This post contains spoilers about the season finales.
After tremendous build-up -- hell, even President Obama is a fan -- Showtime's first-year drama "Homeland" seemed trapped in its own version of a no-win situation: Either blow up much of the U.S. government (and, not incidentally, its sensational leading man, Damian Lewis); or chicken out, leaving the audience to feel cheated and letdown.
Not surprisingly given how tightly the show was constructed, the producers found a wholly satisfying third way -- one that promises interesting avenues to sustain the concept into a second season. The extended finale was almost unbearably suspenseful, while hewing closely enough to recent real-life events so as to feel plausible.
Then again, the creative team headed by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa also managed to surpass my initial admiration of the show, introducing twists and turns that kept me off guard throughout its run. And while Claire Danes at first seemed adrift in a fairly by-the-book CIA agent role, the depths of her emotional turmoil went well beyond what anyone might have imagined. (Frankly, I still find her infatuation with Lewis' character, Brody, a little tough to swallow, but that's a quibble, not an indictment.)
Still, it's Lewis who represents the show's indispensable element, which obviously creates a huge challenge: How long can he flirt with jihad against America before delivering on it -- or without someone close to him uncovering his secret?
"Homeland" nevertheless established itself as much more than merely a game of cat and mouse, and that bodes well for a second season, if not necessarily a long open-ended run.
Gordon notably ran "24" before this, and "Homeland" -- while similar in subject matter -- is just the sort of concept that will benefit immeasurably from the pay cable formula, starting with shorter annual flights. Because if Showtime's smart, they'll milk this hit for all it's worth, but not past the logical point where its time runs out.
IF "HOMELAND" DELIVERED, "Dexter" capped what had been a subpar season in lackluster fashion -- except for the last 10 seconds. And while that genuinely surprising moment creates a plethora of possibilities, the subplot involving the title character and his adopted sister -- played by Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter -- still comes across as kind of creepy in the context of everything that's transpired within the show.
I do admire the producers for daring to explore the big issues -- God, faith, and whether a serial killer/vigilante can find spiritual peace -- but they didn't close the deal. And after so many memorable villains, this year's played by Colin Hanks simply didn't measure up. (I also have a real problem with putting kids in peril, which always feels like a cheap way to grab the audience's throat.)
Granted, having come this far, I'll stay with "Dexter" until the end, which will presumably be in two seasons. But for the first time in years, this ho-hum year dampened my enthusiasm for what's to come.