I’ve started to play a little game with this final season of Homeland called “Who is the absolute worst?” I don’t mean which character is the most evil or who has done the most harm in the world; this is more about the character who causes my eyeballs to roll further back in my head with each and every appearance. There are really only two legitimate contenders: Jenna Bragg and President Ben Hayes. You could make an argument for either, and “In Full Flight” provides plenty of ammunition for both sides.
When Jenna was first introduced, we were told that she was new on the scene and might be a bit of a fuck-up, but at the time I took that as misdirection indicating that she’d prove her worth sooner than later (maybe even ending up at the center of a Homeland spinoff). Every week since then, Jenna has confirmed her basic incompetence, whether by a slip of a tongue at a fake job interview designed to reel in a cooperator or by letting Carrie out of her sight too soon at the airport. Her awfulness has not gone unnoticed by Carrie, who capitalizes on it again when she needs the location of an exfil team safe house. “You played me,” says Jenna, because it’s all about her, but she once again falls for Carrie’s line of bullshit. In Jenna’s (slight) defense, she hasn’t known Carrie long enough to realize she doesn’t have actual personal relationships with people, just people she can use when she needs them.
Hayes may be even worse, if only because he’s in a position to do much more harm. Like a certain other president who may or may not be fictional, Hayes has no real beliefs of his own; he simply listens to whoever has made the most recent case to him more forcefully. In the case of Hayes, that usually ends up being Zabel. Saul is summoned back to Washington and does his best to talk Hayes back from the verge of war with Pakistan, asking him if he has even considered the possibility that the video of Jalal might be evidence of a man lying for political gain rather than the unvarnished truth. Zabel steps in to insist that of course the president has already thought of that, but the look on Hayes’ face certainly suggests that this possibility had never occurred to him.
Zabel’s manipulation of Hayes is incredibly transparent as he leads the new president by the nose straight back to the wartime mindset. Wellington is absolutely no help to Saul, remaining silent throughout the meeting, because he knows challenging the president will only get them barred from future meetings at best and fired at worst. (Again, it all sounds so familiar for some reason.)
Much of the episode is devoted to Carrie’s efforts to recover the flight recorder. Yevgeny takes her to a bazaar where Carrie is offered her choice of flight recorders—who knew they were such a popular item?—before finding Max’s empty rucksack for sale. That leads to a meeting with a “broker” who has the actual recorder and is willing to sell it for a price. Saul comes through with the million dollars (actually $999,999.00 since any amount over six figures will be flagged), and Carrie pulls off a tense transaction that ends with her chasing the broker away at gunpoint. When she finally gets to listen to the cockpit recording, it appears to back up her theory that no one shot down Chalk One: it was a crash resulting from mechanical error, a modern Gulf of Tonkin to justify an unnecessary war.
Those trying to prevent that from happening include Tasneen, now suffering from extreme buyer’s remorse for her backing of Jalal earlier in the season. She wants him to go to ground, but he’s already amassed a following far beyond anything she imagined—an “army of martyrs,” in his words. Meanwhile, there’s activity in a Pakistani nuclear garrison in response to the U.S. troop surge, which baffles Hayes since Zabel assured him Pakistan would back down when he rattled his saber.
It must be almost time for Carrie Mathison to save the world again, but she’s in just about the worst possible position to do so. Once again her assumptions about how human relationships work are blown apart, as it turns out Yevgeny doesn’t turn to putty in her hands at the promise of a roll in the hay. He still has his own agenda, and the flight recorder is part of it. As the episode fades to black, Carrie is drugged and unconscious...and somehow still not the most useless person on the show.
- The look on Jenna’s face when the exfil team was arrested by local police made her entire presence this season worthwhile.
- Programming note for fans of Sunday night Showtime drama: Billions returns on May 3, but only seven episodes will air due to the COVID-19 shutdown. The rest of the season will have to wait until we’re finally past all this. Until then, stay home and keep washing your hands.