Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison and Mandy Patinkin as Saul...

Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison and Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson in the season 2 finale of "Homeland," airing Sunday, Dec. 16 at 10 p.m. on Showtime. Credit: Showtime

THE SHOW "Homeland"

WHEN | WHERE Second-season finale Sunday at 10 p.m. on Showtime

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Producers hinted (via an interview with Entertainment Weekly) that Sunday's finale will mostly be about crossing the T and dotting the I on the Brody (Damian Lewis) and Carrie (Claire Danes) relationship.

After all, the bad guys are dead, most notably terrorist-in-chief Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban), who was killed in a shootout last week. So nothing else left to worry about, right? Not quite: The other bad guys, CIA chief David Estes (David Harewood) and his rat terrier, task force leader Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend), want Brody dead, and almost dispatched him two episodes ago. Expect fireworks Sunday.

MY SAY "Homeland" got a blizzard of online flak after the Dec. 2 episode, and some of it was deserved. Brody sneaks into the vice president's office, finds the code to his pacemaker and sends it to Nazir? (And that was the almost-believable stuff.) But the criticisms also overlook what "Homeland" became in its sophomore year -- "The Carrie and Brody Show." All plot points -- the good and the ridiculous -- bowed down before them. They were the focus, the driving force, and plausibility be damned.

Like all big, smart shows, "Homeland" -- which would go to win a best drama Emmy -- had serious ambitions when it began last year: What is the price of homeland security? How do we protect ourselves without subverting privacy or even freedom? Then there was that irresistible Stockholm syndrome twist -- what happens when the good guy turns bad? Meanwhile, the protagonist, Carrie, was a Cassandra with a screw loose and a chemical dependency. She and Brody fell in love, and we watched the dramatic ironies and complexities pile up until they were brutally separated. (She underwent electroshock therapy. Remember?) To force them back into each other's arms, the show turned Brody into a double agent, and the CIA revoked Carrie's burn notice. The questions of last season were shoved under the carpet, while Brody and Carrie got back under the sheets.

"Homeland" took the path of least resistance, by turning into a well-produced potboiler with a romantic core.

BOTTOM LINE Still good this season -- just not as good.


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