Homeland s8 ep 11

Whenever those of us who’ve stuck with Homeland all the way have been trying to persuade those who bailed early that it’s still a great show, this is the sort of episode we have in mind: brimming with thrills, espionage, and moral dilemmas. Saul is now doing his very best to avoid war, and suggests to POTUS and his advisers that he might engage in back-channel talks with Pakistan. Zabel, in repeating this idea, makes this sound like a distasteful perversion. Undeterred, Saul has an under-the-radar chat with Tasneem, which yields a possible location for Jalal. Zabel, unaware of this contact, thinks that the information came about because of his policy of threatening nuclear war. “I was right and you were wrong!”, he gloats. Saul does well to restrain himself from ripping Zabel’s stupid beard off and feeding it to him.

Any sort of lasting peace, though, still requires the evidence on the flight recorder. Carrie has been returned to America and released into Saul’s custody before being arraigned on multiple charges, including being an accessory to the assassinations of the Presidents. But this isn’t going to deter her. Aware of Yevgeny’s price for the recorder, she broaches with Saul the issue of whether he has an asset in the Kremlin, but – crucially, I think – without revealing why she needs that information. In any event, he brusquely denies it. Nonetheless, with the assistance of Jenna – once again persuaded to help Carrie – she pursues it, tracking down a man in witness protection now going by the name of Alex Surnow, a Soviet Union defector who was exfiltrated by Saul from Berlin in 1986. Their conversation is enough to confirm that Saul does indeed have a spy in the Russian camp, but not his or her identity.

Meantime, Saul storms theatrically into a meeting in the United Nations, demanding to know of the Russian ambassador what the price is for return of the flight recorder, and is sufficiently threatening to require restraining. It’s all an act, and it’s for the benefit of a particular member of the Russian party: Anna, their interpreter, who is unobtrusively able to listen to her colleagues discussing Yevgeny’s involvement. She can then, later on, pass that information to Saul using some delightfully old-school spycraft: a slip of paper jammed into the spine of an antique red book and left in a bookshop. I would love to think that intelligence operatives still communicate in that sort of way with their assets. Maybe they do.

Thus Anna tells Saul that the price for the flight recorder has already been set, and that it’s Yevgeny’s play. And all of this is interspersed with flashbacks to Berlin in 1986, and young Saul being approached by Anna, then a teacher, who wants to become an asset to the West: prompted, in fact, by the execution of her entire class because of the defection of the man who became Alex Surnow. Presumably Saul thought that this might be a way in which he could salvage something from that wreckage; and, whatever the stakes might now be, we know enough about Saul to know that he’s unlikely to burn an asset with whom he has that sort of personal connection.

Carrie, of course, is not so constrained – either by connection or by conscience – and will give up the asset if it means avoiding war. That’s a reasonably straightforward call from her perspective. But that brings us to the final, devastating scenes of the episode. She has kinda sorta worked out that Saul, in the 80s, was using his red books to communicate with someone, so she makes contact with Yevgeny to tell him that yes, Saul has an asset; but no, she doesn’t know who that is. Yet. Which allows Yevgeny to get to the point. Either the asset’s identity is passed to him; or the means by which the asset gets information to America has to be eliminated. Carrie protests: getting rid of Saul won’t make any difference, because that won’t give up the name of the asset. Yes it will, ripostes Yevgeny: Saul will have a legacy plan for handling the asset, and the legacy plan will be Carrie, who will therefore learn the asset’s identity. “Kill Saul”, he demands. As good an episode as I could have hoped for at this stage in the game.

Homeland s8 ep 10

At the start of the episode, tensions are still high between the USA and Pakistan: POTUS and Zabel meet Pakistan’s ambassador and try wielding a big stick in the hope of securing, one way or another, the arrest of Jalal, but the ambassador calmly informs them that any invasion of Pakistan’s territory will result in his country defending itself with all of the means at its disposal. What that entails doesn’t need to be spelled out. Wellington – more and more panicky about what the idiot in the Oval and his boy Zabel are leading the country into – takes the ambassador aside and suggests that a goodwill gesture, such as the release of the Special Ops team which was captured when Carrie gave them up, might help. And this is agreed to, which at least gives Jenna something to smile about.

Carrie, meantime, wasn’t captured by Yevgeny, but the flight recorder is long gone. She puts together a partial transcript of what she remembers hearing, runs it past one of the flight engineers at Bagram, and confirms that the Presidential helicopter was suffering from mechanical failure, which led to the crash. She tells Saul, but he has to make it clear to her that her credibility isn’t great – something she seems to keep forgetting – and that without the actual recorder her recollections may not be worth too much.

Still, at least everyone knows that the Russians have the recorder, right? Saul meets their ambassador and asks him to name the Russians’ price. The ambassador, in turn, says that Russia doesn’t have it, while hinting that it might. But what do Russia and Yevgeny actually want with the recorder? What’s it worth to them? Well, when Carrie and Yevgeny meet again, he says that Saul has a top-level source in the Kremlin, and what Russia wants is his or her identity. There’s no such person, claims Carrie. I have a feeling she may be wrong. In any event, she then surrenders herself at the CIA base in Kabul and is arrested, to be flown back to America. From a dramatic point of view this makes sense – there are only two episodes to go, and she and Saul, in many ways Homeland’s OTC, need to be in the same space for the finale.

But while America, Pakistan, and Russia manoeuvre around each other, Jalal is taking steps to cement his position in the Taliban, and to destroy any lingering hopes of peace. He kidnaps the wife and children of Balach, his rival, thus obliging Balach to drive a car loaded with explosives into a target that he, Jalal, has identified: and the target is the returning Special Ops team, who are in a coach being driven from Pakistan back to Afghanistan and American custody. And at the border stop, with Jenna there to meet the Special Ops guys, presumably thinking that she’s going to get away with disclosing their location, Balach drives his car into the coach and blows it up. I thought this worked pretty well as an episode, although its main function was evidently to start moving everything into place for the end of the series. 

Homeland s8 ep 9

Well, that’s a bit of a relief: with the finishing line starting to swim into view, Homeland has got good again. While Carrie and Yevgeny prowl the shops and bazaars of Kohat following leads on the flight recorder, Saul has been recalled to Washington, D.C., there to brief President Idiot on Afghanistan and the developing crisis with Pakistan. There’s a delectable scene in which Saul sits in the Oval with POTUS, Chief of Staff Wellington, and the rebarbative John Zabel. Saul’s contempt for Zabel, and the extent to which POTUS is way, way out of his depth, are both made entirely clear. 

But the President is sticking to Zabel’s line: Pakistan needs to hand Jalal over; it will back down; and any incursion to exfiltrate Jalal won’t be treated as an act of war against a nuclear power. Uh-huh. What none of them know is the extent to which Jalal has moved to consolidate his position in charge of the Taliban: Tasneem, who visits him in his secret lair in the hope of persuading him to keep his head down for a while, and stopping him from acting too provocatively, is shown just how many fighters Jalal has at his disposal. And Pakistan, far from backing down, has started to mobilise its battlefield nuclear weapons.

Meantime, Carrie has actually managed to find the flight recorder, and manages to get Saul to authorise the transfer of a quite substantial sum of money from some slush fund or another in order to purchase it. (Along the way she manages to play poor Jenna again, by getting her to reveal the location of a CIA safe house so that it can be raided, reducing the risk of her being followed. Fool me once, etc. I wonder if this will come back to haunt her? Carrie. I mean. You can’t treat people like that and get away with it forever.) 

Anyway, having obtained the flight recorder she is able to listen to the last words of the crew, from which it’s clear that it was mechanical error – not an attack – which brought the helicopter down. Fantastic news! War can be averted! And after a quick makeout session with Yevgeny – is this something new, or the resumption of their gulag relationship? – he… sticks a needle in her neck, sedates her, and he and his boys take her and the flight recorder away. Those of us – and I suspect it’s literally everyone watching – who have assumed that Yevgeny is playing a long game, rather than just keeping Carrie happy, might now be about to find out what it is.

Homeland s8 ep 8

Spoilers

At the end of last week’s episode we saw what I thought was Max being prepped for execution by Taliban troops commanded by Jalal, Haqqani’s son. Not quite yet, as it turns out: a video of an orange-jumpsuited Max is shared with President Idiot, together with a threat that Max will be executed if Haqqani is. POTUS is immediately on the phone to G’ulom, and manages to negotiate what he thinks is a 24 hour stay, which in theory gives everyone to put together a rescue operation to save Max.

In theory. There’s a marked lack of enthusiasm for doing anything tangible about Max. Zabel, the President’s new hawkish advisor, is notably cool on the idea, and in the end it doesn’t matter anyway, because Haqqani is put before a firing squad and executed. Inevitably, then, Max is killed by Jalal’s men. So I was entirely wrong in identifying him as a likely survivor. Oh well. Thanks, Maury Sterling; you’ve been great. Jalal, meantime, boasts to his men that he was responsible for shooting the Presidential helicopter down. He’s very probably lying about this, as one of his audience reminds him.

Carrie contacts Saul to tel him what has happened to Max, and opts to wait with the body until it can be recovered, presumably recognising that no-one in the American chain of command – with the possible exception, and I put it no higher than that, of Saul – really ever gave a shit about saving Max. In fact, far from caring, Zabel now wants to turn it into a casus belli. While Wellington has drafted a cautious, non-aggressive speech for POTUS to use in a televised address to the American people, Zabel has reached out to a woman named Claudette looking for kompromat on, well, anyone: Saul, Wellington, even Scott Ryan, one of the CIA operatives in Afghanistan (who I should have mentioned before now because he’s played by the versatile and always-excellent Tim Guinee, Unpopcult royalty-for-life as a result of playing private detective Andrew Wiley in The Good Wife. ANY EXCUSE TO REVISIT THE LION PHONE.). I don’t know exactly who Claudette is, but she finds a video of Jalal’s claims to have downed the helicopter, which Zabel uses to persuade President Idiot to toughen up his speech, and essentially threaten war on Pakistan unless it turns Haqqani fils over immediately. Wellington watches in horror.

As does Saul, who personally leads the operation, by helicopter, to recover Max and bring Carrie in, so is able to tell Carrie face-to-face about Jalal’s claim and the President’s reaction. Well, says Carrie, I think I know where the black box is, which would clear this up once and for all. But as Carrie’s about to board the helicopter the soldiers accompanying Saul tell her – much, I think, to Saul’s surprise – that she’s to be searched and restrained. Carrie isn’t having that, and assisted by Yevgeny she escapes. Again. Like last week this isn’t a terrible episode, but there’s nowhere near enough action, excitement, or plot momentum, which at this stage in Homeland’s life isn’t really good enough.

Homeland s8 ep 7

Rather a low-key episode, this one. Perhaps a little too low-key. Carrie and Yevgeny are now on the loose and looking for Max. I’m assuming for now that Yevgeny’s motives are pure, and that he doesn’t have some other endgame in mind, although it would be hella entertaining if he did. He uses his contacts to track Max down, which at least means that Carrie gets a couple of minutes with him and his infected shoulder wound before he’s whisked away again. Carrie and Yevgeny follow. Along the way, incidentally, Yevgeny brings Carrie face-to-face with a site which was bombed on her instructions in the past – maybe this one? It’s not the only example this week of criticism of American foreign policy, as it happens: I’m not here to defend Homeland, but (rather like 24) its politics are generally a little more nuanced than its detractors – most of whom don’t actually watch it – would have you believe.

Meantime, Haqqani hands himself over to the G’ulom regime, in what appears to be a trade of some sort for the Taliban prisoners being held in the stadium, all of whom are released. He’s held for trial on the allegation that carried out the presidential assassinations. Saul and his colleagues are desperate to intervene on Haqqani’s behalf, by providing the evidence that he wasn’t to blame for the shooting down of the helicopters. Nuh-uh, says President Idiot, now very firmly under the influence of both G’ulom and an intriguing new character, John Zabel, a hawkish foreign policy adviser. (He’s played by Hugh Dancy, who is both a Star and Mr Claire Danes. I’m going to guess that you don’t hire the Dancy just for a ten-second cameo, and that Zabel will be back, particularly given the way POTUS is staring lovingly at him.)

Thus Saul is obliged to go around the Oval, instead roping Tasneem into an attempt to influence the judge who will be presiding over Haqqani’s case. Which would have succeeded – they actually doorstep the judge and prevail on her to delay the trial – but for a switch of judges on the morning of the trial. The new presiding judge starts and finishes the trial in about five seconds, convicting Haqqani and sentencing him to death. And G’ulom, enjoying his many moments of triumph, actually accompanies the remains of President Warner back to America, in what seems to me to be a staggering act of diplomatic presumption.

We end with Max, though: while Carrie and Yevgeny wait outside the compound where Max is being held, she begs Mike to send in special ops to free Max. But Jalal Haqqani, Hassim’s hardline son, turns up, and Max is dragged outside and shoved into an orange jumpsuit while cameras are rigged up. Presumably he’s going to have to confess to something or other as a prelude to his execution. And presumably, if my estimation of Max as the ultimate survivor is correct, special ops is very quickly going to have to provide a deus ex machina.

Homeland s8 ep 6

Max, captured at the end of last week’s episode by a Taliban fighter, tries to get away and is shot. But he survives, of course, because he’s Max. He’s relieved of the flight recorder, mind you, which is sold on and last seen on a pack animal heading into the Afghan hills. I mean, how would you even start to try to find it? I think they emit a signal so that they can be found after plane crashes, but I might have completely made that up, and I’m not Googling it. 

Carrie, meantime, is concerned that the search for Max isn’t at the top of everyone’s list of priorities, so she reaches out to Yevgeny. He, in turn, says that he’ll make a call to his contacts, but that she’ll need to turn off the CIA’s surveillance for two minutes so that he doesn’t risk burning his source. This isn’t a particularly easy thing to achieve, but after an inspired bit of tradecraft with a photocopier she manages to do it. Even without anyone knowing about that, though, she’s in trouble: her last conversation with Yevgeny has now been transcribed, and it’s clear she completely lied about it. More than that: it was her idea for POTUS to visit Afghanistan in the first place. So was it Carrie who – perhaps inadvertently – leaked the details to the Taliban through Yevgeny? Saul, with the FBI now breathing down his neck, is required to intervene.

Before that, though, he is also required to restrain himself from ripping his own beard out by the roots in fury when he has to provide counsel to the new POTUS, President Idiot. G’ulom has taken advantage of the assassination of the Presidents to take 300 Taliban prisoners, house them in a football stadium, and threaten to kill them unless Haqqani surrenders himself. Saul and Wellington patiently talk Commander-in Chief Idiot through how this is actually a bad idea, how it will revive the Taliban insurgency, how G’ulom should stick to due process, even how to pronounce G’ulom’s name. This all last for at least a minute when Idiot speaks by phone to G’ulom, and is persuaded that, actually, slaughtering hundreds of political prisoners in a stadium might be a good thing.

So everything is about to go very wrong: Haqqani’s missing, the flight recorder which might prove that the Taliban didn’t kill the Presidents is out there somewhere, as is Max, and Carrie’s been having secret meetings with a Russian operative. She pleads her case to Saul, but he takes the view that she has to leave Afghanistan stat and return to Germany: he rushed her back to work, he concedes, way too soon. (I was actually beginning to wonder when and if Carrie’s mental health was going to be referenced again.) She’s escorted to the airport, and almost on to a plane. It’s the “almost” which is, of course, the problem: she ducks through a doorway and down a flight of stairs, where she’s picked up by Yevgeny. It’s another good, solid episode. I’d quite like an outstanding one, though.

Homeland s8 ep 5

Good news for those of us who’ve been missing our fix of 24: this uneven but occasionally breathtaking episode plays out, unusually for Homeland, more or less in real time. Troops from the Steedley outpost, including Max, get to the crash site and confirm that the President is dead. Actually, both presidents: American and Afghan. As the escort helicopter was definitely shot down by the Taliban there’s a general assumption that the same happened to the helicopter carrying the presidents, but Saul isn’t necessarily buying that: could it have been the ISI, maybe, or even just an accident? Carrie thinks she’s onto something when she discovers that the helicopter carrying the presidents was swapped at the last minute, and that the engineer who did it has disappeared, but when he’s tracked down he’s with his pregnant Afghan girlfriend, and the word seems to be that helicopters are breaking down and being changed around all the time. So maybe not sabotage.

And maybe not the Taliban either: Saul speaks to Haqqani by phone, and reassures him that he doesn’t think that Haqqani was behind it. However, it seems that the Afghan constitution works in the same way as the American one, because G’ulom has stepped up to the top job, and his first action is to declare martial law and blame Haqqani for the assassinations. Saul tells Haqqani that he needs to get out of Kabul, because G’ulom’s thugs are looking for him.

Meantime, though, the platoon from Steedley is trying to secure the crash site, and therefore the body of the President. But it’s under attack from a squadron of Taliban fighters, and having some difficulty in holding the line. Saul is determined that the American troops should stay in order to preserve any evidence about the cause of the helicopter going down, but with assistance unlikely to get there in time that looks unlikely. It also risks the Taliban taking possession of the corpse of the President, with all the possibilities for, uh, making mischief which go with that. The alternative is for the Americans to fall back and for the site to be bombed, obliterating everything, including the deceased presidents and the flight recorder. 

And the decision falls to the new President, Ben Hayes, who seemed to be something of an idiot when he was VPOTUS. “Tell me what to do!” he demands of Chief of Staff David Wellington, who manfully stops himself from slapping the Commander-in-Chief. Anyway, new POTUS orders the bombing of the remains of his dead POTUS, and Carrie – horrified by the possibility of saving the lives of a few American soldiers – persuades poor old Max to go back in and get the black box, just before the site is blown up. And as the rest of the Steedley soldiers are shot, or retreat, Max is left on his own, desperately clutching the (actually orange) black box, and being held at gunpoint by a Taliban soldier. At the start of the season I noted that Max is quite the survivor. if he gets through next week, I think he’s going to make it all the way to the end.

Homeland s8 ep 4

It’s another slow-burning episode of Homeland, but it’s probably the best of the season so far. As trailed last week President Warner has turned up in Afghanistan, and his first request is… well, it’s a meeting with Carrie, at which he thanks her for what she went through in Moscow, and for getting him into the Oval, kind of. POTUS and Afghanistan’s President Daoud are then taken by helicopter to the military base at which Max is stationed. (For the past couple of weeks Max has been caught up in an odd little subplot in which he seems to be regarded as a lucky charm by the soldiers stationed at that base. I don’t quite know what to make of it.) Once there, Warner announces the peace deal with the Taliban.

Afterwards, while POTUS is being flown out, Carrie returns to Kabul in a motorcade, and receives a phone call from a terrified Samira, whose husband Carrie may or may not have got killed. Samira is being dragged away by Taliban operatives in order to be forced to marry her brother-in-law; Carrie, presumably feeling somewhat indebted, agrees to help her, and rescues her at gunpoint, taking Samira back to the American Embassy, where everyone is now congratulating Saul on engineering the peace deal.

But you don’t put a President in Afghanistan unless something’s going to happen to him. Chekhov’s POTUS, if you will. And, sure enough, Saul’s moment of triumph is interrupted when he’s told that the helicopter carrying both Warner and Daoud has disappeared from the radar. The chopper which had been escorting it then finds some wreckage on the ground, but before it can land it comes under fire from Taliban soldiers, culminating in a direct strike from an RPG. I don’t rule out the possibility that the President is still alive, but I rather doubt it.

Homeland s8 ep 3

Like last week’s, this is an episode which is cleverly engineered, without being overwhelmingly exciting, exactly. Haqqani has abducted Saul, believing America to be behind the attack on his convoy. But a little surveillance of his son Jalal reveals that it was him who tipped the ISI off. Saul is released, and Jalal is nearly killed by Haqqani – and, perhaps, should have been – but is instead allowed to leave Haqqani’s compound, and is ultimately rescued by Tasneem. One feels that we’ll see Jalal again, even though there’s something really very annoying about him.

Saul, meantime, is now free to negotiate a peace deal with Haqqani. This is, of course, of interest to the new President, Beau Bridges, and his veep Ben Hayes, who is from a different party. As Hayes’s first intervention is to propose the sacking of Saul while he’s actually being held captive by the Taliban, I think we’re expected to regard him as a wrong ‘un; and, sure enough, Chief of Staff David Wellington (Linus Roache, making a welcome return) tips POTUS off that Hayes has, almost certainly, been meeting with donors, perhaps to plot a run for the Oval himself? Meh, says Beau; vice-presidents never run against incumbents. 

But POTUS has a more immediate problem: how can he seal the deal with the Taliban and at the same time not look weak to the American public? Well, says Carrie via videolink, I happen to know that your predecessor Elizabeth Keane was planning to come to Afghanistan to address the troops herself. Beau looks tempted. I can’t see any way in which that would end well, with dissension in the ranks of the Taliban, Haqqani’s son on the loose, and a Vice-President on manoeuvres. I confidently forecast that POTUS will fetch up in Kabul within an episode or two. I’m less confident that he’ll get out alive.

And, of course, there’s a Russian agent in the region as well. Gromov reaches out to Carrie again, offering a meeting. Mike, who I think is the head of the CIA office (?) agrees to the meet, but this is because he still thinks Carrie was compromised in Moscow, and he wants to listen in on the conversation in the hope she’ll incriminate herself. Carrie and Gromov are one step ahead, though, and meet outside a mosque at the precise moment when the call to prayer is being blasted over a loudspeaker so that their conversation can’t be heard. There is some discussion of Gromov saving Carrie’s life while she was in the asylum in Moscow; and, perhaps, hints of further intimacy? Anyway, Mike hears none of it, and afterwards Carrie pretends to him that they were talking about Gromov’s unhappiness, and that he might be open to recruitment as an asset. All of which lends weight to the suspicion that she has something to hide.

Homeland s8 ep 2

After an unsuccessful meeting with Vice President G’ulom, who isn’t minded to release his Taliban prisoners, Carrie realises she needs leverage. Remarkably, it arrives on her desk in the shape of a note, written and delivered anonymously, which contains the name of Samira Noori. A little investigation reveals that Noori was investigating G’ulom until her husband was killed in a car bomb probably intended for her. Weirdly, though, she’s on some online recruitment sites, so Carrie decides that she should be invited for an interview at new girl Jenna’s fake NGO, thus giving Carrie a chance to go through Noori’s apartment. Don’t go looking for intel during the interview, Jenna’s told: just keep her there.

We kind of know that Jenna, who is keen but less than streetwise, is going to eff up, and indeed she does, which means that Noori smells a rat and has to be held captive. She does, though, keep things going for long enough to allow Carrie to find, in Noori’s apartment, evidence that G’ulom has set up a spectacular earner for himself: a fake platoon and a military base with nothing on it, for which he’s getting vast amounts of cash money from America. Well, now Carrie has her leverage, and she uses it to get G’ulom to reverse his position on prisoner release.

Saul, meantime, is working the other end of the deal. Max’s listening post reveals that Haqqani, head Taliban, who we last saw (I think) way back in season 4, wants peace. So Saul gets a message to him: he, Saul, is in Peshawar, and wants to meet to discuss a resolution. However, word about Saul’s presence and the possible meeting also gets to Pakistan intelligence agent Tasneem (another season 4 callback). In a beautifully tense scene Saul  stands outside his Pashawar compound, knowing both that Haqqani’s convoy is on its way, and that the ISI is on the move as well. He realises too late that he isn’t the ISI target, but that Haqqani is, and the convoy is blown up. But it was a decoy, as Saul finds out when someone abducts him and takes him to meet the very-much-alive Haqqani.

And what of Carrie? Well, the Russian agent she saw coming out of G’ulom’s office at the end of last week is season 7’s Yevgeny Gromov, who played a part in her interrogation in the gulag and looks as if he’s going to be a major player this time around: he reveals himself to her as the person who left the tip-off about Noori, and heavily implies that she knows exactly why he would help her out. So what exactly happened in Russia?

Anyone who’s familiar with Homeland, certainly in its post-Brody incarnation, will have seen plenty of episodes like this before: Homeland is an espionage drama rather than an out-and-out thriller, which sometimes means that pieces need to be moved into place. I thought, though, that the episode worked: it was elegantly assembled, and there’s definitely a sense that there are some major revelations to come.