Consider all the elements that had to align in very specific ways to get to the ending of this week’s Homeland, in which a suicide bomber from the Taliban crashes into a bus of U.S. operatives being returned by the Pakistani government on the border between that country and Afghanistan. The brilliance of this very strong season has been in how the writers have captured that events like suicide bombings don’t exist in a vacuum as a singular event — they are the culmination of dozens of decisions on both sides. Set aside the “big plot” of the assassination of two world leaders and think about how many characters have been involved in bringing this event into existence through minor decisions episode to episode. It’s almost the entire cast.
Of course, the main link in this chain is Carrie traveling with Yevgeny into Pakistan after the flight recorder, and then tricking Jenna into revealing the location of the team that was following her. If Carrie doesn’t make that call or Jenna doesn’t fall for the scam, none of this happens. But it’s also Hayes and Zabel playing tough in the White House, leading David to suggest that Pakistan needs to release the prisoners, who then become targets. Also consider how Hayes essentially turned Jalal Haqqani into a hero by claiming he killed the president, or how Qureshi could have really just left the kid in a ditch a few weeks instead of salvaging a warmonger. They are also links in this chain. And then consider the fact that those U.S. soldiers aren’t on that bus if Saul and the former leader of the Taliban had never tried to negotiate peace at all. If one starts to think how past seasons of this show — or U.S. policy in the region after 9/11, for that matter — influenced this specific event, it becomes almost overwhelming. This excellent season of Homeland has captured the complexity of peace in the Middle East in ways we haven’t really seen on TV before, and it all climaxed this week in a tragedy that will almost certainly lead to war.
Before that, Carrie has been released by Yevgeny, who has fled the area with the flight recorder. But she remembers what she heard, quickly scribbling down the important elements of what the pilot said before the copter crashed, confirming not much later at Bagram that it was a mechanical issue — metal in the engine — that really started these dominoes falling. Sadly, no one is going to believe Carrie Mathison. And so she knows she needs to get back the actual flight recorder, which is now in the possession of the Russians. She tells Saul everything she knows and begs him to pull as many strings as possible. He will learn there are no strings to pull.
Meanwhile, President Hayes and the increasingly loathsome John Zabel are pushing Pakistan to turn over Jalal Haqqani, whom they don’t have. As Pakistan moves weapons to the border, aiming them at U.S. troops, the ignorant new leader of the United States is pushing the world into a situation it can’t survive. However, David Wellington suggests that Pakistan can turn over the operative that Carrie and Jenna got arrested, a good faith gesture that is about to go horribly wrong.
Before that happens, Saul meets with his Russian contact, and begs him to get that recorder back, whatever the cost. He will quickly learn there is no cost. The Russians claim not to have it or know anything about it, but the implication here between the lines is that the Russians just don’t want to give it back. They want chaos. The real world has grappled with this idea more strongly for the last four years, the suggestion that international turmoil and unrest is good for Russia. Would the real Russia withhold evidence about the death of the U.S. president to push that country and the Middle East to a war that could lead to nuclear fallout? It’s a fascinating thing to consider.
Who can save the day?!? Who else would you expect in the last season of Homeland? Yevgeny Gromov goes to Carrie and puts it on the table: The only way to get the recorder back is to reveal the identity of a U.S. double agent within the Kremlin. It’s one of Saul’s agents, who is in so deep that most people deny his existence. Saul will never give him up, so Carrie will have to somehow figure out his identity on her own. Would she betray a fellow agent, and Saul for that matter, to save the world? And could she possibly save her own reputation if she does? It’s a thematically resonant lose-lose in that Carrie has to betray her country to save it, becoming a double agent to stop nuclear World War III.
A question worth asking at the end of this hour is if she’ll even have the chance. With Zabel pushing Hayes to nuke the entire Middle East from orbit, people like Saul and David aren’t going to be able to talk him out of it after a suicide bombing, are they? Can you imagine a goodwill gesture from a potential war enemy going that wrong and it not leading to an intense military response? Hayes has been wanting to flex his muscles, and the deaths of U.S. soldiers on the Pakistani border is going to give him the opportunity to do just that. Will Carrie or anyone else be able to stop him?
• They’ve written themselves into this kind of a situation before, but doesn’t it feel like there’s now suddenly a ton of narrative to wrap up in just two episodes? They basically ended this hour with an event that could start World War III. And now they have only two hours to wrap up that and the entire arc of an eight-season show.
• About that arc: How do you think where this show is ending reflects where it began? There’s the issue of the double agent that started the show being mirrored in what Carrie has done and has to do now. There’s also the recurring theme of Carrie feeling like she didn’t do enough in the past, and she may now be able to stop carnage she couldn’t before. Would she literally sacrifice herself to do so? What if she goes to jail or dies to stop WWIII? Do you need a happy ending for Carrie to be satisfied?
• Danes has been great this season, but it’s also been Mandy Patinkin’s best in years. He has brilliantly captured the bone-deep exhaustion that Saul Berenson has to be feeling right now, watching potential peace turn into possible nuclear war. When his voice cracked while talking to Carrie, Patinkin reminded us of Saul’s deep humanity. I’d love to see him get another Emmy nod for this year’s work.
• Two episodes left! It seems unlikely that Homeland ends in nuclear war in the Middle East, but how do you think Carrie will stop it? And will she betray Saul and her country to do so?