By Seija Rankin
April 19, 2020 at 10:00 PM EDT
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Erica Parise/SHOWTIME

It's the penultimate episode of Homeland! The penultimate hour I will spend with Carrie Mathison, Saul Berenson, and all these other straight-up crazies that I've known longer than some (most?) of my friends have known their spouses. If this was a Hollywood marriage, we'd be long-divorced by now — but instead, here I am, coming back to this show week after week. I regret nothing, if I'm being honest.

As the episode opens on the CIA HQ Subbasement — a terrifying moniker — we learn that Carrie's plane did in fact make it back to the States. She's rescued from a holding cell by someone that Saul sent over and will be staying at Saul's house while she awaits trial, so clearly the FBI didn't relax their stance on her actions during the long flight. As she walks through Langley, a TV plays the news of the bombing that the rest of us knew took place while she was in the air; it seems that while most everyone died, Jenna Bragg is still alive and seemingly available to serve as a witness against Carrie.

The White House gang (led by Hot Evil Hugh Dancy) is looking to use the bombing to really go after Pakistan, which Saul is of course against given it was Jalal Haqqani's terrorist network and not the Pakistani government. It feels so satisfying to see Saul dropping F-bombs at Hot Evil Hugh Dancy and his smug beard.

Carrie's unpacking at Saul's house — have we been inside Saul's house since Mira was gone for good (again)? — and she offers to share the intel she heard on the flight recorder with the White House, which is only feasible if they find the actual black/orange box. She uses the opportunity to circuitously ask about that secret Russian asset Yevgeny mentioned, which Saul vehemently denies. I wonder whether to believe him while also simultaneously marveling about how enviable his house is. In Washington, D.C. he's gotta be sitting on millions of dollars worth of property, right? The wall-to-wall bookcase alone...hold up we're getting a flashback to Saul in 1986.

It's 1986 Berlin, of all places, and I'm enraptured immediately. Saul sees a bookstore that was clearly a secret meeting location, and a book that he clearly still owns. If Mandy Patinkin Irishmans himself for this flashback I'll consider this season worth its weight in gold. But before we're treated to digitally-de-aged Saul, the memory is over and we're back in the present, with Carrie trying to get Jenna on her side about this whole flight recorder-slash-secret asset search even though Jenna's still pissed about the safe house and is threatening to out Carrie's plan to everyone (including Saul). I really don't think I believe her, but I also won't pretend like I'm not biased against Jenna.

Now, under normal circumstances, I would delete that last sentence the second the next scene begins — the scene in which Jenna shows up at Saul's office in the White House and tells him that Carrie ambushed her in the parking lot saying "a lot of crazy stuff." But this is my penultimate recap and I don't want to pretend anymore, damnit! Sometimes my hunches are wrong. In my defense, Jenna is still kind of a...shall we say, dumb dumb...because she totally misread the relationship between Saul and Carrie, and instead of vengeance what she gets is a lecture from Saul.

"When you're dealing with Carrie you have to do what she does," he explains. "You have to decide for yourself what matters. You have to decide what kind of person you are."

[This is the point at which I wonder to myself whether Jenna is capable of the above — her avoidance of giving testimony to the FBI seems to suggest she might be].

Erica Parise/SHOWTIME

Back with Carrie, she's in the courtroom to hear her charges and they are really something. The FBI is pinning basically every crime that we've seen during season 8 on our girl — murder, assassination, you name it. She's in the bathroom puking out her stress when she gets a visit by a "friend of Yevgeny's" who offers up certain "resources" and "whatever help she needs." That's spy-talk for: Carrie can defect over to Russia if she wants to escape all those charges. '

When Carrie gets back to Saul's house she's greeted by an emboldened Jenna, who grew a spine after she ran out on the FBI and investigated Saul's time in Berlin after all. She runs Carrie through her findings (in Saul's own dining room!): Saul brought an asset back from Berlin in the late 80s and never declared an Eastern asset, yet continued to bring in major intelligence. In fact, during this scene Homeland credited Saul with practically every major Eastern intelligence coup — Gorbachev doing a deal with the West, discovering the cover-up in Chernobyl — which explains the portions of Saul's rise to power that I always believed wholeheartedly but never had any historical facts to back up. I'm not sure if the CIA doles out bonuses, but if they do then Chernobyl is probably what paid for his wall-to-wall bookcases. If Carrie follows up this lead it would be yet another betrayal of the man who's sacrificed a lot for her, but it might also get the flight recorder back. Naturally, Carrie follows up the lead. She goes to find Saul's asset at his Witness Protection house with a highly effective disguise (glasses and a ponytail!).

Saul's asset is surprisingly (shockingly?) open with Carrie, explaining how he managed to escape and how Saul carried him across the border, through sniper fire, after he lost his leg to a landmine. I'm currently imagining a Saul virile enough to carry a man across the border to safety, and I don't hate it. Alex also shows Carrie a class photo from his KBG training program — there's a mysterious (and unnamed) woman in the photo. Only the back of her head is visible, and the camera pans from the photo to a translator at the United Nations, on the panel convened to discuss the situation in Pakistan. This seems like Homeland's way of hinting at something — especially since the mysterious woman lingers on a conversation among the Russian delegation about Yevgeny's operation.

We follow her — she looks strikingly similar to Helen Mirren from the front, no? — to a bookstore and suddenly there's another flashback. The woman, much younger, pointing a gun at young-Saul's face and demanding to work as a double-agent. He turns her down in the flashback, but back at his house in present-day Carrie is searching through Saul's bookcase, seemingly on to something. She tracks all of his rare books (the dates he inscribed inside the covers) to match major intelligence events — the aforementioned Gorbachev talks and Chernobyl, but also the far more recent Crimea annexation. In New York, Saul receives a package from the shop that the mysterious woman visited (I think I'm going to start calling her Fräulein) and extracts a message from within the binding: "The price has already been asked. It's Yevgeny Bromov's play."

And now we're back to 1980s Berlin and Saul's newsboy cap. (And, sadly, it's a different actor — apparently Showtime doesn't have the same de-aging budget as Netflix). Young Saul is being hunted by the Germans, but is saved by Fräulein — it's clearly how she won her way into his good graces, proving her use as a Russian double agent, which proves the validity of Yevgeny's claims to Carrie.

Carrie calls the woman from the bathroom puking assistant to help her get in touch with Yevgeny — wearing a leather jacket that I'm a big fan of. They video chat (OMG are they Zoom-ing?) and after a predictably tense back-and-forth Yevgeny makes it clear that the only way Carrie's going to get the black box back from Moscow (and stave off this pending mini world war) is to eliminate Saul and become the asset's runner. Yevgeny bet on the fact that Saul's contingency plan would involve passing along his greatest intelligence source to his protége; in fact, it's clear his plan from the literal beginning was to back Carrie into a corner in which her only option was killing Saul. And I don't use literal lightly here. I'm guessing this goes back all the way to Carrie's capture at the end of season 7.

What this does is set up a potential tête-à-tête (I'm sorry for all the French here, but I don't know any Russian colloquialisms) to close out the show, and I have to wonder whether Homeland will even let us know the result. The writers have always preferred a cliffhanger ending, and I can't think of anything bigger than a fade-to-black in the middle of a Carrie and Saul standoff. Now, what I hope will happen is that they'll band together to take down the Russians in a final show of unity, but that's a little kumbaya for this group. Also, I hate to nitpick a plot hole during a time like this but now that Carrie's back in D.C., is she going to see her family? Or are we all just pretending that Franny doesn't exist, like when they swapped out the eldest sister on Roseanne halfway through the show?

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