WARNING: The following contains spoilers about recent episodes of the Showtime series Homeland and the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.
Critics I've read who have commented on the Sunday finale of Homeland say the show made the right move. A few weeks earlier, Boardwalk Empire had killed off a character the audience cared about but the story runners didn't know what more to do with, and now so did Homeland. Brody was a more central character, certainly, than Richard Harrow, but all the more reason to clear the decks. Homeland could be about Carrie and Brody's impossible romance—meaning each season would be more contorted than the one before—or it could be about spycraft, espionage, and geopolitical morality. It had to quit trying to be about both. It was, said one critic, "ripping apart at the seams."
Homeland outsourced the job of killing Brody to Persians, even though his quarrel was with America. They sent him halfway around the world so he could be strung up in a square in Tehran, this taking place to the equal satisfaction of both Lockhart, the new CIA director, and Javadi, the new Iranian intelligence chief. Each has his eye on the big picture, and careerism is part of that picture. Saul and Carrie are more concerned with Brody as an individual, but life goes on for them too. Carrie is offered and accepts a big new job. Finally everyone has accepted what she was saying all along—"I'm not just bipolar, I'm right!"
But as we applaud Homeland for its cynical bravado, I think it needs to be said that what the CIA did to Brody, Homeland did to Brody. When he'd served his purpose it killed him off. Plenty of antiheroes die in the movies and on TV; they are characters created to die. But they die in the end; they aren't thrown off the wagon because they take up too much space. The death of Brody is Homeland's authors' way of telling us, it's our show, not his, and we're taking back the reins. If next year's scripts are taut and the ratings go up, it'll have been a righteous death. But what about Brody? When the finale was over I wondered this, as I've wondered at other times about Job's seven sons and three daughters, created by the Author of us all and casually slain by Him to advance His argument with Satan. Death as an expedient always deserves to be called out, even if it means calling out the Bible.
As it happens, the doorbell rang Monday morning and I opened the door to two familiar faces, the lovely old women from the Kingdom Hall across the street who come by every few months to drop off the latest issue of the Watchtower, share some Scripture, and discuss my soul. I'm sort of a Brody to them, someone who seeks a little more peace than he expects to find. "Do We Need God?" is both the headline of the new Watchtower's cover story and the question they put to me on my doorstep, and I allowed that most people think they do and plenty go without—including, I might have added if I'd thought they watched the show, just about every important character on Homeland. I further agreed with my visitors that governance of man by man leaves a lot to be desired. Where we didn't see eye to eye was over their certainty that God is about to step in and take the reins. I see no signs of that, not even on holiday TV specials, and I don't wish it could happen. We're not children, I told them; for better or worse we deserve to run our own world.
We expect Him in our lifetime, they replied, radiant with the prospect. That's their big picture. It was roughly zero degrees at my front door, so when they said I needed to hear what Daniel 2:44 had to say, I promised to read it myself as soon as I got back inside.
And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall this kingdom be left to another people. It shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever;
And everyone unnecessary will die in the process.