[This is a review of Homeland season 4, episode 8. There will be SPOILERS.]
After last week's "gotcha!" moment briefly brought Brody back to, well, let's say, mixed results, Homeland gets back down to brass tacks in terms of dealing with Saul's capture. That approach makes sense; there's really not much else to do with Carrie's hallucination other than deal with the inevitable hangover from the drugs she unwittingly took. It's not like she can muster up another vision of Brody and chat with him about all the feelings she's been having with regard to his death and death in general, especially in the wake of Aayan being murdered and Saul's less-than-ideal situation.
On one hand, the opening of 'Halfway to a Donut' is the right way to move forward. It feels very much like the morning after a bout of sudden and extreme illness. Carrie's initial weakness and lack of balance convey the physical after effects of what was essentially an attack on her mind.
Because of the way Carrie's been portrayed the last few seasons, and the fact that her struggles with mental illness have often been used as a plot device, the audience – and the characters to a certain extent – remain somewhat numb to the lasting effects of such an incident. There is a level of acceptance that extreme psychological distress is something the show is likely going to portray time and again as a means of demonstrating how this particular protagonist's mind works differently from those around her.
And for the most part, it feels like that was the intent of last week's episode: to exploit Carrie's vulnerability, both in terms of establishing the character and the individuals she's up against and in terms of returning to a familiar narrative device. This time around, things were a little different. After the questionable but still revelatory moment in Kahn's bathroom that her medication was switched, much of the focus with regard to her incident shifted away from Carrie's ability or inability to process what had happened to her, and more toward assessing blame.
All of which is completely understandable. The attack on her and the breach of security in the embassy happened at the worst possible moment – right after Saul fell into the hands of Haqqani and Carrie just watched as her newest asset was killed. Needless to say, Carrie was in a fairly fragile emotional state before she took the altered medication.
Therefore, it's not unexpected for a character who often hides, or feels like she must hide her emotions and state of mind from those around her, to exude a sense of strength and determination following such an assault. But at the end of the episode, in the midst of Carrie playing Woodward to Kahn's Deep Throat, she opens up to a seemingly sympathetic man, offering kudos to the perpetrators and revealing how it affected her on a personal level.
The scene is brief and it doesn't go into great detail with regard to Carrie's thoughts, but it works because it offers a rare glimpse of the very vulnerable space inside a woman who, for multiple reasons, is typically unable to show that side of herself. Despite the way her issues have been exploited in the past, there's still some emotional value in seeing Carrie respond to her vulnerability with something other than dubious assurances and fierce resistance to any suggestion she seek help.
If anything, 'Halfway to a Donut' is about the uncovering of various vulnerabilities. Not in terms of their exploitation at the hands of the incredibly opaque Tanseem Qureshi (Nimrat Kaur) or even Denis Boyd, but rather in terms of the core characters acting in a way that underlines their level of exposure. No scene illustrates this better than when Saul speaks to Carrie while she's monitoring what will be his failed escape from Haqqani's compound.
There are two moments, really. The first is when he asks Carrie to use the tools at her disposal to prevent him from falling back into enemy hands – that is, to drop a bomb on his location, should things go awry – and the second is when she, helpless to do anything but give him false hope right up to the moment he winds up in the last place Carrie promised him he wouldn't. That second moment is an extension of Saul's brief bout with despair and contemplation of suicide, but, in a sense, there are echoes of Aayan's murder that Carrie has yet to fully analyze.
What's interesting about both situations is how the limited privacy of a CIA operations room becomes the stage for two men to expose so much of themselves and, in turn, expose Carrie as well. It's a clever way of covering up what is essentially an episode that exists to burn off an hour until the stakes can be made even higher. Nothing is accomplished here. With the exception of Lockhart having to acquiesce to a terrorist's demands, the episode essentially ends at the same stasis point it began with.
And while that's troublesome, since the season's arc still doesn't seem to be fully formed, and it feels like, at this stage of the game, running a burner episode could be a detriment to the development of what comes next. But, intriguingly, there's no real indication of what might be around the corner, especially in terms of how Carrie plans to use the information Kahn supplied her with.
So perhaps the fact that the events basically reset themselves over the course of an hour will help Homeland take the next steps in making these unprotected vulnerabilities mean something within the context of the larger story.
Homeland continues next Sunday with 'There's Something Else Going On' @9pm on Showtime.