Despite the eerily prescient plots that spanned the season (and the crucial discussions that followed), and despite the immense debates over surveillance and Snowden and Syria that went unanswered, the riveting fifth season of Homeland ended on a small, poignant moment with Carrie standing over a comatose Quinn.
It’s a moment that ends the season — to me, anyway — on an ambiguous note. Others may disagree about what happened to Quinn (and I get to all that at the end of this recap on page 3 if you want to jump ahead), but that moment is all about Carrie. After spending a season trapped by that kill order (and that wig) and by the fact that she was straddling two worlds — the CIA and the one with Jonas and Franny — without fully being in either, she’s finally freed in the finale. Because of that, the hour focuses on what she’ll do next.
And she has so many options. The finale spends most of its time with Carrie as she makes pivotal choices (or, as she puts it, closes chapters of her life) and not much time with Bibi’s threat on Berlin. In fact, though we started the hour expecting to see the end result of a deadly terrorist plot, the show quickly sidelines it in favor of following Carrie. The real bombs dropped in the episode come in the form of verbal offers and denials from the men in her life: from Jonas, then Saul, and then, finally, Otto Düring — and Carrie defuses each of them as best she can. The sarin gas, after all that, is almost an afterthought.
Plus, she’s not even the one who stops the threat. She charges into the tunnel at full speed, but Qasim pulls her aside before she can reach Bibi. When she realizes he’s having second thoughts, she begs him to save the thousands of people trapped inside the station. And he does — by running to Bibi and sacrificing himself. Carrie shoots Bibi just in time before the train arrives, but can’t save Qasim, whom she cradles in her arms and thanks (for saving Quinn with atropine) as he dies. Faith — as it has often in this season, with all the shots of Carrie in church — again plays a role: Before Qasim ran to stop Bibi, he told Carrie that Allah would help him find the words to appeal to his cousin. And as he dies, Carrie whispers words of prayer over his body.
The encounter shakes Carrie to her core. Saul finds her in an ambulance, but all she wants is to go home, which, it turns out, is Jonas’ apartment. She pauses at Franny’s room and then crawls into bed.
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But Saul isn’t about to do the same and head to bed. He’s still pursuing Allison, and he’s livid that they lost her at the hospital. Luckily, the slimy Ivan Krupin is still in custody, and Saul doesn’t pull any punches when he heads into the interrogation room with the SVR Berlin chief. He delivers blow after blow, telling Krupin that he wasted his life trying to craft a masterpiece with Allison, that he’ll lose either way when Allison returns to Russia and reveals he wasn’t a defector, that he has ultimately failed. Krupin, as always, doesn’t believe Saul at first, but Saul scoffs. “I’m good, but I’m not that good,” Saul says. “A story with so many moving parts would’ve taken weeks to dream up.” (So, like this season of the show? Oooh, I see what you did there, Homeland writers.)
Of course, Saul’s not done. He offers Krupin an out: If Krupin reveals how the SVR is planning on squirreling Allison out of Germany, the CIA will help Krupin live out the rest of his life in Jackson Hole, Wyo., where there’s skiing year-round. Krupin glibly replies that he would miss the Alps, but when Saul turns to leave, he reconsiders and plays his one last, cruel card: He tells Saul that it was him, not Allison, who pitched the idea to have Allison sleep with Saul. Having shot his last verbal bullet, Krupin grimaces. And Saul steps back into the room.
Speaking of bullets, though, the one Allison shot through her own shoulder is giving her plenty of pain (hooray!), and she can’t wait to be patched up. She’s taken to a tony mansion where a doctor promises to take good care of her. “You must be very important,” he says. “Who are you, Putin’s long-lost sister?” Allison’s shoulder may be wounded, but her ego’s intact: “I am important,” she fires back at the doc, promising to ruin him if he doesn’t do his job.
NEXT: The BND vs. Laura Sutton
All hail Queen Astrid, greatest BND officer on the planet! She strides into the Düring Foundation and, without a second glance at Otto, arrests Laura and gets a hacker to comb through Laura’s second computer — which Laura so desperately tried to save before the BND arrived — for Numan’s contact information. They succeed in finding our favorite backwards douchebag: Later that night, when Numan waits in a square (presumably for Laura), BND officers close in on him and take him away.
Carrie is having a slightly better evening. She wakes up to Jonas stroking her face, and after he confirms that the rest of the terrorists were rounded up in an offscreen shootout, she pulls him into bed — and for a fleeting scene, everything seems to have gone back to normal for them. But then, when the two are bonding over Franny’s books, Jonas hints that playing house is over. “So that’s it?” Carrie asks, perturbed. “We’re just gonna say goodbye, like none of this ever happened? I was happy here. Franny was happy. I think you were, too. So why can’t we just pick up where we left off? Is that so hard?”
Jonas tells her it is so hard — thereby dropping the finale’s first verbal bomb regarding Carrie — and she shuts him down when he mentions the word “crazy.” “I actually opened myself up to you and really let you in,” she says. “I’m talking about loving you, about being loved.”
Officially dumped, Carrie heads to the only place she can think to go: the hospital, where Quinn remains in a coma. A nurse tells her he’s in surgery — he had a brain hemorrhage — so Carrie asks to go to the hospital chapel. There, she experiences something quite un-Homeland-like (and more Leftovers-like, really), when she spots a little girl sitting with her mother in a pew. The girl turns to look back at Carrie, and her gaze — or is it a glare? — seems to affect Carrie. She pinches her wrist, as if she wants to make sure she can experience pain, as if she thinks she’s in a dream. Time then passes quickly when a light floods the scene, and the next thing we know, Carrie’s sitting alone in the chapel.
So what did that mean? To me, it’s not just a strange transition from director Lesli Linka Glatter — it’s an indication that something has changed in Carrie, that a choice has been made (and the visual effect’s return at the end of the episode could carry the same significance). The choice here doesn’t become clear until after Carrie learns from Quinn’s doctor that he has a very slim chance of recovering — and that if he does, he’ll have significant brain damage — and the show fast-forwards to four days later, when Carrie returns to the hospital.
This time, she’s not there alone. Dar Adal is snoozing on the seat by Quinn (it’s an apt image, considering how he, well, snoozed through his job this season, am I right?), and when he wakes up, he gives Carrie a recap of how he first recruited Quinn from a foster home. “He was a natural from the start,” Dar tells her, almost eulogizing the man who’s still breathing in front of them. Dar then gives Carrie the letter Quinn had written to her before heading to Syria years ago, but before she can finish reading it, Saul interrupts her with an offer.
Which is where her choice comes in. Carrie, having had that moment in the chapel, has already decided that she can’t return to her old life, that what she used to do destroys people like Quinn. So when Saul asks her to return to the CIA (with full autonomy over her missions and her teams!) — there’s the second verbal bomb — she refuses. “I’m not that person anymore,” she says, sounding her most confident this season, even as she breaks Saul’s heart and their partnership once more.
Elsewhere in Berlin, Laura is making a difficult choice as well — but she doesn’t have the same freedom Carrie has with hers. Astrid tells her that if she’s going to save Numan from returning to Turkey — he has to renew his asylum status every six months — where he’ll be killed for being an enemy of the state, she needs to help the BND clear up Faisal’s death to the German people.
And so Laura ends up on television again to do what she thought she’d never do: She lies, saying that Faisal had conspired with Bibi and the terrorists for years, erasing both her threat to release the documents and saving Numan in the process. Actress Nina Hoss gives an impressive performance here when Astrid steps out of the shadows and wordlessly watches Laura betray her own beliefs and then slinks back into the dark with a conflicted expression on her face. (Numan hears all this after he’s let go by the BND. He quickly tosses his cell phone when Laura mentions she had to follow through with a “deal” and never talk to him again in order to help him. It’s unclear what he’ll do after this — or whether Homeland will revisit him or Laura ever again.)
And as for Allison, Carrie’s last female foil? She’s finally ready to cross the border, though the three-and-a-half hour journey requires her to curl up inside the trunk of a sedan. Desperate to leave, she crawls inside, thinking of how the next time she sees the sky, she’ll be in Russia.
Saul, however, makes sure that never happens.
NEXT: Otto makes a not-so-modest proposal
Given how often Allison has wormed her way out of situations by running her mouth, it’s fitting that she never gets a chance to speak — or to see the sky — in her death. Instead, in the trunk of the car, she’s silent and trapped when Saul’s team comes for her. Having learned of her extraction plan from Krupin, Saul orchestrates a simple but thoroughly effective plan to kill — and yes, kill, not capture — Allison.
They put up a false obstacle on the road and then surround Allison’s car after taking out its tires. And then, for a good 30 seconds, the show just lets the bullets fly toward the car, piercing the windows, the doors, and the bodyguards. Saul — in what might be the most menacing Mandy Patinkin has ever looked — peers through the windows until he reaches the trunk and instructs an officer to open it. They find Allison’s crumpled, bloody body inside, and Saul smiles.
As for Carrie, she’s been staying at Otto’s since being dumped by Jonas, and at first, all is going well. They chat about Saul’s offer and Carrie’s choice, but when Carrie tells him that “that chapter of my life is over,” Otto moves in with an offer of his own. He makes it slowly, first buttering her up by reminding her of how quickly she was hired and how appealing her application for the job had been. And then he delivers the third verbal bomb of the finale: “I was waiting for you, Carrie. I was waiting for you to walk through the door.”
“Okay, now I’m a little lost,” Carrie responds, echoing most of our thoughts. He explains that in her, he sees the perfect partner, “someone who knows the world for what it is and also knows it must be made better.” So this whole time, Otto’s been a suspicious character because he’s…in love?! It’s a twist that leaves Carrie (and me…and, I imagine, many of you) a bit gobsmacked. No wonder Otto had turned Jonas off of Carrie during their little meeting on his estate all those episodes ago.
At least he gives her some time to think about it. He pats her hand and tells her he’ll be in D.C. in a month and that she should return to Franny to be the mom she wants to be, now that she’s out of the CIA game.
But instead of getting on a plane back home, Carrie has one more task to handle. She calmly walks back into the hospital to find Quinn, and Rupert Friend finally voices the full letter (which I transcribed to the best of my ability — if you notice any gaps, let me know in the comments):
I guess I’m done, and we never happened. I’m not one for words, but they’re coming now. I don’t believe in fate or destiny or horoscopes, but I can’t say I’m surprised things turned out this way. I always felt there was something kind of pulling me back to darkness. Does that make sense? But I wasn’t allowed a real life or a real love. That was for normal people. With you, I thought, well, maybe, just maybe. But I know now that was a false glimmer. I’m used to those. They happen all the time in the desert, but this one got to me. And here’s the thing: This death, this end of me, is exactly what should have happened. I wanted the darkness. I f—ing asked for it. It has me now.
So don’t put a star on the wall for me. Don’t say some dumb speech. Just think of me as a light on the headlands, a beacon steering you clear of the rocks.”
What happens next is tough to watch — and tough to explain. Carrie pushes a chair under the door handle, trapping herself in with Quinn. She closes the shades over the window. She removes his monitor, and the machine registers the disconnection. But then: a light, maybe…a light on the headlands, a beacon steering her clear of the rocks? The light — similar to the light that flashed inside the hospital chapel and gave Carrie clarity from her pain — floods the room through the shades.
And that’s when we hear the final words in Quinn’s letter: “I loved you. Yours, for always now, Quinn.” But instead of showing Carrie pulling the plug, the camera trains on her face as she smiles a small smile. The light fades…and the season ends.
If you’re reading this to understand what that final scene meant, I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a definitive answer. There are two ways to interpret it, I think: The first — that Quinn is officially dead — makes sense if you decide that the light that enters the room *is* Quinn as that “beacon” he called himself and that he’s departed. And on top of that, considering everything Quinn’s been through and what the doctor tells Carrie, there’s almost zero chance of him pulling through. If he doesn’t wake up in time, he never will.
The second — that there’s a chance Carrie backed down on going through with the mercy kill — is also plausible if you decide that the light that enters the room is similar to the one she experienced in the chapel and therefore signifies a change of heart. After all, Quinn might not be one for fate and destiny and horoscopes and all that, but Carrie’s different; she has faith, at least on some level. Remember: The season began with her in a church, and the finale bookended that opening with the dream-like sequence inside the hospital chapel. So the question is…would the show really kill Quinn without showing his body and showing the act of pulling the plug? (And though this is certainly plausible, would the show really tweet the hashtag #PrayForQuinn while the scene was airing just to tease viewers with the possibility that he lives in those final 20 seconds?) For what it’s worth, my first reaction was that Quinn might be alive. And then, while outlining this recap, I concluded otherwise. But now…
Well, either way, I stand by what I said on Twitter: I loved that final moment, because while so many shows this year have ended episodes or entire seasons with ambiguous deaths solely for shock value, this one felt different. And though I’ve been just as frustrated as many other viewers this season with the slow torture of Peter Quinn, I liked this ending for the way it concentrated back on Carrie and on the effect Quinn has on her. See, she spent the finale defusing bombs left and right — in other words, deciding among the paths offered to her — but in the end, she knew there was one person she wanted to see. And that’s oddly moving. What that means for season 6, I have no idea, but here’s hoping Alex Gansa at least remembers to have Carrie listen to jazz again when the show returns. Anyone else? Just me? …Heh, okay.
(Let me know your thoughts on what happened in those final moments — and in this turbulent finale — below, or tweet me at @shirklesxp. Thanks for reading!)