This Homeland review contains major spoilers.
Homeland Season 8 Episode 6
Carrie really is going there this time. After many seasons of watching her do what all TV and movie spies love—going rogue—she picked what is almost certainly the wrong time to pursue insubordination. At least if the series follows through on its often clear-eyed pragmatism, that is the only way to interpret her willingly getting into Yevgeny’s car on the Afghan tarmac.
It’s a hell of a cliffhanger but really the only narrative development that could occur after the real climax of the night. Because the best scene of the episode didn’t involve war rooms or last minute deceptions on the runway below German-bound flights. Rather the real fireworks came several minutes earlier when two people sat down and talked in a hotel room. One of them was Carrie, and the other was her mentor, confronting what felt like a long and painful goodbye.
When Saul Berenson came to directly address Carrie’s (mis)handling of Yevgeny and Russian intelligence, he couldn’t dare fathom how far down the rabbit hole Carrie and the audience have vanished. Earlier in the night, she helped the Russians transmit covert communications with the Taliban. But in the moment when Saul and Carrie met that detail hadn’t boiled over (yet). Even so, the noose Carrie and her showrunners have made for her was clearly tightening.
Saul and Carrie have always had the most interesting relationship in the series. While fans loved Carrie and Brody’s ambiguous frenemy romance, and liked the equally tragic one between her and Quinn, it has been Saul and Carrie’s familial connection which has not only lasted the longest, but remained the most nuanced. Ostensibly a mentor and once-intended protégé, the pair have all the markings of great allies who should be on the same team. But from the very first episode of the series where Carrie crudely (and mistakenly) tried to seduce her boss, there’s been a constant negotiation of power and trust between the pair that remains eternally in flux.
Saul loves Carrie like a daughter, and as TV viewers who are invested in each character, we enjoy when the papa bear dynamic is playing at the forefront. However, he is also a staunch believer of realpolitik practicality, which has put him at odds with Carrie’s more idealized absolutism, even in spy games, as much as its put them on the same page over the years. And though they’ve pooled their resources again in more recent seasons, there is still a bitter utilitarian streak in Saul.
We saw at the beginning of season 8 when he put Carrie in a war-torn country despite her doctors saying she wasn’t ready. Now in tonight’s episode, “Two Minutes,” he’s confronting her because he’s learned from Mike Dunne that she is at the very least emotionally compromised by Yevgeny, and most definitely vulnerable of becoming a political scapegoat.
Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin are terrific in this scene, because once again Carrie’s absolutism is bumping up against Saul’s practicality, and this time, it appears that there is little reconciliation in sight. The sheer look of incredulity on his face when Carrie tells him that she was in contact with Yevgeny this morning and that he totally promises he has a lead on Max’s whereabouts amongst the Taliban is a beautiful blend of dismay and disbelief. The woman he picked to be his successor is walking into what should most obviously be a trap.
“My God,” Saul mumbles, “You are vulnerable in ways neither of us can imagine.” He is referring to how Mike Dunne’s audio recording revealed Carrie’s most shameful secret: she almost drowned Franny when the child was still a baby. It’s the type of confession that could derail any career in American intelligence, never mind that they learned of it because she hazily whispered it to the Russians!
Claire Danes, who after nine years can play crusading hero with the same naturalism as breathing air, gives her familiar passionately defensive speech about finding Max. Indeed, the techie’s flight recorder might prove the President of the United States died due to technical errors instead of a terrorist attack. However, even before Saul’s confrontation, I was aghast at watching her plead with Yevgeny for help, shocked she could not see that this is exactly how assets and double agents are turned.
For once, I think the show wants us to more than just second-guess Carrie’s brazenness; we are meant to rue it. If the final season continues on this trajectory, Carrie’s last arc might be her becoming like Nicholas Brody: a complex patriot who was “turned” (if not fully) for entirely sympathetic reasons. No matter what, Mike Dunne will make sure the fix is in, because of course it is being used against Carrie that she suggested the POTUS come to Afghanistan to discuss the peace treaty.
Saul even suggests what the FBI and Mike Dunne would think: Carrie contacted Yevgeny sometime between meeting President Warner and his helicopter being shot down. This of course should be preposterous as Jenna Bragg never left Carrie’s side in that hour and saw her receive a call from a woman in trouble, whom they both then saved from her brother-in-law at gun point. But in a time where facts seem to matter less and less, Saul is right to say “you will become the center of an investigation that will define the rest of your life.” And rather than doing the logical thing any spook in the real world would consider—rely on other CIA resources than the Russians—Carrie threw in her lot with the man she saw try to deliberately undermine American democracy last season.
It’s a bit hard to swallow unless you actually believe Carrie is on some level emotionally vulnerable to Yevgeny. She is not responsible for what happened to Warner, but she is responsible for aiding Russian intelligence. Does she actually think Yevgeny will help her save America from an Afghan quagmire redux? Yes, he made a call into Taliban territory thanks to her blinding CIA surveillance in a wholly absurd scene with only one man and computer responsible for all cell phone monitoring. But who’s to say Yevgeny actually is putting through Carrie’s request?
A more realistic scenario is he called contacts in the Taliban to secure Max’s flight recorder (which is amusingly being sold for spare parts in the equivalent of an Afghan general store) so the Russians can use it as a tool against U.S. interests. Particularly if they can just bury it while America cedes more moral authority in the Middle East and global stage.
For in the other main narrative of the night, President Hayes is turning out to be a unique blend of incompetent and ignorant. Last week, I mused Hayes was a bit like George W. Bush right after 9/11 when he found himself in over his head and made regrettably bad calls. Yet the fictional Hayes is so far beyond that this evening that he more resembles medieval kings like Guy of Lusignan, who would agree with whomever talked last.
So it is when Hayes and audiences alike learn that the newly minted President G’uolm is turning Afghanistan into a dictatorship overnight. Rounding up over 300 Taliban prisoners in a football stadium, G’uolm has revealed himself to be some kind of Christopher Nolan Batman villain who’s given Taliban leader Haqqani an ultimatum to turn himself in during the next 24 hours or watch all these prisoners be executed. It’s obviously barbaric, yet when President Hayes calls his Afghan counter to threaten American assistance if such an atrocity were to take place, he finds himself being roped into agreeing it is the best way to deal with the Taliban.
Earlier in the episode, Saul was allowed another gruff line-of-the-night where he barked to G’uolm’s face that he might now suspect the former Afghan Vice President as being responsible for this chaos. Yet now that appears empty if the American president is going to go along with it. One doesn’t need to be obsessively up-to-date on political headlines to notice this echoes current world leaders in the West cozying up to dictators and strongmen in Russia, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea, but even then this exact situation on Homeland feels a little far-fetched. Of course we’ll have to wait to see how it plays out in the coming weeks.
For now though, Haqqani picked the wrong time to put his faith in American integrity. By turning himself into the American embassy, he thinks like he’ll get a fair trial (which is an odd choice since even if it’s fair, he’s committed war crimes he’d be found guilty of). But given how suggestible Hayes is, I imagine American integrity is going to be in short supply.
This is creating a domino situation for Carrie and all the characters caught in Homeland’s web, which is compelling but honestly also a little forced. It is difficult to imagine a Taliban leader trusting in America’s morality when for nearly two decades he’s seen fallout from American drones, just as it’s difficult to imagine the entire CIA apparatus treating the downed American helicopter’s flight recorder as a low priority. I understand the military aspect of wanting to prioritize protecting potential targets, but the CIA not caring about having all the available information from the last moments of a potentially assassinated POTUS? Worse leaving such valuable information in the hands of the enemy? Unlikely. But here we are with Carrie as the lone woman on the cross, running around jamming printers and deceiving unhelpful techies.
Like Warner picking someone who is now so obviously unqualified and incompetent—and from the other party—as his emergency vice president, these cascading series of bad choices ring a little ludicrous. It also prevents this episode from being quite as potent as the last two weeks. Nonetheless, I won’t deny I’m enjoying the ride into anarchy. Particularly whenever Danes and Patinkin are sharing the screen.