12.22.15 ‘They’re both a little unhinged’

Note: This post contains spoilers about the finale of Homeland, Season 5. Read at your own peril.

I shed a tear today at a TV season finale. I can’t think when I last did that. I watch so much of it, I have to parse so much of it, that the beats and the moves and the logical progressions just telegraph to me … and I know what’s coming. I don’t always get hit with the emotional stick the way some people do.

So while I kind of knew what was coming with Peter Quinn on Homeland‘s season finale (“A False Glimmer”), I also was caught unawares. How is that possible?

Peter Quinn has long been a favorite of mine. I wrote about him here, in a column from October 2014, as one of TV’s most interesting secondary characters. I like the ones who aren’t precisely second bananas or sidekicks, who have significant roles but who don’t necessarily propel the plot — and therefore can be much more interesting than your average hero or anti-hero. I love Doug Stamper (Michael Kelley) on House of Cards; I love — loved— Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) on Homeland.

The Mighty (Peter) Quinn.

The Mighty (Peter) Quinn.

Yeah, the past tense. Once the show told us that if he woke up he’d wake only with severe brain damage, I knew. That was the telegraphed message. This great, troubled, difficult, intense character had been gassed within an inch of his life and he was going out. No recovery. Homeland was not going to turn into a show about Carrie caring for him in his recovered, infirm, brain-damaged state. The minute I heard that and saw Quinn on life-support, I all but heard him saying to her: Kill me.

He was that well-written, and well-acted: The audience could know exactly what Quinn would want in this situation (even if Dar Adal hadn’t already more or less said it).

So, I knew. But, I also didn’t know. I wasn’t sure if they were going to really, really do it. He’d had so many near-misses. Then Carrie got a letter written by Quinn on the occasion of his death, and once she got a chance to read it, it revealed his real feelings about her: That he’d found the one soulmate he might have had in the universe with her, and he loved her.

It read:

“Carrie. I guess I’m done. And we never happened. I’m not one for words, but they’re coming now. I don’t believe in fate, or destiny, or horoscopes, but I can’t say I’m surprised things turned out this way. I always thought there was something kind of pulling me back to darkness. But I wasn’t allowed a real life. Or a real love. That was for normal people. With you I thought maybe just maybe. But I know now that was a false glimmer. I’m used to… they happen all of the time in the desert, but this one got to me. And here’s the thing, this death, this end of me is exactly what should’ve happened. I wanted the darkness. I fucking asked for it. And it has me now. So don’t put a star on the wall for me. Don’t say some dumb speech. Just think of me as a light on the heavens. A beacon. Steering you clear of the wrongs. I loved you. —Yours, for always now, Quinn.”

I interviewed Rupert Friend earlier this year for the LA Times Envelope, before he’d shot Season 5, and neither of us was sure we wanted to see a Carrie/Peter romance.

“I think it’s a terrible idea,” he told me. “They both deal in death and destruction daily and get paid for it. That is like putting two people who are recovering alcoholics together. they precisely prey on one another’s Achilles heels. I don’t think there’s a deep relationship there at all, though there is a mutual respect. To me it’s very much a professional thing, and the kind of notion that there was a romance there frankly I never saw.”

I noted there was a like-minds connection, though. I could see where it came from, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to see it go to completion.

“Yeah, they’re both a little unhinged,” he allowed. “They both deal in death and destruction daily and get paid for it. You’ve got to be a certain kind of person to say I will kill someone for money. Let’s not forget this.”

Still, as this season unfolded I could have been willing to go on that ride. It would not have been smooth, but it would have been interesting. Whenever Quinn was on camera, things always got interesting pretty fast.

But now we’re left with (almost certainly) a Quinn-less future. Carrie came to see him (unconscious and on life support) after reading his letter, and set the stage in his hotel room for a mercy killing: bracing the door with a chair, closing the blinds, putting his monitor on her own finger to avoid alerting the nurse station. I was waiting for something to happen: For her to pinch his nose and cover his face, or for him to (in great soap fashion) awaken abruptly.

Neither think happened. Instead, the sun came out and shone in from behind the closed blinds. A symbol, of course, but one with a mixed message: Perhaps, acceptance from a higher authority of what had to happen. Perhaps, a sign that there could be a brighter tomorrow if it did not happen at all.

We saw Carrie lean toward Peter and … end of season.

I’m quite sure he’s gone. I’m quite sure she took him out in the kindest way possible. I’m further sure she will not face consequences, except in her own mind. Some of her last words in the season were that she was no longer the person she used to be — the fearless, dauntless CIA agent who thought of nothing but her job. In seeing Quinn out, is she more like that person than she realized? Or is this display of compassion meant to show us that she does know her own mind now?

Next season will show us. But it will be without Quinn. And that is worth shedding a tear.

Thanks, Homeland and Rupert Friend, you magnificent bastards.