Between certain producers, the subject matter, the controversial depiction of Muslims, the Emmy wins and the genuine thrills that come from each episode, it is not original to discuss the similarities between Homeland and 24. “13 Hours in Islamabad,” which comprises 45 of the best minutes of Showtime’s Emmy-winning series so far, is as close as the thriller has gotten to the territory of its network precursor. Regardless, even with many similarities, the series still triumphs at following its own creative game. (Also, you wouldn’t hear the line, “I’m trying to kill the motherfucker who’s trying to kill us!” on 24, due to network constraints.)
The episode is divided into two halves. For the first 22 minutes – which take place in a form of real time that quickly conjures memories of the ticking-clock drama – the American embassy is under attack from Haqqani and his radicalized thugs. They reach the hidden stairwells and swiftly make their way through the compound. Mere seconds after Lockhart grips the episode’s MacGuffin, a list of all of the CIA’s Pakistan assets in a network that Sandy Bachman spent years accumulating intelligence for, Haqqani’s men shoot up the main agency room and take its workers hostage.
Lockhart escapes with the list but has to give it up only a few scenes later, handing it to the terrorist leader with the resolve for the hostage situation to end. In the shootout that ends this ambush in a bloody fashion, director Dan Attias shows terrific grace under pressure. He films the combat in the hallways of the embassy with clarity and coherence, by staying true to the token filmmaking rule of angles (the 180-degree rule) and keeping the camera mostly stationary.
The second half of “13 Hours in Islamabad,” is a numbing, somber, slow exhale, as the surviving cast of characters reconvene at the embassy and try to figure out where to pick things up. Unlike 24, which almost always keeps up its frenetic pace, Homeland takes its time to pause as the characters try to make sense of what just happened, barely raising their voices. As startling and thrilling as the action-packed opening is, the scars and the silences exposed in the latter half of the episode are even more chilling.
The episode served as a terrific climax to what has been a busy season of twists, bold political maneuvering and tense discussions. However, it also served as an anti-climax, as the shocking ambush backfired a lot of groundwork done by the characters this season and in the timeline prior to it. In a way, all of the efforts that many people had put into the operations in Pakistan – Martha’s diplomatic record, Sandy’s record of regional allies – is gone. Saul feels like he has been a pawn in Haqqani’s game that allowed them the distraction to reach this point. Carrie does not only feel let down by missing this news and her failure to get Dennis to open up about it last week. Due to Fara’s unfortunate death, she finally comes to take responsibility for someone she probably did not realize was one of her closest allies.