Homeland Season 5 Finale Review: A False Glimmer

The Homeland Season 5 finale ends on a rather shocking if ambiguous note. But does it bring a satisfying close to the year?

This review contains Homeland season finale spoilers.

The title of tonight’s season finale is called “A False Glimmer.” It refers, rather tragically, to how Peter Quinn apparently viewed Carrie Mathison, his star-crossed love interest who always zigged when he zagged. Whether it was due to different CIA functions, career objectives, or ginger-haired terrorists, these two crazy kids never quite got together. And shockingly, it appears that they never will. Probably.

We’ll get to it.

Yet before addressing that final scene, we must consider that it wasn’t the focus of the episode. In fact, I am not entirely certain there was a focus to much of the Homeland season 5 finale. And perhaps, the same could be said about this whole year of Mathison’s life.

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Last week I espoused, not inaccurately, that Allison Carr was the true main character of the season. While an antagonist and a through-and-through sociopathic traitor to Langley, Uncle Sam, and likely apple pie and baseball too, Allison Carr is also the only character who wasn’t either reactive or operating largely based on coincidence (like Quinn and his convenient run-in with the unofficial Berlin chapter of ISIS). She was ensnared 10 years ago by the SVR in a sting operation, and due to greed, hubris, and self-preservation, she has manipulated her way to the top of the Berlin station while undermining U.S. interests abroad for a decade.

And now, after bringing Carrie into the narrative by putting her on Saul’s hit list, and keeping the wheels turning by sabotaging the BND’s attempts to thwart a terrorist attack, the series’ main villain and almost sole conduit of narrative progress spent the whole finale (more or less) within the confines of a trunk. Sure, it’s amusing to see that someone as manipulative and cunning as Carr still can’t avoid the same fate as Chris Tucker in Jackie Brown—seriously, there is never a good reason to let someone put you in a trunk—but Carr being treated as little more than a loose end being tied off stands as a snapshot for a larger problem with the finale.

Instead of feeling like a major journey for its characters, season 5 has been meandering, plodding, and it ultimately ends with an abrupt and unsatisfying bang. And for Allison that meant a series of bullets while bouncing around in a demise that left even Saul slightly disappointed.

To be fair though, the best moment of the night might actually have been when Saul got her SVR handler to sell her out for witness protection and skiing real estate in the Grand Tetons.

Rather than focus on Carr, the finale mainly attempted to return the fifth season, in its last gasps, to the hands of Carrie Mathison. It did this early by following through on the cliffhanger from last week pretty much how you would expect—the most fanatical terrorist killed his more reasonable cousin, and then Carrie went all Jack Bauer on him.

Indeed, this entire “climax” to the terrorist plot amounts to less than 10 minutes of the actual episode. More time is in fact spent on concluding Laura Sutton’s storyline with the hacker whose name (Numan) I suspect only half of Homeland viewers are aware of. Despite this ostensibly being the episode where Carrie saved Europe from falling (further) down the rabbit hole of war and militarism in response to a massive terrorist attack on another major city—or the one where Allison Carr faced a poetic justice for her legions of betrayals—the subplot with the most screentime was how a lily white dove leftist found herself compromised in ethical ambiguity by lying about one persecuted (and dead) immigrant so as to save another in Numan.

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In essence, Laura Sutton becomes a tool of the BND by torpedoing her own career while simultaneously kissing Germany’s ring, excusing it for the Muslim man who lies dead after falling from an eight-story window.

The most curious thing about any of this is guessing what emotion the TV show would like to elicit from its audience? Are we to be horrified that the BND covered up something they theoretically shouldn’t be that ashamed about—since the suicide in question actually did kill himself—or satisfied that the smuggest and most liberal of caricatures was forced to face an unwinnable position and folded to political realities?

The truth is that none of this matters much at all. After spending 12 hours on this plot, it’s safe to say that Numan never amounted more to a narrative device to incorporate hot button topics like hacking and Edward Snowden, which led to the show’s primary focus with the mole for the SVR and the threat of jihadi terrorism from within. And Laura Sutton, for the last time, is simply the idealized boogeyman of liberal journalism unbounded. So, seeing both persons alienated and/or compromised feels neither like a stunning cliffhanger or a solid conclusion to their arcs. Its episode-filler that distracts far too many precious minutes from what should be the meat of the finale: Carrie’s life.

Thus with Allison Carr’s fate resolved in a few scenes, and the terrorist threat concluded before the 15-minute mark, how does Carrie spend the finale? First, she has a breakup with Jonas that’s so forgettable, that I see little point about writing another word about it.

Then she is offered a surprise marriage proposal from Otto During, one of the richest men in Germany. Well that’s different at least…

First, I will commend the fans who did predict that the reason for During’s duplicity toward Jonas had wholly to do with his desire for a single Carrie. Up until last week—when he told Sutton to sit on her liberal indignation—I still expected the shoe to drop that Otto had an angle for his niceties and patience with Carrie. And he did, but it was nothing so nefarious as intelligence manipulation; he simply views Carrie as a worthy equal in intelligence and aptitude. Who knows, he might also love her? He’s definitely patient enough for someone like Carrie since he gives her a month to make up her mind. In another country.

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Clearly, this would give Carrie (and Homeland) reason to stay in Berlin for another year.

Perhaps this is why I am so dreading Homeland season 6 at the moment. Because, sure enough, Homeland is the first part of a doubleheader for Showtime’s fall schedule. As perfectly complemented with The Affair, this espionage series is the first leg of a formula that allowed Showtime to enjoy the highest ratings of any premium cable network this autumn. So of course, Homeland must come back for another year. Yet, Carrie Mathison truly retiring from the CIA and living with Otto During while hoping to cure world hunger or solve the Syrian refugee crisis feels like a wonderful finale… to the series.

I think we all would like to see Carrie Mathison truly retire with her daughter to a happy, relatively normal life. And if that life provides her the opportunity to attempt positive intervention in the Middle East, then all the more bully for her. However, Homeland is a spy series. It’s about cloaks, daggers, and the persons they stab in the name of realpolitik. I don’t want another season with Carrie out of the game. And after seeing how season 5 bent over backwards and returned to 24 styled histrionics—like Langley moles, sinister Russians out to let Berlin suffocate in poison, and gun-toting showdowns—to bring Carrie out of retirement, I can say that is not what I want to see for season 6.

If Homeland is to continue, I suspect many more would like to see a reprisal of the Drone Queen than another season that simply drones on—supplanting the endlessly engaging Carrie so that she can be upstaged by a generically contrived character like Allison Carr.

This is why Saul Berenson shows up after a four-day interlude to beg Carrie to come back to the CIA. And it’s why I was as desperate as him for her to say yes. I understand she has grown past that stage in her life. Yet, if that is the case, it could be argued she has grown past the point where her leading a show like Homeland is natural or even coherent. Saul accuses Carrie of being selfish for not wanting to come back to Langley. However, it is hardly vain to want a happy, adjusted life for her daughter. Please, let me be the selfish one: Carrie, go back to the CIA and head up your own team! Please, allow Homeland to embrace its true nature again.

Alas, that seems to be a door she has closed. Other than her answer to Otto’s proposal, the only thing Carrie leaves ambiguous is whether or not she sent Quinn to that big Agency Farm in the sky.

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This brings us back to that final scene. Carrie finally finishes reading Quinn’s letter, where he reveals that he thought of Carrie as his glimmer of hope, but that she proved to be just his mirage. He embraced the darkness and is ready to lie with it in oblivion. Granted, he wrote that letter upon his expected death in Syria and not for when he is lying comatose in a Berlin hospital bed. But the effect is the same. Perhaps even more so since Carrie bars the door, and closes the window—she clearly intends to mercy kill Quinn.

But as she approaches the body, the show enjoys a touch of the lyrical as the sun comes shining through the hospital blinds she closed. Is this glimmer of light something she imagines, or just a chance to see Peter Quinn’s pretty face one last time before pulling the plug?

There’s a fair chance that this is the titular false glimmer—that she will hold onto this unlikely hope that Quinn will recover. He surely represents the life she imagined more than Otto During does, and Quinn understands her better than Otto likely ever would.

Nevertheless, as much as I hope that Peter Quinn does not die like this, the truth is I do not care all that much at the moment. Claire Danes emanates conflict and misery as she looks upon a friend she cares about more deeply than such an amiable phrase would imply. And Rupert Friend is a true asset to the series. However, he has been as wasted as Carrie’s arc has been in season 5. Stumbling by pure accident onto the main terrorist plot that resulted in him getting gassed is far too ignominious for such a strong character.

But like the season as a whole, any point of this potential ending for Quinn seems muddled. I highly doubt that they will leave Peter Quinn’s fate so open-ended, only to have him die off-screen. I also expect to see him back in some form next year, but the bigger question is should Homeland be back?

This season was a haphazard collection of archetypes and clichés, and one that relied far more on its villain (Carr) than its hero (Carrie). Peter Quinn spent most of the season in various stages of near death, as opposed to interacting with Carrie, and the the terrorist plots of the show are so broad that Carrie can stop them Jack Bauer style with thousands of witnesses, and still be treated like a pariah by her boyfriend and without anyone making her famous with a simple Internet meme or phone video of “that blonde lady with a gun” running into the subway tunnel.

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Season 5 has been the weakest year of Homeland to date. If it’s too selfish to ask Carrie to rejoin the fray, perhaps we should respect her wish to retire from this kind of lifestyle for good. After all, her TV series has gone on well past its prime and it’s starting to lose one too many steps. And I see very few glimmers of this changing anytime soon.


2 out of 5