer horror would unleash the vengeance of the world upon all Muslims; crazy, yes, but Allison still had her eye on that daiquiri, so to speak.)
There was another man, also a Muslim, who saved the world — or saved Quinn, which in the context of the 5th was the same thing. (Recall also that Carrie and Astrid --- played by Nina Hoss, one of many fine German actors who appeared this season — would never have uncovered the plot had they not seen the tile floor behind the death chamber that held Quinn.) If Quinn had died on that dark night before the good samaritan doctor saved him, the plot would have gone forward.
Two Muslims were the heroes of the 5th season. An emphatic statement by "Homeland," which refused to turn Muslims into one-dimensional stick-figure clichés — a charge memorably leveled even by its own freelance stagehands? (Recall: the graffiti incident?)
Or just a reaffirmation of that first principle in the dialectic of history — that the fate of the world lies in the hands of the individual?
I suspect the answers to both questions is “yes.”
This brings us to — who else! -- Carrie (Claire Danes).
She began the season in prayer and ended the season in prayer. Carrie and "prayer" hardly mixed, but there she was seeking guidance from a higher power, or seeking solace.
There was a certain resignation to the act of prayer with Carrie — no fervent invocation to Jesus, or the sacred figure of her choice. In those rare instances when we did see her in prayer — except over the prostrate Qasim — you were left with the sense that she had come to the end of the road. She had no idea what ELSE to do.
After all, her restless search had taken her to Germany, to Otto During (Sebastian Koch), to Jonas (Alexander Fehling) and finally to Quinn's bedside. Her prayers had gone unanswered.
Good dramas are about something, and "Homeland" -- a good drama — is essentially about the role of the individual. You know the line, with apologies to MacBeth, that if life is but a walking shadow (that struts and frets its hour on the stage) then the story of Carrie Mathison really does signify nothing.
But Carrie Mathison, for the purposes of an ongoing TV series and the purposes of her soul, is a conflicted human being: She must stay away (from Saul, the CIA, her past) but she CAN'T stay away.
She knows — to co-op Saul's memorable line to Ivan Krupin (Mark Ivanir) -- that she no longer wants to embrace the illusion of the illusionless man, but can't be quite sure where her illusion begins or ends.
It’s easy to understand why there's a certain urgency to Carrie’s predicament in her own mind. She might save the world, but at certain peril to those nearest to her (for example, last season's recruitment and seduction of Aayan — Suraj Sharma — leading to his murder).
Then, there was that brief vivid scene in the hospital chapel. A young girl turns around, her face an expression of puzzlement and reproach. She was the ghost of Christmas future — Carrie's own daughter looking back to her, wondering what she was doing, what she had done, what she was going to do.
And so, we leave Carrie with choices — all of the Hobson’s variety: She can either accept Otto During's offer (or was that a proposal?) or not. She can pull the plug on the brother she never had — maybe even the only man who ever truly loved her. She can walk away from Saul once and for all.
Will she? A ray of light blazes through the hospital window. Carrie looks at Quinn ...
Fade to credits.
Carrie's hour to fret and strut upon this stage isn't over yet. There's a sixth season coming up — it can't be over of course.
At least my hope — possibly hers too — is that the 6th will be as compelling as this one was.