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How the Homeland Finale Got Uncertain Death Just Right

The show's handling of a major character's possible exit caps off a return-to-form season

Adam Bryant

[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from the Season 5 finale ofHomeland. Read at your own risk.]

For better or for worse, 2015 was arguably the year of the fake-out death on TV. So it's shocking that Homeland-- a show that never met an outrageous plot twist it wouldn't exploit -- dealt with the probable (but still uncertain) demise of a key character with an incredible amount of grace.

But we'll come back to that. First, there's an attack to be stopped, and, surprisingly, Carrie (Claire Danes) wraps that up within the episode's first 15 minutes. Picking up right where the previous episode left off, Carrie tracked Qasim into the dark subway tunnel and, shortly after coming face-to-face with him realized he was on the fence about releasing the sarin gas in the train station. When Carrie told Qasim he needed to go shoot Bibi to stop him, Qasim refused, saying he would simply talk his cousin down. The end result of that conversation was Qasim taking multiple shots to the chest before Carrie could take out Bibi. Both men eventually died, and the release of the gas was averted. Carried saves the day again.

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But like so many missions before, Carrie had to watch someone else die in order to come out on top. And because this season has dedicated itself to Carrie wrestling with walking away from that life to be a mother and girlfriend, her crisis feels more real than it ever has. The show made Carrie a sympathetic human being again -- and that's a greater accomplishment than this season's alarming prescience about real-world events.

Once she saves the day, Carrie retreats back to Jonas (Alexander Fehling), the German ginger Carrie built a life with before the ghosts of her past forced her to blow up that relationship. Although there is a temporary reunion, Jonas makes it clear that he can't live his life worried about what's around the next corner. And although Carrie insists that she can make it work better this time around, Jonas is done. So Carrie runs back to the man who's always been there for her: Quinn (Rupert Friend).

Only this time, he's not there. Quinn is in surgery for a hematoma, undoubtedly caused by Carrie and Saul (Mandy Patinkin) insisting that Quinn be woken up in the previous episode. Carrie, who began this season in a church, once again slides into a pew at the hospital chapel, where, despite her prayers, a doctor ultimately informs her that, even if Quinn were to recover from the surgery and wake up, his brain damage will be significant.

Brody. Aayan. Qasim. Jonas. And now... Quinn. While earlier this season Carrie went off her meds and cracked open her crazy corkboard to figure out who was hunting her, she decided in her unbalanced epiphany that it was all of them. And she might have been right. No matter how much she runs, the darkness keeps catching up to her. But instead of Carrie, it's those in her life that tend to take all the punishment. Carrie decides to finally get off that hamster wheel, even when Saul begs and nearly demands that Carrie come back to the CIA with complete autonomy.

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"I'm not that person anymore," Carrie says. When Saul insists that she just saved hundreds of lives and knows how to fight the terrorists, Carrie remains firm. "I have no idea," she says. "It wasn't the first [attack], and it certainly won't be the last." Those are sobering words that ring all too true, but, again, the real value is in seeing Carrie, a woman who used to get off on the thrill of the chase, completely broken by the truth that the battle will never be won. And even though there are short-term wins, there is always collateral damage.

It's a lesson that Saul refuses to accept. His unending quest cost him his marriage and allowed him to fall for Allison (Miranda Otto), a Russian double agent who was able to distract Saul from her duplicity by pulling him into the sack. Unlike, Carrie, however, Saul believes he can make things right by seeing Allison captured and punished. Saul works over Allison's Russian handler and eventually gets a fix on her escape route. And after an excessive hail of bullets, Saul takes out the traitor. Mission accomplished; on to the next one. (Aside: How great was Otto this season? While it would have been impossible to twist the plot to keep her around next year, Allison was a huge part of the show's return to its former glory this season.)

But Carrie's next mission is more ambiguous. Although she wants to head back home and be reunited with her daughter, she admits to During (Sebastian Koch) that she feels like she let Saul down. And out of the blue, During proposes a partnership, a relationship with Carrie he's apparently wanted since the first day he met her. "I want a partner. Someone who knows the world for what it is but also wants it to be better. Someone to share my life with." Carrie is a bit flabbergasted (as is the audience), but is During the comfortable middle between the two extremes of her life? That answer will have to wait until next season.

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And so will the issue of the big death we mentioned. After sitting at Quinn's bedside for almost a week and seeing no improvement, Carrie has a quick chat with Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) who passes on Quinn's letter, which he wrote at the end of Season 4 before heading to Syria. "I guess I'm done and we never happened," Quinn says in the letter. "I don't believe in fate or destiny or horoscopes... but I can't say I'm surprised things turned out this way. ... There was always something pulling me back to darkness."

Carrie can't have been surprised either. This is the life she knows, the life she loved for so long but can no longer tolerate being part of -- if not for the other lives that she's destroyed, but for the sake of her own life, which could only outrun that darkness so long before it catches up to her as well.

"I wasn't allowed a real life or a real love," Quinn's letter continues. "That was for normal people. With you I thought, 'Maybe, just maybe,' but I know that was a false glimmer. This end of me is exactly what should have happened. I wanted the darkness. It has me now."

And with that, Carrie walks into Quinn's room, blocks the door and begins removing wires. True enough, we don't see Quinn flatline or take his last breath. And given the amount of brain damage the doctors suggested, the show would completely undo all the goodwill it's earned this season by finding a way for Quinn to miraculously recover. But the debate will be had, and we'll have to wait and see if Quinn becomes the next Jon Snow or Glenn. But in a way that those other choices never sat well with me, somehow this seems right.

Unlike those other shows, Homeland got it right through character. The emotional stakes for Carrie are real no matter what she decides. The love she wanted to make work with Jonas could have possibly worked with Quinn if she hadn't rejected him. Now she'll never get to know if she can have that happiness. Whether she pulled that plug or not, Quinn's part in her life will never be the same. That happiness is lost to the darkness just like Quinn. But at least Carrie has learned that her work won't bring her that happiness either. She says that chapter of her life is over. And for the first time in a while, I am eager to see what that next chapter means for Homeland.

What did you think of the finale?

(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS, Showtime's parent company.)