Homeland’s final season is quickly hurtling to a finale, disappointing fans who’ve indulged in Carrie Mathison’s exploits. However, the looming climax is also the culmination of a plot with a lot of holes in it. Be forewarned that there will be spoilers for Season 8 in this post.
Update: You can read an analysis of the final episode here.
Season 8 started out in electric fashion with the downing of the helicopter carrying two presidents (the American and Afghan leaders) from a combat zone. The militant son of an executed Taliban leader falsely claims credit, but Carrie (Claire Danes) thinks the cause might be more mundane: Mechanical failure. It’s all putting the United States on the brink of war with a nuclear power, Pakistan, as the result of an impulsive and easily manipulated American presidential successor.
Carrie sets out on a dangerous journey to reclaim the “black box” proving the helicopter crash cause, and she needs the Russian agent, Yevgeny Gromov (Costa Ronin), to help her navigate the terrain of Afghanistan. However, he then steals the black box from her and offers it back to her with a deal: Give the Russians the identity of an American spy embedded in their ranks who is responsible for leaking information to the Americans about pretty much every major U.S./Russian development in the past 30-plus years. Saul Berensen (Mandy Patinkin), the U.S. national security advisor and Carrie’s protector, is running the spy and only he knows the operative’s identity. The viewers learn what Carrie has not yet – the spy is an interpreter for the Russians who switched to American allegiance due to 1980s-era Soviet and East German atrocities in East Berlin.
Carrie figures out how Saul communicates with the spy, using binders of books, but she doesn’t know the spy’s name. That’s when Gromov tells her she will have to “kill Saul” because, upon his death, the name of the spy will be passed to a new handler, whom Gromov insists will be Carrie Mathison, an assumption she accepts as fact. The next to final episode ends with Carrie thinking about it.
But wait a minute: Carrie is thinking about killing Saul? There are a number of plot holes in what was otherwise an interesting season. At least so far. Maybe the finale will straighten them out. Here’s what they are:
Why Would Carrie Consider Killing Saul for So Little Gain?
Killing Saul would be the worst thing a person could ask of Carrie Mathison. He’s her only friend left. He’s the national security adviser of the United States. The plot point is meant to crystallize the essential nature of Carrie’s character: She is motivated by the ends justifying the means (unlike her foil of conscience, agent Jenna Bragg), hence her willingness to bond with (or use?) a Russian agent in the quest for the black box or to save her friend Max (as we all know, that didn’t work).
However, the other essential personality trait of Carrie Mathison is her laser-beam like focus on saving her friends, even at the expense of herself (witness her willingness to make herself an American FBI target by going on the run with Gromov if it will save Max.) We’re really supposed to believe she would consider sacrificing Saul? Of course, it’s possible that won’t happen at all and that Saul is already in on the entire thing, and Carrie and Saul are playing Gromov and the Russians.
Maybe Carrie will end up killing Gromov, not Saul.
Time will tell.
It’s also a major leap of faith to think that Carrie would so coldly consider sacrificing an American spy, especially one working inside the Russian government. You don’t give up an asset. This is the line you just don’t cross in intelligence work. Everyone knows this.
To sacrifice Saul and to give up an asset besides would require a major gain, right? There would have to be a big-time end to justify those means, correct?
That’s where the plot fails. After Jalal Haqqani (Elham Ehsas) coerced his father’s former right-hand man to blow up a bus full of American special force operatives at the Pakistani/Afghan border, what difference does it make if he didn’t really down the presidents’ helicopter? His action with the bus is so egregious that the Americans would have to act besides… right? And supposedly already have, sending a drone into his compound? (aside: they applauded that drone strike pretty fast before confirming it really was him, don’t you think?)
What difference does it really make, then, if it turns out the helicopter crashed from mechanical failure when it comes to the American posture in that area of the world? The American president has already chosen his bellicose position, and Haqqani is already dead, and the Americans can take credit for that, and the Pakistanis are now cooperating enough to hand over the coordinates to kill him. Supposedly. A new revelation that the Americans allowed the Afghan president to climb inside a mechanically risky helicopter might cause more trouble, don’t you think? Maybe Haqqani’s false claim of responsibility would be convenient at that point for the Americans?
This is enough to kill Saul and allow the exposure of an asset?
Why Is Carrie Allowed to Roam Around Freely?
Anyone who knows anything at all about the American court system knows how completely absurd it is that a woman accused of being complicit in the murder of an American president in cahoots with a foreign operative for Russia would be allowed to roam around freely, even meeting in disguise with a Russian now in the witness protection program and with the same foreign operative via video. It’s absurd. First of all, she’d never be released on bail. Secondly, if she was released on bail, she’d be confined to house arrest or, minimally, subject to extreme surveillance.
It’s like the Dallas police allowing Lee Harvey Oswald to run around Texas after arrest. That wasn’t going to happen.
Secondly, it’s absurd to think the national security advisor could bail out, and welcome into his home, a person in that same position. How would he maintain his security clearance?
In addition, doesn’t the FBI’s case seem hastily pulled together and incredibly weak? What do they have to sustain the string of charges that were read out loud in court? (And where’s the media? Wouldn’t this be a REALLY big deal?) The fact that Carrie suggested the president come to Afghanistan and then went on the run with a Russian agent to save an American doesn’t seem like enough.
Circumstantial evidence, but hard to see how that gets you to charges, especially with the national security advisor saying she was under his protection.
Furthermore, why would Carrie risk American imprisonment with the black box at stake? Wouldn’t she accomplish more tracking it down in Moscow?
Let’s talk about Saul’s tirade about the black box at the UN for a second. It was obviously designed to alert his operative to the box’s existence and provoke the Russians to talk about it in front of her. However, toward what end? Saul already knows the Russians have the box. If he is secretly working with Carrie on this, what would the point of drawing out the operative in this way be?
Where’s Carrie’s Kid?
We get it. Carrie is singularly motivated by work and saving the country. Maybe this is a function of her illness. But we’re a bit surprised to see nothing of her kid. What are Frannie and Carrie’s sister up to?
Why Would Saul Pass Such a Major Asset’s Identity to Carrie?
Why is Gromov so certain that Saul’s assets would pass to Carrie Mathison upon his death? She’s an unstable operative without security clearance who is charged with crimes serious enough to put her in prison for life. Even Saul has questioned her loyalties regarding Russia and mental stability recently. Why would he choose her as the new handler of an asset so important?
Why Would a Translator Be in a Position to Know All of This Stuff?
From double agent Aldrich Ames to Gorbachev’s detente, Saul’s asset is supposed to be in a position to know pretty much everything the Russians were up to in the past 30-plus years. How would an interpreter be in a position to know these things? She wouldn’t be needed to interpret what Russians say to Russians, and that’s likely how they’d be talking about these things, right? Also, since the Russians know the spy likely came out of Saul’s East Berlin days, how hard would it be for the Russians to narrow the spy down to her?
A more interesting plot point might have been to make us truly question Carrie’s loyalties, as Gromov slowly breaks them down, turning her into an actual Russian asset (or make us wonder about that), and taking advantage of her illness. Instead, we are left to wonder whether Carrie will kill Saul for no clear gain. And that’s where Homeland’s plot, at least through the final episode, fell short.