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Homeland: Season 8, Episode 12 (Prisoners of War) - Final episode reviewed

Homeland: Series 8, Finale

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

IT TOOK a while for the final series of Homeland to come together but with its penultimate offering last week (concluding with the chilling command, ‘kill Saul’) and its last ever episode this week, the series managed to bow out in some style.

The ending, when it came, was suitably bittersweet. And while it did still highlight the inherent problems the show has carried with it for some time now, it did also showcase just how well Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon have consistently managed to ground the events of each series in a chilling reality.

Prisoners of War took its name from the Israeli series that inspired it, while simultaneously seeking to bring the show full circle. Where the first season concentrated on an American prisoner who may or may not have been turned by Al-Quaeda (Damian Lewis’ Marine Nicholas Brody), this final episode posed questions of Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and her loyalty. Had she been turned by the Russians? Would she betray Saul (Mandy Patinkin) or, worse, kill him – as per the order to do so by Russian agent Yevgeny (Costa Ronin)?

[Spoilers ahead]

The answers weren’t always clear but they were, finally, played close to the show’s chest. Where early episodes had been easy to predict, Prisoners of War finally delivered a middle section that succeeded in keeping you guessing.

It perhaps went without saying that it involved Saul, the show’s biggest asset. His confrontation with Carrie was everything we hoped it would be.

Earlier, of course, he was given the chance to show his debating skills, when he made one final attempt to persuade snake-like White House adviser John Zabel (Hugh Dancy) to force US President Hayes (Sam Trammell) to stand down from their gung-ho position against Pakistan, dropping in the classic Saul humdinger: “Don’t be the schmuck who takes us to war for the second time in 20 years under false pretences.”

But his exchange with Carrie was even more forceful. He knew Carrie was about to betray him. And he pushed her to the limit, demanding that she reveal her hand. The confrontation had all the emotional intensity of a father-daughter dynamic going very, very wrong. The bond between them ran visibly deep, which made the logistics of what they were debating all the more corrosive to it.

Should Saul give up the name of his Russian asset in order to potentially save the lives of thousands, if not millions? Or was loyalty far more important, especially when there were still other possible avenues to explore?

Saul’s steadfast loyalty to his asset was never really in doubt. It was as concrete as that which he had previously displayed towards Carrie.

But how Carrie would react was anyone’s guess. Few could have predicted that she would go through with the Russian plan to drug him, in order to allow a kill team into his house to carry out the assassination. The hope was, of course, that such a move would persuade Saul to break. Or, as Yevgeny predicted, that Saul’s death would see the names of his key personnel given to his most trusted confidante: Carrie.

Carrie sought to bluff Saul. And as the kill team ‘staged’ his death and prepared to inject him with the fatal dose, Homeland fans collectively held their breath. Surely, a final episode in which Saul died wasn’t going to unfold?

As things played out, the whole ‘kill Saul’ device was a hail Mary. It couldn’t have happened if relations between Russia and the US were to be maintained on some diplomatic level. But it did give Saul another doozy of a final line to Carrie: “Go f**k yourself!”

Thereafter, Carrie travelled to the West Bank to visit Saul’s sister, Dorit, bluffing her into thinking that Saul had died and that she had come to collect the package he had entrusted to her. The gambit paid off this time, allowing Carrie to get the name of Saul’s asset and reveal it to Yevgeny.

That, in turn, prompted the asset, Anna, to take her own life rather than fall into Russian hands – a move carried out while on the phone to Saul. His heartbreak and despair was palpable.

Carrie’s betrayal meant she had to flee to Russia. She had betrayed both Saul and her country.

But there was a coda. Two years later, Carrie and Yevgeny were going out with each other, having set up home in Russia. But Carrie had mailed a book to Saul – her memoir, entitled Tyranny of Secrets – Why I Had to Betray My Country. There was also a classified message inside, revealing a backdoor in the Russian’s missile defence system, with more details to follow.

Carrie had repositioned herself as Saul’s asset. And she had found some form of personal redemption for the sins of her past, while taking the first steps in healing her relationship with Saul. And in that moment, with one brief smile from both Carrie and Saul, Homeland came to a close.

Amid the turmoil, the deceit and betrayal, the harsh decisions and the mistakes, there was a glimmer of hope.

And therein lay Homeland‘s final gift to its audience. Sure, this final season may have been built upon one contrivance after another, beginning with Saul’s foolhardy decision to place Carrie back in the field, amid the peace negotiations between Afghanistan and The Taliban. And sure, a lot of plot turns felt forced or overly manufactured. Plausibility in the Carrie character had long since passed.

But the backdrop to Homeland has always been its relationship to the real world. Where past recent seasons have covered everything from Islamist attacks on European cities to the spread of misinformation via troll farms and even Russian electoral interference, this final season took the backdrop of real-life peace negotiations and posed a ‘what if’ scenario concerning US foreign policy.

Could lessons be learned from past mistakes? Or would the same mistakes that bedevilled US foreign policy post-9/11 be repeated?

In one of the episode’s final moments, Gansa and Gordon seemed to conclude that America hadn’t. Carrie’s wall, inside her Russian apartment, was riddled with newspaper clippings of failed US foreign policy. It was a damning reflection on the wrongs that have been committed in the name of right.

Similarly, this season’s depiction of a foolhardy, inexperienced and self-serving US President seemed to poke a deliberate and very accusing finger at Trump and his overly aggressive tactical approach – this even pre-coronavirus as he antagonised the likes of Korea. Now, his gaze is cast towards China.

And, in those final moments, there seemed to be more than a passing nod, or tribute, to those caught in the middle: the men and women of the intelligence community, the spies (etc), who risk their lives and who must navigate the decisions, to try and maintain some kind of fragile peace.

Here, there are no victors, more survivors. Carrie, like Yevgeny, or even Brody, is simply swimming against the tide, attempting to stay afloat. There are bad decisions, life-costing decisions. But the intention is always to serve a country and do some ‘good’, however muddled that ‘good’ becomes.

It’s perhaps why Gansa and Gordon were proud to reveal – at the start of this final series – that they had been regularly advised by the CIA as well as – at one point – Edward Snowden… people from the front line who could present a relatable evidence of how fine those margins for success or failure can be.

Viewed in this regard – and within the context of its final two hours – Homeland remains one of TV’s most successful, intelligent and essential shows. The road may often have been bumpy when focusing on its primary characters, but its world view and what it is seeking to ask, or trying to say, remained as compelling as ever.

Read our verdict on the previous episode