This Homeland review contains spoilers.
Homeland Season 8 Episode 7
I don’t trust Yevgeny. That needs to be established early and often during the back half of Homeland Season 8, which seems to be designed, at least in part, for Carrie and audiences to let their guards down around the Russian bad man. Still, I won’t deny their scenes are some of the best of the night.
The rogue—and always rogue—American CIA analyst and Russian jack-of-all espionage make for an oddball pairing in their road trip to the Afghan-Pakistani frontier. They also make for very good television as Carrie is forced to grapple with her own legacy while bouncing off a man whose past is probably much, much worse. As Carrie is quick to admit, the obvious elephant in the room is that maybe her CIA colleagues, and definitely the FBI, are going to label her an accessory to presidential assassination and treason right about now. Yet Yevgeny plays it cool, as if he’s just a kind and considerate sounding board waiting for her to state the obvious:
A President of the United States is dead, and the woman who asked him to come to Afghanistan just fled American intelligence officers in favor of getting into a Russian spook’s car. A Russian spook who only a year or so ago tried to undermine American democracy and push a presidency toward dictatorship. This is going to raise some eyebrows, to put it mildly. But even as Carrie lays it all out, Yevgeny is suspiciously nonchalant about the whole thing, acting as the Good Samaritan who wants to help her find a friend.
Of course what he actually does is first take Carrie to an Afghan village she’d previously only seen from the god’s eye view of a drone surveillance camera. In fact, it’s the fateful village where Carrie dropped a bomb intended for Taliban fighters like Haqqani. It wound up slaughtering a wedding party instead. This makes just as much for a powerful scene as it does a chance to reiterate the theme of the whole season, if not perhaps series: We need to take a sober account of the totality of our foreign policy decisions.
Once upon a time, Haqqani was the greatest boogeyman Carrie had ever known, a man who would kill friends at a U.S. embassy; a man she was so desperate to undermine she’d gamble with the lives of civilians in risks that sometimes didn’t pan out. Now she is indirectly working to help Haqqani by saving Max (while Saul is working very directly toward that end) and she gets to revisit the site of the crime. It’s sobering stuff, indeed, when Claire Danes is allowed to just acknowledge with a glance the wary recognition of a destroyed mosque, and then walk through the nearby graveyard. It’s the fruit borne of American foreign policy, and an opportunity to look into the mirror.
Nevertheless, it must have an ulterior motive within the narrative of the season. During their jaunt into the country, Yevgeny is getting Carrie to remember why she left the CIA in the first place after season 4, and after seeing all the dead Americans left by her chase of Haqqani. And it begins with a revisiting of the Drone Queen’s realm. Yevgeny claims he isn’t fucking with her, but the man who deprived her of medication for months as a form of torture is nothing if not a master manipulator.
If I had to guess the endgame, Yevgeny is trying to soften Carrie’s resolve and devotion to the CIA and American foreign policy in general. He is showing her the full extent of her good work while citing Russia’s actual good deeds of rebuilding local mosques instead of burning them. Of course it’s all in the name of acquiring a foothold in the region, yet it’s proven more successful than the drone strikes did. Then again, it was once Russia who lit Afghanistan on fire, but while Pakistani characters remind us of that fact tonight, Yevgeny never does. Instead he wants to put Carrie in a detached position where she may finally be willing to turn on her employer with the full cognizance and knowledge of a mentally healthy woman.
This might also explain the dog and pony show where Yevgeny is able to find Max for Carrie but not stop a local warlord fighter from taking him to another location at the exact moment Carrie hears a wounded Max tell her the episode’s title, “The fucker shot me.” Just as Yevgeny appears to make good on his aid, Max is whisked away to meet with Haqqani the Younger.
This could all be coincidence, but imagine this scenario: you want to turn a disillusioned CIA analyst, so you help her almost save her friend, even visibly threaten a Taliban asset in order to do so, but in the end, it just isn’t quite fast enough to prevent his beheading in front of her helpless eyes. Better still, you manipulate it on a timetable where she has enough time to call for CIA aid but not enough time for them to realistically do anything to help her, further disenfranchising her with the agency’s cause.
I might be overly suspicious, but someone has to be. Carrie is going along in her desperation while seeing Haqqani’s son prepare to butcher one of her last remaining friends. We won’t know until next week if he succeeds, however it is curious that the younger Haqqani asked Max who shot down the president’s helicopter. If it wasn’t his men, nor anyone the Taliban knew about, could the chopper really have just fallen out of the sky due to mechanical difficulties? Or is this just a game being played for Carrie’s benefit? Again, I don’t trust anyone now, but that might be better than trusting the wrong people.
Take for example President Hayes. I still find it a bit unbelievable that someone so fecklessly incompetent would be chosen for vice president, but as it stands, Hayes is coming into focus as a gross intersection of the worst traits of modern 21st century presidents. More comfortable cozying up with strongman and wannabe dictators like G’uolm than his own CIA apparatus, he feels like he is being “cut out of the information loop” because he doesn’t want to hear what that information is.
David Wellington really did look guilty as hell when Hayes walked in to see his National Security Advisor and nondescript intelligence officers discussing how best to prove Haqqani’s innocence—something they can rather easily do. But that’s because Wellington knows they have a president actively working against the interest of gathering intelligence; instead he wants to suppress it. He accuses Saul and Wellington of conspiring to help Warner’s assassin in Haqqani, not unlike accounts of President George W. Bush, months before any public ultimatum, insisting, “Fuck Saddam, we’re taking him out.”
Homeland even has Saul spell out the actual thesis of this season.
“When those helicopters went down, two things changed in my country. An inexperienced president came to power, and the American people were wounded, demanding action. We know what happens next, we’ve been here before. How does a weak president show he’s strong? He goes to war. And that’s what will happen again unless sensible people can put aside their differences.”
The moment Saul lays this out, he is meeting with Tasneem and her retired Pakistani security officer father. The pair give a succinct play-by-play account of America’s mistakes in the Middle East over the last 40 years, beginning with how we handled the onslaught of the Iranian revolution. Even if Saul’s speech convinces Tasneem to help him lean on an Afghan judge, the point of both the speech and her father’s recalcitrance is that we’d make the same mistakes in 2020 that we did in 2001. There is no way Haqqani won’t be held responsible for a terrorist attack against America, even if in this particular instance he is innocent.
While this is going on, Hayes is meeting with G’uolm at Dover Air Force Base, suggesting he cared more about the photo op with the budding Afghan dictator than he did about paying his respects to his predecessor or his widow. It’s so on-the-nose that even when alone with G’uolm in the Oval Office, Hayes’ first inclination is to see how The New York Times is reporting about the meeting rather than the actual meeting itself. He’s more concerned with how people will speculate about his leadership than leading. This is a toxic nightmare Homeland is imagining wherein the same president obsessed with tweets and headlines is also the one hell bent on a war.
And honestly, as Homeland picks at every scab of America’s mistakes in the past two decades, it is creating a frightening scenario where all our worst impulses are coming to the fore. Hence I’m not sure there is a believable or satisfying way to write themselves out of this corner. What Saul asks Tasneem earlier in the night is if we can prevent the U.S. from repeating the sins of the past, and if it’s possible to show we’ve changed. Given the state of modern American politics, and how Homeland is happily drawing parallels between then and now, the sad answer is… No, probably not.
I don’t believe there is a realistic way to stop Haqqani from being executed, even if doesn’t happen next week as G’uolm is still in D.C. (surely he’d want to be in town for that, right?). The drumbeat for a ramp up of troops is being beaten by both G’uolm and a newly introduced political operative who may as well be named not-Paul Wolfowitz. It turns out this week is all about painting a bleak picture for Carrie, for Max, and perhaps for all of us too. And strangely, I find it compellingly easy to go along with at the moment.