Damn, "Homeland." Damn. The second season has been full of ups and downs. Well done suspense has been offset (and then some) by plenty of silliness, enough that this reviewer was questioning whether he would be back for round three. And then they drop a bomb like the season finale...
Carrie and Brody find themselves back at the cabin where it all started. Carrie must make a choice: a job as station chief with the CIA or a life with Brody. The second understandably cancels out the first, given that Brody with his terrorist ties is Carrie's biggest weakness. Claire Danes is at her best this week, visibly torn up inside as her character is stuck between her sense of duty and her emotional entanglements.
Quinn's decision to not only second guess his assassination assignment but also threaten Estes should anything happen to Brody or Carrie fleshes out his character's principles as well. It's nice to see him presented as a more multi-dimensional character than "asshole spook" -- cold? Yes. Calculating? Absolutely. But with actual scruples that suggests that he could be a behind-the-scenes ally for Carrie and Brody next season.
Tonally, the first half of the episode is completely different from the rest of the season and series overall. The quiet is the most unnerving thing: little to no music, long gaps of silent understanding, everything is languidly paced while not being deliberate.
It's the veritable calm before the storm, making the sudden burst of suspense when the twist finally comes that much more effective. The explosive curveball that's thrown in the last half of the episode is an absolute game changer: not only are their some substantial deaths, but allegiances are shaken to their core, not the least of which is Saul's bond and trust in Carrie. As happy as "The Bear" was to see his protege at the end of the episode, I foresee shaky ground for this teacher/student relationship. As well done as Danes' performance is, Mandy Patinkin is a powerhouse, from his emotional message to Carrie when he fears she's dead, to his pained prayer while overlooking the 200+ victims of the bombing.
Not only will Saul and Carrie's relationship be tested next season, but despite his profession of innocence in the bombing, Brody's role remains unclear. There are numerous scenes in the finale which can be interpreted both ways, such as his talk with Mike about taking care of his family, and his crestfallen look when Carrie chose him over the job. Brody might be doing a lot more than backpacking through Canada next year.
The second season of "Homeland" has been a shaky one. For all the game-changers that were thrown at us, the well-done suspense and award-winning acting, there were an equal number of questionable choices by the writers and hamfisted melodrama from the actors. Going out on such a high note proves that when "Homeland" works, few series can do it better.
Final Grade: A