Homeland Recap: 8×12 “Prisoners of War”

Last episode! And only a year and change late!

I will say more about my thoughts at the end of this episode, but I’ll just start by saying I’m an unabashed fan of how this show ended. I think they did a great job wrapping up the show, and did honor to Carrie, who in my opinion is among the greatest TV characters of all time.

Previously on Homeland: A convoy was blown up by a driver under Jalal’s orders; Zabel blamed Pakistan; Saul asked Tasneem to give plausible coordinates for Jalal to avert an invasion of Pakistan and thus nuclear war; Zabel and Hayes believed they’d blown up Jalal due to Tasneem’s bogus tip. Meanwhile, Yevgeny demanded that Carrie get the name of an asset Saul had in Moscow in exchange for the black box that could prove Jalal wasn’t responsible for assassinating the President; Carrie discovered an old contact of Saul’s who helped her figure out that he was using his giant collection of red leather books to communicate with the asset; and Saul made a scene at the UN in front of a translator, after which he received a message in a red book that “It is Yevgeny Gromov’s play.” Finally, Carrie told Yevgeny that she couldn’t find the asset, and Yevgeny said that her last option was to kill Saul, who would pass on the asset to her in the case of his death.

I’m still laughing at the way Yevgeny’s dimples come out when he goes, “Kill Saul.” He’s so matter-of-fact. It’s priceless.

Now we’re seeing Brody’s suicide video, which he filmed before his failed attempt to blow up the President in season 1. Meanwhile, Carrie’s driving alone, looking perturbed. What’s the connection between these two? In this interview, the creators say that they were trying to draw a parallel through this whole season between Carrie and Brody, both suspected of being traitors. For most of this season, I didn’t really experience it that way as a viewer–I read it as Carrie going full circle by once again becoming irresistibly drawn to a man who might further her professional aims but might just be an enemy. But this episode hammers the point home, and like I said in the last recap, I’m willing to let a usually restrained show be on-the-nose in its final episodes. They’ve earned it. (And apparently I was too obtuse a viewer to get the point on my own anyway!)

Carrie arrives back at Saul’s place, calls his name, and discovers she’s alone. She draws a teary sigh. One of the wonderful things about this show is that you know she’s resigned to doing something terrible–as terrible perhaps as what Brody almost did. What you don’t know is what exactly she’s planning. But you’re in suspense the whole time as to how far she’ll go. They’ve earned the suspense by going to such dark places with her.

Wellington has discovered that the coordinates for Jalal were bogus, which means that the President probably has too. When he discovers Saul was in on it, he tells Saul that Hayes is on the phone with the Prime Minister of Pakistan demanding them to stand down their nukes. Saul growls that Pakistan will at this moment be delegating launch authority to lower-level commanders in the field. Wellington promises to try to get Saul in to see the President today. And Saul mentions that Russia is jumping into this situation, too. Of course, he has no idea how far in they’ve already jumped.

In Saul’s kitchen, Carrie drinks coffee and watches Tasneem holding a press conference to announce that Pakistan has “no choice” but to defend themselves against the US’s violation of their airspace. She claims that while they still hope for peace, their response to war will be “swift and terrible.” Gotta give it to her–they’re pretty justified here.

Over at the UN, the translator enters the office of someone named Director Mirov. She’s there to give him a report on the press conference. As soon as she enters, she sees that he has the black box lying open on a table in his office! He’s not worried, though, so you know that he totally trusts her. And he’s very pleased to hear her report of what Tasneem said at the press conference.

Carrie arrives at the big house where she called Yevgeny before, and meets Charlotte, the agent who brought her there. Carrie looks drawn and weary. Charlotte, on the other hand, is thrilled. She gives Carrie two ingredients that can combine to form a gel absorbed through the skin, warning her to wear gloves. Oh no!! She really is going to kill Saul!

Saul arrives at the Oval Office to find Zabel waiting for him instead of the President. He doesn’t want to talk to Zabel because Zabel’s never going to change his mind. Zabel says that goes both ways, and Saul says, “Yeah, but you’re the only one ignoring the facts on the ground.” (It’s sort of like arguing with an anti-vaxxer: both of you might be equally dug in, but only one of you actually has reasons.) After the two bicker a little about the situation in Pakistan, Saul reveals that the Russians have the flight recorder, and it reveals that the plane went down due to a bad turbine blade.

Zabel has the sense to look stricken at this. At first it seems like he’s actually feeling bad about what he’s done to the country, but I think he might just be upset that he no longer has his justification to start shit with Pakistan. And when Saul has to admit he doesn’t have the flight recorder, Zabel suddenly accuses him of making it all up, which conveniently allows him not to feel bad about what he’s done. “Don’t be the schmuck who takes us to war for the second time in twenty years under false pretenses,” Saul says. Zabel says, infuriatingly, “I still think overthrowing Saddam [he pronounces it rhyming with “jam,” because he’s the worst] was the right thing to do.”

Saul calls Wellington and asks him to set up a press breakfast outside the city tomorrow as a last resort. He arrives home to find Maggie leaving a note for him, to tell him that she hasn’t heard from Carrie since she got back from Germany–and neither has Franny.

Meanwhile, we see Carrie entering an empty house, with a bedroom that’s apparently Franny’s, and retrieves a getaway bag stashed somewhere in the closet. (I got confused here–at first it seemed to be Maggie’s house, but then why would Carrie have her getaway bag there, so I figured it was Carrie’s house and she just never had the heart to pack up Franny’s room. But according to other accounts on the internet, it is in fact Maggie’s house. So.) Anyway, just as she’s leaving, she sees a framed picture of Franny, nearly breaks out into ugly tears, and swipes the photo for herself. It’s sad, but I have to say, I think the show has been much better without Franny, and Franny is probably better off without Carrie, too. And you get the sense that Carrie wouldn’t trade her work to have Franny back. Also sad (for Franny) but in-character for Carrie.

Anyway, so it’s evening when Carrie arrives back at Saul’s. She sits in the car for awhile, tears in her eyes. Obviously, this gives you a pretty strong suspicion that she’s really planning to kill Saul (of course, having watched the rest of the episode, I guess she’s steeling herself for a huge risk to both him and her, and also for what she’ll have to do next).

When she comes back, Saul is blaring choral music and sitting in his fancy library, looking for all the world like a serial killer contemplating his misdeeds, except of course he’s actually contemplating Carrie’s. Knowing something is wrong, he demands to know why she hasn’t talked to Franny. He knows it’s because she’s not planning to stay long and won’t want to say good-bye to Franny again so soon. “I came back to stop a war,” Carrie says. “Any way I can.” 

Saul guesses that this has to do with Yevgeny. Carrie, after a teary silence, finally tells him the deal he offered. To motivate him to give up the asset, she reveals how much she already knows. But Saul says that will kill their intelligence operation in Russia, and that he has a plan to go to the press in the morning. Carrie thinks that’ll be too little to save the battalions who are on the verge of being nuked, and Saul says, “Sometimes that’s the cost of doing business.” Carrie is shocked to hear that, and demands the asset’s name again. Saul just tells her to pack her bags and leave his house. So he hasn’t figured out exactly what’s going on here. Poor, trusting Saul–the things Carrie’s capable of don’t occur to him, no matter how much darkness he’s seen in his life.

Carrie storms upstairs, puts on the gloves that will protect her from the killer gel, and mixes her potion in a beaker, pulling out a pen to stir it. Then Saul appears in the door. He comes closer to see what it is–and she grabs a fingerful of the gel and pushes it against his neck! “What did you do?” he says, and collapses to the ground. Carrie is breathing hard. She runs downstairs, flicks the porch light in an apparent signal to the Russian team, and then tells Saul–who’s apparently paralyzed, not dead–that a GRU team is on the way, but she’ll call them off if he just tells her now. She says she knows he’ll have a handoff plan, and that it’s going to come to her. “No one person is worth the lives of tens of thousands,” she begs. “She is,” Saul mumbles.

The GRU team arrives; Carrie begs one more time, but he doesn’t say anything else. “Take him,” she says to the team. She’s just handed him off to Russian murderers! (The brutal effectiveness of this episode is that in almost any other show, you would know Carrie had a deeper plan, because she wouldn’t kill her beloved mentor. But this is Homeland, and with Carrie Mathison, you actually do believe she might.)

The GRU agents lay Saul out on his bed, take off his shoes and glasses, and place a patch of some kind on his neck. Carrie somehow has the heart to stand in the doorway and watch all this, and she and Saul make silent eye contact while the preparations go on. Then the agents hold a needle to his toe webbing. Carrie comes close to him and says, “Everything you have ever asked of me, I have done.” (Which is hilariously untrue.) “And now I’m asking you. Just let me off the hook here. Do not make me do this. I am begging you.” He says softly, “Come here,” and she leans close–but he mumbles, “Go fuck yourself.” Heh. Go Saul! Brave even in the face of gloved Russian operatives. At that point I’m totally convinced that they’re about to just do away with him like human garbage–but instead they look to Carrie and ask, “What now?” Whew! Carrie just says it’s the fallback plan, and she’ll meet Charlotte at the airfield. “I had to try,” she says to Saul. Ha! So he’s not dead! Maybe he knew she wouldn’t go for it. (Although I don’t think he would’ve given in if he had. Remember when he tried to kill himself in season 4, to avoid his kidnapping causing a prisoner exchange?)

Next thing you know, it’s morning and Saul is tied up in a chair in his living room, still barefoot, while his phone rings over and over. He’s late for his press meeting.

In Gush Etzion in the West Bank, a cab pulls up at Saul’s sister’s house. Carrie introduces herself to Dorit, who immediately surmises that something has happened to Saul. Carrie spins a story about Saul having a stroke. She tells Dorit she’s arranged a flight back to the US for her, and acts very concerned and solicitous for awhile. Then, when Dorit is packing for her imaginary trip to the imaginary funeral, she says that Saul mentioned he left something for her with Dorit. Clever! (Also, this would seem so cruel if I weren’t busy being relieved over the fact that she isn’t actually murdering Saul–by contrast, just making his poor sister believe he’s dead for a little bit is rather tame!) 

Dorit remarks that Carrie is just like Saul, always with “an ulterior motive.” She remindds us that three years ago, he came to her saying he wanted to mend relations but he was really on a mission. She does have something for Carrie–she opens a safe, and gives her a flash drive. Carrie can’t hide her happiness, and to explain it, claims to be bringing the drive to London. She says she’ll be arriving in the US a few hours after Dorit to be sure to make it to Saul’s funeral. Dorit agrees to let Carrie wait for her ride here while she takes the cab Carrie provided to the airport. Oh, Carrie! So tricky!

At Saul’s place, one of the agents texts from his phone that he’s “on his way in” to the meeting, thinking it will buy them some time before Saul is reported missing. Wellington receives it, but–since Saul said specifically to set the meeting outside of the city–he grows suspicious and calls the police instead.

Meanwhile, Carrie “helpfully” packs Dorit into the cab, swiping her cell phone on the way in case anyone tries to alert her. Dorit gives her a big hug. Heh, poor Dorit!

At his house, Saul overhears one of the agents saying that Yevgeny will have the name in fifteen minutes. 

At Dorit’s, Carrie watches as a car pulls up. It’s Yevgeny! Yay. You guys know I live for their scenes together. He’s dressed down, in a black polo and jeans. What?! I’m not checking him out, I swear! (OK, I am.) Carrie descends the stairs with her gun drawn, and when he enters and claims to have no weapon, she makes him put his hands on the wall so she can pat him down. Not gonna lie, I think they both enjoyed that. Yevgeny asks if she has the name, and she reminds him that his side has to turn over the flight recorder in thirty minutes, that was the deal. She tosses him the slip of paper. That’s it?! She isn’t going to hold anything back as leverage? So trusting!

Yevgeny is shocked to realize the lead interpreter is the sought-after asset, and demands proof.  Carrie leads him into the next room, where Saul’s video–which she’s seen, but we haven’t–is already pulled up, and averts her eyes while Yevgeny watches. The video starts with something Saul would probably never say, “In the end, who we trust in this life is all that matters.” Again, will give it a pass since it’s the finale. Then he says, twisting the knife in poor Carrie, that this asset is his most significant professional relationship except for Carrie. Ouch! Carrie tears up as the video Saul describes all the amazing intelligence Anna has procured for them. Meanwhile, Yevgeny texts Mirov, the big-shot whose interpreter Anna is. “Anechka?” he says to himself, and quickly his face goes from shocked to angry.

Over in DC, the police have arrived and liberated Saul. He calls Scott and tells him to find the interpreter, because she’s an asset, and she’s burned. Scott sees her, still safe in the room. “Get her safe, call me back,” says Saul. Scott nervously makes his way to stand next to her and then murmurs without looking at her that Saul sent him and she’s compromised. Anna stays perfectly calm. “Please, we don’t have much time,” he says. Then she looks at him, her eyes terribly sad. He tells her to follow him out of the room. As they walk briskly down the hall, we see Mirov and several agents rising in the elevator. It’s one of those heart-thrumming moments of suspense this show has given us so many of over the years.

Anna and Scott start running. They go into a staircase and start racing down, then into an empty, darkened hallway–maybe a basement? The agents are just seconds behind them. Finally they go into a locked room full of storage cages, and Scott barricades the door. Anna sighs sadly and says, “There is no way out. Mr. Ryan, before they come through that door, you need to give me your gun.” He thinks she wants to shoot her way out, which is hilarious. She explains that she won’t let them take her. In denial, Scott suggests she apply for asylum; she’s on American soil. She singsongs with a wise smile, “It makes no difference, not to them.” Man, I love this lady. What a fun character, and excellent acting.

Poor Scott can’t quite get there–he still refuses to give her his gun–so she asks to talk to Saul. She explains that they’re trapped in the basement and there’s no time for him to send help–just then, the GRU start kicking at the door outside. “It’s all right, Saul,” she says, as his heart visibly breaks. “I only wish I could have seen the mission through to the end.” She manages to smile into the phone as he tells her he’s never known anyone as brave. Then she asks him to talk to Scott. She puts him on speaker and he orders Scott to “give her the fucking gun.” He hands it over and she gets into position. As Mike is finally overpowered, both we, and Saul over the phone, hear the gunshot. Saul falls back, crying.

Carrie watches on TV as Mirov holds a press conference to reveal to the world that Jalal Haqqani had nothing to do with the Presidents’ assassination. Yevgeny is there too, relaxing on the couch, but Carrie is standing tensely, still holding her gun. When the recording is played, she says, “Let’s turn it off. I’ve heard enough,” and finally sits, exhausted. Yevgeny asks if she’s OK and Carrie angrily tells him that he’s gotten what he wanted and he can cut the bullshit. Then he calls out that he’s sorry–that it wasn’t a game, but he did what he had to do. “Cost of doing business,” he says. Geddit? That’s exactly what Saul said!

He tries to comfort her by saying that Saul should have pulled Anna as soon as he realized what Carrie was up to, but Carrie yells that Saul loved and trusted her, and that’s lost. Yevgeny says, not unsympathetically, that they’ll both survive. And Carrie says, rather cruelly, that it must be very lonely in his world. Then she goes to sit outside the house, where a few innocent kids are playing a game. It’s certainly a metaphor. For spy games? For the innocence Carrie will never have again?

Back in the US, Zabel and Hayes are watching the press conference, which concludes with Mirov saying that there’s no cause for war. Hayes has tears in his eyes and looks guilty; Zabel mostly just looks pissed. I’m sure he is comfortably able to assuage any guilt he feels in his teeny tiny little brain by convincing himself that, somehow, he’s the victim in all of this.

Yevgeny finds Carrie and tells her that Anna killed herself, which means she was warned–which means that Saul must have been able to warn her, which means that Israeli counterintelligence knows too. Without a further word, they both jump into his car, and he tells her he has people he can smuggle into Syria. I love it! They’re on the run again!

Fade out.

Now it’s two years later, nighttime in Moscow. Carrie sits in a silk robe, doing her makeup, looking gorgeous. Yevgeny comes into the room. OMG! They live together! And they’re loaded, looks like! 

Yevgeny says, “You almost ready? Car’s here.” Then he fastens a necklace around her neck, a gift for “finishing.” Finishing what? We’ll find out in a second. Right now I’m just gobsmacked at Yevgeny. He’s got a beard and looks smitten; he looks like any regular guy getting ready for a party with his regular girlfriend, not an intense Russian spy who fell in love with his own asset. He holds her hand and tells her she’s done an important thing. “Let’s go celebrate,” he says, winking at her.

She descends the stairs–they live in an aggressively nice apartment, a high-story duplex with floor-to-ceiling windows–and then tells him she’s going to get her purse. She goes into what is apparently her office, which is covered in a typical Carrie Mathison inspiration board (you know, articles about Presidents dying and stuff) and stares at it, looking ambivalent. All the headlines, many of them printed out from websites, make America and the CIA sound… pretty bad. Drones, the WMD lie, torture….

It’s morning in the US, and Saul and Dorit appear to be packing up Saul’s house so he can move out. The landline rings, and Dorit picks it up, and says it was a wrong number for a Professor Rabinow. Twist!

In Moscow, Carrie and Yevgeny are at a fancy concert of some kind. Carrie sees a woman leave to go to the bathroom between songs, and she gets that Carrie look in her eyes, that look of “I’m on a mission.”

Saul shows up at his old bookstore, where he and Anna used to communicate, thinking that the bookseller just called to say hi to him. But there’s a book that arrived for him. “Impossible,” Saul says. Come on, Saul!

Carrie excuses herself briefly from the concert and enters an opulent ladies’ room. In a totally dialogue-less scene, Carrie does her makeup at a respectable distance from the woman she noticed before, who then leaves a purse and walks away. Carrie swiftly switches mirrors and takes the woman’s purse like it’s no big thing. I love this one last glimpse of her doing spy shenanigans, just a day in the life of Carrie Mathison.

Saul sits in his office staring at the package. Dorit asks if he’s all right, but he says curtly, “Give me a minute, please.” Jeez, touchy! When she’s gone, he pulls the book out; it’s an advance copy of a book by Carrie, called Tyranny of Secrets: Why I Had to Betray My Country. (The dedication page is “For my daughter, in the hope that one day she will understand.”) So the vision board Carrie had was for her book, not for a new case.

Saul looks at it for awhile before realizing that he should check the spine, where Anna would leave messages for him. He pulls out a tiny strip of paper and reads it with a magnifying glass. “Greetings from Moscow, Professor. The Russian S-400 missile defense system sold to Iran and Turkey has a backdoor. It can be defeated. Specs to follow. Stay tuned.” Saul looks up, smiling–or at least, smizing.

The jazz from Carrie’s concert kicks in; she’s back by Yevgeny’s side, smiling. The dream team is back together!

OK, I loved this ending. (The episode was named after the original Israeli series, “Prisoners of War,” which is a cute touch.) And I like how Carrie has come full circle, where now she’s the asset playing a long game, when originally she was engaged in a straightforward mission to figure out if Brody was doing the same. And of course, I love how she’s managed to get herself into a situation where she’s risking her life for her country (her favorite thing) but also living a ridiculously opulent life with her hot Russian boyfriend (which I’m pretty sure she secretly enjoys, even if she tells herself it’s just doing business).

The book thing, as a way of gaining Yevgeny’s trust, felt like a bit of a stretch to me, but I was OK with that; the fittingness of the ending was worth suspending my credulity just a bit.

This is the end of a show that started in a mind-blowingly different time. And I don’t mean just the pandemic, of course. Its eight seasons spanned ten years. And when it started, we were only 10 years out from 9/11; it was a fresh memory in many ways. Now we’re nearly 20 years out, and everything is different. Personally, I think the show always wanted to question the assumptions that are made about terrorism, about the United States, about its relationship to the Middle East. But it pivoted hard in the middle, as I’ve written, and started really probing how the US had become an enemy of human rights while claiming that it was the champion of freedom, whereas before it at least took for granted a lot of the things that spy shows do–especially, that the greatest threats came from without. Only in the last few seasons did it pivot to examine the threats within. And in some ways I never entirely believed Carrie as a mouthpiece for that opinion, though I agree with it myself, so that led to some tonal dissonance–but I appreciate what the show tried to do on that front. 

(I will admit that some primitive fear that I have since 9/11 of the kind of terrorism represented by the early-season antagonists like Abu Nazir and Haqqani, responded deeply to the show’s early seasons. It would be hypocritical not to say that, even if it’s not a productive fear and I appreciate that the show tried to play to higher and better themes as it went on.)

This show also came out during a heyday of antiheroes on auteur TV — it was a couple years after the start of Breaking Bad, and three years after Don Draper first lit a cigarette. Carrie is a classic antihero, in a way that it still feels mostly men are allowed to be. She’s a bad mother (so was Don), sometimes violent (so was Walter White), often foolish and solipsistic and imprudent. She’s also incredibly talented and–unlike the other antiheroes–genuinely patriotic. She’s a pleasure to watch not only because she’s so well-written and well-acted but because she, as Saul said just one episode ago, “decides for herself what matters.” (In fact, she really reminds me of Alicia from The Good Wife; I guess when it comes to antiheroines, I have a type!)

I would say I will really miss Homeland, but given it’s been over for almost a year I guess the correct wording is that I really do miss Homeland. It had its amazing seasons (season 4!) and its blah seasons (remember the one with Dante? Ugh. And let’s not forget Laura; we once gained a reader because someone Googled “laura homeland annoying”). But two things remained constant–the show’s willingness to take us to the darkest places in Carrie’s heart, as well as the highest peaks of her heroism and honor; and Claire Danes’s extraordinary ability to do the same. For that alone, it has been a distinct pleasure to watch.

Thanks for reading, if you have indeed read this far! It’s been fun recapping Homeland, if ever so dilatorily, here.

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