This Homeland review contains spoilers.
Homeland Season 8 Episode 4
We all knew this was going to end badly, right? The mood good, Carrie was so at the top of her game, and even Saul got to lower the papa bear boom on the ISI. Everything was working out, and it looked like Homeland was about to establish peace for our time… and in a show this cynical, you knew it would never last.
To be fair, Homeland didn’t hide that the good vibes we were watching were anything but the calm before the storm. The rosy images of President Warner (Beau Bridges) posing with soldiers came with the golden hue of doom—like the surf being sucked out to sea before the tidal wave hits. So for almost the whole hour, we just held our breath as that tower approached.
The flood finally came in the last minutes when not just Warner but also the Afghan president were seemingly assassinated in their downed helicopter, and apparent Taliban fighters shot down the backup chopper. Just like that, all wayward hope that Homeland Season 8 would just be wish-fulfillment about America’s longest war went underwater, and the stage is set for it to drag Carrie down too. And for premium cable, this delayed anticipation was done fairly masterfully.
It begins eerie enough when Carrie is convinced she is being set-up to take the fall for whatever she did or did not say to Yevgeny while under interrogation and off her meds. Ostracized and wheeled out of the Kabul bureau with a military escort, she feels all but humiliated when she hears that Saul Bearenson himself knows about her impending disgrace—save it is anything but that.
Rather Carrie is unexpectedly, and finally, given the respect and adoration her loyal television followers know she deserves. Taken to Bagram Airfield, she thinks she is being placed on a plane but is instead hailed the conquering hero by President Warner. Saul reveals to her that she’s “on deck” because Warner wants to meet with her, personally. As that summoning President of the United States, Beau Bridges’ affable warmth is everything we’ve been missing in the real world for three years now from the Oval Office: He’s kind, observant, and most of all a seeming voice of moral authority. After years, including this season, of one or all colleagues doubting Carrie Mathison’s competence—no matter how many times she’s saved the world—President Warner sees her.
It also makes for the first time on the series that I’m truly appreciative of the Bridges casting. “Grandpa in a flap jacket,” indeed, but he also is a bit like Mandy Patinkin in his ability to conjure fatherly affection, only now without the baggage of multiple seasons of suspicion and passive-aggressive animosity. Instead, the POTUS reveals he’s read Carrie’s file multiple times and credits her for his presidency and all that was gained out of Russia on pain of torture. He is here to give Carrie and audiences’ the catharsis of recognition, even if it’s so small as a pat on the back and a promise of a White House visit—which by the by, pretty much confirmed he was a dead man walking as far as the narrative was concerned.
At this moment though, it is also a chance for Claire Danes to walk down memory lane with Carrie’s trials and tribulations, all with nary a word. The character admits she doesn’t know what to say, but the actor passionately confesses all the emotions over several scenes: gratitude, vindication, sorrow, and astonishment to be standing here with the grateful commander-in-chief. It’s all so bittersweet, as it’s clear as day that she is soon going to be set-up as the fall guy… maybe not entirely unfairly either.
While the rest of the episode plays out, Carrie is sidetracked in a worthwhile B-storyline where she breaks out of the president’s decoy motorcade to save asset Samira from being imprisoned in a burka. This is not to say that all women who wear the long garment are prisoners, but for a woman who’s lived her life outside of one and seeks a career in Kabul after husband’s death, that husband’s brother showing up to drag her to their home village is as chilling as a prison guard opening the cell block’s door on death row. She begs Carrie over the phone to save her, and in another moment of pure audience gratification, Carrie does at gunpoint.
She and Jenna Bragg roll up like a 21st-century cavalry and transport Samira to safety. Yet Carrie’s break away from the motorcade will undoubtedly come into question given how the rest of the episode plays out. Because while Carrie is acting the savior, the good times bitterly come to an end in the main plot of the night. They even began crumbling before Carrie left Bagram Airfield. In what feels like an absurdly impossible situation for any POTUS to talk their way into, Warren has convinced the U.S. military and Secret Service to allow him and his Afghan counterpart to visit the frontline for a global telecast of a peace deal being made. It’s like the scene in Titanic where they talk about speeding through ice-infested waters to make newspaper headlines in New York.
And while Warren is precariously flying by helicopter into a warzone, the pieces are set for a mystery as to why that chopper will never return. At the American embassy, we’re teased that Tanseem, the woman who helped invite the Taliban into attacking a different American embassy during season 4, gets the whisper of a presidential visit from Afghan Vice President G’ulom. She’s been the fly in the ointment everywhere else (and may yet prove to be indirectly responsible for tonight’s tragedy), but she is thwarted here when she demands to have back her cell phone back that was confiscated by American security. Instead, Saul gets to stand imperiously over her and deliver this verbal smackdown:
“Go ahead, yell, scream, I don’t give a shit. Let them know you’re doing everything in your power to stop this day from happening.” One can almost see this becoming a meme around Foggy Bottom for the incompetence of foreign “allies” or our own current White House. It’s delicious.
It’s also short-lived. For as this is going on, Warren announces to the world that peace with the Taliban has been achieved. He and grateful American soldiers who are too young to remember a world where America wasn’t at war pose for pictures. It’s idyllic, optimistic, and all but an invitation to scan the horizons for incoming missiles. Yet still nothing bad occurs—even as Max uncharacteristically agrees to continue his awful subplot on this base as the platoon’s unofficial mascot. I get that he’s doing it because, for the first time since Fara Sherazi died, he has a sense of community and belonging—but this is still a dumb subplot that drags season 8 whenever it occurs.
Yet it will be fortuitous in how it kept Max off the doomed helicopter that’s shot down by what appears to be the Taliban. The actual shoe drops off-screen when we learn as Saul and Carrie do in horror that the helicopter carrying the leaders of the United States and Afghanistan is laying under a plume of smoke on hilly terrain. We get to watch the backup chopper confirm as much before being shot down itself in the episode’s final seconds.
It’s a crushing cliffhanger in which numerous possibilities must be considered: Was the helicopter shot down or did it naturally crash? Are one or both presidents dead, and how did this splinter section of the Taliban know a presidential helicopter would be passing over those woods?
I suspect that either Warner or Warner and the Afghan president are alive. If they weren’t, we would’ve seen the crash. But like any good intelligence officer, you don’t need a shadow of a doubt to make a working assumption of what occurred—the aircraft was downed by enemy forces waiting in the woods, just as they were ready to take out the backup helicopter. And they knew well in advance, even as it was strictly need-to-know that the POTUS would be in the country.
We’ve established Tanseem was not responsible, as she only learned at the embassy of the president’s visit. So who else could be blamed? Obviously, the answer is the Russians. Homeland is nothing if not topical, and it is still unclear why exactly Yevgeny is also in the country this season other than to bedevil Carrie with promises he cares about her personality or something.
Well, that something might be a captured or assassinated POTUS. And worse, Carrie’s in a situation where her friends beyond Saul will disappear fast. As established last week, Mike Dunne already thinks she might be a Russian asset, and it’s implied he’s fought to keep her from getting full security clearance. And while President Warren turned out to be Carrie’s biggest cheerleader ever, he’s lost to the wind as of right now. In the meantime, Vice President Ben Hayes (Sam Trammell) is about to become acting President of the United States. It’s been established he’s an untrustworthy VP, politically working against Warren’s interests in Ohio, and he is the only one who laments the episode’s early good news is all a political stunt to win reelection.
In perhaps the clearest indication why there will probably never be a ticket of a POTUS and VP of different parties in reality, he will work to undermine everything Warren and Saul built in reaching toward peace in Afghanistan, and he has a hell of a pretext given Warren’s seeming death. Like Donald Trump after Barack Obama and the latter’s Iran deal in the real world, the actual facts on the ground matter little when partisan points can be scored.
And a hostile acting POTUS will be happy to search for a scapegoat, which is why Carrie’s departure from the motorcade will become incredibly suspicious. While Jenna Bragg, Samira, and the driver should all be able to verify that she really went to protect an asset, who they saved in a matter of seconds at gunpoint, Mike Dunn is established as being ready to slip a noose around Carrie’s neck without sympathy, and he’ll have a hackish president now looking for a partisan narrative he can spin to his advantage.
And to be honest… there is a chance Carrie is culpable if not in the way she’ll be accused. I wonder—has she been bugged by Yevgeny after last week to unwittingly share information with him? It’s impossible to say she has been brainwashed considering she didn’t know about Warren’s visit until minutes before it happened, but Warren did tell Carrie exactly where he was going before his helicopter was shot down, and if the Russians were somehow able to hear that… well, that’s the ball game.
That or Jenna or Dunne is a mole, but after 24 and Homeland went to that well so many times, I pray that isn’t the case.
In any event, Carrie may be the key of also saving Warren if he is alive. I don’t think it’s narrative coincidence that her old friend Max Piotrowski is staying at the military base nearest the helicopter crash. And he may prove instrumental in recovering a president likely taken by Jalal Haqqani’s dissident Taliban fighters. But that’s a story for another week. In the meantime, we’re left enjoying the taste of ash created by MidEast dreams of peace once again put to the torch.