Wednesday, August 20, 2014
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Showtime's 'Homeland': Where do we go from here?

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't yet seen the season finale of Showtime's "Homeland" - even if you've yet to see a single episode but think there's a chance that you'll want to catch up at some point - please stop reading now.
I mean it. You'll thank me later.
There's a tendency to remember finales - both the season-enders and the really final ones - by what happens in the last few minutes.
Snow globes. A screen gone black. The wrong wife waking up next to Bob Newhart.
Or the out-of-left-field discovery that the guy responsible for "The Killing" might not have done it after all.
(Cue the howling.)
Those who predicted - accurately, it turns out - that Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) would survive Sunday's extended Season 1 finale of "Homeland," if only because Showtime's already promised a Season 2, may be feeling a little smug right now.
Turns out it's only a TV show, after all.
But, hey, what a TV show.
And if I learned nothing else watching "Homeland" this season, it's that showrunners Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa are capable of far more sophisticated pacing than they ever got to demonstrate on the breakneck thrill ride that was "24." (It helps, I guess, that when "Day 2" flashes across the screen, it's not going to require an entire season.)
Which isn't to say that the finale didn't have its heart-pounding moments. It's just that they were all more heart-pounding for having been intercut with some quieter ones.
Did characters perhaps maneuver in and around a traffic-clogged Washington, D.C., with almost Jack Bauer-like speed? Yep.
Did we get the answers to all our questions? Nope.
But it seems safe (I think - this show has me always thinking I'm missing something) to say that suspicions of Mandy Patinkin's character as a CIA mole were misplaced.
Turns out Saul Berenson's what pinkos like myself think of as one of the good guys, a slightly pickled red herring who seems to genuinely care for Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), his bipolar protege, and to care, too, that the highly developed brain that pinpointed more than he even realizes about a terrorist plot might just be ruined by electroshock therapy.
Speaking of which, that "Rosebud" moment in which Carrie, going under anesthesia, suddenly flashes on something Brody muttered in his sleep during their weird, wild weekend together, might have been a bit contrived. But I bought it as I was watching, and as long as Season 2 doesn't turn into CBS' "Unforgettable," with Carrie striving to remember the one key detail that will tie Brody to the plot, then I'll probably be OK with it.
I had a little harder time with Brody's remarkably intuitive 16-year-old daughter Dana (Morgan Saylor), who seems to have undergone an emotional growth spurt in the past couple of episodes. Is she really all that stopped Brody from going through with the attack? Or had he already taken the vest's initial malfunction as a sign that Allah had other, bigger plans for him?
Considering the sometimes perplexing politics of "24" - where I suspect disdain for most politicians, liberal and conservative, was stronger than any single writer's beliefs - the character Jamey Sheridan's portraying seems out of that show's playbook.
What if Dick Cheney had been younger, his crooked smile more charismatic than creepy? He'd be the child-killing vice president on "Homeland," of course.
As much as I admired the guts it took for HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" to kill off one of its major characters last week, I find I'm fine with "Homeland's" decision to contain the carnage.
Lewis and Danes, together and separately, are too good to let go of right now, and there's something intriguing about the idea of a terrorist opting to work within the system.
There's also, of course, something truly terrifying about it.
That first scene Sunday, in which Brody records the video he expects authorities will be seeing after his suicide bombing, is one of the best of the show, putting a face on terrorism we're not used to seeing, giving us a homegrown bomber who's not noticeably deranged and who's nevertheless motivated more by love than hate.
Even Showtime's "Sleeper Cell," which occasionally acknowledged the humanity in our enemies, didn't go this far.
So what does a Season 2 look like, with Carrie seemingly shut out of the CIA and Brody headed for a possible role as a White House insider?
I don't have a clue, but I'm looking forward to finding out.
What did you think?

Showtime's 'Homeland': Where do we go from here?

Update: Showtime reports that Sunday's "Homeland" finale was its most-watched freshman season-ender ever, with 1.7 million viewers at 10 p.m. and more than 2 million when the repeat was included. For the season overall, it's averaged more than 4.2 million viewers across all its platforms, putting it only behind "Dexter" -- which also ended its season Sunday -- in popularity on the network.

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t yet seen the season finale of Showtime’s “Homeland” — even if you’ve yet to see a single episode but think there’s a chance that you’ll want to catch up at some point — please stop reading now.

I mean it. You’ll thank me later.

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There’s a tendency to remember finales — both the season-enders and the really final ones — by what happens in the last few minutes.

Snow globes. A screen gone black. The wrong wife waking up next to Bob Newhart.

Or the out-of-left-field discovery that the guy responsible for “The Killing” might not have done it after all.

(Cue the howling.)

Those who predicted — accurately, it turns out — that Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) would survive Sunday’s extended Season 1 finale of “Homeland,” if only because Showtime’s already promised a Season 2, may be feeling a little smug right now.

Turns out it’s only a TV show, after all.

But, hey, what a TV show.

And if I learned nothing else watching “Homeland” this season, it’s that showrunners Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa are capable of far more sophisticated pacing than they ever got to demonstrate on the breakneck thrill ride that was “24.” (It helps, I guess, that when “Day 2” flashes across the screen, it's not going to require an entire season.)

Which isn’t to say that the finale didn’t have its heart-pounding moments. It’s just that they were all more heart-pounding for having been intercut with some quieter ones.

Did characters perhaps maneuver in and around a traffic-clogged Washington, D.C., with almost Jack Bauer-like speed? Yep.

Did we get the answers to all our questions? Nope.

But it seems safe (I think — this show has me always thinking I’m missing something) to say that suspicions of Mandy Patinkin’s character as a CIA mole were misplaced.

Turns out Saul Berenson’s what pinkos like myself think of as one of the good guys, a slightly pickled red herring who seems to genuinely care for Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), his bipolar protege, and to care, too, that the highly developed brain that pinpointed more than he even realizes about a terrorist plot might just be ruined by electroshock therapy.

Speaking of which, that “Rosebud” moment in which Carrie, going under anesthesia, suddenly flashes on something Brody muttered in his sleep during their weird, wild weekend together, might have been a bit contrived. But I bought it as I was watching, and as long as Season 2 doesn’t turn into CBS’ “Unforgettable,” with Carrie striving to remember the one key detail that will tie Brody to the plot, then I’ll probably be OK with it.

I had a little harder time with Brody’s remarkably intuitive 16-year-old daughter Dana (Morgan Saylor), who seems to have undergone an emotional growth spurt in the past couple of episodes. Is she really all that stopped Brody from going through with the attack? Or had he already taken the vest’s initial malfunction as a sign that Allah had other, bigger plans for him?

Considering the sometimes perplexing politics of “24” — where I suspect disdain for most politicians, liberal and conservative, was stronger than any single writer’s beliefs — the character Jamey Sheridan’s portraying seems out of that show’s playbook.

What if Dick Cheney had been younger, his crooked smile more charismatic than creepy? He’d be the child-killing vice president on “Homeland,” of course.

As much as I admired the guts it took for HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” to kill off one of its major characters last week, I find I’m fine with “Homeland’s” decision to contain the carnage.

Lewis and Danes, together and separately, are too good to let go of right now, and there’s something intriguing about the idea of a terrorist opting to work within the system.

There’s also, of course, something truly terrifying about it.

That first scene Sunday, in which Brody records the video he expects authorities will be seeing after his suicide bombing, is one of the best of the show, putting a face on terrorism we’re not used to seeing, giving us a homegrown bomber who’s not noticeably deranged and who’s nevertheless motivated more by love than hate.

Even Showtime’s “Sleeper Cell,” which occasionally acknowledged the humanity in our enemies, didn’t go this far.

So what does a Season 2 look like, with Carrie seemingly shut out of the CIA and Brody headed for a possible role as a White House insider?

I don’t have a clue, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

What did you think?

Ellen Gray Daily News TV Critic
About this blog
As the TV critic for the Philadelphia Daily News, I've always believed my job is less about thumbs -- up or down -- and more about the conversation. Because the more choices we have, the fewer people in our lives know what we're talking about when we say, "Did you see that?" And that's when television really starts to get interesting.

Ellen Gray Daily News TV Critic
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