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Homeland: Season 8, Episode 11 (The English Teacher) - Review

Homeland, Season 8, Episode 11

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

KILL Saul”… in two chilling words, the final season of Homeland uncovered its grim grand plan and, in doing so, delivered one of the best episodes of the series.

The English Teacher was all about the emotional cost of playing the spy game. It was personal. And the episode unfolded from the perspectives of three women: Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes), Jenna Bragg (Andrea Deck) and the secret Russian source (Tatyana Mukha) that Saul has been protecting from the outset.

Of course, standing at the centre of it all was Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), the National Security Advisor, who has been a father figure to at least two of the women mentioned. His long-term loyalty and impeccable sense of decency also shone brightly in this penultimate episode, making the imminent threat of betrayal and – eventually – his potential death all the more heart-breaking.

Homeland‘s final season has been building to this moment like a pressure cooker, using a proposed peace treaty between Afghanistan and The Taliban as the backdrop for a reckoning in the lives of Carrie and Saul.

The former now stands at a crossroads, facing perhaps the most challenging decision of her career to date (and that’s saying something). Unable to retrieve the flight recorder that would still prove that the downing of the US President’s helicopter in Afghanistan all those episodes ago was, in fact, caused by mechanical failure, she is now where Russian agent Yevgeny (Costa Ronin) wants her.

His play has been to discredit Carrie and place her in such a position that the only way of preventing the possibility of a war between the US and Pakistan is to betray Saul and uncover the mole that has been working within the higher echelons of the Russian government for years, supplying damaging intelligence to the US (from Gorbachev’s willingness to hold peace talks to the Chernobyl cover-up).

Carrie seems determined to do this. She spent most of the episode attempting to uncover the identity of the mole. When she couldn’t, Yevgeny laid out her only remaining option: to kill Saul and take his place as the mole’s contact, thereby uncovering the identity and removing Saul from the political landscape for good.

Danes played the dilemma she faced brilliantly, resorting to that lower lip tremble that has become her character’s trademark. But this one’s a tough decision. She knows the damage merely betraying Saul would do; now she has been practically ordered to kill him. How she gets out of this predicament is anyone’s guess.

Elsewhere, Jenna Bragg (Andrea Deck) had her own reckoning. Having spent large parts of the series being set up to fail by Carrie, she now had Carrie right where she wanted her. At the top of the episode, she was about to testify in the case against her.

But after confronting Carrie, and hearing the dilemma she faced, she had a change of heart. She opted against testifying until a later date, thereby buying Carrie some time and helping her uncover some secret files in the process. But this was her exit point. She had decided to quit.

Carrie looked on in dismay as Jenna announced her decision. But her reasons were sound. She felt guilty for the loss of lives of the American soldiers killed by last week’s suicide bomber. She had seen the emotional wreck that Carrie had become. Where once she thought she could make a difference, now all she sees is mess.

To Homeland‘s credit, it’s difficult not to see mirrors to real world messes… the endless merry go round of dictators and political stand-offs that have taken place since 9/11. Power corrupts. It corrodes the best of intentions.

Finally, there’s Mukha’s Russian source: a relic of the Cold War, recruited by Saul in the aftermath of the defection of another asset. She had been a teacher. But she had seen her class tortured and slaughtered for their failure prevent the defection.

This weighed heavily, so she approached Saul to be another asset. He refused, at first, until she saved him from Russian KGB agents. And since then, she has been a reliable source of intelligence. She is passing information again, informing Saul about Yevgeny’s mission, without knowing its exact details.

But her future hangs in the balance, along with Saul’s. Will she be collateral damage?

With one remaining episode to go, Homeland‘s final season now has a lot to play for and a lot to resolve. But The English Teacher was an example of the show at its finest, placing moral and ethical decisions to the fore as the fate of nations hung in the balance.

All of the principal cast were on form here, aided by some solid writing, which went some way to restoring the reputations of key characters.

It now feels like essential viewing to find out what comes next – and to see whether Homeland goes out in downbeat fashion, or can salvage some hope from a seemingly impossible situation.

Read our review of the previous episode