Homeland Recap: 8×11 “The English Teacher”

Previously on Homeland: President Hayes threatened Pakistan if they didn’t turn over Jalal, and then was mad that they took it as an act of aggression; Yevgeny told Carrie that if she wanted the flight recorder to prevent nuclear war, she needed to find an agent Saul was running inside the Kremlin; Carrie tricked Jenna into giving up a safe house location, and got the agents there captured; Carrie got herself arrested and brought back to the US in an inquiry over the President’s death; David Wellington told Saul not to get in trouble for Carrie, but he wouldn’t turn his back on her; and Jenna got caught in a suicide driver attack when the agents she’d given up to Carrie were supposed to be freed.

Whew.

Carrie’s alone in a subbasement at the CIA headquarters at Langley. She looks good–nice berry-stained lipstick and straightened hair–so you know she’s being treated relatively well, since the show doesn’t shy away from un-prettifying Claire Danes when necessary. But she’s in handcuffs. And when her lawyer shows up, he gets her freed immediately, with nary a peep from the supposedly tough Agent Kroll. The lawyer is not exactly intimidating, either: he looks sort of like the Monopoly man, or someone who would show up in a local cable commercial for personal injury lawsuits. He tells her not to talk to anyone and informs her she’ll be staying with Saul. Wow, Carrie’s plan is going better than she could possibly have imagined, isn’t it? I guess we only have two episodes left and we need to get a move on to the good stuff. And there is some GOOD stuff coming.

Anyway, Carrie passes a TV on her way out and sees the news about the Taliban attack on the special ops team. Jenna was injured in the attack and is on her way back to the US to be a witness against Carrie, according to Carrie’s lawyer. Carrie looks guilty, but in a not particularly frantic way–it’s not like accidentally causing the death of a truckful of her compatriots is the worst thing she’s ever done. It’s probably not even the worst thing she’s gonna do in this episode, to be honest.

Over at the White House, Saul is (futilely) trying to explain to Hayes and his racist sidekick Zabel that they can’t blame Pakistan for the Taliban’s attack. Zabel wants Saul to “do something,” but Saul growls that something doesn’t have to be crossing the border of a nuclear power. He advocates for backchannel talks instead. Ah, Saul loves his backchannel talks, doesn’t he? You almost feel sympathy for Zabel when he repeats this phrase incredulously.

Carrie is unpacking in what I suppose is Saul’s guest room when he gets home, looking a little defeated. But when she thanks him, he says, “I want everyone on notice. If they want to get to you, they have to come through me.” Oh, what a man, that Saul Berenson. What a man.

Carrie asks about Saul’s day, and he thinks he’s just telling her that things are going badly, that Zabel is advocating for an invasion and his influence may not be enough to stop it. But of course, what Carrie is hearing is a series of justifications for why she has to betray Saul. “So we need the real thing. The flight recorder,” she says. Saul agrees, not realizing what he’s signing off on. (I think she’s also somewhat taking advantage of gender stereotypes here: the pattern of women asking men about their days and listening generously to the answer is so ingrained that Saul hears her question and immediately tells her everything, instead of noticing that it’s a hundred percent out of character. Come on, I love Carrie, but when has she ever cared about how anyone’s day was? The answer is, only when she’s making a play. And Saul should know that.)

Now that they’ve established they need the flight recorder, Carrie makes her first move, trying to get Saul to admit he has an asset in the Kremlin who could help. She makes up “rumors” that she’s asking about. “I don’t, do you hear me?” he says harshly. But the fraught silence that follows makes no sense unless he does have one. He’s not a very good liar, especially to Carrie.

He wanders off and makes a drink at his very classy bar surrounded by classy bookshelves full of classy red leather-bound books. Then he touches one of the books and leans pensively against the counter. Dear Saul: could you BE more obvious?

In a blue-tinged flashback in East Berlin, a young bearded man who looks kind of like a grown-up Corey from Boy Meets World picks up a red leather book from a bookstore, and then ducks into the back. He’s accosted by a woman who holds a gun to his head. That’s when I realized it was young Saul! (But seriously, in the present day, where is Carrie? Did Saul just ditch her in his living room and go to have a nice leisurely flashback in his library over a glass of whisky? Rude.)

The flashback ends on a cliffhanger. Cut to the next day, when Jenna is released from the hospital, a big bruise on her forehead. Carrie’s waiting for her, but Jenna tries to walk by her, checking for her Uber on her phone (ha). Carrie accosts her: “I know you’re mad.” Ha! She’s like a fifth-grader apologizing after revealing her BFF’s crush. Jenna, in a rare attack of being totally right, points out that that’s a silly phrase when a busful of people are dead. Carrie starts over and asserts that this is the Taliban’s fault. I mean, yes, but… it’s a little bit your fault, since you conspired to get that busful of people arrested with your sexy Russian-spy lover.

Anyway, Carrie tells Jenna that Jalal didn’t shoot down the President, but Yevgeny stole the evidence from her. Then Carrie makes a big bet: she tells Jenna about Yevgeny’s proposed trade for the flight recorder. Jenna, for once, actually stands up for herself and demands to know all the details before she agrees to help. And when Carrie admits she hasn’t told Saul because he’d never agree, Jenna is horrified. She realizes that Carrie would agree. Carrie, failing as usual to read the room–or reading the room and knowing that she can convince anyone to do anything–actually asks Jenna to look on the Langley computers for Saul’s asset. But Jenna musters her last shred of self-respect and threatens to tell Saul what Carrie’s up to, then gets in her Uber. Go, Jenna!

Jenna has to wait a bit to see Saul, who is in his office fielding a call from Tasneem. She’s pissed that the troops are still amassing on the border and the White House is spreading lies about the death of the troops. “We were doing you a favor!” she says indignantly. Saul tells Tasneem the situation is “fucking delicate,” which is such a Saul-like phrase. He says all she can do is give him Jalal. Tasneem convincingly claims she doesn’t know where he is, and Saul asks her just to give him “plausible” coordinates. “You hear what I’m saying?” he asks. If she gives him anything, he can use it as a shiny toy to distract his idiot President from doing anything stupid. Tasneem actually seems convinced. Hard to tell if the woman has a soul, but just maybe she doesn’t actually want her country to get into a nuclear war.

After that, Saul welcomes Jenna into his office, and Jenna complains about Carrie saying “crazy stuff” to her. When she starts with the story about the flight recorder, Saul–not knowing what the stakes are for himself–urges her to be on Carrie’s side. Oh, the irony! “Everything she does, everything, is because she never loses sight of what’s important,” he says. “When you’re dealing with Carrie, you have to do what she does. Have to decide for yourself what matters.” Poor Jenna falls silent. Her plan of revealing Carrie’s plan to Saul is completely out the window. She’s kind of the mirror image of Hayes, isn’t she? The last person to talk to her is always the one who influences her.

Meanwhile, Carrie is in court listening to the charges against her, including accessory to murder of the President. She starts to cry, so we know she’s not completely insensate–or is it a plot? No, it’s not a plot, she’s puking in the toilet. Yikes. Afterwards, while she’s washing her face, she’s accosted by a woman names Charlotte who claims to be a friend of Yevgeny’s. “Fuck him and fuck you,” Carrie says elegantly.

Jenna, looking terrified, steps into the tribunal. As soon as Agent Kroll begins recording, she suddenly announces that actually, she’s not OK after the explosion and needs a few days. She’s trembling, though she could be passing it off as PTSD instead of the fact she’s about to pee her pants at lying to a federal investigator.

Zabel comes into Saul’s office to brag about an “off-the-record call from Islamabad,” which he pronounces like “Iz-lamb-a-bad.” What a dick. Anyway, apparently Islamabad called to give intelligence on Jalal after all. Zabel thinks it’s because he put pressure on Pakistan, not because of “backchannel talks.” Saul doesn’t mention his little back-channel talk with Tasneem asking for exactly that, which must take a superhuman amount of self-restraint when faced with weaselly Zabel. The point is: Saul’s the man, and Saul’s way is the best way. Every single beat of this episode reminds you of that, just to make it all the more painful that Carrie is suddenly his adversary.

In the Situation Room, Wellington mutters, “Thank God they came around.” He knows Saul knows something. But the clueless Zabel and President Hayes legit think they’re blowing up Jalal. Everyone claps and Zabel says, “Fuck yeah!” Ugh, he’s so tacky. Saul leaves, Wellington follows, and Saul tells him he’s going to New York but not to tell anyone. (That’s where Tasneem is, for the record.)

Carrie arrives back at Saul’s place to find Jenna waiting for her with a file she found about an exfiltration that went south that Saul was involved in. Saul had recruited a man named Andrei at a KGB language school in East Berlin, but when he had to extract him, Andrei lost a leg. He’s living in Pennsylvania, so he’s not the asset, but he might know something. Jenna has put together that Saul’s intelligence successes started from the time of this extraction, yet Saul never declared another asset. It’s almost a relief to see Jenna being smart, but it’s poignant too, because you can see that the weakness of her personality is what’s holding her back, not a lack of hard skills. (Or is it weakness? Or something else? The show will call that into question a little bit. We’re watching from Carrie’s perspective a bit, or at least I am–and for Carrie, a lack of resolve is the gravest flaw. But her resolve can carry her to some very dark places.)

Before she leaves, Jenna tells Carrie she’s leaving the CIA. Carrie can’t believe she’d do it when she just did such a good job. Jenna retorts that the special ops teams’ deaths — and the inevitable death by torture of this asset when Carrie finds him — are good reasons. It reminds us that Carrie has accepted the horrible costs of doing business by now, so implicitly that it doesn’t even occur to her that those costs could drive someone away. Whereas Jenna, newer and softer, still has a grip on the part of her that is shocked by all this. Jenna confesses that she’s tried to see things like Carrie, but she can’t. Then she is forced to utter a clunker of a line, “All I see is damage.”

I’m inclined to forgive this show one clunker, since it’s the second-to-last episode and Jenna is obviously here as a foil for Carrie, who continues to believe that she and she alone can save her country. But just for the record, that line is worthy of a middlebrow “prestige” drama like Westworld, not the ultimately better-written Homeland, which, for all its flaws, usually avoids sententiously explicating its themes like this.

So Carrie drives through a back-country road to Andrei’s house. She’s in a sort of movie-librarian disguise, you know, where the librarian looks absolutely gorgeous but has a low ponytail and giant glasses so you know she’s a big nerd. Her cover story, matching the glasses, is that she’s a historian for the agency, trying to get the whole story on old files that are being declassified. And she drops Saul’s name so that Andrei will let her in. Andrei does, but he says, “Does Saul know? Because I should call him and let him know that you are here throwing his name around.” Carrie says to feel free to call Saul. He picks up the receiver… she stares at him with a perfectly innocent face… and then finally he thinks better of it. I guess Carrie knew he would realize it was too dangerous to call Saul, and called his bluff.

At the United Nations in New York, Pakistan has convened a vote against the US over the raid of Pakistan. Tasneem is speaking–and she’s completely right that the US violated her nation’s sovereignty despite clear warnings. The Russian ambassador is there, too. Saul says his plan is to “make an idiot of myself” and warns Scott Ryan not to stop him.

Librarian Carrie, meanwhile, is getting the story from Andrei about how he lost his leg. Carrie pretends to be interested in this (and it’s a good way to remind the audience once again that Saul is the MAN). But what Carrie’s really after is an opening. Eventually, she sees a photo of Andrei with other cadets and asks what happened to them, but they were all executed for failing to prevent his defection. So I guess none of them could be Saul’s asset! Womp womp. Then, Carrie picks up another picture and notes that “One of them was a woman.” The woman was an English teacher–but unfortunately, Andrei didn’t know her name.

As soon as the UN meeting adjourns, Saul starts screaming at the Russian ambassador about the black box in front of everyone. “You’re a lying bunch of fucks, I know you fuckin’ have it,” Saul says hilariously. Then he yells at a nearby translator, an elegant woman with platinum blonde hair, to translate his bad language too. Heh. “The old man’s losing it,” says the Russian ambassador after Saul’s dragged away. But the men whisper to each other in Russian that Yevgeny Gromov is running an operation–and the translator hears this.

Librarian Carrie is wrapping up her interview when she finds a red leather book that Andrei explains was Saul’s way of signaling for them to meet. “Things hidden in plain sight,” he says. Another rather clunkily metaphorical line, but again, I’ll give it a pass given this is the penultimate episode.

Next up, our elegant translator visits a bookstore and stops in front of a display case with a red leather book. You know, one that’s Hidden In Plain Sight.

Now we’re in the flashback again: the young woman who has Baby Saul at gunpoint says she wants to take Andrei’s place. She’s angry about what happened to the students who were tortured and shot over him, and she’s being sent to Moscow as a translator, so she can get useful information. But Saul denies that he’s CIA, not trusting her yet. And by the way, it’s totally a mindfuck to watch this flashback because Saul’s being played by a young man, but they’re using Mandy Patinkin’s voice (or he’s being played by a young man who has Mandy Patinkin’s EXACT voice, which is equally creepy).

Back at Saul’s, Carrie investigates Saul’s bookshelf full of red leather books. (One of the titles, which I’m sure was put there on purpose, and of which I fully approve, is “A Woman’s Vengeance.”) Carrie pulls out Conrad’s The Secret Agent and flips through it. Then another book. Each has Saul’s name and a date written in the inside cover. (Saul’s library area is hella enviable, by the way. Sooo many books, plus a nicely stocked bar with crystal glasses. I’m usually not one for real estate porn but damn, I would love to settle into that library with a glass of Saul’s whiskey and a red-bound classic novel.)

Meanwhile, at his hotel room in New York, Saul gets a delivery from a rare bookstore to a “Professor Rabinow.”

Cut back to Carrie, and she has covered Saul’s living room with a giant diagram of dates and significant events corresponding with the inscriptions in Saul’s books. Yessss!! It would not be right to end Homeland without Carrie solving one last mystery by making an unhinged-yet-brilliant Pinterest board. Just as she realizes where to look–in the spine of the book–we see Saul, too, pulling out a message from the spine of the book that was just delivered to him. “The price has already been asked. It’s Yevgeny Gromov’s play.”

Back in the Germany flashback, young Saul is accosted by an officer who accuses him of being CIA. They try to arrest him, but he fights back and runs away. Wow, young Saul really was awesome! Before the officers can catch him, the English teacher shoots them both. Saul pulls her over to a corner and grabs her arms (I honestly almost thought they were going to make out?). “Do you trust me now?” she says.

In the present day, Saul is clearly thinking about this as he stares into the distance pondering the message he got from the translator all these years later. He must realize what’s happening, right? That Carrie’s in on it?

Carrie leaves Saul’s house in a hoodie (yeah, that’s not suspicious) and meets Yevgeny’s friend Charlotte, who picks up Carrie and drives her to a beautiful mansion for a call with Yevgeny. (It’s vacant; she’s the listed real estate agent.) Yevgeny is already waiting on a video call when she gets there and sits in front of him. She says that she can find the name if he procures her certain KGB records. When Yevgeny hears East Berlin, 1986, he realizes exactly what she’s talking about, with the language school and Andrei. “Is that the best you can do? Really?” he says. “You think we didn’t look there already?” Heh. Unfortunately, according to him, all the school records were burned after the wall came down.

Carrie pleads that she’s done what she can and starts to walk away, but he calls her bluff by saying the war is coming. Yevgeny insists, “You have to solve this. Besides, you haven’t done everything.” Carrie asks what he means, but she clearly already knows. Yevgeny says calmly, “If you can’t find the asset, you can still take Saul out of picture. Then the asset is neutralized and is no longer a problem.” Because if Saul died, his legacy plan would clearly be to pass the asset on to someone… and that someone would obviously be Carrie.

“You knew Saul would never give up his asset. You fucking knew it would come to this,” Carrie said. Which is classic Carrie, right? I mean, Yevgeny didn’t arrange this entire mission and an entire nuclear war threat just to bring Carrie to the brink of killing her mentor! She acts like he’s doing it purposely to fuck with her. Yevgeny, hilariously, just says, “Kill Saul,” with a little what-do-you-want-me-to-say smirk. I love this guy. Carrie’s pretty clearly not feeling the love, though. She slams the laptop and storms out.

It’s obvious she’s going to kill Saul, or try to. What’s not obvious is whether there will be an elaborate secret plan to make the killing fake, or to otherwise escape the impossible choice she’s facing. I remained in suspense for much of the final episode… and we’ll find out what really happened in the next extremely belated recap!

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