If there’s anything Homeland has taught me over the course of four seasons, it is not to make expectations. Because it just keeps on thwarting them — be it the conventional standards of television or just my fickle theories about the show. Weeks before the finale, I was speculating on how Homeland will package itself in its fifth season and how the late casting of the Mathison matriarch will enrich Carrie’s side of character drama. I once said that Homeland, post-Brody, will be focused on a new villain per season (like 24), instantly assuming that Carrie and co. will defeat terrorists; while the mom-storyline would deepen Carrie’s personal story as long as it is integrated to the season-long conflict. Watching “Long Time Coming” made me realized the futility of these theories because the show continuously defies them, for better or worse. Ignoring the misstep on Carrie’s mom, the S04 finale proves that Homeland isn’t just audacious on hacking off characters but also its stealth of subverting expectations even if you think you’re already familiar with the show. Lacking the conspicuous explosions and whiplash of the past season finales, “Long Time Coming” is a delicate and cunning maneuver for the show moving forward. It may have painted mixed feedback after the initial viewing but once its gutting final scene sinks in, it will make you realize that the clever anti-climatic closer is dedicated to the show’s discerning viewer.
To be honest, “Long Time Coming” had the same effect on me as E10’s befuddling belt scene. But E12 was the grand culmination of character arcs that made me cheer for it more. To borrow words from critics, the finale was quiet (set in the serene suburb) but disquieting; it finds Carrie, Saul and Quinn settled back in the States after the nightmarish stint in Islamabad but being home became unsettling once the larger picture loomed before them. Some would say that the finale’s featured twist was actually not having a twist at all and that last week’s reveal of Dar Adal was a blindsiding narrative push. But for me, I award the stupefying twist of the season to Saul who successfully betrayed every ounce of compassion he earned during his Taliban ordeal. Saul’s desperation in scoring a CIA comeback tastes like bile because his actions led to bitter consequences. It was his self-righteousness that entangled him with terrorists and trickled to the annihilation of 36 Americans whom he’s now willing to bury just to plant himself back to the Agency. I still don’t understand why Dar is so ardent in securing Saul’s tenure, to the point of negotiating with Haissam Haqqani in exchange of the video which is the only impediment to Saul’s imminent return. Does Dar have a hidden agenda in helping to reinstall Saul? Their team up is an interesting set-up that rattles the restored dynamic between Saul and Carrie. I, for one, wasn’t looking forward on seeing Saul back in Langley but I am amazed on how the writers shifted angles on keeping him relevant this season: he was initially pushed away by Carrie from her orbit and becomes the emotional torque at the middle of the story and burns the bridge and build a new one pillared by his relentless ambition in the last episode. It’s vague if Saul is smeared by power he was conferred in S03 (though he made it clear before that he wasn’t the politicking type) or he simply wasn’t the man who he seemed was as Carrie’s former touchstone. I came to think that Saul the bear is actually an opportunistic predator who pries himself to the CIA just to serve his own self-interest. In the end, it was not Dar who’s playing the con game after all, but Saul. His S04 journey trekked from sympathetic to frustrating yet it was very effective. The searing final sequence of him and Carrie staring at each other was a muted yet potent moment that punctures what was the patched wound before the finale. I am cautiously optimistic of Saul’s position next year but I’m certainly looking forward on Mandy Patinkin and F. Murray Abraham who deftly slither as the Agency’s sly old timers. They’re an excellent foil against their protégés but apart from the spy stuff, there’s a lot to be talked about between Carrie and Quinn.
After 32 episodes, the kiss (that finally sailed the ship) has arrived and for those who are scratching their heads on the suddenness of Carrie and Quinn’s romance, you aren’t paying attention in the past three seasons. It was definitely long time coming in the show’s private psyche, aside from the domestic conflict arising in Carrie’s mother. Homeland became far-fetched and laborious when it concentrated on Carrie and Brody’s romance but I believe that her relationship with Quinn better serves the show thematically. More than just the serial adventure of patriotism, what differentiates Homeland from its contemporaries is how the characters are treated as human beings, making their actions inherent on who they are and not just dictated by any plot device. At some points in the show, Carrie, Quinn and Saul were flustered in herculean conditions as they defend their country. But in the end, they are just normal people longing for the normalcy of home that their vocation stripped from them. Maybe one of the reason why I liked the flawed “Trylon and Perisphere” is it exposed the ugly humanness of its characters, from Carrie’s post-natal depression to Quinn’s PTSD. “Long Time Coming” is patterned in E02’s DNA, although it brought together Carrie and Quinn a wistful chance of a normal life together. Islamabad was a grave chapter in their lives but the beauty of it is that Carrie and Quinn weathered the worst and that battlefield cemented their relationship as they encountered each other’s demons. Because of his job, Quinn has become a wanderer drifting on whether to quit or not, yet he found his chance of a home in Carrie. But their midnight romantic revelation was an ill Cinderella moment as they were lured back to their CIA shoes. You just have to hate the timing of it all. Carrie and Quinn’s romance may have ended in a cliffhanger but I’m in the minority who liked it, basically because I find it hard to imagine their possible arrangement (these normal people are made extraordinary by their jobs). And in an ill-advised move for the finale, Carrie still has an unresolved demon to face that make her stall her next move on Quinn – her mother.
Frank’s funeral (in a loving tribute to the departed James Rebhorn) wasn’t just the catalyst for Carrie and Quinn to finally release their feelings for each other. Before the burial, her estranged mother Ellen (Victoria Clark) tried to reach out to her daughters. Maggie was welcoming, much like my anticipation upon learning of Ellen’s integration to the story since the Mathison patriarch passed away. It turns out that my reaction would be the same as Carrie’s — uninviting and crusty on her mother’s return. The least engaging part of the finale, the mother-daughter scenes were cold and melodramatic that don’t hit the emotional punch of Carrie’s teary discussion with Frank and Maggie in “The Star”. To echo a fellow viewer, Ellen could have been a means for Carrie to acknowledge her daughter, parallel to their reconciliation. Regardless of the outcomes, Carrie and Ellen were similar in submitting to their impulses that led them to abandon their children (the former escaping through work while the latter in her many dalliances). But Carrie has grown now. Maybe she doesn’t need her mother in order to reengage with Frannie (events in Islamabad could have made her long for her remaining loved ones at home). Instead, Carrie realizes that she can be loved despite her condition because it’s not her shared illness with her dad that drove her mom away but Ellen’s weakness. For Ellen to be used as a plot device to enlighten Carrie’s blossoming relationship with Quinn makes me think that she isn’t much of a significant role unlike Frank in Carrie’s life. What happens next is just ‘too little, too late’.
Like Saul, I am also fascinated on how the writers fleshed out Quinn’s character this season (and kudos on Rupert Friend for his layered performance and one of the MVPs this season). Before, Quinn was no more than an observer (looking through distant eyes) and Carrie’s sympathizer. Although the audience were made known a part of Quinn’s past (his child), we only knew less about him except for his evocative feelings for Carrie. His bigger role in S04 was well-earned (in my opinion) as we discover the man separate from Carrie. During the mid-season, I was wary if I would still like the Quinn who gradually emerged onscreen – impatient when patience was needed more, gauche when the good cop would be more effective and unstable when his composure could shut the detonator down. But Quinn is equally flawed like Carrie and together they make a more complete picture of the restless search of one’s personal permanence in the impersonal world they live in. Underneath the typical coldblooded assassin, Quinn became the show’s moral compass who ironically is lost on his own – his déjà vu of quitting the CIA is as normal as his ragged breathing. He finally found a finite reason of leaving through Carrie but beneath his grand gesture of offering a life with him, Quinn has an insecure heart that crumbles when he’s rejected of loving the woman who thinks she can’t be loved. Quinn was ultimately driven to go black once again as his desperate attempt to get out and stay out was shattered by Carrie’s ‘no’. This resolution becomes the midpoint of a meandering yet conniving episode that ends with the three storylines wrapped altogether: Ellen leading to Carrie’s realization of wanting to have a life with Quinn but his suspicious absence led to her discovery of Dar and Saul’s plan, en route to a destabilized personal and work dynamics for S05.
“Long Time Coming” is like a simmering kettle left on an alighted stove. Not only did I appreciate its red herrings for S05 but it also provides a realistic finish for the show’s most resonant season. War was not won in 14 years, even most implausible in just one season. Carrie and co. lost and the audience has to accept the stillness of it. At the end of the day, Homeland is more than just a macroscopic look in geopolitical tensions and international espionage. As sappy as it sounds, ‘home is where the heart is’ and for Homeland, the heart will always be Carrie and her cathartic journey of acceptance and redemption. Praises will never stop pouring on Claire Danes’ masterful and wholly portrayal of a woman who has grown so much in the show’s four seasons. On the other hand, Homeland won’t ever escape the scrutiny of its political setting but like the critics, I find myself wondering about the show’s future creative execution. Will Homeland ever be Homeland again? The show has unpredictably evolved from what it was four years ago, an intimate psychological cat-and-mouse thriller that transformed to the predators and preys of the bigger fight against terrorism. Homeland catered to the many facets of the thriller genre but it will be best remembered on how it balances the action, suspense and intrigue to its core character story. No other show is given such a narrative leeway than Homeland and I put my faith on the writers on where they want to see Carrie, Saul and Quinn next season, along with the new antagonist. The development of their arcs was terrific; who would have thought that Saul can be Carrie’s adversary and Carrie’s careful confirmation of her reciprocated feelings for Quinn? While the S04 didn’t check on the Boyds and their Pakistani counterparts (a short snippet on Tasneem Qureshi shows that she’s in a league more powerful that Aasar Khan), I hope S05 could bring them back, one way or another, as the fifth season could be an opportunity to widen the spy circle with new characters (that the show excellently casts) with questionable allegiances, just like Brody was, but this time in tighter and more nooses (pun intended).
- Thank you for reading my recaps! I’ll be back to business once S05 airs in 10 months but if you’re interested in reading my instantaneous thoughts, just can check out my blog: myhoneyisfilm.tumblr.com
- My favorite episodes in the season are “From A to B and Back Again”, “Halfway to a Donut”, “There’s Something Else Going On” and “13 Hours in Islamabad”.
- Quinn will be successful on his open-ended mission. Just don’t how long a time jump S05 will make.
- The season beginning and ending with Carrie inside the car, jazz playing, where she was a passenger on her auto-piloted mission and lastly her hands on the stirring wheel yet lost — is one of the show’s most powerful images.
- The Kiss. Enough said.