Homeland gains a bit of surreal traction in our current climate as it captures a world dealing with an international crisis while reality is in the middle of, well, an international crisis. No one on Homeland is falling ill (yet), but scenes in which the newly appointed president of the United States debates the best course of action to stave off panic and unrest feel timely in a way that the creators couldn’t have possibly expected when they wrote them. As people are forced into an increased state of quarantine, they will turn to shows for escapism, but Homeland offers a different form of it, a funhouse-mirror reflection of reality, in another solid episode that features one of the best scenes ever between Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin.
“Two Minutes” is really about people acting against the interest of their own country for personal reasons. Whatever you think of Carrie Mathison, and whatever the final shot means in terms of how her loyalty will be defined now, she does what she does this week out of loyalty to Max above all else. If it was someone else caught behind enemy lines, she wouldn’t have done it. That’s a personal reason. President Hayes is convinced that ignoring his smartest advisors in Kabul will lead to a defining moment of his new presidency, and that’s personally motivated. And don’t get started on G’ulom.
At the start of the episode, the world is mourning, and Max is marching. He still has the flight recorder in his backpack, and he tries to escape while his captor takes a leak, attempting to get the attention of an overhead drone, but only getting shot in the back. Sadly, this decision ultimately leads to the recorder, and the truth about what happened on that helicopter, being taken into the mountains on a donkey after being sold to what is basically a pawn shop. Will we ever see it again?
Meanwhile, President Hayes gives his first speech, quoting Lyndon Baines Johnson, who said after the assassination of JFK, “All I have I would have given gladly not to be standing here today.” Clearly, this is truer for him than others, as Hayes is undeniably being portrayed as a man not quite ready for the moment into which he’s been thrust. Discuss amongst yourselves how this should be compared to our current leader.
As suspected last week, people are starting to look closer at Carrie Mathison and her actions over the last 24 hours. It doesn’t help that Mike and Jenna finally hear the cleaned-up audio from her meeting with Yevgeny, and everything that comes with it. Of course, it’s not like Carrie tells a Russian asset that the president is coming to Kabul, but the call reveals the close connection she has with him, and how much he knows about her. She’s vulnerable to him in ways that she needed to disclose to her superiors, and Saul later points out in ways that she herself would exploit in an enemy asset.
And she’s vulnerable in ways she doesn’t seem to quite understand. When she learns that not enough resources are being expended on finding Max, she makes the decision to turn to Yevgeny, who she knows can reach the Taliban. It’s an insane idea initially that gets exponentially crazier when Yevgeny asks her to essentially sabotage U.S. surveillance of the region so he can make a call to find Max. While everyone is trying to figure out who killed two world leaders, Carrie shuts down the system that is designed to figure out the truth. What exactly did Yevgeny do in that two-minute window? And what happens when the system reveals that it was off for that long to Carrie’s superiors?
As Carrie is acting out of personal interest, so is G’ulom, who now leads Afghanistan, and wants to use his new power to destroy the Taliban and Haqqani. He’s convinced that the Taliban leader was behind the assassinations, and he orders his men to round up all of the Taliban in Kabul, men who came down from the hills in the pursuit of peace. It’s a fascinating decision by the writers to make the Taliban the victims of this season’s arc, revealing further how we can never be sure who are allies and enemies are in any given moment.
As G’ulom plans to massacre 300 Taliban members in a soccer stadium, Saul and his team realize this would lead to war. Embassies and bases wouldn’t be protected anymore, and violence would erupt across the Middle East. They try to talk Hayes into pressuring G’ulom to do the right thing, urging him to tell the new leader that American aid will cease if they execute Taliban members. Hayes, after getting a refresher on how to pronounce G’ulom, calls the man and urges due process. But G’ulom basically convinces Hayes that his advisors are wrong, and that aggression must be met by strength. Yikes.
When Mike tells Saul that Carrie met with Yevgeny again, you can practically see his blood pressure rise. At least Mike gives Carrie the benefit of the doubt, telling Saul that she may have “unwittingly” led to the assassination of the president of the United States. Saul goes to confront Carrie about defying his orders. “You had a relationship complicated enough to lie about it,” he says. Yevgeny saved her life, which makes using him in any political capacity dangerous.
This is the best scene of the year so far, a tense exchange that’s both character- and narrative-driven, anchored by the years of dynamic that Danes and Patinkin have built up over the entire run of the show. There’s a reason it’s quoted more than once in the soundbites that accompany this season’s credits. She says she’s not leaving Max. Would she really have a choice? Saul almost explodes when he finds out what she did that day, going to Yevgeny to help find Max. The CIA will pursue it, and she has 30 minutes to get to a plane.
Seemingly moments later, while Saul is still outside waving good-bye to Carrie, Haqqani turns himself in, knowing that he’s safer with the U.S. government than the Afghani. What will Hayes do with him? Will his head explode considering the choices, à la Scanners?
Jenna watches Carrie descend the gangway to a plane to go back to rehab in Germany, but she bails at the last minute, running down a set of stairs and jumping in a car with … Yevgeny. Now what?
• “Two days was a long time ago.” I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a line on a Sunday night drama that I believe I also heard on that morning’s political talk shows. Much like our coronavirus situation changes every day, the dynamic on this season’s Homeland feels believably amplified. It’s not hard to see the whole rest of the season playing out in only a few days.
• Patinkin has been remarkable the last couple episodes, finding the subtle details in Saul that have long distinguished this performance. He’s often the smartest man in the room, but just as often in a situation in which no one is listening to him. Just his body language as he tried to convince Hayes to do the right thing was perfect. And then that scene with Danes was one of his best.
• What exactly does the final shot mean? There’s a confidence in Carrie’s stride and in the way it’s shot that makes it feel like part of a plan more than a last-minute rescue mission. And how did she arrange that in the 30 minutes from when Saul was in her office to boarding the plane?
• What now? We’re halfway through the final season. What do you hope to see in the final half of the last year of Homeland?