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C’mon, Homeland! Just when I think you’ve pulled everything back in line—or at least reasonably back in line—you have to throw a 24-style curveball. (For the record, I’m a 24 fan, but with that show I was always prepared for ridiculous curveballs.) And this episode was actually reasonably rock-solid until that final reveal, with Haqqani and his men sneaking into the embassy, presumably to make some mischief or demands or whatever. But let’s get to that in a minute.

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Most of the episode offered a solid slow burn on the way to a very complicated, very tense prisoner exchange. Nothing much happened, sure, but it was a reasonably fraught nothing much. Saul, back in enemy hands, was understandably despondent—and probably a bit confused when they stuck him in a room with a sullen boy, who stared at him all night, at least when he wasn’t having nightmares. Saul is once again presented as some kind of angel, cooing and shushing the boy back to sleep, which presented a nice contrast to his breaking point later in the episode.

Back at the embassy, Carrie finally got to have it out with Dennis “Duck” Boyd, in a scene that had been brewing since he first switched her medicine and started sleeping with the enemy. We got confirmation via Carrie that it wasn’t simply going off her own meds that drove her to hallucinations, finger guns, and the arms of Colonel Khan—it was a highly potent hallucinogen called 25i, which Google just told me is sometimes known as “N-Bomb” on the street. She is righteously pissed at Duck, who holds up remarkably well under interrogation, even when Carrie offers, “You poisioned me, I could’ve died out there. You think I’m gonna let you talk to a lawyer? Sit the fuck down!” I also liked, “I am authorized to kill U.S. citizens on the battlefield… You know what Dennis? You just fucked yourself.”

I knew from the second the Ambassador walked in to “save” him, though, that she was playing double agent. She knew better than anybody what a weasel Duck is, and she just hoped to smoke him out. At least she got to bust him trying to leave the country and have her embassy henchmen lay hands on him.

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But it was, of course, to no avail. We’ve got three episodes left this season, and we needed to get to the main course, which will apparently involve an attack on the embassy. But before we get there (again): The prisoner exchange was pretty great. It threw into sharp focus just how in bed with the Taliban that the ISI is—specifically that dastardly Tasneem. Is she just working directly with them now? Talking on the phone about how she hates Carrie’s outfits and feeding them caravan locations? It seems like some kind of cheap catfight is on the horizon, but hopefully it won’t be too drawn-out.

But I honestly didn’t know how the exchange would play out. I still wouldn’t be surprised if Homeland decided to kill Saul at some point, because the emotional fallout would be devastating. And to have him go at the hands of a teenage suicide bomber whose family Saul indirectly killed would’ve been very Homeland-y indeed. I was expecting a much bloodier prisoner exchange, in fact, but the show surprised me there, too. Instead, it went off with only the minor hitch of Saul trying to sink it and Carrie offering him an impassioned plea to get his ass off the tarmac. If anybody knows how to push Saul’s buttons, it’s Carrie, and if there’s any way to get his ass up, it’s by telling him that he’s turned into everything he hates.

And then, just as I was thinking to myself, “Why doesn’t the U.S. just drone-strike the Taliban convoy?” the opposite happened, with Saul and Carrie’s convoy taking RPG fire and blowing up. Luckily all the principals were in one vehicle, with Saul, Redmond, and Carrie all together—presumably the red shirts in the other cars will die, while those three lick their wounds and head to Carrie’s safe house, but we won’t know for sure how everyone fared until next time. (Which, by the way, is December 7—the show will take the Sunday after Thanksgiving off.)

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And then… that ending had to go and cartoon everything up. It’s not bad enough that Haqqani looks like a right-wing cartoonist’s vision of a terrorist, but is it even remotely plausible that he would plan this kind of attack A) in the first place and B) immediately after that very sketchy prisoner exchange? Is this going in the direction of 24’s seventh season, in which the bad guys actually took over the White House? Let’s hope not. Let’s hope that Homeland can have the willpower and smarts to stick with episodes like last week’s and most of this week’s, and not turn into some kind of ticking, beeping shadow of itself. We know it’s got the acting chops, and frequently the writing and plotting ones, too. Don’t take the easy way out, Homeland—you didn’t let Saul do it.

Stray observations

  • So really it’s a B+ for the first 43 minutes and a C- for the last two.
  • “Tell me we’re doing the right thing.” “The right thing’s getting Saul back.” Since when, Carrie?
  • I liked Saul’s first-person baghead cam, and I really thought that when they put him in front of the camera they were going to kill him.
  • The phone call between Mira and Carrie was solid and well played. 24 couldn’t do that.
  • “Sergeant, give me Mr. Boyd’s bag.”
  • Khan is going to save the day and Carrie’s life at some point, right?
  • “He is happy to wear it.”
  • “He said his prayers, he thinks he’s going to fucking heaven.” “You know who you sound like? Them… This is not who you are.”
  • Lockhart, once again with the killer lines: “What the fuck? What the fucking fuck?” Are they letting Tracy Letts write his own dialogue? (Y’all know he’s a famous playwright in addition to acting, right?)
  • Big, dumb plot point: There’s a tunnel under the embassy that everybody knows about but that apparently isn’t guarded. That’ll make perfect sense for Homeland: The Video Game, but it doesn’t feel great as part of the TV show.

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