The first season of Homeland perfectly summed up the ambiguity inherent to both intelligence work and the national security apparatus. Success means either not knowing what was avoided or knowing but not being able to talk about it. Homeland not only brought this ambiguity to life, it thrived within it. As the first season ends with Carrie’s decision to undergo electroshock treatment, she does so believing that she prevented a terrorist attack but unable to confirm it. When added to every other setback she encounters in the last two episodes, the ambiguity becomes too much to bear and pushes her over the edge. She may have saved the Vice President and other senior government officials gathered in that room but she’ll never know for sure.
Well, until the next season, that is. The ambiguity is lost when Carrie learns of the recording made by Brody and once again has her infallibility confirmed. She may not have her job back, she may not have overcome her bipolar disorder but she knows she was right and that’s enough to reconfirm her essential self-worth and self-confidence. However, not only does this make her less believable as a character, it also creates issues for the universe in which Homeland exists.
Unlike 24, which was based in the premise that a benevolent national security apparatus championed by ultimately moral people could overcome any and all challenges, Homeland presented a flawed intelligence organization made up of flawed people that, despite the ambiguity inherent in their jobs, managed to prevent their country from being harmed. This was a CIA for a world of terrorists and drone strikes, a CIA that made sense within the same entertainment universe as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight. In this universe, the good guys and the bad guys were sometimes indistinguishable and even the hero was forced to make morally questionable decisions.
Homeland should have ended with one season and all the ambiguity that entails. The ambiguity perfectly illustrated the lack of clarity that exists for all intelligence and national security professionals. Taking it away was a disservice to the show and its viewers.