Tonight’s season finale of Homeland was a homecoming of sorts, a return from the wilderness, a clearing of the slate. At this time last year, the series seemed destined to spiral into irrelevance, so sunk by the doomed romance between Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and Damian Lewis’s Nicholas Brody that even his death promised no relief. As resilient as its troubled heroine, however, Showtime’s stalwart drama reemerged as a force to be reckoned with; the optimism of its love affair with counterterrorism gave way, finally, to the bitter aftertaste of defeat. And so the potent, elegiac hour with which the series concluded its brilliant fourth season is a “Long Time Coming” indeed. Homeland is as imperfect as ever, but it’s once again worth loving, as Carrie says, “like crazy.”
Shifting the action to the suburban homes, apartment complexes, and greasy spoons from which the first season conjured such rough magic, “Long Time Coming” finds Carrie and her sister, Maggie (Amy Hargreaves), sorting through their deceased father’s effects, unable even to throw away his razor. Carrie appears particularly shaken, perhaps because she saw so much of herself in her father. Indeed, the eulogy she gives at his memorial service is, in part, a confrontation with the illness their father shared: “He loved me and my sister like that—like crazy,” she says. “He had demons. Everyone here knows that. But he lived with them. He taught me how to live with them.” Unsettling Carrie further is the surprise appearance of her mother, Ellen (Victoria Clark), who vanished without a trace 15 years ago when she became pregnant with the child of an extramarital partner. “You know what this is called?” Carrie snarls, to Maggie’s dismay. “Too little, too late.”
Of course, Carrie, who more or less abandoned her daughter this season, has plenty in common with Ellen, too, and she impulsively decides to drive through the night to find her. Their meeting is touching, in part because it makes clear that Carrie long ago internalized the notion that her father’s illness destroyed the marriage, and that this profound desire for connection powered the delirium of her relationship with Brody. (“I’ve always thought that being bipolar meant you couldn’t be with people,” she says sadly.) More broadly, though, their exchange reflects this season’s rather acrid sense that even the truth shan’t set you free. After all, Carrie returns to her motel room to call Quinn (Rupert Friend), hoping to revive their own romance, only to discover that his phone’s been disconnected.
“Long Time Coming” is thus filled with incantatory utterances, spells to ward off the dark, and yet the characters’ various calculations, rationalizations, and justifications are ultimately dwarfed by all the fateful compromises that came before:
I’m walking the line.
Shit, shower, shave.
You left your children to go have more children?
We have to see events for what they are.
The last of these is spoken by Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham), last spotted riding in Haissam Haqqani’s SUV and the author of a compromise that Carrie is unable to abide. As he reveals to Saul (Mandy Patinkin), Haqqani is willing to cease harboring terrorists if the United States removes him from the fabled kill list. If Saul is skeptical at first, his sense of outrage and personal affront proves miniscule when compared to his ambition. Down the rabbit hole Homeland has inhabited this season, the endless war that distorts our fears, our hopes, our dreams, our loves, ourselves, even the aging lion of other conflicts in other locales is willing to set his qualms aside. “Not every choice we face is blessed with moral clarity,” Adal says. “What’s that line? ’We are the no-men of no-man’s land.’”
If this sounds like another incantation, another spell, it’s only fitting, for darkness looms once more. Quinn joins an exceedingly dangerous mission in Iraq and Syria; Saul and Adal angle for the directorship of the C.I.A.; Carrie, alone and dazed in her car as the jazz-inflected theme plays on the soundtrack, isn’t far from where she started. What may be most terrifying, in Homeland’s multi-season journey from A to B and back again, is this looming sense that it’s easy to mistake stasis for progress when you’re already through the looking glass. “Things change,” Saul offers, but Adal counters with the mantra at the heart of Homeland’s return to the list of television’s best series: “Things go to shit.”
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