Homeland finally made a bold and necessary choice: Nicholas Brody is dead.

Iranian officials captured and hanged Brody with tacit approval from the CIA (notwithstanding Carrie and outgoing CIA Director Saul Berenson's objections). The unsettling death scene was handled well, and followed an appropriate medley of small, well-played moments from Brody. Season three was undoubtedly rocky from start to finish, but this was a fitting end.

A successful show never wants to kill its darlings. When you're a hit, you milk the stars and premise that made you a hit for all they're worth. Who's to say the next premise won't bomb?

Homeland was as surefire a hit as Showtime has ever had when it premiered back in 2011, and it quickly became the linchpin of the cable network's lineup. Most fans and critics believe the show has gotten progressively worse over its second and third seasons, as the show has again and again tried to exploit the same narrative tensions — particularly the tragic love story of CIA agent Carrie Mathison and ex-Marine Nicholas Brody. That thread began in Carrie's investigation of Brody as a potential terrorist, evolved into a sexual tryst, then turned into love at some ill-defined point. That bled into this season, when it was revealed that Carrie was pregnant by Brody, who had since become an international fugitive accused of bombing Langley. Star-crossed doesn't even start covering these two.

This increasingly unpopular arc finally ended with "The Star," season three's finale. Every Homeland finale has been a game-changer in one way or another, but this third one provided so much closure to long-running plot threads that "The Star" felt as much like a series finale as a season's cap. It was none too soon. The oxygen giving life to the romance and struggles between Brody and Carrie was gone. Homeland needs a new direction.

The emotional heart of "The Star" belonged to Brody. He (somehow, crazily, bafflingly) survives assassinating top Iranian official General Akbari in the episode's opening, finds Carrie, and retreats to a safe house where U.S. forces will extract them. All seems ready for that maudlin happy ending. "I believe one of the reasons I was put on this earth was for our paths to cross," Carrie tells Brody in the safe house, confessing her pregnancy to him for the first time. "Yeah, and I know how crazy that sounds." Brody, tired and dazed, responds: "I don't think that sounds crazy at all." If you say so, Brody.

Carrie and Brody speculate on what a future life might look like. Carrie insists such a life must happen in one form or another, while Brody hearkens back to his time in Venezuela and insists he's a cockroach after all. "In what universe can you redeem yourself for committing one murder by committing another?" Brody asks Carrie. He's right to scoff at her insistence that he's a Marine operating under different rules. That life is long past. Brody is a complicated character and a sympathetic one, but he's far from innocent. Guilt has haunted him all season, compounded by his fugitive status in which there's no good answer to the question of what's next. It's what allowed him to go to Iran and take the reckless chances required to kill Akbari in his own office. Javadi stresses to Carrie that Saul's plan would be all the more successful for Brody's death.

"Everyone sees him through your eyes now," Javadi adds, citing the peace Brody felt in his cell waiting for execution. Brody says as much to Carrie in their final phone call: "I want it to be over." Fair enough. "The Star" features scene after scene of Brody washing himself, symbolizing the path toward redemption, even if it's doubtful the world really sees it quite that way. Carrie tells Lockhart that Brody deserves a commemorative CIA star, and in the episode's closing scene, she quietly, when the building is closed and with a marker, adds a star for Brody on a CIA wall of stars.

Among other things, Brody's death raises real questions about Homeland's creative choices earlier this season. Why devote so much time to the Brody family (and Dana in particular) if Brody was going to die? And given the earlier focus on the Brody family, why did the finale not show any reaction from the family in hearing of his death? Those reactions would have provided a richer dimension to Brody's arc (and far more than the extended Dana and Leo runaway sequences from earlier this year). Is the Brody family sad? Relieved? After all the time we wasted on them, those are actually scenes worth seeing — but we'll never know.

Tonally, however, "The Star" was a strong offering, starting at the highs of suspense and dovetailing into a melancholy reflection on redemption and self-doubt. On a practical level, it commits plenty of the same logical crimes that plague the Homeland universe. But shelve that implausibility for a moment and consider what may be one of the biggest selling points: The finale wipes clean the show's slate, creating an entirely open horizon for season four.

Where did Homeland leave its characters? Carrie seems ready to give up her child to jet to Istanbul and become station chief; Saul is out at the CIA and moving to New York to enter the private sector; Brody is dead; Quinn and Dar Adal, it seems, are loyal enough company men to serve in a CIA now led by Lockhart. Javadi, meanwhile, is still a successful CIA plant in the Iranian government, and apparently has been influencing Iranian policy effectively. Iran, in fictional Homeland world, just scored a deal to allow inspectors into nuclear facilities in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions — a move to which everyone is ready to credit Saul's Grand Plan that consumed this season.

Yes, there are huge logical flaws in all of this. Why does Lockhart promote and trust Carrie after she recklessly shrugged off authority time after time after time? What motivated Quinn to stay working for the CIA when he was so prepared to leave earlier?

Still: Homeland, so often ridiculous, managed to score some points for elegance in this finale. We don't know what the show's next step will be, but we know that it won't be a retread of the same dramatic tensions centered on Carrie and Brody — and that's an intriguing enough prospect to make it worth tuning in next season.

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