There’s a world-weariness to the start of this season of Homeland befitting the final run of a show about the current state of the tired world. As Saul Berenson and Carrie Mathison try to broker a seemingly impossible peace in the Middle East, they both bring up how long they’ve been involved in this complex dance. The marker of “18 years” (since 9/11) comes up more than once, and there’s just something in the body language of Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin that reflects the repetitive nature of what they’re attempting, almost a hope that if you bang your head against the wall long enough then maybe it will break. It’s a nice tone to use for the final season, although it could get a little wearying for viewers if it holds too long.
“Catch and Release” is really about two parallel missions by Carrie and Saul. Carrie has to find a way to convince Abdul Qadir G’ulom (Mohammad Bakri) to walk back his comments on the prisoners of war set to be released by the Afghan government to pull them closer to peace with the Taliban. And Saul receives intel from Max that the in-hiding Taliban leader Haissam Haqqani (Numan Acar) is honestly interested in peace. Max needed that surveillance equipment to work so they could be sure that the peace efforts by Haqqani were legitimate, and it appears they are. Sadly, Saul’s excitement over a long-delayed peace forces him to make a crucially wrong decision that could destroy it for another generation.
First, Carrie has to get past the fact that she saw Yevgeny coming out of G’ulom’s office. Why would an Afghan leader be talking to Yevgeny? Are the Russians and Afghans working together again? Almost more disturbing is the final scene of the episode in which Yevgeny implies Carrie knows why he’s there. Well, at least she knew once, but she can’t even remember the majority of her time in captivity. Is it possible she didn’t just give intel in her manic state but set plans in motion of which she is now a part?
G’ulom doesn’t take her seriously at all. He even says she’s changed, not as political or aggressive as she used to be, finding some ineffective middle ground between a gift and a gun. So, what does Carrie do? She goes to find a gun.
Or rather, one lands in her lap. There’s a note on her desk with a name: Samira Noori. It doesn’t take long for Carrie to figure out who that is and why she’s important. (She arguably doesn’t ask enough questions about who dropped the intel or why, but that could be explained by her trauma instead of plot holes or the standard Homeland suspension of disbelief. But you would think Carrie would know to source intel at all times by now.) Samira’s husband was killed by a car bomb intended for Samira herself, and yet she still hasn’t left Kabul. So, clearly, she’s someone with information and possibly still has a plan to try and use it. It could be a set-up or it could be leverage to use against G’ulom. Carrie rolls the dice on the latter.
And she wins. After orchestrating a fake job interview to get Samira out of the house, an operation run poorly by Jenna, Carrie finds a flash drive in Samira’s house with the information she needs: files that prove that G’ulom has been running a scam by way of an army base that doesn’t really exist, the money probably funneled into his own pockets. About that operation, in one of the episode’s most interesting subplots, Jenna makes a crucial mistake, and Samira realizes the interview is a fake. Jenna and her partner panic, basically kidnapping Samira. In the end, it’s kind of a non-event because Carrie ends up with the intel, but could it be foreshadowing of something greater to come? Or perhaps a reason for Carrie to distrust Jenna in the future when she really should give her another chance?
While Carrie is running a mission that takes place in apartments and offices, Saul is crossing the border into Pakistan, without telling the government there what he’s doing. He’s in Peshawar, which is just over the border into Pakistan, about 175 miles from Kabul, but he’s told the Pakistani government that he’s gone back to the States. In actuality, he took one of the P.O.W.s just released and used him as an envoy for peace with Haqqani. He gets the freed prisoner to take a letter to the Taliban leader encouraging peace and a meeting. And then he waits.
And then, in classic Homeland fashion, all hell breaks loose. Moments before the explosions, Max informs Saul that there’s chatter that the ISI — Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s intelligence force — is descending on Peshawar for some reason. The initial assumption is that they’re going to bring in Saul and reprimand him for playing war games in their country, but Saul quickly realizes it’s a much deeper trap. As Haqqani comes to meet with Saul, shots ring out. They’re after Haqqani. Saul is rushed to brief safety before a hood is placed on his head. Who’s got him? The final scene reveals that it’s not the ISI but Haqqani, who has escaped and isn’t too happy with Saul.
Before that final shot of Saul’s reunion with an old friend — don’t forget that Haqqani was a major part of season four — Carrie has a reunion of her own. Celebrating how her blackmail worked on G’ulom in a bar, she runs into Yevgeny, who seems more startled that she’s not happy to see him and reveals that he’s the one that gave her Samira Noori. He even says, “Don’t play dumb,” as if even his being there in that bar was a part of their plan. Uh oh. Carrie, what have you done?
• The credits are back! Some shows work better with a stark single word credit but there’s something tone-setting about the Homeland credits that has always been effective. The final line this year in the sound and video montage that covers most of the run of the entire series could be informative on where the season is going. It’s Saul’s: “I believe you. No one else will.”
• It feels like we should go back and watch season four, right? It’s clear that this final season is going to rely heavily on the action of that one, even bringing back characters, while also reflecting the initial premise of an American who may or may not be a foreign asset. And this time the asset isn’t even sure herself.
• Let’s talk this through: Yevgeny seems to congratulate Carrie on the G’ulom mission as if they’re working together. The implication in the premiere is that the Russians are still connected to the Taliban because we’re led to believe that they passed on the identity of Carrie’s asset in Kabul to have him killed. So if Yevgeny’s mission is to aid the Taliban, let’s remember that the name of Samira forced G’ulom to walk back his opposition to the release of the Taliban prisoners of war. Maybe there’s someone in there who really matters to the Russians. And maybe Carrie is working, without her knowledge, to get him out.