Homeland, Ep. 4.08, “Halfway to a Donut” is all about wrong choices

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Homeland, Season 4, Episode 8, “Halfway to a Donut”
Written by Chip Johannessen
Directed by Alex Graves
Airs Sundays at 9pm on Showtime

“How can saving someone’s life be the wrong choice?”

After a few uneven weeks, Homeland is back in top form. This show always works best when it’s deeply in spy mode, tense and forcing impossible decisions. This episode is also unpredictable in a way it hasn’t been. Saul’s escape is gripping and the position it leaves Carrie in is not only a perfect moment of frustration and heartbreak, but it also seemingly breaks the bond between the two. Her betrayal is not something that Saul will easily forgive (“Fuck you, Carrie! You goddamn lied!”).

Carrie and Lockhart are unexpected professional bedfellows this week, both intoning, “No one wants this.” This situation is not ideal, it is weighing heavily on everyone and taking its toll. Saul makes Carrie promise on an “Escape or Die” plan, meaning if there isn’t a chance of him getting away, Carrie must “drop a bomb on the whole mess”. Once she betrays that promise, there’s a certain amount of disappointment in realizing that the writers aren’t wrapping up the kidnapped Saul storyline so soon. That would’ve been refreshing, coming midway through the season, but the actual events of the episode make up for the show hitting the reset button in the end.

Carrie and the team get Saul to a nearby city and asset, but once dozens of gun-toting Taliban begin crowding in, Saul feels like the cause is lost and is about to commit suicide. It’s an incredibly chilling image, Saul holding the gun to his neck. Carrie ably talks him out of it, instilling renewed hope in him, but for a moment it really feels as if he’s going to do it. After, with Carrie yelling instructions at him, it again feels like the new hope is real – until the devastating moment when we, and Saul, see that Carrie has led him directly to a group of Taliban fighters. This is the strongest, most powerful moment that Homeland has accomplished in ages (all I wrote in my notes was, “Wow”). Hearing Saul’s screeches as he’s surrounded only make it worse.

Putting the emotion aside, it also leaves the characters, especially Carrie, in an interesting spot. Carrie opens up to Quinn afterward (who gives her nothing in return), doing that writerly thing of speaking the episode’s thesis, but it’s effective nonetheless. “How can saving someone’s life be the wrong choice? But it was, because there are only wrong choices. Nothing good can happen in this fucked up world we’ve made for ourselves.” It’s on the nose, but Claire Danes nails it. Carrie has once again decided whether Saul lives or dies (though this time she has the power to make it happen), and Saul rejects being used as a pawn, but is helpless to stop it. All the characters are in impossible situations this week (“No one wants this.”), some of them making progress (Saul’s resourceful, ingenious, suspension-of-disbelief escape) only to be thrown back where they started. It leaves one feeling, well, defeated.

There are some moments of levity. Lockhart is proving to be the most consistently enjoyable character, offering comic relief; it’s great to watch him be a frustrated asshole. He has a couple of great moments (“I was really looking forward to telling those people to go fuck themselves.”), but his best is the scene with Carrie and Quinn once they learn of the mole. He’s beholden to Carrie and her skill at this, and he knows it, and his trust in her is refreshing to see. But his disdain for the Pakistani representatives that he and the ambassador meet with reaches its fever pitch with this perfect line with perfect delivery: “I was cross with our Pakistani friends again today. She made me promise – transparency, teamwork … there was another T, I forget what the fuck it was.” Lockhart’s power trip makes up for the absence this week of Fara and Max.

Carrie also gets closer with Khan, the ISI counter-terrorism chief. He appears to be a new trustworthy ally, helping Carrie at the start of the episode and giving her crucial information about the mole (you’re in trouble, Duck Phillips). Deciding whether or not to continue to trust him is just another impossible choice for Carrie and her utter exhaustion with the constant stream of wrong choices is palpable in this episode. It speaks much louder in how it reflects Homeland‘s perspective on the United States’ interventions in the Middle East. Everything that we do over there is inherently complicated because no one is entirely right and no one is entirely wrong. No matter what you do, it’s wrong in some manner, as Carrie stresses over after her choice. That’s enough to make anyone weary, and Carrie is worth following because she keeps on running forward. Will she ever be forced to stop?

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