For the second time in S04, viewers are acquainted on how taxing the situation room can be. The smell of thick, tension-filled atmosphere. The sharp alertness of locating and keeping the asset alive via tracked phone call. The omnipotent drone visuals enabling its users to see the bigger picture. And lastly, the familiar, bitter taste of an operation’s resigned aftermath. “Halfway to a Donut” returns to the situation room after last week’s detour to the hallucinated memory lane. But unlike the culminating scene that defined “From A to B and Back Again”, E08 was the fourth season’s most suspenseful hour that revisited the shadowy brilliance of S01. Consistent throughout, “Halfway to a Donut” hitchhikes the unnerving thrills of espionage at key locations: ISI Colonel Aasar Khan’s mansion, the U.S. embassy, Saul Berenson’s prison and escape from the maze-like Makeen. While E06 delivered the season’s most heart-stopping scene, E08 fleshed out its most heartbreaking by gravitating back to the show’s core relationship and engaging Carrie Mathison into a much-needed introspection of her unofficial title as The Drone Queen. So much for the bulk of medicines for a terrorist’s consumption and tampered pills to subvert a station chief. No drug can save the life-and-death situation presented in this episode but I’m glad to say Carrie is back, clearheaded, enlightened, and ripe for payback.
I argued last week about the narrative purpose of “Redux” that ended with the surreal twist of Aasar as Carrie’s hallucination of Nicholas Brody. The ISI remained dominant over its scrambling chess partner but Aasar strays from Tasneem Qureshi’s sly orchestrations and approaches the CIA’s queen. “Halfway to the Donut” edified Aasar’s unknown nature that flipped from his antagonistic table talk with Saul in “Iron in the Fire” to his sympathy towards Carrie, leading to her discovery of Dennis Boyd’s menace. Aasar adds to the complexity in the tense dynamic between the two intelligence agencies. Before their joint conference with the CIA, Aasar retorted on Tasneem’s dirty game of discrediting the Kabul station chief in which he had witnessed Carrie’s most fragile state first-hand. The CIA and the ISI are treading testier waters like Battleship but Carrie knows at the least that she can trust Aasar. Unlike Tasneem’s exploitation of Carrie’s weakness, Aasar became empathic yet cautious of his newly formed allegiance with Carrie. To be fair, “Redux” wasn’t just the chance for viewers to ‘experience’ Carrie but it also anchored Aasar’s sympathy and respect for her. It’s not yet revealed how significant Aasar’s role is in the coming episodes or if he is the absolute foil to Tasneem in spite of his genuine intentions. Aasar seems the most ‘likable’ person in the ISI right now, but if Homeland’s camerawork were to judge, don’t let your guard down just yet.
Miles away from Aasar’s bachelor pad, a wandering Jew trekked the mountains with a banner of “Escape or Die”, under the watch of the CIA drone feeding visuals in CIA Islamabad station. Saul’s escape felt too easy, like a prescribed showcase of rusty spy skills, but the real thrill starts when he scurries in the alleyways at Carrie’s instruction. I’m glad that my conflicted thoughts on Saul’s storyline played out well in E08 but I was not prepared to see them reunited in such heartbreaking moment. As Carrie tries to talk down Saul from suicide, their beautiful history in the first two seasons flurried at once. The emotional punch wasn’t just released by Claire Danes pleading “I’m here! I’m here.” to a fatalistic Mandy Patinkin. While “Redux” recounted the reason of the show’s reboot, “Halfway to a Donut” revisited the show’s ‘ground zero’ dynamic of Carrie and Saul. For the sake of high-stake dramatics, Homeland successfully conjured a powerful scene that one wouldn’t see coming in the beginning of the show. Even if they haven’t reconciled from the S03’s straining events, (or would they still have the chance?), it was transparent in Carrie’s voice that she won’t let her mentor/pseudo-father die. But by keeping him alive meant betraying Saul (at least now they are even). Danes and Patinkin’s teamwork delivered the most tragic scene between their characters yet. There was another t-word but I’ll leave the acidulous CIA director Andrew Lockhart to remember that.
“Halfway to a Donut” utilized the same elements of “From A to B and Back Again” but improves them, particularly on Carrie’s demeanor. Her functionality in E08 matched the productiveness she had shown in “Shalwar Kameez”, although the odds were not in the CIA’s favor this time. It will always be fascinating to see Carrie perform her job at her element which was a quick rebound from her rock bottom last week. She’s the only one to realize that the CIA drone in Makeen will tip off their extraction plan. Her composure and control in directing Saul was impeccable (echoing the tense conversation with Brody in “Good Night”). But like she and Lockhart noted, no one wants this to happen. How could sacrificing Saul as collateral damage in E06 was the right call and baiting himself to take out the Taliban was the wrong choice? Carrie doesn’t only recognize the personal repercussion of betraying Saul but also sees for the first time the big picture – that their line of work is ordained by only wrong choices with no virtuous outcome to celebrate their cause. It’s an impassioned eureka for Carrie who began the season as a hardened, callous, and fixated Kabul Station Chief who remotely wipes out targets regardless of the innocents involved. Some would argue Carrie’s late enlightenment since she had denounced the show’s previous monsters (Vice President Walden, Abu Nazir) before adapting the same cold-bloodedness in S04. But like her career ascent from a disputed analyst to the youngest station chief in Homeland’s history, Carrie’s introspection comes inherent to her season arc where she had found herself in a position of power and in the latter episodes, became powerless of what the drone visual is showing her. First was Aayan’s death and now Saul’s capture became her wake-up call, the latter more significant because it’s more personal. Like Martha Boyd, Carrie has to suck up the fallibilities that rooted from Sandy Bachman’s wrong intel. Carrie has to plan her way in making the best out of the prisoner exchange and Dennis’ inquiry next week. With a clearer mind and better grasp of the consequences, we could only hope that she’ll succeed, even if there’s something else going on.
Director Lesli Linka Glatter passes the reins of juggling the scenes inside and outside the situation room to Alex Graves to tremendous results, replacing the shock value with vulnerable sentimentality between Homeland’s fundamental characters. I was indifferent to Saul since S03 but his courtyard scene was enough to make me care back. However, I’m wary that if Saul’s captivity will be prolonged until the season finale, how would he have a meatier role other than being locked up in a cell (and next week’s crucial sequence at the runway)? Technical-wise, the distressing musical score and ‘perceptive’ cinematography were note-worthy this episode, plus the noir setting of the final scene. “Halfway to a Donut” is more covert than the playful title suggests. What did Tasneem write to Dennis? Will Carrie turn him into a double agent? How will Saul’s recapture corrode his relationship with Carrie? Homeland has long been exploring the grayness of battling the war on terror but S04 is the starkest depiction of international crisis straight from the headlines. And with inspiration from the 2012 Benghazi attack coming up, the show’s resonance places it in a credible position since S01.
- I am not a big Lockhart fan but he won me over this episode. He was an acidic fountain of quotable quotes but kidding aside, his bluntness and belligerence instigated the much-needed traction in Martha’s platonic presiding of the CIA-ISI joint conference.
- I’ll always be at awe of Claire Danes. She controlled her torrent of emotions like a race car driver shifting a gear stick.
- The last person Carrie opened up with was Saul (those are my treasured moments in S01). After seven episodes, Quinn was finally able to drill into Carrie’s consciousness. Maybe he was just exhausted. Or maybe can’t think of something to say because he was surprised by Carrie’s admission.
- I may not always agree with Carrie’s decision but I learned to trust her instincts. Trust Carrie in this E09 sneak peek. There is something else going on.
- I’m looking forward on splitting Carrie and Quinn in E09 after five episodes together. But I’m also dreading the possibility that something bad would happen with Quinn left in the embassy while Carrie oversees the prisoner exchange.
- I felt bad for Martha (again). No one is interested in the meeting (CIA too preoccupied while ISI already ‘knows’) and her husband is about to be busted. How unfair for someone who’s simply doing her job.
- Another Homeland troll: Saul himself is to blame on whatever he experienced in the past three episodes. Lesson learned: never ever stalk someone at the airport without backup.
- I got a feeling we’ll know the reason why Tasneem is so busy uprooting Kabul Station Chiefs next week.
NEXT EPISODE: “There’s Something Else Going On”