The CIA stalls for time in negotiations for Saul's release, while Carrie confronts the realization that one of her own people betrayed her.
Considering that pastries are established harbingers of doom on this season of Homeland, an episode called “Halfway to a Donut” was never going to be good news. It was, however, damn good television, as Homeland has once again taken all the elements that ever made it work—the intrigue, the espionage, the cat-and-mouse tangos with the Taliban, and the ever-present wildcard of Carrie Mathison’s mental state—and thrown them together in a configuration that’s at once familiar and thrillingly original.
This week, we open with Carrie on the morning after her hallucinogenic reunion with Brody, as she wakes up in Aasar Khan’s guest room with what we can only assume is a world-class hangover. (Or, y’know, whatever you get when you’ve spent half the night on an acid trip to Crazyland.) And now, embarrassing confession time: I totally assumed last week that Khan was complicit in sabotaging Carrie’s drugs, between his making the comment that triggered her pill-taking and his overall aura of smug villainy. But in this episode, it becomes clear that he didn’t (and still doesn’t) necessarily know that his colleague is a terrorist sympathizer, and that he doesn’t approve of Tasneem having poisoned Carrie’s pill supply. Obviously, poor Khan just suffers from a bad case of evil bastard resting face. Sorry, dude. I misjudged you.
Carrie, who wises up within minutes to the connection between her meds and her meltdown, makes her way back to the embassy and into a room with the only people she trusts: Lockhart and Quinn (who is finally, gratefully done having emo tantrums about Carrie having sexed an asset; he seems completely back to his old, super-cool self). Interestingly, where Carrie’s mental health nearly spelled her undoing back in the show’s first season, this time it’s not even a thing. Nobody even suggests that someone so easily unbalanced might not be the best choice for a CIA station chief; instead, Quinn and Lockhart are looking to Carrie for solutions, asking for her input, and treating her with respectful concern. It’s all pretty remarkable, considering that she was causing chaos less than 24 hours ago, assaulting hospital orderlies and trying to shoot people with an imaginary gun. Either the CIA is suddenly being very understanding about on-the-job manifestations of mental illness, or (more likely) the showrunners just aren’t interested in yet another multi-episode “Crazy Carrie” arc.
Carrie begs Lockhart not to disclose the information about the breach to anyone else, but Lockhart, who is really honestly the worst at his job, promptly informs Ambassador Boyd, because something about transparency. (Couldn’t he have been transparent with her about something else? Anything else?) And of course, shortly thereafter, over some sort of Pakistani pastry that Dennis Boyd describes as “halfway to a donut,” the ambassador delivers that same information to her traitorous mole of a spouse. Seriously, Martha? YOU HAD ONE JOB. But I suppose we should have known what would happen as soon as the ersatz donut appeared.
NEXT: If you’re all out of escape, I’ll take some death.
Meanwhile, all hands are on deck at the embassy to facilitate Saul Berenson’s release. As Haqqani explained himself in the previous episode, he wants a trade: a half dozen of his own men, who are currently being held prisoner by the U.S., in exchange for Saul. The Americans and the Pakistanis are all making at least a show of good faith, but Saul, on the other hand, is having none of it. While his fate is discussed in a far-away conference room, he takes matters into his own hands: picking the lock on his chains, staging a fake suicide, and then brutally strangling one of his captors before escaping into the night.
And oh my God, it is so bad-ass. Saul Berenson, the cuddliest bearded old bear currently on television, is actually a wily assassin who can kill a man with is bare hands! Who knew?! Any embarrassing rustiness during his airport pursuit of Farad Ghazi has officially been more than redeemed.
Saul has managed to snag a cell phone during his escape, which he uses to call Carrie. Within minutes, she’s summoned Quinn and they’re in the ops room, triangulating Saul’s signal and sending him to a nearby town, where they just happen to have a sympathetic asset. However, before Saul hangs up and starts hoofing it to safety, he has a message for Carrie: He will not be a pawn in Haqqani’s game, and he cannot be recaptured. If he doesn’t escape, then he wants to die.
“You need to promise,” he says. Something goes wrong, you drop a bomb on the whole mess.”
Carrie promises: “Escape or die.”
Saul hangs up. (And we, the Homeland audience, put in a polite request for escape rather than death, please and thank you.)
Hours later, at the same time as the ISI and the CIA are together again to discuss the Saul situation, Saul is reaching the grocery from which he will hopefully be extracted. He even sits down for tea and fruit with the asset, a good guy who signed on to the American cause after he saw his father blown up by the Taliban. There’s just one problem: Back in Islamabad, in the conference room, there’s a sense of something not quite right. Saul’s disappearance must have been discovered by now, yet nobody on the Pakistani side is so much as breaking a sweat — and Tasneem, in particular, keeps smirking with all the subtlety of a cat that just ate about 500 canaries. In other words, as Carrie scribbles in a note to Lockhart:
“They don’t seem worried. Why?”
Answer: Because thanks to the drone they’ve positioned in the air above the town where Saul is hiding, his kidnappers just need to look up to figure out exactly where he is. Which is a pretty stupid mistake to make, considering that basically every single episode this season has included a scene where someone on the ground looks up and sees a drone.
Thanks to the CIA having completely given themselves away, the terrorists know not only where to find Saul, but also where to go in order to engage in a giant shootout with the special forces unit on its way to retrieve him. It’s a hopeless mess, and there’s no way out. But Carrie, who was ready to blow Saul to smithereens only two short episodes ago, can’t bear to let him make that same call. So, she lies to him. She tells him that they need to move him to a different rendezvous point. She tells him that she can get him to safety, as trucks full of gunmen descend on the town. And when the “escape” part of “escape or die” is clearly not an option anymore, and when Saul puts a gun to his own head in order to finish the job, she tells him that his rescuers are already there, waiting to take him to freedom.
It’s heartbreaking how much he trusts her.
And at the moment when Saul emerges onto a street swarmed with the men who are hunting him, as he’s grabbed from every side by the enemy’s hands, the only thing worse than seeing him recaptured is seeing him curse Carrie, over and over, for denying him the only choice he had.
Back in the conference room, a deflated Lockhart says, “Tell Haqqani we’ll meet his demands.”
NEXT: The wrath remarkable human decency of Khan.
The ominous symbolisms of pastry notwithstanding, “Halfway to a Donut” also describes exactly where Carrie and her team now stand in the fight to save Saul, which is to say, nowhere. The net result of all this effort is nothing at all, a useless and agonizing endeavor with zero results. For the first time, Carrie seems to feel what Quinn feels: the dread of having nowhere to turn, fueled by the bleak knowledge that they’re all playing an unwinnable game with other people’s lives.
“How can saving someone’s life be the wrong choice?” she asks, rhetorically. “But it was. Because there are only wrong choices.”
There won’t be any quiet, restorative moments with a glass of white wine for Carrie tonight. Instead, she goes home and goes about systematically shutting out the world as though she intends to spend the next eight hours seeing, hearing, and speaking no evil. She dons her sleeping mask, earplugs, mouth guard. And finally, she turns off the light.
This wouldn’t be the first time that Homeland ended an episode on a seriously bleak note; at this point, with so little time left, I half expected the credits to roll. But fortunately, where Carrie and Quinn were stuck with only wrong choices, their ISI counterpart still has a good option or two.
First, Carrie’s phone rings in the darkness; next, we see her walking in the rain to what’s obviously a very secret meeting. And out of the dark emerges Aasar Khan, who is not only not this show’s villain, but possibly the most decent guy in Pakistan. At first, the purpose of the meeting is unclear; it seems like he mostly just wants to assure Carrie, again, that he wasn’t responsible for drugging her, to which Carrie’s response is, basically, “So what?”
But then, whether it’s because she senses the value of trusting Khan or just because she’s too tired to pretend anymore that she’s too tough to care about being poisoned, she drops her guard.
“It was f—ed up, what they did to me,” she says. “Maybe it was fair, maybe it’s what we do to each other, but it didn’t feel fair. Not at all.”
And in exchange for this show of human vulnerability, Khan makes his own show of human generosity: Having cannily observed an earlier interaction between Tasneem and Dennis Boyd, he tells Carrie who her traitor is.
Which means that when it comes to next week’s episode, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to start hoping now for a scene in which Quinn delivers a jelly donut to the slimy Professor Boyd… and then uses it to creatively murder him.