What happens in the situation room, stays in the situation room. But for us, it was one-heck of a Homeland entertainment.
The first half of Homeland’s tensely unraveling fourth season was concluded by its most suspenseful and breathless episode. It’s the second straight week that the remnants of Brody’s ill-fated arch were exhumed (sorry for the pun). But while “About a Boy” undressed Carrie’s emotional scars, “From A to B and Back Again” drilled Carrie’s excruciating chest box that the next episode (formidably entitled “Redux”) is an eruption upsettingly due. While Homeland doesn’t retreat on flashbacks to anchor its dramatic gravitas, Aayan ambling the same tight rope Brody trudged in S03 shoved Carrie to her breaking point. The similarity of their situation and how it dissolves to the distressing aftermath of Carrie’s failed operation was the risk the show purposefully took. Killing a character that the viewers had grown sympathy and proceeding with a “Quinn-tervention” rather than wiping the target was a gamble to start the season’s second half next week. But for anything else to be argued (which I’ll discuss later), “From A to B and Back Again” is a stupefying showcase of Homeland’s assets: the suspense of merely watching an operation spin out of control; the shock despite the hint of foreshadowing; and the superb performances that fleshes the strata of its characters.
Before delving to the core of S04E06, director Lesli Linka Glatter and writer Chip Johannessen deserve a shout-out for an exhilarating midseason episode. Glatter also directed “The Drone Queen” whose final minutes was intensely mortifying but she topped it in “From A to B and Back Again” as the simultaneous scenes in the situation room, the Pakistani countryside and the binding drone visual climaxed the serial espionage the show best delivers. Television has its own way of spoon-feeding what viewers must feel but for Homeland, it allows us to be critical of the thematic consequences and our own emotions from the mere viewing of the situation in the situation room. We’d seen Carrie Mathison and company in their surveillance at home/office/rented room, on the ground, and their bird’s eye view of a high-risk operation. From privacy issues to the conundrum of drone strikes over collateral damage, Homeland cunningly disengages a rhetoric of burning questions arising from yet another fractious situation. One can only gape and ruminate on the possibilities of the helpless fall-out if Carrie, Saul and Quinn switched places. Devastating as it was, “From A to B and Back Again” is a satisfying midseason conclusion that ushers a darker second half.
Aayan Ibrahim’s days are numbered from the moment he was captured by Carrie’s drone… and she watches remotely when his terrorist uncle killed him. He was the living reminder of the season’s central theme on the amorality of drone strikes and with him dead, the rueful juxtaposition of collateral damages became starker. Aayan’s final days were a painful foreshadowing (the prayer, phone call, ride to the other side), considering that his final moments closely resembled that of Brody’s in “Good Night”. All the same, Aayan’s eventual demise was gut-wrenching. Unlike Brody who had peacefully accepted his fate, Aayan was completely naïve of his imminent destination. The duplicitous betrayal by a family relative and a woman whom he just confessed his ill-born love was just shattering for a young man who had only been used as bait by both parties. An unconsciously victim, Aayan is just a boy after all – restless yet desperate, wary yet trusting. After orchestrating an ambush at the safe house (to my surprise), Carrie successfully prodded Aayan to contact and meet Haissam Haqqani but the terrorist is a step ahead by revealing a distraught Saul Berenson. Bidding his gratefulness to his nephew, Haqqani rewarded Aayan a headshot and as Carrie wrestles in control of an opportune drone strike, Peter Quinn galvanizes to shake her senses. “It’s Saul down there. Saul…” he pleads against her rigid willingness to sacrifice her mentor for the mission. That’s how the show segues from one fallen collateral damage to an endangered another.
It’s unclear how Haqqani decided to take Saul with him when he met Aayan. Could it be that ISI agent Tasneem Qureshi quickly relayed Dennis Boyd’s gathered evidence from the safe house? If so, the ISI is slyer than it appears — protecting a terrorist, staging an ambush of a CIA Station Chief and now, kidnapping an ex-CIA director. Or it could be that only Tasneem’s allegiances are in question. (SPECULATIVE) Recall that she confirmed to ISI General Aasar Khan in “About a Boy” that Saul was Carrie’s mentor. How would Haqqani discover that and use the same word to Aayan? Seeing Haqqani’s decoys slipped away onscreen is a frustrating fall-out that Carrie’s (first physical demonstration) venting of her anger was an understatement. But she contains herself in the last minutes, all the more alerting a tormenting manic episode that she has not yet unleashed for more than six months.
But the burning questions remain. Would Saul want Carrie to proceed with the drone strike, knowing that it will be the end of him? If they trade places, would Saul order the command knowing Carrie’s in danger? If Quinn had not stopped Carrie, will she still be hailed as The Drone Queen because of the successful mission or rebuffed on letting an American citizen, more notably an ex-CIA official, killed under her watch? Even before Saul appeared, Carrie was determined to strike despite Aayan’s presence. Will the reception of the drone outcome change if an innocent young Pakistani with familial ties to a terrorist or Saul was the price to pay? Homeland continues to knead its viewers as some found a new angle of condemning Carrie’s impetus on her call. I’d argue that taking the shot was the right operative move though the extent of Carrie’s descent to the rabbit hole could ultimately make her a monster that Vice President Walden and Abu Nazir were, regardless of who becomes the collateral. (But maybe that’s also the same reason why Quinn intervened, to prevent Carrie from doing to Saul what Haqqani did to his own nephew.) Losing Saul on the process would also reprieve him of the inquiry and/or torture that the Taliban has in store for him. Yet there’s no reason for killing off his character. Like Quinn opined, the emotional and psychological contentions crawl out. How could Carrie let her mentor-father figure be killed along with the terrorists? Had she not thought of the guilt and the emptiness that happens after? It’s hard to imagine the consequences of Carrie and Quinn’s (who also has his share of indecisions this episode) choices and viewers are left to deliberate the ending. I’d rather rationalize the scene and see how it plays in the season’s second half.
The end of S04E06 sees the pendulum of collateral damage swing from Aayan to Saul. To be honest, I am conflicted on Saul’s story line this season. He was sidelined by Carrie who wants to act independently from him; he unsuspectingly walks into a trap by the ISI; and the remaining season seems to focus on his extraction plan. There are two sides in looking at Saul’s situation. First is its glaring political magnitude that will cause friction on the relationship between the CIA and ISI, hand-in-hand with their national governments. How the ex-CIA director landed to one of the world’s top terrorist group and to make matters worse, coordinated by the ISI is a murky territory that the CIA has to clear up. Second, that person is Saul and it felt melodramatic that the show’s way of keeping him integrated in the story is by making him hostage. A veteran of Middle Eastern affairs, Saul could still keep his cool while exchanging wise words with terrorists, just like his insightful table conversations in “Iron in the Fire” but I’m certainly not looking forward to see him be tortured. On the other hand, I’d like to think of Saul’s captivity as an opportunity to explore not just his importance to the overall story but his sole importance to Carrie. I’m not quite sure that S04E06 has wholly portrayed Carrie processing the double whammy of Aayan’s death and Saul’s kidnapping because her rage in the last minute was the effect of her helplessness in the failed operation. It would be a sentimental prospect to revisit their relationship that has suffered a fissure last season. How Carrie will act to save Saul could lead to repairing their relationship but it all boils down on to her realization of Saul’s significance in her life. Though Aayan’s death did have an effect on her, I don’t think it’s enough for Carrie to bring herself back to the ground. Maybe Saul would complete the catalyst she needs in order to confront herself. Aayan’s chapter in Carrie’s life has expired and it’s time to discover how Saul fits into the bigger picture.
I do have one concern which I’ll leave to discuss on the next episode recap in order to validate my thoughts but overall, “From A to B and Back Again” is the reboot’s best episode to date. One of the show’s most emotional deaths, Aayan would not be as affecting if it weren’t for Suraj Sharma. That was the veritable end of the road for his character and a proper send-off as well. Don’t get too attached to a guest character but for now, John Redmond is slowly growing in me. I hope Fara redeems herself after Carrie verbally flayed her. Pity that she’s relegated to containing hefty bags for the service of her own country. As for Quinn, he’s not actually doing a good job of caring for Carrie and criticizing her actions. He deserves a certain kick on next week’s episode. The brilliance of Claire Danes is overwhelming; every episode she dazzles like a diamond with the many rough edges of an allotrope.
Until next time. Happy ‘duck’ hunting.
NEXT EPISODE: “Redux”