Betrayal abounds in “Designated Driver”, the tenth episode of Homeland’s final season. In the name of loyalty to country, each character is desperately rushing to play their final hand. It’s the beginning of the end.
Carrie (Claire Danes) reaches out to Arman (Mohammad Amiri), who also helped her try and find another contact in the second episode of this season. He takes her to the nearby military airfield so she can report what she heard on the flight recorder from the crashed helicopter that killed the American and Afghanistani Presidents. Unfortunately, since Yevgeny Gromov (Costa Ronin) took the recorder from her at the end of the last episode, the only evidence she can offer is her word. She asks Saul (Mandy Patinkin) to meet with the Russian Ambassador (Elya Baskin) about getting it back. Saul offers basically any price for the recorder but is met with taught refusal. “Officially, they don’t have it. Unofficially, they’re not giving it back.”
However, Carrie learns that there may still be a way. Gromov contacts her and delivers the stunning news that Saul is running a double agent in the highest levels of Russian government. He tells her, essentially, that she must betray Saul in order to deliver the identity of that agent, which is “the only thing worth more to my country than watching the United States self-destruct on the Pakistan border.” Knowing she has no choice, Carrie turns herself in, and invokes Saul’s protection.
Rushing to Lay the Groundwork for the Home Stretch
Television shows almost universally suffer from a bottleneck problem that comes up on average once per season. Telling a story with the long-form structure of a continuous twelve-episode season brings unique challenges, and despite the writers’ best efforts to lay story events out as accurately as possible, there are some inevitable unforeseen circumstances that cause something of a storytelling crunch at some point during the season. In Homeland’s eighth and final season, “Designated Driver” is that bottleneck.
The episode begins with Carrie walking through the street, fully alert. The last we saw of Carrie, she had been drugged and carried away by Gromov. A safe assumption for the viewer to make was that she was taken, along with the recorder. Apparently not, as she’s suddenly up and meeting Arman, furiously writing out what she heard on the flight recorder. We’re given no indication of what happened, other than a cursory line later in the episode indicating that Carrie was “dumped” somewhere.
When Carrie calls Saul several minutes into the episode, the first thing he says is: “Carrie, I’ve been worried sick.” The statement is fine on its own, but we haven’t been given any time with Saul to provide evidence for his worry. Like Carrie suddenly walking down the street, the first glimpse we see of Saul is him quickly walking down a hallway in the White House, his destination and goals unclear. It’s as though the team behind Homeland have just finalized how the last few episodes are going to go and are furiously trying to make up for lost time by leaving some things out, with gaps just noticeable enough to make the pacing awkward.
Of course, Homeland’s greatest weakness, that of unjustified trust and character choices between Carrie and Saul, also shows through in this bottleneck episode. Saul is given very little screen time in “Designated Driver”, but the opposite ideological extremes he embodies between the few scenes he has are enough to give the viewer whiplash. While talking to the Russian Ambassador, he begs for the return of the flight recorder, at any price. When the Ambassador relates that no offer will be considered, Saul invokes the incredible cost of potential worldwide nuclear war and begs for reconsideration. In that moment, it’s clear that Saul would do anything to save the world from such devastation.
Fast forward to another scene, in which Chief of Staff David Wellington (Linus Roache) bluntly asks Saul to avoid contact with Carrie, who has just invoked Saul’s protection. Wellington reminds Saul that they need to hold on to what little credibility they still hold with President Hayes (Sam Trammell), and contact with Carrie would only undermine that credibility. Wellington is absolutely right, of course. Saul explains that he blames himself for Carrie’s situation, since he was the one that put her back in the field. Also true. However, remember that just minutes ago, Saul was willing to do anything to avoid nuclear war. Now, he says: “I cannot turn my back on her.” While I understand the sentiment and the personal relationship between these two, nuclear war is at stake here. Saul himself said so just a few minutes prior to this sudden and awkward reversal. Frankly, personal relationships be damned.
All of these decisions are clearly the result of the Homeland team furiously laying the tracks down for an oncoming train. It’s a good bet that the final two episodes will borrow heavily from the various foundational elements established not only throughout the rest of season 8, but most especially in “Designated Driver”.
The Final Stretch
Homeland’s writers are furiously working to keep the season’s story tight and compelling. With so many loose ends, it will be interesting to see how they choose to tie things up. “Designated Driver” was as compelling as any episode this season, despite the flaws. But where do things go from here? Will Zabel get his war? Will Hayes retain his power or lose all credibility? Will Jalal’s bombing of the American special ops team compel the Pakistan government to take drastic action? And what has come of Afghanistan President G’ulom? Finally, of course, will Gromov and the Russian government be true to their word, and turn over the flight recorder?
With two episodes left, the questions abound, and time is running out. The stage is set. All hands are on the table. One question stands above all: who will come out on top?
Homeland Season 8 Episode 10: Designated Driver aired on April 12, 2020 on Showtime. The series is currently available to stream on Showtime Anytime.
Does content like this matter to you?
Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.