Homeland recap: Everything is unsettling
We need to talk about predictions. This isn’t the first time that Homeland has written things into existence, but this occasion does feel especially prescient and eerie. It seems like within minutes of these episodes airing, the real-life U.S. government started peace talks with the real-life Taliban. As we all wait for this pending announcement about an initial deal, let’s take a moment to marvel at just how much foresight this writers’ room seems to have. I can only imagine how much confidence Alex Gansa and his team have gained over the past 8 seasons — especially knowing how much hubris I have about my own foreign policy knowledge just from watching this show. But now into “False Friends.”
Carrie begins this episode chain-smoking cigarettes, fighting off repressed memories of those same oddly intimate Yevgeny-prison moments, and refusing to fly back to Germany even though she’s been ordered to return. She’s determined to stay in Kabul to figure out not only why he contacted her, but why he’s even in Afghanistan in the first place — and what Carrie wants, Carrie gets, especially when she lands lines like “You look me in the eye and tell me I’m not entitled to some operational payback.”
Carrie’s plan — or, at least the version of the plan she’s willing to share with the station chief — is to meet with Yevgeny to determine whether he’s recruitable. She believes — or, again, she tells Dunne that she believes — he’s been reaching out because he’s open to coming over to the Americans’ side. The CIA team says yes, but only to potentially prove that Carrie’s actually the one working with the Russians. They agree to monitor her meeting (but not with a microphone in her purse because Carrie clearly followed our advice to keep Jenna Bragg at a serious distance — so much so that there’s no way Jenna can slip a bug on her).
Carrie awaits Yevgeny’s meeting in a Kabul square and makes a strong case for heavy eyeliner (somebody call Kris Jenner!). Her Russian compatriot finally shows and conducts the meeting during the call to prayer and next to a fountain, much to the chagrin of the agents attempting to listen in. The hot Russian denies having anything to do with outing Carrie’s assets in Kabul but does remind her that he saved her from a suicide attempt and that she told him all her darkest secrets in return (like that horrifying bathtub scene with Frannie in season 4). Carrie seems shocked to learn this, and I admit I fell for it with my first viewing of this episode. Upon returning to the scene — and reminding myself of my own initial theories about Carrie as a potential double agent — I’m a little bit more skeptical about what’s really going on here.
Saul is now Haqqani’s prisoner — he was kidnapped by the henchmen who survived the ISI attack on their convoy — and Haqqani is suspicious that Saul tipped the Pakistani government off to their meeting. Saul sits on the grimy floor of Haqqani’s home jail cell (some people have home gyms, he has a home jail) and reminds me that every time I see him without his glasses I feel deeply unsettled. It’s kind of like the first time you saw your dad cry. Haqqani must be unsettled, too, because he starts to consider Saul’s suggestion that someone inside his own cell tipped off the ISI about the meeting.
Cut to Haqqani’s son, Jalal, sitting in a garden with Tasneem from the ISI, discussing how to move forward now that his dad is “dead.” As they say in Italy, that’s a-mole. (Sorry). Haqqani summons Jalal to the hideout in Peshawar and things already don’t look good for mini Haqqani. He immediately lies straight to his father’s face about his involvement in this little plot and, if we know anything about the fictional Taliban leader, it’s that he doesn’t take well to lying. Haqqani hatches an entrapment scheme for Jalal: One of his minders goes to Jalal and tips him off that Saul Berenson is in the building, poisoning his father’s mind and convincing him to poke around about Jalal’s whereabouts of late. That sends Jalal right into Tasneem’s arms (okay, he calls her on the phone): Haqqani is listening in to the call and all is revealed.
That means that Saul is free to go — but not before he has a heart-to-heart with Haqqani about his son’s betrayal and whether it’s time for him to step down as the leader of the terrorist group. Haqqani is oddly subdued and humble, whereas Saul is oddly adulatory, and I am again unsettled.
Haqqani: I’m just a man.
Saul: Then you’re a man like Faisal was to the Saudis, Jamal to the Turks.
There, now you can be unsettled, too. Obviously, Saul knows how to play the game of manipulation better than anybody but this is still … freaky.
Saul’s pep talk seems to have worked, because Jalal is dragged out of bed by a gang of henchmen (I’m starting to feel bad that I’m referring to them only as “henchmen” and not their individual names, but the IMDb credits are too overwhelming to navigate), tied to a pole, and made to confess at gunpoint. I have to marvel at the audacity of a man who would rather be killed by his own father than admit a mistake. And I know that I got on my high horse last week about Homeland giving multi-faceted storylines to a terrorist leader instead of normalizing Islam, but I found this whole scene to be highly tantalizing. After 7.2 seasons spent with (nearly) faceless and backstory-less terrorist foes, I was swept in to this family drama immediately — and Numan Acar did some excellent face-acting (made all the more impressive given the fact that so much of his face’s surface area was surrendered to facial hair and a taqiya).
Now that Jalal has been dumped out onto the street like he isn’t Haqqani’s last living offspring, the two men get down to business. Saul’s requirement for a peace deal is that the Taliban start de-commissioning their weapons. In return, he’ll offer amnesty for the fighters, guaranteed positions in the new government, and the power of political legitimacy. He promises Haqqani that his wealth and influence will expand, which doesn’t sound preferable to me, tbh. But Haqqani agrees — because he gets more wealth and influence! — and the two declare a cease-fire.
Saul then makes his way to the Kabul CIA station — plot convergence! — to speak with the president, alongside Carrie — more plot convergence! — about the Doha framework and said cease-fire. They conjure up a plan to sell the peace deal to the American people, who are likely going to be skeptical about Taliban fighters getting immunity. Carrie recommends a secret trip to Afghanistan and then gets accosted by Dunne about the 90 minutes that she was off the grid after her Yevgeny meeting. She delivers a blatant lie about what Yevgeny told her during the meeting, which means she’s also lying about where she was during those 90 minutes.
And in Washington, D.C. (LOL, remember Washington?) we see Chief of Staff David Wellington (LOL remember Wellington?) sit down for a brief alongside the new vice president (played by iconic True Blood and The Fault in Our Stars star Sam Trammell) — because, if you’ll recall from last season’s plotline that feels unsettlingly disconnected from current times, Keane resigned and Warner is now commander in chief.
President Warner briefs Wellington on Saul’s release and goes over the peace deal they want him to work towards, and Wellington hints that the new VP might be eyeing a presidential run for himself. Apparently, he went to Ohio to meet with political donors and apparently he’s also a Republican, a.k.a the opposing party. When…did that happen? That’s not rhetorical: I’m genuinely wondering if I missed this appointment. I also don’t know if I need this political-maneuvering storyline right now — we got plenty of that over the last two seasons and I think the activity in Kabul (and Peshawar) is much more interesting at this point.
Lastly, let’s check in with Max, the Unwilling Human Buddha: He’s the most unsettled. Not only is he incredibly upset about letting Saul be taken prisoner, but he’s been on the business end of a lot of nonconsensual belly rubs. He’s also been downgraded from the C-plot to the D-plot thanks to the addition of the Washington, D.C. scenes. Now that the peace deal has been brokered, Max can escape the military bunker from hell, except that he can’t because a weather pattern has downed all the air traffic in and out of the place. That means we, the Homeland viewers, will live to endure this set’s unnerving tonal shift for at least another episode.
Final thoughts: Jalal and Tasneem are back in cahoots, the president is coming to Afghanistan, and those two things can’t be a coincidence. When Tasneem picks Jalal up by the side of the road, she has a look on her face that I can only describe as conspiratorial. Their previous plan to prevent the peace deal from happening (bombing Haqqani and installing Jalal as the leader of the Taliban) didn’t work and there is no way the ISI is going to accept that. If I were anyone with any involvement in this “secret” presidential visit I’d watch my back.