Carrie Mathison is one of television’s most polarizing protagonists. Every week on Homeland, it seems that she is a step away from being fired from her agency post, as she clearly does not have the trust of the people under her command and she botches a rather high number of operations. However, that causes a dilemma for the writers, between letting what would realistically occur – Carrie loses the job – and heightening the drama, putting her in a place of greater power and, thus, greater conflict.
For the second time in three episodes, Homeland’s climactic scene occurs in the CIA compound as Carrie makes a critical decision. It seems like ages ago when she had an affair with Aayan and became all weepy-eyed when Haqqani shot him. Her outrage during that tumultuous operation seems much more embellished when compared to her chilly (although still devastated) response at the end of the ultimately botched operation with Saul this time. After he escapes from Haqqani’s custody, with the aid of a nail and a lot of running in the dark of the Pakistani night, Saul is waiting at a post before he can be picked up. For some reason, the agency has to wait until morning to send people in who can retrieve Saul from the Taliban-controlled desert.
Patinkin, who has not gotten the chance to give much of a performance this season, makes it count here in a gritty and determined turn this hour. Panting in the pitch black, he begs Carrie to keep her end of a promise. He tells her “No one should suffer from my mistakes, let alone a whole country,” during a talk he insists is veiled from the rest of the CIA staff. Escape or die are the options: if he cannot make it back to Islamabad safely, he would rather choose death than imprisonment, so that a prisoner exchange deal with Haqqani could not be met. Putting the character in a shaky life-and-death situation gave the audience a new perspective of the man who normally operates from behind the desk. The actor is a stabilizing presence, although it was weird to see him panicking for his life, sweating in the cellar at Haqqani’s and then disoriented as he huffed through the desert.
As soon as Saul makes it to the closest town as the marketplace opens, Haqqani’s men are close by. Carrie tries to use the state-of-the-art drone surveillance to guide her former boss through a maze of Taliban officials. (Helpfully, the tech experts in the control room dot Saul with a blue circle and the agents with red triangles, so that we can watch the chase as if we were playing a video game.) But, Saul is too surrounded and realizing that he can be captured, takes out a gun and aims it at his chin.
It is here where Carrie meets one of her biggest dilemmas to date: should she keep her promise to Saul and avoid the political skirmish regarding the prisoners by just having him take his life, or should she save him but guide him back to the same regime that captured and brutalized him? The last 15 minutes of “Halfway to a Donut” is as gripping as Homeland has been all season. Sadly, one of the elements these episodes have lacked is time between Saul and Carrie. Since we know the depth of their working relationship (and their friendship), bolstered by how frequently Saul came to Carrie’s aid when she was trapped in the field, Carrie’s difficult decision becomes even more unbearable to sit through.