The secret tunnel under the embassy becomes a villain delivery system.

By Kat Rosenfield
Updated May 28, 2015 at 04:46 PM EDT
David Bloomer/Showtime

Where Homeland‘s third season memorably, gratefully ended with a gasp and a whimper—when Carrie Mathison watching helplessly as her beloved Brody reached the end of a rope that had been around his neck since 2010—then this season seems determined to go out in completely the opposite way: With a series of great, big, unpredictable bangs, designed to excite and titillate even its most jaded viewers.

When we last saw Carrie and Saul Berenson, they were in a convoy back to the embassy that had just been blown up by rocket launchers, leading to questions about whether Homeland had just made the extraordinary choice to kill off its two most central characters. Gutsy as that would have been, it turns out that Carrie and Saul are still alive. Not so lucky, however, is John Redmond, who took a glass shard to the neck, making him the first of this episode’s many casualties. (If you’re planning on pouring one out for everyone who died this week, consider yourself warned: You’re going to need a bigger bottle.)

With Dennis Boyd, traitor mole, having finally come clean about the terrorist moles currently burrowing their way into the embassy, Ambassador Martha Boyd alerts Quinn in the hopes of recalling some of their Marines. But the Marines are going to have some trouble getting back, as hidden snipers started taking them out the moment they arrived to rescue the convoy. With bullets flying through the air and soldiers dropping like flies, Carrie puts in a frantic phone call to Asar Khan.

But when Khan makes to call for support, Tasneem brazenly suggests that he should wait 10 minutes to call—10 minutes during which the Americans will be taught a lesson that’ll send them fleeing from Pakistan with their tails between their legs. Khan looks aghast, but he’s apparently not aghast enough to a) send immediate help to the people being murdered by terrorists on the streets of his city, or b) punch Tasneem the Terrorist Sympathizer right in her smug mouth. A shame; he seemed so cool last week.

Meanwhile, at the embassy, the CIA is doing what the CIA does when bad guys are about to break down their doors: shredding, burning, and otherwise destroying all documents that could compromise them. But of course, there’s a MacGuffin: A big, fancy list of all their assets, including ones in tribal areas, that’s basically irreplaceable. Lockhart is holding that list at the moment when Haqqani’s men breach the ops room, and it is not a polite entrance. Lockhart flees toward the embassy’s vault amid a hail of machine gun fire. He’s the only one to escape. Everyone else in the room is either killed (goodbye, Hensley) or taken hostage (hello, Max and Fara.)

NEXT: Just a few words, is all, because she was really doing okay.

Needless to say, Haqqani has breached the embassy specifically in search of this asset list. After interrogating his hostages as to its location (and interrogating brave, frightened Fara about her role as a Muslim in the CIA), he leads them out and lines them up in a hallway outside the vault, where everyone inside—including Lockhart and both the Boyds—can see them via remote camera. And needless to say, he does this specifically to set up an agonizing scene wherein he shoots the hostages one by one until someone gives him what he wants. He kills three men before he reaches someone that we (and Lockhart) care about: Fara.

Haqqani threatens to cut Fara’s throat, and it’s more than Lockhart can stand. He hurls Martha Boyd bodily to the floor in his haste to get out the door with the asset list, which—tension on top of tension!—turns out to be on a countdown timer, which means another 48 agonizing seconds in which Haqqani might get impatient with that knife. Fortunately, the door opens without further incident.

Unfortunately, this just means that all the terrible stuff happens after the door opens. With his primary mission accomplished, Haqqani embarks on his secondary one: To take out as many Americans as possible. “Kill them all,” he says, as he drives the knife into Fara’s side.

This is when Quinn and the one remaining soldier still left in the embassy, who have already murdered a solid dozen of Haqqani’s men down in the basement, come around the corner shooting. Most of the bullets hit terrorists, including Haqqani, who grabs the asset list and flees with the luckiest two of his men. The rest of them go down one by one, until it’s down to Quinn and the soldier at one end of the hallway and a terrorist using a hostage as a human shield at the other end. And yes, I am describing this scene in very explicit detail, but only because what happens next is so incredibly terrific: Max, who had been all but forgotten in the melee, grabs a gun from a dead man’s hand and shoots the last remaining bad guy.

If you need something happy to focus on for the remaining 40 minutes of this episode, focus on that.

When Saul and Carrie finally arrive back at the embassy, they find Haqqani’s terrorist flag strung up on the outside and carnage on the inside. The total death toll is 36, and yes, it includes Fara—which is such a shame, and really made me wish she’d had more screen time this season. So does Max, who eulogizes his colleague by way of telling Carrie, “You were mean. All she wanted was your approval, and all you gave her was a hard time.”

“You could’ve said something nice, just once,” he says. “It would have meant so much.”

“I wish I had,” says Carrie.

And Max says, “Just a few words, is all, because she was really doing okay.”

RIP, Fara. You were really doing okay.

NEXT: Boyd needs something for his guilty conscience and saggy pants.

In the wake of the attack, the U.S. President has unsurprisingly decided to break off diplomatic relations with Pakistan. Everyone at the embassy will be evacuated, including all CIA agents and diplomats. Said evacuees will also include the weaselly Dennis Boyd, who, let us not forget, betrayed his country and got three dozen people killed because he was butthurt about his wife being more successful than him. Even Dennis seems to realize how pathetic this is, and when Martha goes to see him in his cell, he begs her for a belt, so that he can use it to commit suicide. (Cue cries of outrage from anyone who wanted to see Boyd at the business end of Quinn’s fists before the season is up.)

“It might even open a path to saving your career,” he says to Martha—and where she was unmoved by his earlier pleas, this is the thing that gets her attention. What seems to seal the deal, though, is the part where he tearfully pleads, “Let me do this one last thing for my family.” It’s a very Walter White moment on Boyd’s part, and his wife reacts about as you’d expect: She grabs his belt from a locker, hurls it at his feet, and walks away without so much as a goodbye.

Meanwhile, Fara’s death has galvanized Quinn; if he was on the verge of quitting before, now he’s refusing to give up. He furiously interrogates Saul, hoping that he might have information that could lead them to Haqqani’s hideout, but when that doesn’t work, it’s Plan B: A little unauthorized trip downstairs to photograph the terrorists’ dead bodies… and steal their cell phones in the process. Genius, Quinn. Go get ’em, Quinn! Certainly, nobody else is going to go get ’em: Carrie is making the terrible call to tell Fara’s father that she’s dead, Saul is getting up close and personal with a shower stall wall, and Martha Boyd is staring at the knickknacks on her desk with the haunted, empty eyes of a woman who has just realized how meaningless a Waterford crystal paperweight truly is.

That night, Quinn exits the embassy, followed shortly and predictably by the ISI, in a car driven by our old favorite big-faced bad guy, Farad Ghazi. Why the ISI would be following anyone at this point is unclear—with their mission to chase the U.S. out of Pakistan accomplished, this seems like it would be the time for them to take a well-earned night off and go bowling or something—but whatever their purpose, it is quickly foiled by sneaky, sneaky Quinn, who climbs into the backseat of their car and kidnaps Ghazi at gunpoint. Whatever happens next, it’s not going to be good: The last thing we see is Quinn leading his captive into a room that is equipped with a lovely table full of pliers and knives. Also, he discovers that Ghazi has the same make and model phone as the one he plucked from a dead terrorist, which should leave no question as to who’s in bed with whom. (Not that there was any question before, but hey.)

NEXT: No man left behind.

This brings us to the last scene: Another convoy, hopefully with a better outcome this time in terms of convoying its passengers to safety. Everyone is being evacuated to the states: Saul, Lockhart, Boyd, and… Boyd, who of course did not actually kill himself. Why? Maybe because he’s a coward, but maybe also because Homeland loves us and wants us to be happy, and is saving Boyd for a Very Special Episode within the next two weeks, which will include a 15-minute scene of him being repeatedly kicked in the genitals by a cow.

When the convoy leaves, two people will be left behind: Quinn, who is presumably still in the Red Room of Pain with Farad Ghazi, and Carrie, who intends to find the missing Quinn and bring him home. She has five days to do this, during which she’ll be totally unprotected—a fact which is not lost on Saul, who doesn’t want to leave without her and begs her to be careful, and gives her a heartfelt hug goodbye. You know, speaking of proof that Homeland loves us and wants us to be happy.

This is where the show leaves us, and what it leaves us with: Two rogue operatives in a hostile country, both emotionally compromised by the fallout of having been in the spy game for too long. Anything could happen between now and the finale—and with so much of the season behind us, it seems like that’s sort of the point. It has been obvious since the sixth episode, when the intriguing and likeable Aayan Ibrahim was shockingly, suddenly killed off, and all our expectations vis-a-vis a creepy retread of the Brody plotline had the rug pulled out from under them. It was obvious last week, when the prisoner exchange that had formed the episode’s backbone turned out to be a vestigial distraction from the true heart of the story. And it was obvious tonight, when “13 Hours in Islamabad” opened with a juicy breach scenario that has been two months in the making—a source of drama that could have easily borne out the entire rest of the season—only to be over and done with it in 20 gobsmacking minutes.

Homeland is officially back in the business of blowing our minds, and it’s impossible to guess where it might be going. But suffice it to say, after the show’s last few weeks, I’m looking forward to getting there… and actively worrying about who might not survive the trip.