This article contains Homeland spoilers.
There is a point midway through last night’s Homeland where Carrie asks the million-dollar question she should’ve been raising a week ago. After revealing a vulnerable side to Yevgeny Gromav yet again, she turns to her former Russian interrogator and says, “I’m not quite sure what you’re doing here.”
Indeed, what is Yevgeny Gromav doing as he drives Carrie Mathison around the scenic sights of the Afghan and Pakistani border? Introduced last season, Yevgeny was a new series big bad—a Russian SVR officer who spent years orchestrating a disinformation campaign in the United States intended to bring down the very fabric of American democracy itself. Yet one year later, after he essentially tortured Carrie by denying her medication for her bipolar disorder, here he is played unwaveringly cool by actor Costa Ronin, and entirely unreadable.
“I’m trying to find your friend,” Yevgeny succinctly says in an attempt to shut down Carrie’s line of questioning. It works but only because Carrie doesn’t push the matter further. Perhaps she doesn’t want to? On the surface, Yevgeny appears empathetic and considerate of Carrie’s condition and current predicament. But given his status as a Russian spymaster who already orchestrated a plan ripped from our own headache-inducing headlines over the last four years, we have the right to be suspicious.
So let’s do what Carrie will not. Let’s be good little analysts and evaluate the situation and all its scenarios.
He’s Helping Carrie Out of Sympathy
The simplest (yet unlikeliest) of answers is the one that Yevgeny claims. He’s helping Carrie because he can. After all, she came to him in last week’s episode to insist that he owed her a favor after the hell he put her through. Yevgeny acts the tough guy, but as he told her in the season’s third episode, maybe they have a connection that is deeper than just adversaries. He prevented her suicide while she was spiraling due to depression and he went on long walks with her in Russian forests where she told him personal secrets. Unfortunately, all of this appears to be true.
Maybe he really feels some moral responsibility for what happened to her? The show’s writers clearly want us to let down our guard, just like Carrie. She comes to him and pleads for help in saving Max Piotrowski, the last supporting character in her life from season 1 not named Saul. And we want to believe that he is serious about trying out of a sense of at least professional courtesy.
They’re both spies who understand the anguish of leaving a friend behind, so just maybe between that sense of shared loss and respect, as well as shame over what happened to her, he’s lending a helping hand? Yeah sure, and maybe Carrie first approached Nicholas Brody because she thought he seemed like a nice guy…
He’s Turning Her into an Asset
My personal interpretation is he is entirely manipulating her with kernels of truth—such as knowing where Max is—to condition her into being a fully cognizant and willing Russian asset. Consider that the series began with Carrie suspecting Brody was a terrorist cell who had been turned, and we then see through flashback his entirely sympathetic experiences that led him to those bad decisions. Now we’re seeing a vulnerable Carrie being placed in extraordinary situations where she is also making the wrong choice.
While I love seeing Carrie as the hero, and know Claire Danes has the commanding presence to dominate any room full of men, we’ve seen her be America’s savoir for several seasons now. All the while she’s personally lost more and more along the way. In Homeland Season 7, she gave up her daughter and any sense of family in favor of the mission. Could the final season be about taking that mission away from her? I think it’ll at least present the temptation.
Saul is right when he said last week that if she told Yevgeny things about her greatest shame while under a delirium caused by Yevgeny denying her medication, then she’s vulnerable in ways they cannot fathom. And Saul didn’t even know at that point she committed a small act of treason by turning off CIA surveillance of the Afghan border long enough for Yevgeny to place a phone call. Obviously he did set-up helping her locate Max, and by extension maybe the black box that could prove President Warner died in an accident instead of an assassination, but that’s assuming Yevgeny would want to prove Warner died in an accident.
Here is a plausible scenario: Yevgeny wants Carrie to think he’s helping her when, in fact, this little road trip is an excuse to go down unwanted memory lane. It begins by him taking her to the site of a drone strike that left hundreds in a wedding party dead. At the time when Carrie ordered it as the bureau chief in Kabul. The “Drone Queen” thought she was getting Taliban mastermind Haqqani. Instead she killed innocents.
Last night she walked through the graveyard her order helped build. It was a reminder of the horrors wrought by mistaken American foreign policy in the past—specifically Carrie’s policy. It also riles her up enough to finally start asking questions like “are you fucking with me” and “why are you here again?” He claims he isn’t but it’s awfully convenient he needed to stop there to obtain information on Max’s whereabouts—or that Carrie didn’t mention it during walks where she confessed of almost drowning Franny.
When Yevgeny seemingly broke Carrie off-screen during her seven-month Russian imprisonment, he did so by forcing her into an unreliable and unstable state. She doesn’t even know what she said or did during that period of her life, but that also means she was incoherent to Yevgeny and the SVR for much of the time too. Whereas if he can remind her of the disillusionment she felt toward the CIA after season 4—even asking exactly when she first decided to leave the agency in disgust—she’ll be that much closer to turning on them.
Additionally, if he’s set-up a situation where she finds Max but is unable to save him—nor is the CIA who she called in when it was already too late—it could theoretically push her over the edge. At least Yevgeny is probably hoping so.
He is Using Her to Destabilize American Policy
Yet one of the most interesting things about the episode is that we saw the return of Jalal Haqqani, the Taliban leader’s wayward son who attempted to murder his own father. Jalal is the one who plans to execute Max on video during the episode’s cliffhanger ending. As Carrie is prevented from intervening by Yevgeny, she is forced to accept that she alone cannot save her friend—and that Yevgeny is probably right to stay on the other side of the door. After all, he even threatened his own Taliban asset to bring her this far. What a nice guy.
But what if the plan really isn’t to execute Max? Assume, as is likely the case, there will be some deus ex machina reprieve next week that prevents Max from dying, be it the U.S. military finally saving the day or something we’re not expecting. Either way, Max was questioned by Jalal, who seemed curious to know who shot down President Warner’s helicopter.
A personal pet theory I had a few weeks ago was Jalal and Yevgeny somehow knew about the chopper and shot it down in an attempt to frame Jalal’s father and derail the peace talks. Because if recent real world history is any guide, Russian intelligence seems to thrive off creating chaos that destabilizes or weakens American influence in the world. And the U.S. embarking on another decades-long revived war affair in Afghanistan would almost certainly aid Russian influence, just as America benefitted from the Soviet Union spending itself into oblivion in Afghanistan during the 1980s.
This could be a dog and pony show where Max is left to assume the actual guilty party (Jalal) is innocent. If he survives to tell Saul and friends about these events, and without the black box that might prove the president’s chopper crashed due to technical difficulties, then it could be used as a greater pretense by the new Hayes administration to blame it all on Haqqani and ramp up the war effort. In such a scenario, Carrie and Max could be categorized as “useful idiots” in Russian intelligence parlance.
I admit this theory is a bit of a stretch as America is already on the war path, but I admit I just don’t trust Haqqani and would never for a minute dream he is a new kindred spirit for Carrie in the vein of Peter Quinn or Nicholas Brody. Do you?