Nicholas Brody was supposed to die at the end of season one of Homeland, but his continued life managed to kill one of the most original shows of the last two decades…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
When 24 was riding high as one of the most creative and well respected dramas on television, Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa were regularly credited with writing and producing the action/political thriller where ultimate bad ass Jack Bauer (portrayed by Kiefer Sutherland) got beat around more than a character from Jackass, but always found a way to thwart the evil doers and come out on top (or at the very lease live to tell about it). 24 was centered solely around Bauer’s exploits and despite being shot, stabbed, tortured, poisoned and arrested, he never went away, and there was no hole too deep that the producers couldn’t find a way to dig him back up again and start a new one-day cycle. Admittedly, 24 was pretty brilliant television for the time and Jack Bauer stands as one of the single, greatest television characters ever created in my humble opinion.
Following the conclusion of 24 in 2008, the show’s writers and producers had to move onto new projects and creative endeavors and in 2011, Gordon and Gansa teamed up to adapt an Israeli show for American television and what they created was eventually called ‘Homeland‘.
Now if you’re reading this you should probably already know what Homeland is about but just in case a brief synopsis — Homeland is the story of Sergeant Nicholas Brody, who after eight years since he went missing and was presumed captured in one of the conflicts in the middle east is found by allied forces and returned home to his family. Brody is treated as a national hero for surviving such a harrowing experience but in reality he’s not back because he refused to die or his captors let him go. No, Brody was a plant, a weapon designed in the years since he was missing to return home to America and strike a blow against the regime there as part of a plot executed courtesy of master terrorist Abu Nazir.
The first season of Homeland was about as perfect as television could get in a single year.
From the opening scenes of Brody’s homecoming to the first suspicions that he’s been turned against his country by rogue CIA agent Carrie Mathison, Homeland sparked a deep emotional response of paranoia and fear inside every American just ten years after 9/11 scared all of us. The show only got better as the season progressed as we learned more and more about Brody’s homecoming — from his chilly reunion with his wife Jessica, who had just learned how to move on from her supposedly dead husband, to a difficult and evolving relationship with his children.
Was he a terrorist or not? Those were the questions we were greeted with in the first half of the season and then the entire show turned on its head. Brody wasn’t the terrorist — it was his old sniper buddy Walker, who was also captured and he believed was dead. Then the show twisted again as we discovered Brody was in cahoots with Nazir and was plotting against America the entire time.
It was truly brilliant, well thought out television that kept me on the edge of my seat week to week, not knowing what could possibly happen next. And then everything changed…
The idea behind Homeland was that Brody was a one-season wonder. A good guy turned bad guy, conflicted for certain, but ultimately a traitor to his country and someone our government would never see coming. His act of terrorism was supposed to strike fear in our hearts as one of our own turned against his own country. The only problem was Gordon and Gansa did their job only too well.
The character evolution of Nicholas Brody and the acting of Damian Lewis were the kind of chemistry we only talked about with names like Soprano and Gandolfini, White and Cranston. It was the symmetry between fictional character and real life actor that became one perfect weapon on TV.
So when the producers behind Homeland informed their parent company at Showtime that at the end of season one, Lewis/Brody would die as part of this terrorist plot unfolding, they immediately put a stop to the plan. Homeland was an instant hit. It was talked about in awards circles and Damian Lewis was the belle of the ball, not to mention Claire Danes career rejuvenation plus the re-emergence of Mandy Patinkin — there was no way this trio was going to be split apart quite so easily. The chemistry developed between Danes and Lewis on screen certainly didn’t help things much either as this taut action thriller soon turned into a romance gone wrong on many levels that tainted an otherwise flawless show.
Showtime ultimately made the call — Brody can’t die at the end of season one.
From there Homeland struggled to find its footing again although season two definitely had some great moments. The episodes where Brody was finally discovered as a terrorist and then interrogated by Carrie and Quinn, it was one of the best hours in TV all of last year. The pain and anguish behind Brody’s eyes as he struggled to tell at least partial truths after being discovered while still holding onto some kind of misguided loyalty to the man who tortured him for years before bringing him back to health and giving him a child to love so he could be indebted to him forever was beyond excellent.
Still, Homeland faltered and fumbled on numerous occasions from slipping Abu Nazir into the United States to Brody’s assassination of the vice president, what went from highly illogical, well plotted fiction turned to a shaking your head, this is beyond what I could believe would happen farce. The end of the season didn’t help matters much either as Brody and Carrie watched in horror as his truck, suddenly parked in front of a CIA building, exploded while killing over 100 members of the organization, including friends and loved ones as well. This entire plot could have unfolded in a magical way if Brody was the one who actually parked his car there and we find out he was a terrorist all along and his working with the CIA was all part of a plot put together by his mentor Nazir to allow him to strike at the vice president as well as take out America’s spy organization in one fell swoop. But instead, we are made to believe that Brody had nothing to do with it, he was converted into a good guy once again and now had to escape to the snowy forests of Canada for safe haven as the most wanted man in the world.
Season 3 was even worse.
See by now, even in the most implausible moments of the show’s history, Brody had become Homeland’s Jack Bauer. He was the central figure. He was the driving force behind everything that happened. Instead of him being painted as a one-season villain before the show could move onto a second terrorist in their midst, Brody was now the main person people tuned in for every week when watching Homeland. Claire Danes was great and Mandy Patinkin was subtle and striking in his role as Saul Berenson, but ultimately we were all watching for what Brody did next.
In season 3 with Brody nowhere to be found on the canvas, the convoluted story telling hit an all new high. Carrie was part of an intricate plot to face career assassination courtesy of her friend and new boss as well as almost divulging matters of national security to a newspaper which then landed her in the looney bin, all to draw out a high level Iranian official that they could then turn and make into a CIA asset. With Brody gone (outside of one drug addled and misguided episode), Homeland was like the New England Patriots without Tom Brady when Matt Cassel stepped in as quarterback — they put up respectable numbers, got some good wins, but didn’t make the playoffs and certainly didn’t contend for the Super Bowl. That’s what Homeland season 3 felt like
And then finally Brody was back for the last few episodes in another ludicrous plot to kill a high-ranking Iranian official and then expedite his escape back to America. Except there was no real plan to get him back. This was a suicide mission and finally at the end of the season, Brody was hanged in a public execution, and really wasn’t this the ultimate symbolism of how Homeland screwed up so bad two seasons ago by not killing this character that was never meant to live for more than 12 or 13 episodes?
It was if the producers were literally putting Brody up on that noose with a chanting crowd held behind fences to say ‘look we are actually going through with it, we’re actually killing him this time!’. The problem was it was two seasons too late, the character certainly wasn’t the same one we all became enamored with in the first season, and the closure felt forced and contrived.
True bravery in filmmaking on television is a series like Game of Thrones casting Sean Bean — a well known and respected actor — to fill the shoes of doomed would be king Ned Stark. So destined to get beheaded before the first season even ended, but I have a bad feeling that if Showtime had a hand in this series, Ned would be cutting down white walkers alongside his bastard son right now. Some shows thrive despite losing their best character and if that’s what is meant to happen, then so be it.
If Homeland season one ended with Brody pushing the button on his suicide vest and the entire basement of that government building exploded with shrapnel, blood and bone but the series could never recover enough for a second season, so be it. The first one would have stood alone as a single, shining achievement in filmmaking. But instead, Showtime wanted more. They wanted more money, they wanted more seasons, and they wanted more Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody. They wanted their Jack Bauer.
Now Homeland is over, or at least season 3 is done, with season 4 looming overhead for next year. We will finally find out if people will tune in to see Carrie try to manage a team of spies overseas while attempting to handle the most valuable foreign asset that’s ever lived. We will truly find out if Brody was the only reason people tuned in to see Homeland in the first place, and if that ends up being the case wouldn’t it have been better to sever those ties two seasons ago when the story demanded he die?
I hope Damian Lewis goes on to great success because he deserves it. He’s been the shining light on this show since day one and he deserves every award, nomination and accolade he’s received, and I hope he gets even more for his next role, whatever that may be. No matter what I say about how much Brody should have died in that bunker with the vice president and all of the cabinet members that day, Lewis was always the beacon of hope on an otherwise sinking ship. He was what kept Homeland alive even when he should have been dead.
I hope Homeland can find its way again in a Brody-less world but now after three full seasons of focus on this one character I have a feeling it will look something like 24 with Tony Almeida attempting to save the day while Jack Bauer is nowhere to be found.