Despite its many similarities, Homeland isn’t the same kind of hyperkinetic techno-thriller as something like, say, 24. Although much of the plot is driven in the same breathless manner, it’s more about the characters and what happens to them on a deeply personal, psychological level, as a result of living in an almost constant state of paranoia, self-doubt and fear that the unthinkable is about to happen.

So, judging Homeland, or, in this case, season 2, on the basis of its many plot holes or questionable leaps in logic can, to a certain extent, be suspended; provided the writers took said leaps as a means by which they could integrate such a large scale terror threat with the interpersonal relationship of two very screwed up people in some sort of satisfactory way.

So, after a bit of a slow start, ‘The Choice,’ begins to rein in all of its elements and reduce its story down as close to the one simple principle of the unlikely relationship between Carrie Mathison (Clare Danes) and Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) as it possibly can. There’re several red herrings thrown in at first, and briefly the show takes on the kind of dizzying sense that everyone may somehow be up to no good – but its impossible to pin down who, exactly, much less why. For instance, Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) is stalking the woods outside the Mathison family cabin, while inside, Carrie empties a revolver, and places the bullets in an Altoid tin. The camera follows her movements with such deliberate attention and detail that, for a brief second, it seems as though the episode will somehow work its way back to the brass resting inside that dented tin. But like the appearance of the mysterious Dar Adal (or, perhaps more to the point, the significance of casting someone like F. Murray Abraham), it would prove to be an element saved for another day – or a calculated bit of misdirection.

In a way, the entirety of season 2 has been that same bit of misdirection (as well as some occasional misfires). At the end of the first season, there were hundreds of directions that Homeland could have been taken in, but the writers decided that, for better or worse, the dynamic between Carrie and Brody would be their focus; they would take this star-crossed couple’s relationship as far as it could possibly go. At a certain point, the writers were simply not going to be getting back the kind of emotion from the relationship as they had been putting into it; Brody and Carrie were doomed to fail for both the characters and the audience. Already, we’d begun to see the narrative losing ground on the efficacy of the entire dynamic that made season 1 work so well. The unanticipated legitimacy of Carrie’s feelings for Brody, and his surprising reciprocation, were key parts of the show, so when it started to become them against the machinations of global terrorist organizations and the CIA, something began to feel off.

And with the added tension of knowing that Nicholas Brody was also claiming to be a reformed terrorist, it seemed likely the series would be waiving goodbye to Damian Lewis, so that the it could reinvent (and, to some extent, save) itself for a renewed and reinvigorated season 3. In many regards, ‘The Choice’ managed to do just that without the massive reboot some had predicted, while still suggesting a tantalizing possibility of a whole new arrangement next season, and beyond. The most positive thing to come from this is how Homeland has managed to wrangle free from many of the trappings having to do with Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban). Now the show is free to tackle threats of a different scale, and to (hopefully) reestablish the relationship between Saul (Mandy Patinkin) and Carrie – the series’ other, sometimes overlooked, relationship between two screwed up people.

It’s somewhat odd to be saying this, but once the explosion rips through the CIA headquarters, there’s a lot to like about the Homeland season finale. Despite the personal nature of the storyline, so much of the series is propelled by action-oriented events; some of which haven’t exactly worked out in the last twelve episodes. But here, it’s different; immediately there’s doubt in everyone’s mind that Brody isn’t still the terrorist – and, who knows, maybe we’ll find out later on that he actually was the guy who planted all that C-4 in his SUV. The terrorist act also works to grant a great deal of weight to the seemingly lackadaisical manner in which Nazir willingly saw his life come to an end. More importantly, however, it splits the episode’s focus between Carrie and Brody looting her endgame storage locker, and Saul managing the chaos while simultaneously grieving over the supposed loss of a very important colleague and friend – and no, that’s not referring to the death of David Estes (David Harewood). Patinkin is so effective in his latter scenes that he basically grounds the entire episode with little more than subtle variations of a pained look on his face, and a barely quivering voice. No wonder it was decided to end the season with a lingering shot of his wounded, yet relieved visage.

But it’s what the episode didn’t resort to that’s perhaps the most satisfying. For one, despite what Quinn thinks, it didn’t paint Estes as some sort of clandestine villain – in fact, though it was self-serving, as Saul pointed out, his ordering of the assassination of Brody – who is a known terrorist – is actually a legitimate response of someone operating within the framework of national security. Even though he may have handled it in an undiplomatic and jerk-like fashion, Estes, like Dana (Morgan Saylor), approached most situations from a position of truth.

Still, the most significant aspect of ‘The Choice’ is that, although many had been calling for it, the writers managed to provide Brody an out, which didn’t require him to die. Perhaps that would have been more satisfying in some high-stakes kind of way, but Brody’s retreat into Newfoundland, and then who knows where, gives the series the leeway it needs to move in any direction. As it was with the Brody family at the end of ‘In Memoriam,’ the writers can choose to integrate the characters into upcoming storylines or not. While this certainly feels like a tragic, but fulfilling end to Jessica (Morena Baccarin), Dana and Chris’ (Jackson Pace) story, it doesn’t necessarily have to be. And as unlikely as it is that Damian Lewis will remain out of the spotlight for too long, it would be very interesting to see Homeland operate without him – at least for a few episodes.

For many viewers, Homeland used up a great deal of the goodwill all those Emmys granted it, and given the satisfying, but still less-than-definitive ending of this season, there’s the threat that whatever positives came out of ‘The Choice’ could be undone at the beginning of season 3. That leaves the audience still willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt in the unusual position of waiting for a conclusion, rather than excitedly waiting for the next chapter. Will the next season be enough to keep them believing in the show?

Various other items:

  • Sometimes, clearing the table like this can work wonders for a show. Not only can the writers move past the Nazir terrorist network to explore new threats, they’ve summarily disposed of any lingering issues there may have been with characters like Estes, as well as the irascible Finn Walden (Timothee Chalamet).
  • A season of Brody on the run (which will admittedly require a great deal of suspension of disbelief), while Carrie balances a new threat with an almost extra-curricular pursuit to exonerate the man she loves might be an interesting continuation of the Brody/Carrie story.
  • It’s surprising that no one thought, however briefly, to blame poor Danny Galvez (Hrach Titizian) for the car bomb.

Homeland will return for season 3 in the fall of 2013.