In the end, Homeland came full circle in several ways. The title of the series finale, “Prisoners Of War,” is a nod to the Israeli series that inspired co-creators Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, who co-wrote this episode and handed it over to their favorite director, Leslie Linka Glatter. The hour opens with the clip of Nicholas Brody explaining himself in hopes that his children would one day understand why he had to betray his country in order to save it, setting up a parallel with Carrie’s actions to follow. And it ends with a bizarre sequence in which Carrie appears to be enjoying a variation on the Homeland theme song performed by a jazz band in Moscow.
Before we get to that, however, Homeland delivers one last intense exercise in geopolitical tension and pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior in a quest to stave off disaster. The countdown to war is on, with Pakistan refusing to back down despite Hayes issuing a 48-hour ultimatum to withdraw their nuclear weapons from the border. Instead, Pakistan arms those weapons as US forces prepare to invade, promising a “swift and terrible” response. Carrie appears ready to go through with the ultimate betrayal, accepting a paralyzing agent from Yevgeny’s friend in order to subdue Saul for a GRE team to dispose of if he doesn’t come through with the name of his asset.
The result is one last great Carrie/Saul scene, and an episode Mandy Patinkin is sure to submit as his Emmy reel. Having been paid a visit by Carrie’s sister Maggie earlier in the day (thanks for stopping by, Amy Hargreaves!), Saul knows Carrie hasn’t bothered to see Franny since being back in the United States. He figures this is because Carrie is getting ready to run and he knows it has something to do with Yevgeny. She pleads with him to turn over his Russian asset, revealing all she’s learned already: that she was an English teacher who communicated him through books. Saul has already made his calculation: Lives will be lost in a war with Pakistan, yes, but it will be a “regional problem.” Better to keep his Russian asset safe than lose that pipeline to Moscow. It’s the “cost of doing business,” he says.
For Carrie, the Russians are a problem for another day. She has her own cost of doing business, and for a nail-biting stretch of the episode, it looks like she’s ready to go through with it. This whole season has been setting up the idea that people are just a means to an end for Carrie, that she’ll sacrifice anyone to get the job done, and since this is the last episode, the possibility she would go through with killing Saul feels very real. Whether he ever really believes she would do it remains ambiguous, but Patinkin delivers here, looking fearful and defeated when he’s drugged, but still finding the venom to deliver his last words to Carrie: “Go fuck yourself.”
She doesn’t kill him, but she doesn’t exactly cover herself in glory by flying to Israel and telling Saul’s sister that he’s dead so that she’ll turn over the flash drive with the information she needs. Maybe this doesn’t make the top ten list of shittiest things she’s done in the name of the job; if you’re feeling generous, you could make the case that this move was the catalyst for Saul and his sister reconciling in the end. For Carrie, however, she’s just another person who is a means to an end: the name of the GRU director’s translator Ana, which she gives to Yevgeny.
Saul makes a last-ditch effort to save Ana, dispatching Scott Ryan to get her away from the UN safely, but it ends in the basement with one last phone call before she takes her own life. This is played for a lot of emotion and Patinkin delivers again, but it’s hard to feel too invested in a character we just met last week, even if Saul has known her half his life. If Ana had been set up earlier and we’d gotten flashbacks throughout the season, maybe this could have been a stronger moment. As it is, it’s the plot device necessary to get the flight recording played for the world, ending the threat of war—and the set-up for Carrie’s final turn.
The “two years later” epilogue plays like someone’s too-clever-by-half flourish that should have never made it out of the writer’s room, at least not in this form. Carrie is living in Moscow, in a relationship with Yevgeny, and on her way out to a night on the town. It plays like a dream sequence, or like Carrie has been brainwashed and fallen for her one-time captor. (I thought of the end of Hannibal immediately.) Back in the states, Saul receives a copy of a book: Tyranny of Secrets: Why I Had to Betray My Country, by Carrie Mathison. So she has indeed become the new Brody...
Ah, but there’s a twist, because of course there is. We see Carrie switch purses with another woman in the ladies’ room. We see Saul use his tweezers to pull a note out of the book’s binding. It’s intel from Carrie, Saul’s new mole in Moscow, replacing the one she basically served up to be killed. Saul smiles ruefully. The end?
Of course, it doesn’t have to be. The pieces are in place for a movie or revival down the road, but these final few minutes feel so disconnected in tone from the rest that it’s hard to care. I mean, come on, how long would it take Russian intelligence to figure out that Saul’s new asset is Carrie Mathison? Ten minutes? Best not to think about it too deeply, and remember the good times instead. For the most part, this final hour delivered.
- I still have problems with the idea of the flight recording being enough to turn back the tide of war. Again, what about Jalal’s attack on the Special Ops team? Zabel himself had no problem with going to war on false pretenses, so it was at least nice to see that smirk wiped off his face.
- And that’s a wrap for Homeland. Thanks for tuning in these past few seasons. If it ever comes back, maybe we will too.