This Homeland review contains spoilers.
Homeland Season 8 Episode 9
The penny finally dropped, like a presidential chopper plummeting out of the sky. Yes, I am partially referring to physical evidence that proves President Warner and his unnamed Afghan counterpart died in a purely accidental helicopter crash. However, it also applies to Yevgeny and Carrie’s relationship developing (or devolving?) in the only direction it could: manipulation and betrayal.
I will admit that I was wrong in my evaluation of Yevgeny these past weeks as being purely Machiavellian in his motivations. Indeed, the big scene of the night finally breaks down the unspoken duplicitousness that existed between the Russian and American spies, shattering the quiet with a fireworks show of two-way exploitation. To reach this scene, Yevgeny first had to pretend he’s stupid enough to think Carrie would wait for him while getting her hands on the flight recorder that proves the American president’s death was an accident; meanwhile Carrie drives a possible romantic connection between herself and Yevgeny to the foreground.
Ever since Yevgeny had a heart-to-heart with Ms. Mathison during the third episode of the season, it’s been hinted and teased that they more than just took long walks in the woods; there may have been a romantic or sexual component to their interviews. While I entertained it as a possibility—Carrie’s shown a questionable choice in men more than once in the past—I always believed that Yevgeny had read Carrie’s file and heard stories about Brody, and was attempting to mimic that conflicted foe for her. And yet, it is he who is tempted into throwing away the advantage when lips are locked.
The moment occurs because Carrie has finally found the little black box (though it’s actually red) with the truth on it. It was already deliciously tense as Carrie negotiated with an unnamed Arab buyer over ownership, paying $1 million in taxpayer money to acquire it. But in her rush to verify that it proves Warner’s death was an accident, she leaves herself open for Yevgeny to slip in beside her (and slip her gun into his pocket) while they both hear the truth.
“Fucking helicopters” is right. For the first time in weeks, Carrie actually evaluates the threat level of Yevgeny seriously, even though he hasn’t yet indicated that he has men outside the door. Realizing this is an atom bomb-sized weapon in the intelligence world, she immediately preys on a relationship he’s only hinted at. He responds enthusiastically in kind. Not for a moment do I think either Carrie or Yevgeny really believe they could establish their own “private network” between America and Russia. It was Carrie’s sudden last desperate Hail Mary in the face of inevitable defeat. But Yevgeny’s reaction suggests there is some actual feeling between the former captor and captive.
Personally, I hope the series lets this be the end of the “will they or won’t they” (or “did they or did they not?”) sexual tension between the pair. Because in addition to his betraying her tonight, the fact remains Carrie only was in a “relationship” of some kind with him because he kept her prisoner and denied her medication, which weakened her ability to assess her environment and the monsters hidden within it. He really did prey on Carrie, and while he might’ve convinced himself there was some chivalrous aspect to driving her into the desert, deep down he always was looking for an angle to exploit. He hit jackpot when Carrie admitted to him last week that she’s looking for a flight recorder.
Seeing Carrie attempt to turn that admission into a strength with Yevgeny in her arms echoed when things fell apart during her sting operation against Nicholas Brody in season 2. She sees the sand evaporating beneath her feet and that the tsunami is imminent, yet she still attempts to chase the wave. But while with Brody she had Saul, Max, and the CIA in the other room, now she is alone and Yevgeny, despite his reluctance, lets Carrie go. First he drugs her, then he steals the flight recorder, and finally he leaves her in a hotel room for the cliffhanger.
I am honestly surprised he didn’t take her as a prisoner again since I think his first motive when driving out to the border was to turn Carrie into an asset. Maybe he realizes that’ll never happen—or maybe it just doesn’t matter given how thoroughly FUBAR her situation now is. Like Haqqani’s pleas of being innocent, Saul will believe her when she says she heard the flight recorder that is now in the hands of Russian intelligence. No one else will.
It’s a hell of a development and unlike the non-Max scenes of last week, it feels like a natural progression for the events this season. Seeing Carrie stumble around a small square and negotiate midnight rendezvouses is always truer to her personality than those middle seasons’ attempts to turn her into Jack Bauer, running down a German subway with a gun. She’s in her element in the field, but she’s not naturally a field agent. And the mistakes she made are about to come home to roost.
For instance, she burned her bridge with rookie Jenna Bragg when she used her to set-up the CIA’s Islamabad safe house. It was a savvy move at the time, because there was no way she could get to the flight recorder with those men hunting her, however she now will be forced to make the case that she did that for a flight recorder that… could be in Russia. And the only person who might support her desire to track it down again isn’t even in country.
The other major development of the night is Saul discovering how outside the loop he’s been pushed by neocon John Zabel and our new feckless President of the United States. Summoned to the Oval Office for what was practically a professional execution, the quiet and useless David Wellington revealed afterward he had no idea Saul was even in D.C., much less scheduled for a meeting with the president. It’s might be a mystery then why Zabel hadn’t convinced Hayes to fire Saul on the spot.
Even though Hayes at least entertains listening to Saul, his transformation into the Ghost of American Mistakes Past, Present, and Future is already complete. He’s too slow and inexperienced to understand the nuance of intelligence gathering, and too bellicose and ignorant to think more than one step ahead. Zabel says with all the assurance of a foreign policy lightweight that he’s sure Pakistan will play ball with an American ultimatum to turn over Jalal Haqqani. Is there a chance Zabel could be his son-in-law?
Meanwhile Homeland offers a fascinating and strangely sincere consideration of the Pakistani point-of-view. For once, Tasneem’s perspective isn’t presented as that of a villain, or at least an antagonist. Rather it’s our gateway into a dangerous sojourn into the mountains. Black bagged and threatened as she’s taken to Jalal Haqanni, Tasneem does not find a new Taliban leader filled with deference or respect to her grievances. Instead of standing down from rattling his sword in America’s direction, Jalal reveals he’s assembled an army of Taliban warlords and challenges the ISI to stop him.
I am sure there could be a pointed critique about Homeland sensationalizing the Arab world in this scene to cultivate American anxieties that still linger from the 2000s, but it’s telling this sequence is told through Tasneem’s eyes. Pakistan and ISI’s ability to work with and manipulate the Taliban (or worse) has been an endless frustration for American intelligence, reaching its lowest point when it appeared that that Pakistani intelligence knew where Osama bin Laden was hiding before a fateful (and unsanctioned by Pakistan) raid in 2011. That frustration even informed much of the fictional conflict of Homeland Season 4.
However, in this moment, we can viscerally sample the threat to Pakistani solvency these guerrillas and warlords pose, and are reminded of Pakistan’s previous attempts to control these literal cavemen by force, which resulted in a thousand deaths. Suddenly I have new appreciation for the unwinnable predicament of a government with an insurgent force on their borders that they would rather have aimed at Afghanistan than internally, and then the pressure from an American “ally” who is being routinely lied to.
Would an American ultimatum help or exacerbate the problem? On Homeland, it’s leading to Pakistan implicitly threaten nuclear retaliation. I am no expert on Pakistani and American relations and have no idea how realistic this situation is, however seeing a political novice in the White House blunder into an international emergency on the Afghan border? Yeah, considering we witnessed a similar incident on the Iraq/Iran frontier only a matter of months ago, this feels chillingly believable.
Thus the deck is stacked ever higher against Carrie, who just handed Russian intelligence a hell of a weapon. Perhaps the GRU would rather America not create more instability in the region? Yet what’s more likely is they’d desire to bury it, just as the U.S. buries itself in Afghanistan in a way not seen since the Soviets invaded in the ‘80s. Hell, this evidence could even be used as a pressure point on Hayes during the next presidential election.
Carrie has a hell of an alarm clock waiting for her when she wakes up, but it’s a sign the final season is again firing on all cylinders, so I’m anxious to hear that clock go off as soon as possible.