"Homeland's" rip-roaring fourth season -- expressly designed to bring this Showtime signature series back from the dead -- or at least back from ridicule (the same thing, really) -- ended with a sigh. (Spoilers ahead, so please proceed with caution or not at all.)
A largely uneventful sigh, a middling halfhearted one, only sporadically enlivened by intrigue or plot momentum. A sigh that didn't seem to get all that much done, or go anywhere with much haste. "Long Time Coming" it was called. And it was a long time getting anywhere too.
Even now, just the morning after, it has probably already entered the realm of convention to say that the fourth season capper was disappointing, because it was, and obviously so.
But it's maybe worth asking why. One reason is that the fourth was a fairly reliable potboiler, and when pots start to boil, the expectation is that they should boil over at some point, or by the finale.
"Homeland" set us up for a momentous resolve, and then..."Long Time Coming."
The clue should have been in the title -- what exactly is a long time coming? -- and the fact that "Homeland" had spent an entire season without exactly addressing the death of James Rebhorn, the beloved veteran character actor who lost a long battle to cancer last March.
Rebhorn played a critical role on "Homeland," as Carrie Mathison's father, but in truth, his was only a subsidiary role, mostly confined to the first season. But to understand Carrie -- and understanding Carrie has long been a necessary adjunct to sympathizing with Carrie and to understanding "Homeland" -- you had to understand her father.
Sunday night's episode, dedicated to Rebhorn, was tasked with that, but only partially succeeded. The reason is that instead of exploring his character to any degree, the episode instead decided to explore a tangent, Carrie's mom, who (we learn) left the family when Carrie and Maggie were teens because she was pregnant by another man. We met the son briefly, too.
But what this accomplished is unclear, because it's superficial to observe that Carrie in some sense is also her mom -- running from intimacy or from commitment -- unless that's what the episode was in fact saying, which would also be disappointing.
"Long Time Coming" was also a bridge episode -- those are frustrating by their very nature because they don't necessarily wrap anything up as much as leave everything unwrapped for the next season. It's the sort of episode that killed "The Killing," by infuriating fans who expect to go through a catharsis by the end of a season that has so conspicuously demanded one.
Plus, the romantic development with Quinn? Which from where I sat looked mostly like just a thin pretext to get him back into the line of fire after Carrie's rejection.
OK, those are my big gripes, and they're not all that big or all that gripey. This was a very good season, the best since the first, and nothing that happened Sunday should change that too much.
Remember that "Homeland" is about the homeland: Those comfortable, sedate Washington suburbs far from the horrors of Over There. It's about those Senate subcommittee hearings, where blame is so easily cast, or the casual, all-too-easy declarations about who the bad guys are.
This season set out to explore the vast gulf between that homeland and the front, which isn't even a "front" as much as a vastly complicated subregion -- Pakistan , in the fourth season -- which, in itself, is just a subsidiary player in an even more complicated larger region, where shifting U.S. alliances are built on the proverbial bed of sand, and the decisions made from the homeland, and executed by Carrie, are fraught with moral ambiguity and even moral depravity.
That Carrie's actions set up probably the single greatest shock of the season -- Haissam Haqqani's cold-blooded murder of his own nephew Aayan (played pretty much perfectly by Suraj Sharma) -- captured that moral ambiguity as clearly as anything "Homeland" has ever done.
Then, of course, you had Dar Adal's embrace of Haqqani, and -- possibly (but not likely) -- Saul's complicity as the price to pay to get his old job back at the CIA.
"Homeland" tried to explore some big, interesting ideas this season, and one of those was this: To understand evil, it's advisable to look in the mirror first and then come to terms with the reflection. Carrie still can't quite get herself to do that or is incapable of doing that.
For that reason, maybe the fourth had to end on a lingering question mark instead of an exclamation. Maybe, but still.