We’ve all been at the mercy of forces larger than ourselves and beyond our control lately, a state of affairs that makes “Designated Driver” a more effective hour than it might otherwise be. Coming so close to the end, it’s a bit of a letdown episode, but it does conjure that pervasive sense of helplessness many of us have been feeling lately. As the episode progresses, events slip completely out of whatever tenuous grasp Carrie or Saul had on them. The old tricks aren’t working anymore, and Carrie’s confrontation with the destruction she’s caused in her past hasn’t really changed her; by the end, she’s oblivious to another mass slaying she played a major role in bringing about.
Right from the beginning, “Designated Driver” is disorienting, as we see Carrie in her headscarf hurrying to meet her...well, designated driver. When last we saw her, she was being drugged by Yevgeny, but evidently he’s left her on her own and she’s recovered sometime later. When last we saw the driver, Arman, his behavior looked shady at best, but she still trusts him to drive her onto Bagram Air Base, among other stops on her final tour of the area, and he does nothing to betray that trust. It’s absurdly easy for them to drive onto the base and for Carrie to find the chief engineer and confirm that Chalk Two went down as a result of mechanical error.
Unfortunately, as Saul notes, Carrie’s word isn’t going to be good enough for anyone at this point. They need the recorder, which means Saul has to make a deal with the Russians. One problem: the Russian ambassador has no idea what he’s talking about. Even after consulting with Moscow, the ambassador won’t change his tune, but he manages to get the message across: the recorder is worth more to Russia than anything Saul could trade for it. The same isn’t necessarily true of Carrie, though: her loyalty is finally tested when Yevgeny catches up with her and reveals what she needs to give up in exchange for the recorder—Saul’s longtime mole inside the Kremlin.
Carrie doesn’t believe there’s any such asset, or at least that’s what she tells Yevgeny. In a later conversation with Saul, she doesn’t let on that there’s a deal to be made. As far as she’s concerned, this is checkmate. As for Saul, he’s hanging by a thread in the White House. Wellington buys some time by asking the Pakistani ambassador to show good faith by releasing the Special Ops exfil team Carrie ratted out to the local cops. (She had her reasons, yes— she always does— but this will prove to be one of her most disastrous moves by the hour’s end.) Wellington warns Saul not to go out on a limb for Carrie if he wants to hold onto what power he has, but Saul is adamant not to throw her under the bus.
It’s clear that the voices of war have taken control, not only with the insufferable Zabel in the White House (and boy does Hugh Dancy deliver on “insufferable”), but with Jalal at the Taliban compound. Haqqani’s former right hand man Balach is still pushing for peace, but goes along when Jalal tasks him with finding an American target near the border. This is where we learn that the designated driver of the title refers not only to Arman, but to the martyr who will drive a vehicle full of explosives into its designated target. Balach wants nothing to do with this plan, but Jalal has seized his wife and children, and makes it clear that if Balach wants them to live, he will be the designated driver.
The episode’s final act is Homeland at its most hopeless. Out of options, Carrie turns herself in at the Kabul station. As she awaits the FBI in an interrogation room, Jenna drops by to yell at her and make sure she isn’t planning to throw her under the bus for giving away the Special Ops safe house intel. After Carrie assures her she won’t, Jenna makes her latest (and perhaps last) terrible decision, telling Dunne she plans to meet the team at the border when they’re released. The cross-cutting over the final few minutes not only builds the sense of impending doom but creates the impression that Carrie has one more great escape left in her. As Balach closes in on his target, the bus full of Special Ops soldiers awaited by Jenna, we see Carrie being driven to the airfield and led to her plane back to DC.
Surely a last-minute deus ex machina awaits. The flight will be grounded or diverted by the explosion or suffer its own mechanical failure and crash. Carrie will escape to save the day. But no: with sickening inevitability, Balach crashes into the bus, setting off the dead man’s switch. Carrie fastens her seat belt and heads home, unaware of the latest calamity she helped set into motion. Maybe she’ll wriggle out of trouble one last time, but the question is...does she deserve to?
- So Jenna survived the explosion, right? If only because the writers wouldn’t pass up two more episodes worth of humiliation for her.
- Chances of a Damian Lewis dream/vision/flashback/ghost cameo in one of the final two episodes? I’ve heard no spoilers, but I’ll put it at about forty percent.