Now that’s more like it, Homeland. Leave the sexing of innocent Pakistani teens and most of the Duck Phillips intrigue behind and give us nail-biting spy games. Let’s jump right to the scene in which Saul is contemplating suicide—not the fake time, the real time, near the fountain. Homeland doesn’t get any better than that scene, in which two characters that we’re fully invested in are at odds in a life-and-death situation. I don’t know about you, but I thought there was a solid chance that Saul would actually go through with it, shooting himself through the neck, and that the rest of the season would be spent exacting revenge.

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And then Carrie sold him out, or at least broke her promise. And Homeland fooled me again, because I thought that when she started giving Saul directions to the extraction site (after he put the gun away) that it was just too easy. Of course it was, but she was leading Saul deliberately into the hands of the enemy—to keep him from being killed, against his wishes. And for the second time this season, she decides whether Saul lives or dies. Saul, as we knows, disagreed with both of Carrie’s decisions—he would’ve traded his life for Haqqani’s, and he’d rather die than be a pawn in the Taliban game. And man, is he pissed when he realizes that Carrie’s turn playing Saul: The Video Game was leading him right to a pack of red triangles. “You fucking lied to me! God damn you!” Maybe his anger at Carrie will give him the will to live, so he can escape and murder her. (That’ll be the thrust of the fifth season, if we’re lucky.)

And the rest of “Halfway To A Donut” (apart from that title) was pretty great as well: Carrie waking up at Khan’s house, not realizing quite what she had been through or whether to trust him, then realizing that her pills had been tampered with; the tense table negotiations with those weaselly ISI folks; even the throwaway story of the asset that helped Saul—each of these played as vital or at least compelling.

Sure, Saul’s initial escape—how many of you thought he was actually hanging himself?—was a little bit easy, considering his value to Haqqani (and considering Haqqani kept him extra close last week), but that felt like the only scene that required a little extra suspension of disbelief this week. He got a phone, he got out, but he got snared. No, it didn’t advance the plot any—Saul is precisely where he was at the beginning of the episode—but the chase through town was nonetheless exciting. Can they really “tag” individual people from a drone? And if so, cool (and scary).

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And I liked the mission room nearly as much as the action on the ground. When Carrie understands a situation in the way she did this one, she’s incredibly sharp and able to keep her cool. She had to lie to Saul repeatedly to keep him from doing something hasty, and Quinn deserves a nod for his demeanor as well. It was a far cry from that same room when it was time for a drone strike, and one that seems much more realistic. (Though probably not in any way realistic.)

So now we’ve got the big quandary: How do they get Saul back without giving up five of the most dangerous terrorists on the planet? Presumably the bad guys will be keeping a closer eye on Saul now that he’s both escaped and made moves toward killing himself. Would the U.S. really trade five Big Bads for one ex-CIA director, as Lockhart claims they’re ready to?

We’ve got to figure that Khan is going to be a solid ally from now on: He clearly doesn’t like being undermined by Agent Tasleem, and he’s sympathetic toward Carrie. Her proclamation about the switching of her meds—“It didn’t feel fair!”—was pretty rich, though, considering she just made a young medical student fall in love with her by repeatedly sexing him. So presumably Khan becomes an ally, Duck gets what’s coming to him (or goes off to start a spy agency specializing in feminine products), and the search for Saul begins anew.

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Dare we look forward to a prisoner exchange on a bridge, in which Quinn hides on a mountain side with a sniper rifle and quickly takes out all the bad guys before Saul takes a bullet? We’ve got five more episodes to get there…

Stray observations:

  • Nice bachelor pad, Colonel! On a Pakistani Army salary?
  • Saul got to swear a lot in this episode, which is always nice.
  • Ambassador: “This is an unexpected development.” Yeah, no shit lady.
  • Great shot of the pill from under the glass in Khan’s bathroom.
  • “What plan? There’s no plan! But I will not have my predecessor join Daniel Pearl and Jim Foley with their heads in a basket”
  • When Saul said, “If something goes wrong, you drop a bomb on the whole mess,” I so badly wanted Carrie to say, “I tried that once, but Quinn wouldn’t let me and the drone pilot wouldn’t obey my order!”
  • I’m still not entirely clear on how the Taliban knew to follow the American drone, or how they could track it. Is that the Pakistani government helping Haqqani?
  • I thought Quinn was going to make a move on Carrie after she poured her heart out and started to have doubts about the mission: “Nothing good can happen in this fucked-up world that we’ve made for ourselves.”
  • Best line of the series belongs to the until-recently unlikable Lockhart: “I was really looking forward to telling those people to go fuck themselves.”
  • “It was Dennis Boyd who switched your pills, the ambassador’s husband. Perhaps you know him better as Duck Phillips from AMC’s groundbreaking TV series Mad Men.”

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