It takes a certain kind of moxie to close your series finale with the words “Stay Tuned,” but they fit a narrative that really couldn’t have ended with anything but an ellipsis. The writers of Homeland weren’t about to solve the ongoing wars of the Greater Middle East, and they weren’t cynical enough to blow up the world, either. So how do you satisfactorily end a show that can’t really end with a period or an exclamation point? You bring it full circle. You turn Carrie Mathison into a deep undercover spy, leaving her in a place where her predecessor operated as Saul Berenson’s main conduit to Russian intelligence for decades. The implication is clearly that Carrie will funnel information to Saul for as long as she can, even if the two never actually make eye contact again in their lives. It’s a fitting, solid end for a show that’s gone through its ups and downs over eight seasons, becoming creatively stronger in its final two years than it was in the midsection, and ending in a confident, nuanced manner.
Homeland actually starts its final episode with a nod to where it began with a shot of Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody, a man who had been turned into an asset for a foreign power, but who believed he was doing something for the greater good of the world. Carrie Mathison is now faced with a similar dynamic, essentially turned into a Russian agent by Yevgeny Gromov and asked to do the unthinkable to stop World War III: kill her closest ally. Carrie has always been the kind of person willing to see the bigger picture and act to protect the greatest number of lives. Is she willing to kill Saul Berenson to stop a war in Pakistan?
As tensions rise between Pakistan and the United States, Saul knows that the major player in this nightmare hasn’t even taken the stage yet: Russia. They have the flight recorder and they’re willing to watch the world burn while they keep it secret. Why? And what can Saul do to stop it? His efforts to convince Zabel that all of this is due to a bad turbine blade fall on deaf ears, and so he plans to take the issue to the press, telling David Wellington to contact the Post and the Times. It’s interesting to consider if this would work, especially in the era of #FakeNews. With the deaths of not just the president but the soldiers on the border, would Americans and politicians stop the bloodshed because the Times said it may be based on false information? (Sadly, probably not.)
We will never know because Saul never makes that meeting. After learning from Carrie’s sister that Carrie hasn’t even reached out to her daughter, Saul knows something is up. It’s the personal connection that makes him aware something is off. He suspected that Carrie had turned before, and with the information about Yevgeny pulling the strings, he figures out that Carrie didn’t contact Frannie because she’s not staying. He gets the jump on her in his own home, pushing her, asking her the tough questions. Carrie turns the table, revealing she figured out the identity of Saul’s asset, and he is furious in ways only Mandy Patinkin can be righteously furious. (He’s one of the last people you want to get into an argument with. He’d destroy you.) He refuses to give her the name, and Carrie Mathison signals the kill team.
Will she do it?!? Of course not. While the producers of Homeland keep things nice and tense, and it appears like the GRU kill team is ready to inject poison between Saul’s toes, it’s a bluff. She just wants the name. The real question is did Saul know it was a bluff? Probably. Although his answer to her when she demands the name for his life would have likely been the same even if he thought his final words would be “Go fuck yourself.” (And how great is it that those will be the final words he probably ever says to Carrie face-to-face?)
Carrie has to go to Plan B, which involves traveling to the West Bank and finding Saul’s sister Dorit (Jacqueline Antaramian), who we last saw in the fourth episode of the sixth season. Carrie figures out that the only succession plan for the asset she needs would go through Dorit. So she lies and tells Dorit that Saul had a stroke, setting in motion Saul’s instructions to give Carrie the information about the teacher/translator who has been shaping world events for decades. (Doesn’t this plan seem easier than the poisoning one in the first place? Less dramatic, though.) Dorit hands over the envelope and Carrie has what she needs to bargain for the recorder.
She takes the information to Yevgeny, who watches the video that Saul left for Carrie, revealing the truth about his asset and her name: Anna Pomeransteva (Tatyana Mukha). He texts the name to Mirov (Merab Ninidze) in the States, who is stunned, and sends someone after Anna, but Scott Ryan actually gets a chance to be a hero! Saul is back to normal and he calls the steely-eyed agent and orders him to get Anna to safety. He only half-completes his job, ending up in a locked room in the basement, as Russian operatives pound on the door. Anna calls Saul, who convinces Ryan to hand Anna his gun so she can kill herself. Halfway around the world, Yevgeny learns that Anna was warned, which means Carrie is burned, and the two flee to Syria as the flight recorder that stops international conflict is played for the world to hear.
Two years later, Carrie and Yevgeny are still together, going to hear some live music, and Saul is packing up his house with Dorit when she gets a call. It’s the bookseller that served as the conduit between Anna and Saul for years, and he’s got a new package. It’s Carrie’s book, Tyranny of Secrets. Don’t forget, Saul likes when espionage is in plain sight, like a red book moved in a window. And what’s better than revealing you’re still working for the U.S. than through a note hidden in the spine of your own book? Stay tuned indeed.
• The woman who first learned about an undercover spy posing as an American P.O.W. is now herself a spy posing as an operative behind enemy lines. It’s not an exact full circle, but it’s close enough to be satisfying.
• The series MVP has to be Claire Danes, without question. She anchored every year even through the seasons in which some of Carrie’s actions didn’t exactly make sense. But I’d given season eight MVP to Mandy Patinkin, who got more to work with than he has in some years, and nailed Saul’s combination of world-weariness and rightful anger at a long overdue peace process being destroyed in front of his eyes. How about you?
• So is this really it? Sure, it’s over for now, but nothing is really ever over nowadays, right? So, couldn’t you see a return to Homeland in ten years in either a movie or miniseries? I sure could. In fact, more than most of these reboots and revivals, I think I might kind of want to know where Carrie and Saul are in 2030.
• Thanks for reading. It’s been one of the most rewarding shows to write about and I appreciate all the feedback.