Nicholas Brody should be dead by now.
The creative team behind Showtime’s Homeland has actually twice planned to kill the former prisoner of war played by Damian Lewis: Once in season one, and once in season two. Both times, Showtime executives successfully encouraged them to reconsider. And now, as the third season of the Emmy-winning drama unfolds — with Brody finally reappearing, bald and battered, after skipping the first two episodes — the time for the character's final and unequivocal demise has arrived.
At the beginning of Homeland, Brody — a marine returning to the United States after being held captive for nearly a decade — was as much a main character as Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison. Carrie rightly suspected that Brody had been turned into a terrorist during his imprisonment, and the first season turned on their magnetic cat-and-mouse game, as she tried to out him as an enemy of the United States. During the second season, when her suspicions were confirmed, Brody, evolved into a valued informant who helped capture and kill CIA high-value targets. That season ended with a bomb — presumably planted in Brody’s car — which decimated the CIA’s Langley headquarters and forced Brody into exile.
Brody’s return in last night’s "Tower of David" saw him far, far removed from the story introduced in the first two episodes, as he attempts to escape the crazed maniacs who helped him recover from his mysterious gun shot wounds.
Homeland will surely find a way to bring Carrie and Brody into the same orbit again, but the show’s writers have clearly boxed themselves in a corner. Because a confession he recorded in season one was released nationwide at the end of season two, he’s now a wanted man who most people believe set the bomb at Langley. Even if he’s eventually proven innocent, the confession he made was so convincing that there’s no way he can return to normal life with his distraught family. And while Brody could argue that he opted not to kill the vice president in season one, he actually did kill him in season two.
Homeland’s writing team is now in an unenviable position. If Brody remains abroad and away from the action, it will feel like he’s on another show entirely, as it did last night. If he returns to the United States, he will be instantly recognized, captured, and face a prolonged trial: The CIA, which is facing heat for its failed intelligence in season two, cannot possibly trust him to work as an operative.
It’s increasingly difficult to imagine a long-term storyline for Brody — and until last night’s episode, the series had successfully excluded him altogether. In this year’s season premiere, Mandy Patinkin's Saul was brought to the forefront of the story as he faced a decimated intelligence agency that was desperately attempting to reclaim its credibility. That episode offered a promising vision for what the show could be without Brody, and focused more on the relationship between Saul and Carrie. It offered the possibility of a new beginning for the show.
By contrast, the Brody storyline has run its course — and to keep the character alive is a disservice to the actors involved, the show’s credibility, and the story it could be telling this year (as Damien Lewis himself admitted in a recent Rolling Stone interview). Yes, the cat-and-mouse game between Carrie and Brody in the first two seasons is arguably Homeland’s chief trademark. But for all its strengths, the relationship is an inherently doomed one; as Saul has pointed out, Carrie could never end up with a terrorist — even a reformed one.
Homeland’s best option is one that has become increasingly common on popular television programs: Killing him and moving forward without him. Fox’s 24 — which was produced by Homeland’s Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon — was legendary for killing off main characters, including the main character’s wife in the first season finale, and plenty of top-tier shows, like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, have followed suit.
By contrast, Showtime has a cautionary tale in Dexter — a series that lost much of its cache by implausibly twisting like a pretzel to keep its central character out of harm’s way. Showtime can’t afford to make the same mistake with Homeland, which has become its flagship series.
It’s not too late for Homeland to fix its narrative problems, but the window is closing. Damien Lewis is a strong performer, but there are far better reasons to kill the character than to keep him around, distracting Homeland from evolving into the more interesting show it’s currently poised to become. He’s had a good run, but it’s time to let Nicholas Brody go for good. We’ll see if Showtime has the courage to do it.
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