There were no real happy endings in the Season 1 finale of Homeland, "Marine One," a tense episode of television that's beyond commending the acting, plotting, and pacing (but we'll do it anyway). The good guys did not win even though the highest levels of our government survived Season 1 in one piece, and the bad guys failed in their terrorist plot yet may have come upon something even more harmful to America. Welcome to Homeland, the scariest show on television.
There are bound to be people on both sides of the border between "Liked it" and "Didn't like it," as the episode dodged an explosive ending after so much build up. But "Marine One" brought up more frightening ideas and found a way to extend a series that had plenty of questions regarding longevity. Are those questions answered absolutely? No. But after a stellar Season 1, Homeland has earned our benefit of the doubt. And I, for one, am already F5'ing Showtime's Web site to find out when Season 2 will debut.
Homeland had always been about sniffing out the terrorists and showing some devious ways with which the CIA goes about gaining intelligence. Illegal surveillance, putting informants at risk, intermittently blasting speed metal into suspects' brains to crack them. We excused those nefarious methods (speed metal, ack!) for the safety of our country, realizing that the violation of a few human rights was okay as long as it was in the name of the War on Terror as Carrie inched closer to snaring Abu Nazir, Homeland's fictional source of all the nightmares that keep America awake at night. "Marine One" opened a whole new door leading to a room of high-level cover-ups, eye-for-an-eye justice, and questions of who is in the right.
The most terrifying scenes never even involved Carrie or Brody. They involved Estes and Vice President Walden in the back of a limo discussing how they're going to squash Saul's query on the classified documents containing information on the drone that took a school and 82 children off the map. They involved Estes in his office butting heads with Saul, justifying hiding wayward attacks based on 80-percent hunches out of the public's eye because that information would give would-be terrorists an excuse to strap on a load of dynamite. "Marine One" took huge steps to say that America's War on Terror is more than just hindered by bureaucracy as we saw in the first 11 episodes; it's hit a brick wall that will see no winners no matter how much blood is shed by either side because each side is willing to do whatever it takes to win. If you left the episode feeling completely bummed and hopeless and angry about the state of affairs in the world today, you weren't alone.
Brody now has a new mission that would make conspiracy theorists drool: instead of blowing up the highest levels of government to smithereens, his new orders are to infiltrate them from within, buddy up with the future president, nudge policies in the wrong direction, and feed knowledge to the country's biggest enemy. In addition to being a snazzy way to keep Damian Lewis around for next season (his 72 virgins will have to wait), it opens up the possibilities for Season 2 to explore a completely new level. Season 2 has the potential to examine a scenario in which America isn't just given a bruise by killing the country's next generation of leaders, it's poisoned to the point of destruction by replacing its leaders with one of their own. Brody was right. Blowing up Walden is just a short-term victory for his cause. Nazir got it. "Why kill a man when you can kill an idea?"
Carrie meanwhile... oh lordy, Carrie. I can't be the only one who kind of wanted to see Brody pull of his plan just to vindicate Carrie. Did you find it frustrating that you knew she was right all along, or was it exhilarating? Her weakness, her illness, forever alienates her from her coworkers, from her friends, and, to some extent, from us. Getting close to her is dangerous as her methods are insane, but we can't help but be pulled in by her brilliance. She's an unreliable hero that inspires us and frightens us at the same time. She's an at-arm's-length kind of friend.
On the other hand, we have Brody. We've spent much of the season wondering who he is, and now that we know, we should be cursing his name and wishing him dead. But Homeland has managed to make him a very real person. We've seen him be Father of the Year. We've felt for him as the short straw in the best-friend-moving-in-on-his-wife affair. We saw the guy organically fall in love, for crying out loud. And it was sweet! Good lord, I have to admit I'm having a hard time hating the guy, even though he was ready to jihad the country's leaders.
So here we have a good guy that's certifiable and permanently damaged, and a bad guy that's sympathetic and working on belief. Carrie and Brody. America and those that seek to destroy it. But Homeland isn't saying who is who or which is which or that placing them into the roles in the first sentence of this paragraph has a right or wrong answer. "Marine One" was a thought provoking, uncomfortable, and risky finale that dared to approach a sensitive topic in a dangerous way and capped a brilliant season of television's best new program.
– Speaking of uncomfortable, those final shots of Carrie undergoing advanced shock therapy: SCARY. Will her sister remember what she said about Brody knowing Nazir's son? How much of Carrie's memory will the treatment destroy? Now who is the one who is brainwashed?
– I really loved the plan to use Walker's skills as a distraction to get an armed Brody in a room with the VIPs. I can never get enough of those moments when you realize something is going on as it's going on. I'm also curious to see why Nazir thought Walker was such a wild card and how Walker was turned.
– Yes, the bomb not working was a convenient device to maintain tension without wasting main characters. But Homeland is going to be a series of near misses, it has to be by nature. The question is how many near misses can the show continue to dole out before it loses its credibility and believability with us?
– Homeland did for the War on Terror what The Wire and Traffic did for the War on Drugs by calling attention to a subject we don't like to admit is completely screwed up.
– I still have that lingering question of whether or not that predator drone strike and his relationship with Nazir's son was enough to get Brody to turn. "Marine One" did help that cause by showing Walden actively covering up the strike, but given all that Brody has to lose–his life, his family, his loyalty–it's hard to believe that one incident could turn him completely opposite in the other direction.
– I don't think I need to mention it because it's so damned obvious, but I'd be remiss if I didn't: the acting from Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, and Mandy Patinkin is about as close to flawless as you can get. I'll pay money to see Danes and Patinkin share scenes. I know some people aren't fans of Dana, but I also thought Morgan Saylor did an outstanding job in one of TV's most difficult roles: the teenage daughter.
– I have a scheduled interview with Homeland co-creator Alex Gansa this morning, so be sure to check back to read our discussion. I have plenty of questions I hope to ask if I can wake up in time!
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom