Homeland series finale recap: Goodbye to you, America
This week's episode title is "Prisoners of War," and you don't need to have a fancy CIA-worthy Ivy League degree or be an expert single-season-and-you're-done recapper like me (you're welcome for my service!) to decode this moniker. Carrie and Saul have been prisoners of war — wars in the Middle East, wars in the East, wars within their own homes, wars between each other — since long before we first met them onscreen. As Homeland viewers and as totally innocent bystanders on this planet, we're prisoners, too.
This episode opened with the most thrilling moment of the first season, which was, in my opinion, one of the most thrilling seasons of television of this decade: Nicholas Brody recording his manifesto, preparing for what he thought was going to be his final act of terror. The show has shown restraint in beating us over the head with symbology this season, but the subtleties have been there all along; Carrie is, essentially, Brody. We've never been exactly sure where her loyalty lies this year and, frankly, neither has she.
In New York, David Wellington discovers that Saul's pals in Pakistan gave the Americans false information about Jalal Haqqani and that they never actually took him out with last episode's drone strike — trigger-happy President Hayes is ready to "take out" the country, but Pakistan announces that they're readying their nuclear weapons in defense. In short: Everything that Saul has been warning about (and Carrie has been worrying about) is shifting into gear.
For the first time, Homeland follows Anna, Saul's double agent, in her day job, where we overhear her boss' tempered pleasure at the idea of an American-Pakistani nuclear war (this show is really doing wonders for our opinions of the Russians!), and also we see that the flight recorder is just sitting there on a table in his office, plain as day. Like it's a leftover bagel and not the most sought after item in the intelligence world.
Saul returns to the White House to let Hot Evil Hugh Dancy in on a little secret: The President's helicopter crashed because of mechanical failure, and everything Hot Evil Hugh Dancy has predicated his war games on is wrong. Surprising no one, HEHD doesn't take well to being wrong, and digs his heels in even harder — he has no problem taking the country to war over false pretenses, and it's the Weapons of Mass Destruction all over again. But Saul's learned a few things since Iraq and makes plans to go straight to the Post and the Times with the real story. He returns home to find ... oh my heavens, could it be? The Maggie Mathison gracing our presence for the very first time this season? Just when I had convinced myself that Homeland's writers' room had forgotten all about Carrie's family — she must have read last week's recap. Maggie was tipped off that Carrie is "back from Germany," which means she and Franny are, er, behind on their Carrie gossip.
Carrie heads back to the creepy empty mansion with the terrible sconces to get tutelage on her "mission," a.k.a. to find out how Yevgeny wants her to kill Saul. (She's supposed to poison him and then signal a GRU kill team.) She goes straight to Maggie's house, while Maggie is over at Saul's (convenient!), to dig through her faithful sack o' passports and money, an act that has never meant good things for Carrie in the past. We follow her to Saul's, and if it seems like I'm coming at the issue of whether she's going to murder her mentor and only friend in cold blood without much feeling, it's because it's true. This is weird.
Saul waits for her, creepy classical music blaring, knowing that something is up. Carrie wouldn't ignore Franny and Maggie unless she had a sinister plan readied. They argue, like always, about what matters — Carrie wants to turn over the Russian asset in exchange for the flight recorder, Saul thinks that keeping a line of intelligence to the Russians is worth it all. Seemingly in a fit of rage, she rubs the Russian poison on his neck and flickers the lights to signal her GRU partners while attempting to question him. She begs him to give up the double agent so she can call off the team but he refuses; it's nice to know that in These Times, we can at least rely on Saul to be good and true right up until the end. Carrie calls off the kill, leaving Saul's Russian babysitters to tie him to a chair so that he can't go meet with the reporters, and viewers wondering what her secret plan that goes behind the back of the Russian plan really is.
The episode cuts to the West Bank: A taxi delivers Carrie to Saul's sister's house in an occupied settlement where she tells Dorit that Saul passed away from a stroke. Her plan appears to be predicated on the assumption that his sister has the fallback — in the event of Saul's death, Dorit hands over his most sensitive intelligence. Falsely convincing a sister of her brother's death is pretty cold, albeit not quite as cold as killing said brother. The scene allows Dorit to reflect on the calculating nature of The Job, how nothing is sacred, even the closest relationships in an agent's life exist within the framework of intelligence work. She has what Carrie is looking for, though (a USB drive) and a few minutes after she sends Dorit on her way to the airport for Saul's fake funeral, Yevgeny appears in the West Bank to collect the name.
She shows Yevgeny the video that a much younger and less gray Saul recorded as his handover in the case of his death — a video in which he drops the line "In the end, who we trust in this life is all that matters" like some kind of heartbreaking fortune teller. Yevgeny sends a message to the man with the flight recorder where the stale bagel should have been, and in an instant, decades of Saul's secret-keeping is undone. After police free Saul from the Russians, he tips off Scott Ryan in time to grab Anna from the UN briefing room, but not in time to escape the UN itself. They wind up barricaded in a basement room, the GRU in the process of breaking down the door. With Saul on the phone, Anna takes her own life before the Russians can get to her, as the Russians release the cockpit recording from the downed helicopters.
Carrie's grand deal with Yevgeny is successful, but no one is at peace with it. Saul lost the most dedicated agent (and, potentially, friend) of his career. Carrie lost Saul's trust. Scott Ryan had to see Anna shoot herself with his gun. I'm not sure what Yevgeny lost — maybe any remote scraps of a friendship with Carrie? — but before I can keep this list going, Carrie and Yevgeny discover that Saul tipped Anna off, which means that Israeli counterintelligence knows that Carrie worked with the Russians. They jump in his car and suddenly it's two years later in Moscow and, for all my predictions about this finale, a two-year time jump was not one of them.
Carrie and Yevgeny are in a fancy apartment play-acting a couple: She delicately puts on makeup, he gifts her a necklace. The camera follows her to an office, covered from wall-to-wall with remnants of the old Carrie, Post-It notes, and article printouts tacked across the wall. Except this time, the paranoia centers on the United States and its many atrocities: Abu Ghraib, the drone program. In Washington, D.C, Saul and Dorit pack up his house when the phone rings, a man on the other line asking for a Professor Rabinow. Saul goes back to the bookstore from the days of his dead drop to find a new package, which would seem impossible given the fact that his double agent has been dead for two years. Cut back to Moscow, a jazz concert (and a Kamasi Washington cameo!) and Carrie's unrecognizable barrel curls, a smirk on her face as she listens to jazz, a bastion of her old life.
Saul/Professor Rabinow's package contains a copy of Carrie's book, Tyranny of Secrets: Why I Had to Betray My Country, with a message in the binding. "Greetings from Moscow, Professor," Carrie reads in a voiceover. "The Russian S400 missile defense system sold to Iran has a backdoor. It can be defeated. More updates to follow. Stay tuned."
The show closes with a defiant, satisfied, genuinely happy Carrie, bathed in blue light as the jazz music plays — her lover behind her none the wiser. We'll never know whether this was Carrie's end game from the beginning, or whether she pivoted when it became clear that she wasn't going to be welcome in America. I'd like to think it was the former, and I'll take it one further. I'll be the most soothed in believing that Carrie and Saul cooked up this plot at the end of season 7 when the danger of Carrie's Russian capture became clear. It's the longest of the long cons, but it gives all of this meaning: Her seven months of medication-less torture in the Russian prison, her time in Kabul, her seeming betrayals of Saul to Yevgeny along the way. They probably didn't envision this plan resulting in Carrie's exile to Moscow, but if we're all honest with ourselves, it's the only plausible version of an ending. As a prisoner of this war, Carrie was never going to get the kind of happy home life we'd all love to ascribe to her — and I think the Homeland writers gave us a gift, showing her not only at peace but alive with the thrill of her new endeavor. We all know it's better to place her at a safe distance from her loved ones, free to play out her questionable morals in a world in which there are no victims. Or prisoners.