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Homeland and Masters of Sex: Two fine finales to feast upon

Two big season finales appear this weekend. Two red-hot shows wrap it up for now, and leave viewers puzzled, outraged or just nattering about what it all means. They are two premium-cable series that help define the cultural conversation, but, for all their seriousness, they come with teasing, tantalizing, entertaining endings.

Homeland (Sunday, Super Channel, 9 p.m.) has driven faithful viewers flightily mad with both appreciation and frustration. The blend of strange, implausible twists with a return to old-school spy drama has been a challenge.

At its centre, if course, is Carrie. Her fragility and mental anguish – sometimes real and sometimes faked this season – has become a pop-culture reference point. Jokes about her strangeness turn up in the scripts of other shows. Speculating about this Sunday's finale, James Hibberd of Entertainment Weekly wrote: "The big question: Brody has survived longer than viewers [and even the show's writers] expected. Will this season send him to the great intelligence briefing in the sky? Or will Carrie manage to Argo him out of Iran and back to her sex cabin?"

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Beyond the jokey quality, there is, on Homeland, the genuine anguish of people whose lives have been forever changed and whose emotions have been scrambled by the impact of the 9/11 terror attacks. This is the human quality that causes viewers to forgive the lapses. The core characters of Carrie (Claire Danes), Brody (Damian Lewis) and Saul (Mandy Patinkin) reflect and distill everyone's experience in the new terror-aware world, amid the wariness of other countries and nationalities. There's a sense that nothing good will ever happen unless we seize the moments of emotional freedom that occur even when there is much fear in the air. Me, I think it's possible that either a) Brody is written out, or b) Brody returns to the centre of the drama. Given the narrative arc, either is a plausible option.

Masters of Sex (Sunday, TMN/Movie Central, 10 p.m.) has engaged in a delicate dance all season, and has done it with aplomb. It's a multilayered situation.

On the one hand, the core dynamic is the relationship between William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan). It starts as professional and it becomes increasingly personal. But is it romantic? While others in their lives feel the damage done by the pair's self-absorption, they're still working it out. Masters needs Johnson in his research. And the season concludes with Masters presenting his research to a body that will determine if he's a true visionary or an eccentric sideline figure.

But this is about more than two people who work together becoming romantically involved. The tangled dynamic between Masters and Johnson reflects an entire era's attitudes toward sex, the subject that both are studying. Back then, people generally declined to look on sexual desire, outside of romantic love, as something worth brooding upon, let alone studying for scientific value. Thus the nature of the relationship encapsulates everything that both are trying to bring to the world's attention. Thing is, do they know it?

The series has been very delicately written to make this point, to its great credit. Sheen's portrayal of this often terrifyingly fraught man has been excellent. Mind you, it is also a fact that, whether planned or not, Caplan has stolen the series as the profoundly human, profoundly strong Johnson. Even without the layers of meaning, the series is an exquisite character study.

Also airing this weekend

Royal Scandals (Saturday, CBC NN, 10 p.m. on The Passionate Eye) will satisfy a certain segment of the CBC audience like no other fare on TV. Yet another romp through allegedly scandalous acts by members of the Royal family, it chronicles everything from King Edward VIII dallying with the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson, to the ugly collapse of the marriage of Charles and Diana, to the leak of cellphone photos of a naked Prince Harry. As is pointed out, the photos of the prince were seen around the world by an estimated 154 million people. Take that, Miley Cyrus and your twerking antics. Not that the audience for Royal Scandals could pick Miley Cyrus out of a police line-up.

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Penguins: Waddle All The Way (Sunday, Discovery, 8 p.m.) has, on the other hand, mass appeal and is a total delight. Narrated by Jane Lynch, wandering a bit from her role as Sue Sylvester on Glee, it takes viewers deep into the penguin world. In fact, three penguin species are featured. As Discovery says, "using animatronic cameras cleverly disguised as life-size penguins, the filmmakers could infiltrate the protective colonies from an entirely new angle, recording the emotional and oftentimes amusing behaviours of the penguins. More than 50 remote-controlled cameras camouflaged as super-realistic penguins, chicks, and even eggs, allowed the team an unparalleled opportunity to waddle with these flightless birds without ruffling any feathers." It is guaranteed to charm.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More


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