Homeland recap: Ka-boom again, again
It's Easter, or so I'm told. In quarantine, all the days blend together and the only thing that seems to offer any differentiation is how late I allow myself to stay up mindlessly scrolling Instagram. Oh, and Homeland is on Sunday nights. We're nearing the end of this season but I'm having some cognitive dissonance in that regard: It's like my brain knows, factually, that there are only three episodes left (now two), but it just doesn't feel like that. Either the stakes of this season aren't high enough (although I'm not sure how they could be any higher than a pending nuclear crisis) or nothing means anything anymore.
This episode ("Designated Driver") opens with Carrie jumping into her designated driver's —Arman, from the beginning of season 8 — truck and performing some highly impressive memory recall — after being drugged, carried back to her hotel room, and sleeping off said drugs, she scribbles down everything she can remember from the flight recorder before Yevgeny took off with it. They head off to Bagram Airport, a journey that will involve a potentially sheisty border crossing into Afghanistan.
At the White House, President Hayes and Hot Evil Hugh Dancy are bullying the ambassador to Pakistan over finding Jalal Haqqani. The ambassador is very measured when he tells them that if their troops cross the border, they will launch those missiles everyone panicked over last episode. David Wellington steps in to offer some more measured insight into the situation, and suggests that Pakistan lets the special ops team (you know, the ones that Carrie got arrested as a distraction for her black box search) go as a show of good faith for future negotiations.
Meanwhile, Jalal rallies the troops — everyone except for Balach, Haqqani's former right hand man and the only person present who doesn't want to reign terror down on Afghanistan. Jalal wants to plan an attack, but Balach believes it will only bring more American troops (and there's also the fact that he was on board with the peace plan). Not surprisingly, he gets overruled and Jalal orders him to get a plan in action, and make it snappy (and deadly).
Carrie makes it to Bagram, where she sneaks into the airport hangar — an alarming moment, given the fact that not only does she not have any credentials with her but she's actually persona non grata at the present — to show the helicopter mechanic what she heard on the black box tapes. The tech's analysis of her post-drugging scribbles is that there was metal in the engine oil, which would have required an immediate landing — an impossible feat given the mountainous terrain the Presidents were flying over.
She calls Saul to brief him on the accident (in every sense of the word) and also has to tell Saul that she doesn't exactly have the black box, but simply the aforementioned scribblings. The real problem is that the Russians have the black box (and all the intel that comes with it), and Carrie has zero credibility with which to convince anyone at the CIA that she heard what she heard.
The solution is that Saul will have to make a deal with the Russians to get the box back and Carrie will have to turn herself in to Kabul station. Saul goes to the Russian ambassador (who pretends like he doesn't know that Yevgeny has been cavorting all over the Valley with Carrie, or that the Russians now have the evidence of the helicopter crash — do we believe him?) and implores him to find out what exactly the Russians want in exchange for all of it.
At Kabul station, Jenna plays dumb, like she didn't get a phone call from Carrie convincing her to give up the location of the CIA safe house. She tells Mike she'll put a team together to find Carrie (and arrest her) and also gets a major case of the hand-shakes. I don't think they're going to find her, because Carrie has a larger plan and also because Jenna doesn't seem to be capable of doing much of anything successfully. The next step in Carrie's plan is to go to the Kabul apartment that Yevgeny used before he fled to Moscow with his loot — and it's completely empty.
The Russian ambassador gets an answer from Moscow mighty quickly, and the answer is: There is no price for the black box. He tells Saul that he's, how you say, "Barking up the wrong tree," and that Moscow refuses to admit that any part of Carrie's Yevgeny story is true. Even given the dire implications of this deal falling through — Pakistan readying its nuclear devices, America readying for an attack on Pakistan because they still think the country is harboring the man responsible for the President's murder — Russia refuses to play ball.
Apparently the exact message from Moscow was "We have what we want," which means that the Russians' whole M.O. is to keep the evidence of an accidental helicopter crash secret and allow the other countries to wreak havoc on each other in the meantime. How very puppet-master-y of them! Lots of ominous music plays as Saul hangs up the phone after this exchange, just in case anyone was unsure of how serious it is.
As Carrie and Arman wait in mind-numbingly extreme Kabul traffic, some of Yevgeny's henchmen pull her from the truck to arrange a hasty secret meeting. Yevgeny explains that while there was no price they would accept from Saul for the flight recorder, they do have a little proposition for Carrie (hereee it is!). He claims that Saul has an agent inside the Kremlin, who has been running Russian secrets back to the CIA — a fact that Carrie disputes, seemingly because she doesn't know about this double agent (if the double agent exists). Russia wants the name of this person, or they'll let this insane nuclear escalation continue — and Carrie going behind Saul's back seems to be the only way to get it.
Presumably to get a read on the situation, she gives him a call before turning herself in at the station — Saul tells Carrie that the Russians told him that they "don't know anything about a black box," which both Carrie and we, the audience, know is kind of a lie. He also says that he thinks they're lying, which is true? Carrie lies back, telling Saul that Yevgeny didn't say anything to her when he stole the recorder and also failing to mention that they just had a rendezvous. Saul tells her, "The truth isn't much good if no one will listen."
Arman offers to get Carrie out of the country — to Dubai, to hide out — but she's going to make-good (or try to) on the offer from the Russians. She ditches her phone and heads straight to the entrance of the station. Her actual turning-herself-in is not nearly as climactic as I thought it would be after all this time, but Homeland is saving the, er, climaxing, for other moments.
Mike Dunne announces to his team that the Pakistani government, in a show of good faith, is going to release the special ops team after all. They'll be bussed to the border and allowed to return to Kabul. Jenna begs Mike to accompany the handoff at the border, which will allow her to keep her safe house faux pas under wraps for a bit longer.
Back at Taliban HQ, they've got a literal plan of attack in place: A car bomb at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. And Jalal has a bit more evil up his sleeve: He captured Balach's family and is only going to keep them alive if Balach himself commits the suicide mission. I'll spare you description of the scene that seals Balach's fate as the driver because no one needs to hear about that right now.
Carrie convinces the FBI to arrest her and send her back to the States (which is clearly part of her master plan), where Wellington is trying to convince Saul to sever ties with their newest atomic blonde (see what I did there?). Saul doesn't take the duplicitous bait, instead telling Wellington about the black box findings and the little Russia problem and also reminding David what Carrie has sacrificed for the country thus far. Her Russian jail time seems a distant memory, now, doesn't it?
As the FBI agents escort Carrie to the airport for her official deportation, we see what we know is the bombing begin to unfold at the border. The troops arrive on the Afghani side, waiting for the convoy to arrive — the special ops team will be dropped off in buses and then walk through the border crossing. Balach, too, arrives at the crossing, trunk explosives at the ready, tragic goodbye video for his wife and children taped and sent through the airwaves.
The FBI jet starts to gas up, the special ops team pulls up to the crossing, and one of the agents gives his fellow former-captors an ominous "Almost home, boys." We all know how this is going to go, but what we don't know are the implications. Will Carrie's plane turn around, now that the region has been completely destabilized? Will Russia's plan remain? Will anyone at the border crossing survive? I truly can't think of a scene more terrifying this season than the soldiers trying desperately (and in vain) to stop Balach's car as it speeds toward the barriers, bringing an explosion that everyone — including the special ops team locked on the bus like sitting ducks — knows is coming. It's not quite the stress that I need right now.
The only thing that can solve this, until next week, is Gilmore Girls.