This Homeland review contains spoilers.
Homeland Season 8 Episode 2
If last week was about reintroducing us to Carrie’s plight—as well as a chance to take grim stock of the world Homeland has dramatized for years—then this week was the actual table setter of the season. Divided in a classic A and B storyline, “Catch and Release” splits up the objectives of its two leads and intriguingly echoes some of the story beats of season 4 while promising that this will be going in a striking new direction, complete with Russian interference (oh my!).
In the case of Carrie, tonight pretty much wraps up the narrative pretense the writer’s room used to bring someone so theoretically fragile into the thick of things. Presented to have some history with Afghan Vice President Abdul G’ulom, she is there to find the requisite pressure needed to be placed on the insubordinate politician. Picking up minutes after the revelation last week that Yevgeny had just met with G’ulom, a visibly shaken Carrie is forced to immediately walk into the lion’s den.
Mohammad Bakri does sterling work of oozing arrogance and doting contempt as G’ulom. Forced to suggest an entire relationship in a single scene, the transactional level of respect he has for Carrie is underlined by his insults: The Carrie he knew wouldn’t have come into his office begging for him to do the right thing—she’d have a gift or a proverbial gun to his head. When he scoffs “what happened to you?” he all but outright states she’s damaged goods in his eyes, undoubtedly due to what Yevgeny told him just moments ago. Claire Danes responds with her patented ability to simultaneously rally and crumble in a single stare. Fine then, if he only responds to bribery or menace, Carrie will find that gun.
In classic Homeland fashion, we’re allowed to see Carrie work at the top of her skillset… once she has a lead thanks to an anonymous tip on her desk. The tip leads Carrie to a woman whose husband was killed for criticizing G’ulom’s corruption, and she in turn leads Carrie to leverage over the vice president. Along the way, however, some interesting developments occur. My theory about Jenna Bragg being a faux-rookie intended to cozy up to Carrie proved to be for naught since she really did bungle the operation to manipulate Samira Noori. Instead of coming off as a potential NGO head hunter, Jenna all but announced that she was some type of U.S. government spook and got her face snapshotted on a phone. And her response? To black bag Samira.
For the time being, Carrie was able to make it right but not before admitting to Samira that she’ll do nothing to truly punish G’ulom… only that she’ll hurt his hold on power. I doubt this plot thread is over given she more or less left Samira out to dry, but it raises some interesting ideas just for tonight. If Jenna really is borderline incompetent at spy work and she’s all Mike Dunne—Carrie’s effective boss—will provide Carrie with for assistance, can Ms. Mathison truly run an effective operation in Afghanistan? That might become life or death in the weeks to come. For now, however, it’s a dangling thread Carrie manages to avoid tripping over while learning that G’ulom has been soaking both the American military and his own government for years to the tune of $14 million a year. Aye, that’s the annual price tag on a phantom 25th battalion that doesn’t exist.
It’s enough for Carrie to put the gun to G’ulom’s head and get him to bend to American pressure for a peace deal. It also makes Carrie a one-night hero to Mike Dunne and the rest of the station house in Kabul. But the cliffhanger of this storyline suggests everything we’ve so far seen is merely prologue. After all, more important than Mike and Jenna, it is Yuvgeny who visits Carrie’s victory lap party…. And he reveals it was also him who tipped Carrie off to start investigating Samira.
How did Yevgeny know that Carrie was looking for dirt on G’ulom, and more importantly why would he help her? It seems that the two of them talked quite a bit about Afghanistan in her delirium, as we gathered last week that she gave up an asset who was dragged from his home and murdered. Now the Russian GRU thinks it’s in their best interest to have Carrie and the U.S. government bringing G’ulom to heel? Why?! As season 8 begins to unfurl its true plans, it seems less about Carrie being able to reassert her old power over Afghanistan but her learning how much Russia is controlling her actions… and just how compromised she is.
There is a layer of meta-commentary to this in an election year where the President of the United States has all but announced the windows are unlocked and the front door is open for Russian interference, and it remains maddeningly ambiguous how much cooperation exactly is occurring between the White House and Kremlin. Now we have a heroine who doesn’t even know herself how compromised she is, and whether her mental illness has turned her into what Russians call a “useful idiot”… or whether her actions are even her own.
Further, if Tanseem is possibly working with the Russians, how long until she tries to turn Carrie for real? We’ve seen her do it before.
That ambiguity of intent is echoed in tonight’s B-plot, which is certain to kick off the true crisis for the rest of the season: While Carrie brings G’uolm to the table, Saul is kidnapped by a Taliban who has discovered a deceptive reason to walk away from the same table.
Thanks to Max’s miracle bugging of the Pakistani border last week, Saul knows that Haqqani genuinely is tired of warfare over Afghanistan and would welcome peace over another 18 years of bloodshed. Even if we swallow that big pill that he’d be able to bend the rest of the Taliban warlords to his will on this issue, Saul realizes he needs to entreat with Haqqani directly. This leads to a disastrous clandestine operation in Pakistan where Saul sets up a special envoy with Haqqani. It’s an envoy that Tanseem Qureishi and Pakistani intelligence rather conveniently deduce and intercept.
Fearing an Afghanistan government immune to listening to their whims, Tanseem stages an attack on Haqqani’s envoy that makes it appear as if the Americans had double-crossed the Taliban. When the episode ends, we’re left with the surreal sight of a former CIA Director saying “thank God” at the sight of a living Taliban fighter who stormed a U.S. embassy a few years ago and murdered 30 Americans. He doesn’t even seem to mind when Haqqani smashes his face in.
It’s a cliffhanger that deliberately repeats story beats from season 4: Saul has been kidnapped by the Taliban and is being held hostage against his will. On paper it is in an invitation for Homeland to run in place, but there is more, obviously, at work than meets the eye. In truth, Saul and Haqqani are on the same page and have been set-up to be adversaries by Tanseem. Additionally, Saul has not been taken in an act of terrorism but as a response to what is mistakenly perceived as an act of aggression.
I suspect Saul’s tenure with the Taliban will be much shorter in season 8 than 7, and it will be a chance for respective leaders of American foreign policy and Middle Eastern extremism to finally sit down and consider the fruit borne from 20 years of strife.
This season of Homeland is about confronting the ghosts of our past, and now the two driving forces of this haunted carousel are face to face. Where this leaves Saul and Carrie for the rest of the season is on uncertain ground. And yet, it’s turf Homeland knows all too well. After all, this is the world we built by burying Brody, Quinn, and every other lost soul. Now it’s time to find out if it’s been worth it…