For such an uneven show, Homeland has always excelled at season finales. At the close of every year, the writers have shaken up the show enough that even the outlines of the following season are a complete mystery. Homeland’s third season was a plot-heavy slog during many of its early episodes, which seemed like filler and empty melodrama. And the show wasn’t all that interesting in the last few installments, when the action completely took over to the detriment of character development. But “The Star” brought things to a thoughtful, daring, necessarily cynical end that felt every bit as satisfying as the rest of this season had not.
Looking back, the long game of the third season was haphazardly constructed on a pile of coincidences, a ridiculous con on the part of the CIA that outed one of its agents as mentally ill, institutionalized her in a government hospital, and used her as a lure for any money-laundering terrorist who might have the right connections to know where she was staying and relay a message to her. The gambler who wanted to take his chances on that disgraced and possibly crazy agent just happened to be someone Saul had a long history with – or did Javadi target Carrie for recruitment in the belief that he could use her against Saul? In any case, Saul turned the tables on Javadi by making him an American asset, convincing Brody to assassinate Javadi’s boss, then using his leverage against Javadi to establish world peace. Even though Saul was ousted from the CIA for the success of this mission for its political unseemliness, the writers were persuasive in making a case for the continued existence of the spy agency, even if it’s an organization that prioritizes missions over people, as Dar Adal admits in the finale.
The recap of the season in the paragraph above shows just how much the third season was about Papa Bear and, later, Brody. Carrie, on the other hand, became a cog in the machine that Saul started up. Thus it was great to see the show’s focus shift back to her in this finale, as she is Homeland’s irregularly beating heart. The last few moments she had with Brody were lovely and devastating. After Brody assassinates General Akbari, her judgment is redeemed once again in the eyes of her peers. And yet that’s not enough for the CIA to send an evacuation team to recover Carrie and Brody. For Saul to have a lasting legacy, Brody has to give up his. The former Marine’s only memorial, the only record of his sacrifice, is the star Carrie draws in on the wall of fallen heroes.
And outside of Langley, Carrie still has the baby. “The Star” was the first episode where I cared about this baby as something more than a plot contrivance. There’s the lovely moment Carrie and Brody share in the not-so-safe house where she tells the father of her child that she was put on this Earth to meet him, which sounds so needy and over-the-moon even Dana would roll her eyes at the sentiment. Yet it’s a beautiful admission all the same, and one that goes a long way toward grounding the finale. And, of course, it serves as the emotional set-up to that shocking and horrifying scene of Brody’s execution, shot mostly from Carrie’s POV in longshot, as the life is slowly suffocated out of him in front of the woman who loves him most. Many people die on TV, but Brody’s slow, unfair demise felt radically different. Damian Lewis’ bloated, reddened, agonized and confused face might give me nightmares for years.
“The Star” then skipped four months and poured the foundation for the fourth season, where Carrie will be the youngest station chief ever (kinda weird that she still has a job at the CIA when her colleagues had to shoot her just a few weeks ago so that she wouldn’t sabotage a mission, but okay) and maybe be her old mentor’s boss. No matter what next year looks like, it seems Saul will be with her in Istanbul, no?
And the baby might be there, too, since Carrie might keep her after all. I briefly thought she might hand the baby over to Jessica to keep the Brody family, sorely missed in this episode, still on the show. But Morena Baccarin and Morgan Saylor, who play Jess and Dana, respectively, have been taken off the show’s cast as of next year. With a radical cast shake-up, including the jettisoning of the show’s most one-note characters, what greater incentive could there be to tune in next season?