One’s enjoyment of “The Star” and, really, the entire third season of Homeland boils down to whether one is a fan of redemption stories. For three seasons, Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes) has spent her time sparring with her C.I.A. boss, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), attempting to prove that her gut instincts are always correct. Initially, this was in regard to her suspicion that former U.S. Marine Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) had been flipped by terrorists during his eight years of captivity. Later, after falling in love with him, she sought to prove that he could still be used as an asset. This season, secretly pregnant with Brody’s child, she tried to prove that this soldier was, above all else, a human being. In this, she—and “The Star”—succeeds.
The episode picks up shortly after “Big Man in Tehran,” with Brody following what one imagines were Carrie’s calm instructions to hide the body of his victim, General Akbari, and quickly exit the Iranian Revolutionary Guard headquarters. With Homeland having so vehemently refused to kill Brody before, it’s clear—despite some tense fake-outs—that he will reach Carrie’s safe house. But while Saul authorizes Brody’s exfiltration (at long last trusting in Carrie), the decision is taken out of his hands by the new C.I.A. Director, Andrew Lockhart (Tracy Letts), who coldly offers Brody up to Saul’s asset, Majid Javadi (Shaun Toub). As the Vulcan-like operative Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) puts it, not unkindly calling Saul sentimental, “Brody arrested is better for us than Brody back in America, and better for [Javadi’s] chances to lead the IRG.” Lockhart chimes in with a bitter irony: “Actually, it’s your legacy we’re trying to protect.” Ultimately, Saul can only apologize to Carrie as she looks on in manic horror, at one point attempting to scale the fence between her and Brody’s public execution, at the man she loves being hung by the rising arm of a crane.
But between Brody’s escape from the IRG and his sputtering demise, there’s time enough for him to find peace. As he stands in Carrie’s safe house, staring at himself in the mirror and attempting to wash the blood off of his hands, he remembers how even the pedophiliac doctor in Caracas thought of him as “a cockroach.” How can he resolve this with Saul’s tight-lipped praise and his daughter’s utter disavowal of him? He’s a man of faith who once secretly murdered the vice president. He hardly understands his own actions, explaining to Carrie that his motives are “less and less fucking clear” and insisting that he can’t redeem one murder with another. A life, on the other hand, changes everything, and as Carrie reveals that she’s carrying his child, Brody finds something redeemable to die for. The last look he shoots at Carrie, as he asphyxiates, is very nearly one of martyrdom. (It’s also quite similar to the last spoken words between the two, with Carrie begging him over the phone: “Can you just stay here? For a few more seconds?” and Brody responding with only the very human sound of him breathing, being present.)
This is a rather gruesome yet romantic end to Brody’s saga on Homeland, especially considering that Javadi’s promise to Carrie—“Everyone sees him through your eyes now”—isn’t true. The series leaps four months ahead to show Lockhart pointedly excluding Brody from the C.I.A.’s memorial service to the 132 brave men and women who died in its service, leaving it to Carrie to scribble a temporary star in his honor on the wall. But in the end, that imperfect, ephemeral symbol is the perfect tribute to Brody, an imperfect human, and a testament to Homeland’s willingness to embrace both the good and bad, and find redemption in it.
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