Carrie returns home for a funeral and a surprise reunion.

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Credit: Showtime
S4 E12

Not with a bang, but with a betrayal: That’s how Homeland saw fit to end the run that saw this show rediscover and reinvent itself. Gone was the plodding, bloated drama; in its place, a sleek spy thriller that seemed determined to keep its audience guessing. This fourth season has seemed at many times like a defiant, even sassy Take That to Homeland‘s oft-criticized shortcomings in previous years—from the elimination of the entire Brody family from the cast, to the unceremonious killing-off of Carrie’s asset paramour with half the season still to go—but this might be its crowning glory: a season finale that spared us the shocking deaths or fiery explosions we’d come to anticipate over the past few weeks.

“Long Time Coming” was dedicated to James Rebhorn, the actor who played Carrie’s father, and it’s her father’s memory that forms the backbone of this season’s final episode. We open with Carrie and her sister looking through the remnants of their father’s time on earth: an array of shoes, a drawer full of matchbooks. In life, these things meant something to Carrie’s father; in death, they become imbued with new meaning, not for any other reason than that they were his.

This parsing of possessions is interrupted by Dar Adal, who shows up on Carrie’s doorstep looking for information as to Quinn’s whereabouts. (“Aren’t you going to ask me in?” he says, which means that we can now add “Dar Adal is a vampire” to our growing list of unlikely but not-entirely-unsupported theories about his motivations.)

Carrie claims to have no news from Quinn, but gets some intel herself. Haqqani is back in the tribal areas of Pakistan and under the ISI’s protection, which according to Adal is much less important than the upcoming congressional hearings surrounding the embassy attack. Later in the episode, we find out why: Namely, Dar Adal is gunning hard to get Saul Berenson back in as Director of the CIA. In a secret meeting at a Waffle House (and other delightful phrases I never expected to be writing in a Homeland recap), Adal pushes a memory card across the table and informs Saul that it contains the only copy of the video of Saul in Haqqani’s custody—which was the only wild card potentially preventing Saul from being a viable player in this Game of Drones. In exchange for the video, Adal removed Haqqani’s name from the government’s kill list, which is apparently just one more thing that Dar Adal can do. He probably has an app for it on his phone. So, Haqqani has now been swiped right, and the last barrier to Saul’s reinstatement is gone… except, of course, that Saul is having none of it, even though what he wants more than anything is to be back at the CIA.

“You know what this conversation is? Sedition,” he says, because Saul Berenson is as incorruptible as his beard is awesome, which is to say, extremely goddamn incorruptible. Also, he’s the vehicle for our one and only glimpse of Tasneem in this episode: She’s on television, declaring good riddance to U.S.-Pakistani relations, which means we probably won’t see her get any cosmic comeuppance for her treachery anytime soon. [Shakes fist.] You win this one, Tasneem.

NEXT: How we met Carrie’s mother.

Meanwhile, Carrie is caring for her daughter again and doing a much better job than she was the last time we saw her with baby in hand; among other things, their time together includes 100 percent less near-infanticide. While out with Frannie in the park, she meets a man who recognizes the baby; he’s an acquaintance of her father’s, a “park friend.” The man tells Carrie that her dad always had faith that she’d be back to rejoin her family, which throws her for a loop—but nowhere near as big a loop as returning home to find her estranged mother (Victoria Clark), who abandoned the family 15 years ago, standing in the kitchen.

Predictably, Carrie flips out—the phrase “too little too late” is bandied about—and tells her to leave, which gets an angry and distressed reaction from Carrie’s sister, who was really feeling the forgive-and-forget vibe at that moment. Don’t bother to ask why; after four years, Maggie Mathison still serves no other purpose on this show than to be eminently reasonable when everyone else is freaking out. (A more interesting mystery is why, in this scene, there is a hat rack by the front door that is fully, extravagantly stocked with actual hats. Are the Mathisons a family of hat people? We must know!)

With Mama Mathison having showed up just long enough to unsettle everyone, we cut to the funeral for Carrie’s father, who she eulogizes as having been a proud giver of “crazy love.” And hey, speaking of crazy love: Quinn is here! He and Carrie share a serious hug, and next thing you know, he’s back at her house, holding her baby. (Do we need any further evidence that the writers of Homeland really know what their audience wants?) Carrie is explicitly not telling Quinn that she saw Dar Adal in Pakistan—Saul has asked her to keep it a secret while he investigates—and the post-funeral reception devolves into a pleasant, tipsy party that is wholly imbued with the memory of Carrie’s dad. Lockhart even shows up with a lasagna and is charmingly awkward about sitting down, like a dad who’s not sure if he’s cool enough to hang out with the young folks. But all of this is just a prelude to the party’s end, when Carrie walks Quinn to his car and they make out all over the place.

Alas, the gratified shrieking of Quarrie shippers was to be short-lived: Carrie ducks away after, like, three-and-a-half seconds of smooching, and says, “I know how this goes. It ends badly.”

Considering how her last few professional relationships ended, this might be a valid point (are any of Carrie’s former paramours still breathing?), but Quinn has a plan: He still wants out of the CIA, but he wants Carrie to join him. Can you imagine? Carrie and Peter, just a couple of civilians, brunching on Sundays and bickering about whose turn it is to take out the recycling? But Quinn is serious, and he asks her to think about it, right before he drives away in a pickup truck. (Sidenote: There’s something really sad about the pickup truck, and the way Quinn looks in it—like he’s cruising around inside this aspirational symbol of the Normal Guy life he’ll never, ever achieve.)

NEXT: Quinn makes a hasty decision for which we still have not forgiven him.

Carrie, however, has other things on her mind: After some consideration, she’s decided to track down her mom after all, using her wily CIA ways to find out her address in Missouri. But when she arrives at the house, she gets a double whammy of surprises: First, a teenage boy answers the door. Is this her brother? Yes, it is—or half-brother, anyway, as her mother confirms. And he’s 15 years old, which means that Mama Mathison was pregnant with him at the time she abandoned her first family, which brings us to the second big reveal: Carrie’s mom didn’t leave because her father was too difficult to live with, as Carrie had always thought. Carrie’s mom left because she was a serial adulteress—to hear her describe it, the split was completely her fault—which leads Carrie to realize that everything she’d ever believed about the end of her parents’ marriage, and about the ability of bipolar people to have relationships in general, was wrong.

It’s just too bad that she already blew off Quinn’s offer to fly down and meet her in Missouri, to be with her while she sorted things out. And Quinn, who had clearly pinned all his hopes of a new life squarely on being with Carrie, took that pretty hard; so hard, in fact, that he’s decided to can the whole thing and go off on some life-threatening mission in Syria with a bunch of other assassins, leaving behind a disconnected cell phone number and a letter with Carrie’s name on it to be delivered in the event of his death. (“Dear Carrie, if you’re reading this, I am dead and Homeland is officially the worst show on earth.”)

Unable to reach Quinn, Carrie shows up on Dar Adal’s doorstep. (Sidenote: Are we actually supposed to believe that Carrie would just know Dar Adal’s home address? Or for that matter, that Dar Adal lives in a modest ranch home somewhere near Washington and not, say, in a heavily guarded underground lair inside an active volcano?) And when Dar Adal won’t put her in touch with Quinn, she pulls the same move that so effectively landed her the station chief assignment in Islamabad, and tries to blackmail him with the information that she saw him in Haqqani’s car. But unlike Lockhart at the start of the season, Adal doesn’t just roll over. He suggests that she should talk to Saul. “Saul would spit in your face,” Carrie retorts.

There’s just one problem: Out on Dar Adal’s porch, sitting so very prettily on the edge of retaking the CIA directorship, is Saul. And considering that Dar Adal’s face is looking notably un-spit-upon, it would seem that Carrie is completely mistaken about her friend’s integrity. In fact, this might be the most wrong that she’s ever been in her life. And it shows: Our last glimpse of Carrie is nearly identical to the first time we saw her this season, as she peers out of the windows of a moving car, a moody jazz piece playing in the background. But where the Carrie from episode 1—the Drone Queen—gazed out at the dark streets of Islamabad with the cool assurance of a monarch, this Carrie looks utterly lost as she navigates her way out of Dar Adal’s neighborhood. There’s no meltdown, no quivering lower lip, no screaming or sobbing, but this might be the most thrown we’ve ever seen Carrie Mathison.

NEXT: Perspective.

And this is it; this is the end, and it’s a bold end to an episode in which many viewers were anticipating something very, very different. Between the cat-and-mouse hunt for Haqqani, Saul’s capture and imprisonment, and the attack on the embassy along with its horrifying, vengeful aftermath, Homeland ratcheted up the tension in its final episodes as though it was preparing us for the biggest, bloodiest finale of them all—only to take us instead into a hall of mirrors, forcing its characters and its audience to confront the unsettling reflections and refractions within. Because at its heart, this season has always been about a single question: Who are we? Not just we, the people of the United States, but we, as people, period.

The answer seems to be that identity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder—as is patriotism, loyalty, integrity, attraction. So many times over the course of this episode, we were shown a familiar character through fresh eyes, and shown how it could change everything. Carrie’s father looked at her and saw not a callow coward, but a reliable woman who could be counted on to return home to her child, her family. Carrie’s sister looks at Quinn and sees the normal, decent, cheerful man he probably wishes he could become. Carrie’s mother saw her father not as a burden because of his illness, but as a victim of her own compulsive faithlessness. And Carrie, flying on the wings of fresh perspective, is so close to envisioning a different life for herself… until the moment when she looks at Saul and sees not her friend and mentor, but a stranger.

It was no breakdown, car bomb, or hanging in a public square—and there was no comeuppance for the villains of this season, nor so much as a glimpse of Dennis Boyd. But this ending, in its odd quietness, was in some ways more disquieting than a grand finale in which one or more major characters met their ends. Instead, Homeland left us looking through the eyes of Carrie Mathison into a future where nothing is certain, and no one can be trusted. And while that might not be the most satisfying way for this season to end its run, it is certainly a compelling place at which to begin the next one.

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