This Homeland review contains spoilers.
Homeland Season 8 Episode 10
Everything has a price. But when do you know its full cost? That’s a question that explicitly comes up in tonight’s Homeland when Saul Berenson sits down with a Russian ambassador to ask for the flight recorder that proves President Warner died in a freak accident. “There’s got to be a price,” Saul insists. Yet when the episode ends, he doesn’t know what it is—nor does Carrie, even as she thinks she’s paying it.
To be sure, tonight was the pivot toward the endgame of Homeland as a series. It’s the bridge across which we’ll find Carrie and Saul’s final fates. But as is always the case with spy games and intelligence gathering, when you see the world through a keyhole you can miss the big picture. For Saul that looks like Carrie seemingly betraying his confidence in order to expose a Russian asset at the top of Kremlin leadership. For Carrie, however, the blind spot is an obliviousness about the small treachery she did to get CIA agents off her back in Islamabad. In the long run, she put them directly in harm’s way. She thought their imprisonment would be a temporary setback worthy of gaining the flight recorder. Yet she still doesn’t have that flight recorder and they’re dead, collateral fallout in the Taliban’s attempt to antagonize a now foolhardy American government.
In that final shot of Carrie on her plane back to D.C., she doesn’t know the price she just paid, which feels like a foreshadow of the remaining two episodes.
In the meantime, “Designated Driver” leaves us primarily focused on the only thing left in Carrie’s life that matters: her relationship with Saul. Indeed, their connection has been the bedrock of the series, which we’ve been asked to ruminate on time and again this season as Saul put her in harm’s way in season 8’s first episode and then seemingly lost her forever when she picked Yevgeny’s company over his and the handcuffs that come with it.
Well, she’s in those handcuffs now, and all she got in return is an uncomfortable ultimatum provided by Yevgeny: betray her mentor and burn a bridge with the last important, breathing person in her life, or allow the U.S. to blunder into a new Middle East war with Pakistan—but this time with nuclear weapons on the table.
So it is the final two episodes will come down to a question of Carrie and Saul’s mutual loyalty—loyalty to each other and their country. What does the proverbial homeland, or the idea of it, fully mean to two patriots who’ve lost everything? It’s a potent question, even if I’m a bit baffled that Yevgeny and the GRU estimated it would be easier to extract Saul’s Kremlin asset by sending Carrie down a time-consuming rabbit hole in D.C., as opposed to simply pressuring Berenson themselves when he asked what the price is.
Honestly, I think Saul would be willing to pay it in order to avoid a third MidEast catastrophe. He may represent the last old school spymaster in Homeland’s world—which is now presided over by a weak commander-in-chief who ignores the analysis of his own agencies (I can relate)—but given Saul was on the precipice of ending the Afghan War a week earlier, he’s still desperate to salvage something, anything, out of the chaotic inferno that is about to consume U.S. foreign policy for another generation.
“What’s happening right now, this movement toward war, it’s all based on a lie,” Saul lamented to the Russians earlier in the episode. And with Berenson caught in a Groundhog Day-esque repeat of the Iraq War mistakes, he presumably would consider breaking his own cardinal rule to avoid a repeat of such devastation.
So the plot mechanics of Yevgeny’s request to Carrie do feel labored. However, I appreciate the realpolitik depiction of the Russians with their unofficial response to Saul’s request being “we have what we want.” The destabilization of the U.S., both at home and abroad, has revealed itself to be a permanent long-term goal for the nation ruled by a former KGB agent. And nothing could destabilize the U.S. better than yet another quagmire, particularly if nuclear weapons start firing.
That said, this episode feels ultimately like it’s setting a table. While it answers the question of what will be Yevgeny’s pound of flesh, it otherwise is about putting its chess pieces in place for the final movement. It’s agonizing to think Carrie is being asked to betray Saul—and a bit incredulous how it came about if she didn’t even know about a Kremlin mole to begin with—but otherwise the episode is putting the prospect of a bill for both protagonists being placed on the table without actually revealing what its final tally is.
This is crystallized in the night’s climactic moment when a suicide bomber drives his vehicle head-on into a truck full of Americans. But given how disturbing that image is, even almost 20 years after 9/11 and all the death that followed, I’m not sure the overall episode earned the gravity of such a moment. But I suppose we can take that as the last chess piece (or domino?) finding its place.
I wager that after seeing Americans she unintentionally put in harm’s way, Jenna Bragg will be unable to live with the guilt of being duped into facilitating this tragedy—particularly as the event will surely have Jalal’s intended effect of infuriating a feckless White House. As Zabel and President Hayes use the deaths as an excuse to put America and Pakistan on the brink of war, complete with nuclear missiles being aimed in each direction, Bragg will confess to perpetual one-note asshole Mike Dunne that Carrie asked about where the Islamabad safe house is located.
This will occur just as Carrie is laying her cards on the table with Saul and trying to learn the identity of the Russian mole. At which point everything will go sideways, and Saul will in turn have to make a choice of whether he’ll walk away from Carrie. I don’t think he will, and hope he doesn’t after Mandy Patinkin got a beautiful moment to draw a line in the sand. Papa Bear Saul has returned, and I’m willing to bet he’ll stay even as it becomes the end of his career.
I’ll admit that’s just one way this puzzle could play out, but it feels perhaps more honest than Saul and Carrie using their Russian mole to somehow turn the tables on the Kremlin and retrieve the flight recorder without paying a steep price. After all these years of personal loss and sacrifice for both of them, it seems the only way out is by paying the steepest prices ever, be it personal freedom or a life in the agency. (Although I do hope Carrie gets to verbally smack down the Justice Department interrogator one more time before they throw away the key!)
At this point though, we’re just left to speculate about what the full cost. It’s a fair setup for the final two episodes, even if it made this particular hour more frustrating than exhilarating.