Tweetable Takeaway: In the best episode of the season, how will “Homeland” manage to get Saul home safely?
Airtime: Sunday at 9PM on Showtime
By: Gregório Back, Contributor
This was the best episode of the season. And to be totally honest, I don’t even think it’s that close. HOMELAND is at its best when Carrie and her fellow spies are engaged in the cat-and-mouse games of espionage, making life-or-death decisions that could potentially alter the course of human history in a split second. This particular episode, entitled “Halfway to a Donut” (insert joke here) felt like the show returning to its roots, letting go of all the melodrama, and instead focusing almost entirely on the tension and intrigue that is such an inherent part of this world.
For a few weeks now, I’ve referred to Saul as the heart and soul of the show, with his unflinching, steadfast demeanor providing a stabilizing force amidst the chaos that is the so-called “War on Terror.” But what often gets lost in the shuffle is the fact that Saul is, at the end of the day, a spy, and a damn good one at that. As soon as he pulls the nail out of that floorboard, and starts working away on his handcuffs, Saul’s entire being is focused on escaping the Taliban’s grasp. When things eventually get messy, as they always seem to do, and he concludes that his only viable alternative is to commit suicide, the characteristic resolution that has made Saul such an intrinsic part of the show remains unbroken, even in the direst of circumstances. At the end of the day, Saul is and always will be a spy, and he is willing to die for his country if need be. Now, I’m not going to lie, when he put that gun to his head (his luscious beard covering much of the barrel), I let out an audible gasp. For four seasons, I have grown to love Saul (he is the best character on the show, for better or for worse), and it’s difficult for me to imagine Homeland without him. In my heart of hearts, I kind of always knew that he wouldn’t pull the trigger, but just to see him put in harm’s way like that elicited something more than just thrills, it elicited real, heartfelt emotion. As an audience, we’ve always known that Saul had this chutzpah (sorry, I couldn’t help myself), but to see it manifest on screen in such a powerful way made for some terrific television.
On the other side of the phone, guiding Saul through the streets of a rural Pakistani town, Carrie seemed to be able to maintain a never-before-seen level of composure and self-control, even as her plan to exfiltrate Saul went to shit. After being all over the place for much of the season (for much of the show, really), this particular episode saw Carrie be quite levelheaded and able to make cold, calculated decisions, without the influence of unchecked emotion. Her decision to break her promise to Saul, and subsequently save his life, stands in stark contrast to the more self-serving things we’ve seen her do in the past. Carrie knew that leading Saul back into enemy hands would lead to her losing his trust, but rather than focus on herself, she chose the unpopular path, knowing full well about the ramifications of her actions. This is a side to Carrie that we’ve been missing for quite some time now, and it’s a side we need to see more of for her to overcome all the bad will that she built up in recent seasons.
As for her dynamic with Saul, in what was perhaps one of the most powerful scenes of the whole show, Carrie talking him down from pulling the trigger was not only a master class in acting, it also served to highlight the strong bond shared between these two characters. In that moment, it’s clear that, after years of working together, Carrie and Saul share a unique, familial level of care and concern for one another. By subsequently having Carrie then betray his trust not too much later, the writers managed to add an additional level of complexity to this pairing, driving a rift in their relationship that will undoubtedly need repairing. Despite what was crammed down our throats in seasons two and three (damn you Brody), this is the most important relationship on the show, and after tonight’s episode, there is even more to look forward between Carrie and Saul.
After all the good things I’ve said about this episode, I do have to say that it was not without its faults. In a show like Homeland, occasionally things will happen that stretch the limits of plausibility. With so much plot to get through, sometimes there just simply isn’t enough time to properly smooth out a few of the seams. In this episode, two things in particular stood out. First of all, Carrie’s discovery that her meds had been tampered with felt a little too convenient. While I understand that the writers had to quickly get the ball rolling for the Khan and Boyd storylines, Carrie showed absolutely zero hesitation in making up her mind, leaving me feeling like the realization came just a little too easily for her. The second main issue that I had with the show’s plausibility was Saul’s escape attempt. Again, the writers had to get Saul on the run quickly, so rather than having him struggle to get out of Haqqani’s prison, they instead chose to just have him overcome one man, before being free to walk out into the desert air. For a prisoner as valuable as Saul, it’s likely that Haqqani would have guarded his prized asset with more than just a single guard, so Saul’s escape should have likely been a lot tougher. With both of these issues, it’s easier to forgive their implausibilities considering the rest of the episode worked as well as it did.
Going forward, Homeland has set itself up quite nicely for its last two episodes. By refocusing things back to the machinations of espionage, the writers were able to reestablish (at least for one episode) the intrigue and excitement that made the show so great in its first season. There are still plenty of questions left to answer, both in regards to plot and character, so if the quality of the final two episodes matches this one, then we might just be in for an exciting end to the season.
Gregório is a writer, director currently living in Los Angeles. He has written and directed four short films, and is currently working on his first feature film.