Homeland recap: Letters to Haissam
This week on Homeland, the Yevgeny chronicles continue, Saul’s a poet and knows it, and I continue to be troubled by Jenna Bragg’s very existence and the glacial pace of G’ulom’s speech cadence. There’s a lot to be conflicted about in “Catch & Release,” not least of which is the potential softening of a seasoned war criminal that we’ve been trained for multiple seasons to hate. I’ll moan about that in a minute, but first, let’s review our storylines.
Carrie has her highly-anticipated meeting with Afghan Vice President G’ulom which is, if we’ll all recall, the reason she was plucked out of the safety of the German military hospital in the first place. She’s supposed to ask him, friend to friend (or rather “friend,” because this is Homeland where no allegiance can be trusted), to back off his anti-peace-proposition shenanigans — but first, she runs into Yevgeny the hot captor. Carrie smells a setup and accuses G’ulam of parading the GRU in front of her as a tactic, but the general insists that the Russians have just been curious about this peacekeeping deal.
Meanwhile, he won’t be convinced to release the prisoners, deal or … no deal. Carrie tries her hardest to remind G’ulam that the two of them are partners which, it has to be said, I have no knowledge of. I’m quite certain that last week was the first time I had ever seen the man, so their conversation here feels forced — it’s like Carrie is trying to convince the audience of their shared past, not G’ulom himself.
Carrie and Jenna return to the embassy — while I wonder why Jenna was with her in the first place — and Carrie is still not here for Jenna’s deceptive olive branches. Man, I really hope she never gets conned into friendship with her. Carrie calls Saul to bring him up to speed on the VP situation and the Yevgeny chronicles and it provides my very first do better, Saul! moment of season 8. His instinct to not believe Carrie first and foremost almost feels like a reflex when he questions whether she actually saw Yevgeny. Sure, he’s a spy — but this is becoming triggering.
But before I can harp on that moment too long, Carrie gets a mysterious letter from a secret admirer that tips her off to a woman who may be able to provide leverage on G’ulam — leverage the team needs for the peace talks. The woman is Samira Noori, a former member of an investigation probe into corruption by G’ulam, whose husband was killed in a suspicious bombing. The plan is to bring Samira in for a fake job interview to buy some time to search her apartment for any evidence that can be used against the VP. They use Jenna’s fake NGO for the operation and she can’t do the only thing she’s asked, which is to not give away that she’s in the CIA. Maybe she really is stuck in the starting gate. The writers wouldn’t make Jenna this clumsy without an end game, so my guess is that Samira is going to be quite important to this season.
Carrie finds a zip drive in the apartment, and because Jenna and her henchmen brought Samira into the CIA under a highly problematic cloak of darkness, she now has the chance to convince her to join forces. Carrie asks for permission to use the material on the zip drive: personnel files for a ghost department of the Afghan army, created by General G’ulam. Apparently, the guy took $30 billion of American money and built a fake military department (ballsy!) and they can, essentially, blackmail him into submission. To celebrate this feat, Carrie heads to a CIA-favorite bar and is promptly ambushed by Yevgeny, who reveals himself as her letter-leaving secret admirer. Cue disturbing flashbacks from the Russian jail!
In this week’s Tales of Max Piotrowski: He’s back on the battlefield, running his Taliban-spy software with voice commands, which seem to be Homeland‘s new take on the old strategy of making typing look exciting. He picks up a little somethin’ somethin’ and immediately alerts Saul that they overheard conversations with Haqqani himself and now I’m starting to wonder if Max’s contributions to the episodes moving forward will all consist of phone calls. What a tease last week’s hero montage was.
Lack of battlefield drama aside, Max’s intel is fruitful: It’s a conversation between Haqqani and his son in which the Taliban leader says, “We’ve been telling ourselves for 18 years we’re winning, we’re winning. But we never do. I don’t want you to be having this same conversation in another 18 years.” Saul hatches a plan to capitalize on this doubt and use one of the newly-released prisoners, who just so happens to be Haqqani’s cousin, to lure him in. This all has to go down behind the back of the highly nosy Tasneem (and the ISI), so they pretend that Haqqani’s cousin had a medical emergency on board the military transport, rush him off on a stretcher, and claim that Saul bailed on the prisoner exchange because of a last-minute trip to D.C. Of course, the cousin isn’t sick, Saul never left Doha, and Tasneem is suspicious — but these clever little spy games are such a deliciously satisfying part of Homeland.
Saul convinces the cousin (who seems highly willing to cooperate with the Americans, convenient as it is for the plot) to bring a letter to Haqqani. I present the poetry of Saul Berenson, word-for-word:
“To his excellency, the Emir Haissam Haqqani: As-salamu Alaykum. Seems like a lifetime since you and I met in the mountains of [indecipherable town — anyone catch that?]. Then we fought on the same side. Now we fight as enemies using every weapon we have — drones, suicide bombers — to kill or maim families and children. We’re like two mad men, hands around each other’s throats, unable to let go, spilling each other’s blood for treasure. For 18 years. No one can win such a war. I have come to believe this; I think in your heart you believe it too. So I invite you to come talk to me face-to-face. Because you and I know that it’s only the men with guns who can make peace. I will be at the Kashmir Hotel in Peshawar from Tuesday — alone, apart from the four men guarding me. No drones, no satellites, no backup, you have my word. I can wait three days, no more. It’s time to stop sending our young men to die. Come and talk.”
Before I get into the results of this letter plot, I want to discuss the background we learned about Tasneem this week. We meet her father (whose ISI career aspirations she inherited), who now uses a wheelchair and has a clear soft spot for the otherwise hardened Tasneem. Mr. Qureishi also happens to be a former friend of Saul’s and sniffs out his Haqqani plan and implores his daughter to go as far as she must to stop it. So here’s how far she went: She tried to blow up the damn guy.
Back in Peshawar, Saul is stationed on the roof of the hotel, lying in wait for his Taliban counterparts, when he gets a call from Max (Max! On the phone again!) tipping him off about some suspect ISI communications. Haqqani and his men head towards town, and Saul’s Spidey sense starts tingling. Neighbors board up their shops, bring their children inside, and despite Saul’s last-minute warning, a soldier stationed on a nearby rooftop hits the convoy with an RPG. As Saul’s guards stake out the hotel in the aftermath of the bomb, a group of Haqqani’s men nab Saul and take him to a Taliban hideout.
Before we wrap, a word about Haqqani’s apparent change of heart. He is, of course, a very fictionalized and — at this point in time— very utopian version of a terrorist leader. This highly optimistic storyline feels like a giant question mark from a show that has made its living capitalizing on what is an over-reliance on the Islamic terrorist narrative at best and Islamic fear-mongering at worst. I’m a little bit suspicious that Homeland is angling for redemption: By portraying Haqqani as a man of many facets where it used to rely on his singular facet of thirst for death. A better path would be, in my humble opinion, to simply portray a Muslim or two who lives and thinks like the rest of us — because, despite the way it seems in the worlds of Homeland or 24 or Jack Ryan, they exist, too.