Homeland recap: 'A to B and Back Again'
Facing fierce scrutiny from the rest of her team, Carrie Mathison sets a plan in motion that she hopes will lead the CIA to a high-value target.
Ever since the first hints of the Carrie-Aayan seduction plotline began to percolate on this season of Homeland, so too were the grumblings of its fanbase. Carrie Mathison, sleeping with the enemy? Hasn’t this been done before, and in a much less barf-inducing way, no less? Are the writers really going to subject us to yet another ambiguous, dangerous romance between a lady spy and her lover?
In “From A to B and Back Again,” we got the answer: a big, fat, brutal, “No.”
The episode begins, for the second week in a row, with Carrie Mathison and Aayan Ibrahim in bed together, doing a postcoital review of the details of his new identity. There’s a real coziness to their interactions, and Aayan is sweet and flirtatious despite the rather dire circumstances. When Carrie presents him with money and a passport, his excitement and happiness at the new life he’s about to start is palpable (and heartbreaking, knowing what comes next, so you’d better steel yourself.)
With their departure for England supposedly imminent, Aayan makes one last trip to his medical school in order to retrieve a few belongings, including photos of his family. While there, he encounters Kiran, to whom he spills way too many details about his plans to leave the country. She’s devastated, and seethingly jealous of his obvious affection for Carrie—but she’s the least of his problems. As he leaves the building, he notices: He’s being watched by a tall, bald man who looks like he’s got murder on his mind. He must be an ISI agent! You know, one of the ones that Carrie just conveniently warned him to watch out for.
After a brief chase, Aayan manages to elude the watcher and make his way back to the safe house. But just as he’s assuring Carrie that he gave the guy the slip, CRASH! A window breaks and the same man comes charging into the apartment, followed by a team of terrifying, grabby assassins. There’s an enormous amount of scuffling, but Aayan still manages to escape up the stairs, where he leaps across the rooftops and ultimately takes shelter behind a parked car. A moment later, he sees Carrie: struggling with her captors, being violently shoved into a van.
The entire thing is wildly theatrical, the part where Carrie takes a very legit punch to the face notwithstanding, which makes it not at all surprising when it turns out that the agents in question are all CIA. The break-in was just an elaborate ploy to put Aayan out on the street, where he will presumably flee toward the only family he has left, his terrorist uncle Haissam Haqqani. And thanks to the tracker implanted in his passport, Carrie and her team will be able to follow by drone wherever he goes.
NEXT: The pot calls the kettle morally bankrupt.
Although using Aayan as bait is the only hope they have of locating and killing Haqqani, basically nobody on Carrie’s team is happy about how she’s played him. Quinn, in particular, has gone from trying to play Carrie’s conscience to acting like a resentful, insubordinate teenager, making snarky comments about her operation being “clothing optional.” (Again, quite the show of self-righteous indignation from the show’s professional murderer. Quinn, there’s a little idiom about pots and kettles that you might want to familiarize yourself with before you go getting all judgey again.) And though Fara isn’t anywhere near as snide, her probing, disapproving questions about what will become of Aayan finally push the frustrated Carrie over the edge.
“You [say] ‘the boy,’ like he’s some kindergartener instead of a grown adult who’s been smuggling drugs to jihadists,” she snaps, and then dispatches Fara to go clean up the mess left behind from the fake raid on the safehouse, lest anyone forget just who is the big boss lady ’round here. Fara points out that they wouldn’t even know Haqqani was alive if not for her, which is true, technically. But then again, she also wouldn’t have been surveilling Aayan in the first place if not for Carrie having successfully established a connection with him where Fara failed, which makes this perhaps not the best time to start counting beans with one’s boss.
Meanwhile, someone has finally clued in to the fact that Farad Ghazi never turned up in Johannesburg per Saul’s tip last week, and that Saul, for his part, never made it home to New York. And for some reason, nobody seems to register that this might be a big freakin’ deal requiring immediate decisive action. I mean, when a guy calls to tell you that he’s tailing a government assassin at the airport, and then both he and the assassin promptly disappear, it’s probably not because they both got caught in a long line at Cinnabon and missed their final boarding call—which Quinn, highly trained CIA operative that he is, should really have figured out. But he doesn’t, and he doesn’t tell Carrie about Saul’s disappearance—until, as they say, it’s too late.
Because while Fara has showed admirable nerve during the past few episodes, she’s still no seasoned field agent—which is why she doesn’t notice Dennis Boyd following her to the safehouse, sneaking inside, and stealing Aayan’s photographs while Fara is busy upstairs. Armed with the photos and his haul of information from Carrie’s apartment, Boyd gloatingly reports it all to ISI agent Tasneem. And Tasneem, who is capable of putting two and two together in a way that everyone at the CIA has apparently forgotten how to do, takes one look at the evidence before her and immediately excuses herself like she just realized she left an important batch of evil shenanigans in the oven.
Which brings us back to Aayan, who under the Americans’ watchful eyes has made his way from Islamabad to the mountains. There’s a tense moment mid-journey when the military boards his bus and orders everyone off to check papers—Redmond starts to panic and insist that they have to intervene—but Aayan uses the money he was given to bribe his way through the checkpoint, and miles away, Carrie watches and beams at her own flawless ability to predict her asset’s every move. Shortly thereafter, he alights from the bus at his destination and makes two calls, which, thanks to the seemingly endless resources of the CIA, the surveillance team are able to listen in on. The first is to Hassaim Haqqani.
The second is to Carrie.
NEXT: Each night I ask the drones up above, why must I be a teenager in love?
And at this moment, Carrie at last starts to show a crack or two in her veneer of total incorruptible confidence that there’s nothing wrong with any of this. It was one thing to seduce Aayan in the privacy of the safehouse; it’s another to have him tell her he loves her while she’s watching him on dronecam with a room full of eavesdropping coworkers—the same coworkers who are preparing, under her orders, to drop the bombs that will kill the last living member of Aayan’s family as well as Aayan himself. Not even Carrie Mathison, queen of patriot pragmatism, can deny that she’s treading close to the line between Moral Gray Area and Genuinely Kind of Evil. Even Redmond, who dutifully reminds Carrie that finding and killing Haqqani is objectively far preferable to not finding and killing Haqqani, has to tip his hat a little to the grossness of the whole situation. And for her part, Carrie has to be thinking of Brody right now: a man who she also seduced, and manipulated, and sent into harm’s way so that she could scratch another name off her kill list.
But Aayan doesn’t know about any of this. And with Islamabad behind him and a hopeful new start in England ahead, his final scenes in this episode bring home just how much of an innocent he really is—a kid whose biggest crime was feeling familial love for the terrorist he was unlucky enough to be related to. He leaves the bus station and makes his way through the woods, hunched against the cold with a light rain falling around him. As the sun rises, he removes his shoes and prays. And coming to a mountain stream that babbles prettily through a scenic valley, he takes his shoes off again, to splash through the chilly water and sprawl happily on a rock in the sun. He turns his face skyward; far above, a drone piloted by Carrie’s team looks back at him.
And then, Aayan’s time in the sun is over. Four men with guns appear on the shore, and lead him toward the road and several waiting cars; in Islamabad, the CIA identifies them all as known terrorists. Another car appears; Carrie informs her team that if Haqqani is in it, they will strike. And when Haqqani steps out of the car, it’s go time…
…except that it’s not, of course. Because there’s another man in the car, a man who Haqqani drags out and forces to look skyward—at which point Carrie, Quinn, and everyone else find themselves looking into the face of former CIA Director Saul Berenson.
Aayan seems to have just barely grasped how thoroughly and terribly he was played when Haqqani puts a bullet in his head.
Far away, Carrie is the one who breaks the dumbstruck silence and orders her team to take the shot—and Quinn is the one who insists, aghast, that they cannot drop a bomb on Saul Berenson. And as the two of them fight, the window of opportunity closes: The convoy of cars reaches a crossroads, and one by one, they peel away. Haqqani escapes in one vehicle; in another, Saul is being held hostage; and they only have one drone, which means that they have to decide right now which car to follow and which to lose.
Quinn, who just made it his job to make that choice, stares in silent horror at the diverging targets and says nothing.
And Carrie, returning to her office, opens the door to the world’s richest metaphor for the last three days of her life: Everything from the safehouse, every last shred of evidence of her recruitment of Aayan Ibrahim, is sitting on the floor in half a dozen black Hefty trash bags.
The mission is toast. Aayan is dead. Saul is who-knows-where. And for those of us who thought we knew where this storyline was headed, Homeland just got really, really interesting.