Rest in peace, Max Piotrowski. The always-reliable friend to Carrie Mathison is dead, shot by Taliban soldiers after the U.S. president decided he was expendable. Even Carrie knows she always took poor Max for granted. He was a wonderful tool for the writers of Homeland since the first season, when he was introduced as the guy who bugged Nick Brody’s house. Since then, Max was always there when the writers needed someone to do something technical, or when Carrie just needed a favor. He monitored Quinn in her apartment in Brooklyn, infiltrated a sock puppet operation, and his last mission involved finding the truth about the assassination of two world leaders. He’s the kind of guy who not only doesn’t get the headlines, but isn’t even mentioned in the story at all, and yet he’s played a key role in a lot of major world events in the history of Homeland. And he will be missed.
In classic Max fashion, “Threnody(s)” isn’t even really about him. We don’t spend any time with him really, seeing his murder from Carrie’s distant perspective. It’s more of an episode about two men using a world crisis for political power: Ben Hayes and Jalal Haqqani. Yes, the writers are very clearly contrasting the new president and the new leader of the Taliban, which is a daring way to look at world politics. And yet Jalal’s speech to his new men in which he takes credit for the helicopters being shot down feels not that dissimilar to the macho rhetoric being spouted by Hayes and encouraged by his new slimy BFF John Zabel. Both men don’t fully grasp the situation they’re in and don’t seem to care at all about destroying the efforts of the murdered men whose shoes they now fill.
When the episode opens, Haqqani and Max are still alive, being used as pawns against each other. Hayes calls G’ulom, asking him to delay Haqqani’s execution until they can get Max back safely, but that doesn’t last long. Hayes goes into a meeting about a rescue mission for Max and can’t stand the 50/50 odds that he’s being given. With Zabel sitting like a devil on his shoulder, he worries that a failed rescue operation could look worse than sticking to the old American dictum of refusing to negotiate with terrorists. Warner would have gotten Max out. Hayes doesn’t care if there’s a 50 percent chance it hurts his political capital.
And so even after thinking he had some time to save his life, Saul has to watch his friend Haqqani get shot by a firing squad. He doesn’t even die right away, climbing to his feet again and making the squad reload and shoot twice. He’s hard to kill. And his death will be hard on the entire region.
Carrie and Yevgeny, still near the Taliban base in which Max is being held, get the news that Haqqani is dead. Minutes later, as the Taliban is fleeing the base, Max is shot dead. Carrie rushes to his body, cradling her lost friend.
Meanwhile, David Wellington has to do something to stop the poisoning of an already dirty well by John Zabel. He finds a speech that Zabel has written for Hayes that sounds just ridiculous, including rhetoric aimed hard at Pakistan, an ally of the United States. He wants the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan shut and guarded, probably not realizing that it’s 1,500 miles long. (Echoes of a certain promise about a border wall from a certain leader are probably not accidental.) David brilliantly captures Zabel in one line: “You have too many pictures of tanks on your wall.”
Zabel is inherently dangerous because he’s advising on things he clearly doesn’t comprehend, but he becomes even more dangerous when he asks a friend to get Kompromat on someone in the administration so he can have his way. She doesn’t come up with dirty pictures of David Wellington, but she finds something better: video footage of Jalal Haqqani taking credit for the assassinations. Zabel runs with this information to Hayes, knowing that it will win him over to his side. What he doesn’t stop to comprehend is that by giving Jalal credit for the murders, which he very likely did not commit, he is giving him exactly what he wants. The U.S. is playing hype man for him, turning him into a hero to the violent side of the Taliban. They’re doing his job for him, pushing everyone into war.
It feels like the last thing that can stop that is the flight recorder, and Carrie now has an idea where it is. First, she needs a moment to deal with the tragedy in front of her. She blames Saul for not protecting Max, and he lets her have the emotional moment. He’s going to go and help pick up Max’s body and bring Carrie in. And that almost works. Sadly, the men who come with Saul bring restraints and weapons, and Carrie retreats. She goes with Yevgeny, fleeing into the mountains, searching for the truth about what happened to her president, and aware that she’s now working with the enemy to find a way home again.
• Hayes references how a failed rescue mission hurt Jimmy Carter. It’s a reference to the Iran hostage crisis in 1980, which many, including Carter himself, believe lost him the election later that year. Read more here.
• Now that we’re nearing the end of the final season of Homeland, it feels safe to say that the writers devised a relatively simple final season. We haven’t done a lot of globe-hopping — Saul and Carrie have been in the Middle East all year — and we haven’t done anything silly in terms of bringing back characters like Brody or Quinn into the narrative. Yes, they brought back season four characters, but it feels natural and not the sort of “final season stunt” they could have gone with.
• The choices of sound bites in the opening credits always fascinate me, and there are some this final season from the entire run of the show. For some reason, Keane’s “Not every problem in the Middle East deserves a military solution” stood out this week. There have been so many problems in the Middle East this season, and so many failed military solutions.
• The title “Threnody(s)” may be confusing to some. A threnody is a “a song of lamentation for the dead.” And there were two major deaths this week. One gets the feeling they won’t be the last two.