Sunday, December 20, 2015

REVIEW: 'Homeland' - Carrie Confronts the Terrorists and Deals with the Fallout of Her Actions in 'A False Glimmer'

Showtime's Homeland - Episode 5.12 "A False Glimmer"

The clock runs out.

In the past, Homeland has done both explosive finales and quite, subdued finales. Both options have their pros and cons. The show certainly went into "A False Glimmer" with a lot of action as Carrie pursued the terrorists into the train tunnel. The action beats this season have been more effective than the more personal, quiet moments. That largely came out of the show being unable to make any of the new characters - except for Allison - pop all that much. The end result is an hour that does feature plenty of action moments including Carrie's confrontation with the terrorists and Allison finally being caught as the Russian mole she was all along. But the episode also spent a lot of time on Carrie as she reflects on all the destructive decisions she has made this season. She is finally free of the pressure to embrace her old life. And now, she has to pick up the pieces. That is a compelling setup for this final episode. But it's also confounding because the show really wants to be so ambiguous about so many things.

At times, this season's story arc felt like it was playing as the final story for these characters. Carrie and Saul have changed so much from the people they were back in the first season. This season was about Carrie doing her best not to let her past define who she was. Over time though, that thread did get somewhat lost as the show once again had the entire CIA relying on Carrie in order to stop a massive terrorist attack in Berlin. This was all just the latest espionage story Carrie and Saul have gotten themselves into. They will never be free of this life as long as they live. The show has been renewed for a sixth season. That renewal came late in the season - and during a time where it did start to feel like the show was more engaged in the action moments than trying to bring this season's stories and themes to a satisfying conclusion. The events of this season need to have purpose in order for them to truly resonant with the characters. Carrie is obviously distraught about Quinn's current health crisis and her role in its outcome. And yet, the show doesn't commit to an ending that shows what all of this has meant to the characters.

Carrie broke out of her happy life in Berlin in order to deal with this threat that risked destroying everything she spent two years building. She had two happy years in Berlin with Frannie and Jonas. She had a solid job. And then, all of that had the potential to slip away just because the world wouldn't let her move on from her past. That was a compelling story arc for the character this season. It was a compelling place to find Carrie. But what has she learned from this experience? She still foolishly goes back to Jonas hoping to pick things up where they left off. That was a horrendous scene because it cemented Jonas as a character with no true defining character trait at all. He was simply Carrie's boyfriend who was mad at her when the plot needed it and comforting to her when the plot needed it. His through-line this season makes absolutely no sense. There's also no reason why Carrie should believe that her old life is still a viable option. This isn't the first time Jonas has made it clear that it's over with between them. But then, it's frustrating that he sleeps with her again. He can be compassionate and let her stay in this place that they shared as a home for two years. But all this story beat does is make Carrie seem incredibly naive at the same time as many of the other characters keep taking note of how smart and heroic she is.

Carrie doesn't view herself as the hero of this story because she wasn't the one who actually stopped the terrorist. Of course, she did her part in actually killing the criminal before he triggered the bomb. And yet, it's an action she doesn't want to take credit for simply because of what it means for the future. Suddenly, every organization wants her back. They want her so that they can better change the world. So, that sets up a choice for Carrie: go back to the CIA where Saul appreciates her just like he did in the old days or become Otto's partner at his foundation and actually make change throughout the entire world. It's a decision Carrie doesn't make at the end of this finale. It's frustrating because it leaves things unnecessarily unclear for the future. Carrie remains adamant that she is no longer the CIA woman she used to be. She stopped this terrorist threat simply because she was lucky. That's a naive statement. But then again, Otto's offer makes no sense either considering he's spent the last few episodes talking about how he wants to fire her. It makes it seem obvious that she'll go back to the CIA because that's where she made the most impact as a character this season. Otto was barely defined all season long - and his connection with Carrie was even less so. It's still unclear what his foundation actually does. The season made no attempt at giving it a grand explanation because it was so focused on terrorist threats in Berlin that Carrie needed to stop. So, it's a mystery left open-ended by the conclusion of the season and really isn't engaging at all.

It's similarly frustrating that the show leaves Quinn's fate uncertain. Things look pretty grim for him. And yet, why doesn't the show just commit to killing him off? This is a time for closure. Instead, it feels like the show is afraid to commit to a direction. It spends so much time talking about his future being very bleak. He has a lengthy surgery that forces Carrie to spiral for a bit and then he doesn't wake up for days. Carrie heads into his room to finish reading the letter he left behind for her should he ever die in the field and then end his life. But the show loves the ambiguity of that final scene instead of actually showing Carrie killing someone who truly did love her - just not in a way that they could act upon. This season has been so heavy-handed in predicting Quinn's death. He has escaped it twice. His death has been a major cliffhanger in a couple of episodes. Quinn understands that this is the tragic outcome that was always waiting for him because of the line of work he committed to for his life. Why then, can't the show be as aware of that fact as he is? It's been teasing his death all season long. Moreover, he can never reasonably function as the same character he was should he survive this. So why not kill him off? Bring some closure and allow the tragedy of that moment to inform what Carrie does next with her life. Carrie killing Quinn brings closure to her time in the CIA. It's tragic but will allow her to move on and join Otto's foundation to actually change the world. Remaining in limbo is an awkward move for this finale to make for a character who has worked more as a concept than an actual character as of late. It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Some more thoughts:
  • "A False Glimmer" was written by Liz Flahive, Alex Gansa & Ron Nyswaner and directed by Lesli Linka Glatter.
  • Perhaps the show didn't show Carrie killing Quinn because it thought it would be understood by the audience that she did it. It's simply the only way for that scene to go. That's placing a lot of trust in an audience who knows that the show has fooled with them in immense ways in the past.
  • Laura has been a frustrating character all season long. And now, the only reason why she doesn't go through with her big threat from last week was because she was blackmailed by Astrid. If she did it, then Numan would be sent back to Turkey where he would be killed. The connection between Laura and Numan wasn't that great. So this story in the finale wasn't that compelling. 
  • The show is very casual about the need to catch Allison. Saul knows that he needs to find her after the confirmation that she really was a spy in the CIA for the Russians. But then, he just lets four days go by before doing anything. Plus, did she really need to die? That seemed like an extreme punishment that didn't really track all that well.
  • Again, the show has been renewed for a sixth season. It probably would be best to end it sooner rather than later. And yet, that has never happened at Showtime where they keep shows going long after they've been creatively vital. This year had some really good moments and some equally bad ones. But it suffered from not really having a consistent direction plus a lack of character development with the supporting ensemble. Those issues signal that the show would be better if it knew it was heading to its conclusion.