So it’s come to this. Eight seasons of Homeland has come down to Carrie Mathison having to decide whether to betray her closest and arguably only remaining ally, Saul Berenson. “The English Teacher” follows the parallel tracks of three women — Carrie, Jenna, and the Russian asset who saved Saul’s life and who has been his person on the inside of the Kremlin for four decades. Years after the latter defected and became an essential ally in world politics, she has no idea that her fate lies in the hands of Carrie Mathison, someone who now has to figure out a way to save the world from a nuclear war that doesn’t include the death of her best friend.
Let’s start with the end, because the big question is how far Carrie will go to do what she thinks is right. There’s a fascinating sequence in the center of “The English Teacher” between Carrie and Jenna, who has been so groomed to be Carrie 2.0 that some fans have speculated that she could be spun off into a Homeland series of her own. She’s arguably been used by the writers one too many times as a tool for Carrie, but her key scene this week comes when she tells Carrie she’s quitting, that she can’t handle this anymore. It comes not long after Saul defends Carrie’s thought process, telling Jenna, “She never loses sight of what’s important.” The idea that Jenna could be Carrie 2.0 is wrong because Carrie is the Black Swan of the entire U.S. operation — there is no one else quite like her.
So does that mean Carrie will get Saul killed? That’s the proposition on the table as we go into the final episode of the series. After finally discovering that, yes, Saul does have a Russian asset — one that he won’t even admit to Carrie exists — she takes what she’s learned to Yevgeny, who basically tells her that they knew most of what she knows. They knew he has an asset and thought it might be related to an exfiltration that went bad in the ’80s, but the records from the school where that took place have been destroyed. So the Russians hit a dead end. Saul found an asset in that operation that he left in the Russian system but they can’t figure who, and neither can Carrie. What’s the answer to this problem? Yevgeny suggests that Saul would never leave his asset hanging if he died. And who does he trust more than Carrie? No one. Which means if Saul dies, Carrie likely gets handed the operation.
Think about this proposition. Killing Saul to stop World War III would be bad enough, but it would also require Carrie to then destroy what he’s built for decades, a system that helped the U.S. in numerous intelligence operations related to Russia. Of course, the death of her BFF is the macro issue here, but it’s worth considering what comes with that: betraying not only her friend, but everything he’s worked to build for their country. She won’t do it.
Having no insider knowledge, it’s hard to imagine that Homeland ends with Carrie killing Saul. The writers may drag out the drama in a “will she or won’t she” way, but it would be tough to make that not feel like a betrayal of the show’s moral center. It feels more likely that Saul would learn about Yevgeny’s proposal — and remember his latest “red book” message from his asset reveals that Yevgeny is in control now — and then possibly sacrifice himself. Saul Berenson is the kind of man who would give up his life to stop a nuclear war, without question. But if that becomes the endgame of Homeland, how can Carrie then keep his asset safe as well? No, in all likelihood, Carrie is going to have to figure out a way to keep all three of them alive — Carrie, Saul, and the double agent — and still get that flight recorder.
It doesn’t help that the White House is full of warmongering morons right now. Watching John Zabel practically get off on the bombing of a Pakistani location at which they believe Jalal Haqqani is located was nauseating. And Hayes becomes more ineffective by the episode, a man literally controlled by others. Again, the mirrors of 2020 are something to behold.
As it should be, Homeland is slowly pushing people like David Wellington, President Hayes, and John Zabel into the background, allowing Carrie Mathison and Saul Berenson to take center stage for the final episode. The bulk of this episode intercuts Saul’s latest espionage operation with Carrie figuring out that those red books in his library weren’t just decorative. It turns out that Saul still likes old-fashioned John le Carré-esque espionage, communicating with his asset, who we learn is the U.N. Russian translator, via notes hidden in the spine of red books, including Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. (Saul loves irony.) The sequence in which Carrie lays out how long this has been going on with major Russian events is not only expertly edited, but makes the importance of this part of Saul’s life clear. This dynamic may have actually been the only one more impactful on the world stage than the one between Saul and Carrie themselves.
Of course, it has to end with them. Saul and Carrie are the only ones who have been on this ride since it started, and they will decide if Homeland ends with continued war in the Middle East or the betrayal of lifelong allies — or if they can find a way out of all this madness into a place where both they and the world can be safe.
• How dare you cast Chris Bauer and then give him, like, two scenes? The veteran of The Wire is one of the most underrated character actors on TV, and it was great to see him in the opening credits and then serving as Carrie’s lawyer, but he’s given almost nothing to do. Maybe next week.
• Do you think Saul has eaten all of the little pieces of paper from the book spines to destroy them? I do.
• It seems unlikely that the writers of Homeland would try to put closure to the never-ending conflicts of the Middle East, so I don’t expect this series to end with the suggestion that everything is going to be peaceful forever now. But it will be interesting to see how they can provide closure to a story that’s been largely about the cyclical, never-ending nature of international conflict.
• So who walks out of this season alive? Both Carrie and Saul? Just one? Or maybe neither?