HOMELAND (S8E12) “Prisoners Of War”: Riding Off Into the Sunset… Of Civilization

After eight stellar seasons, Showtime’s Homeland has finally come to an end. Prisoners of War is a finale that provides closure for the characters, while also addressing the perpetually unrelenting ruthlessness of statecraft, and its consequences. While a few threads remained unaddressed, Prisoners of War is nevertheless an incredible finale sure to be remembered for a long time to come.

Episode Summary

Carrie (Claire Danes) seems willing to stop at nothing to deliver the identity of Saul’s source inside Moscow to Gromov (Costa Ronin), thereby securing the flight recorder and preventing a pointless war. Saul (Mandy Patinkin) refuses her request, however; he insists on protecting the identity of his inside source, one of the very few tools America has in Russia, a country that is “slowly but surely strangling our democracy.” Without that asset, he insists, America’s entire network in Russia would be useless.

Desperate, Carrie poisons him, and Saul loses most of his motor function. She threatens to turn him over to the Russians unless he gives her the identity of his source. Saul refuses until the very end, and only then does Carrie reveal that she never intended to harm Saul, merely to scare him into cooperating. Leaving Saul under guard, she tries her Hail Mary fallback plan and flies to Israel to see Saul’s sister, Dorit (Jacqueline Antaramian).

Carrie tells Dorit that Saul has suddenly passed, and asks if there is anything Saul wanted her to have in the event of his death. Carrie’s gamble pays off; Dorit hands her a thumb drive that contains the identity of the inside source: Anna Pomerantseva (Tatyana Mukha), the “English Teacher” highlighted in the last episode. Carrie delivers the source’s identity to Gromov, and instructs Saul’s guards to set him free. Saul immediately tries to get Anna to a safe place, but too late. Refusing to be captured, Anna takes her own life, as Carrie and Gromov flee into hiding. As promised, Mirov (Merab Ninidze) holds a press conference, where he plays the flight recorder, live, for the world to hear. Thus, war is prevented, but America’s network in Russia is gone.

HOMELAND (S8E12) “Prisoners Of War”: Riding Off Into the Sunset... Of Civilization
source: Showtime

Two years later, Carrie and Gromov are living as a couple in Moscow. Carrie has recently finished a book detailing what happened, why she made the choices she did, and how she helped to avert a war. At first, she seems content with the life she has chosen, willing to accept being forever branded as a traitor. Soon, however, we see that something is amiss. Carrie is receiving intelligence drops of some kind while attending a concert, while on the other side of the world, Saul’s retirement plans are interrupted when he receives a parcel. In it is an advanced copy of Carrie’s book. In the spine is hidden a message detailing a weakness in Russia’s missile defense system. In that moment, Saul realizes the effectiveness of Carrie’s long game. Carrie is the new Anna. America’s network in Russia lives on in her.

Lingering Questions

Homeland’s finale arch was stretched over two episodes, The English Teacher and Prisoners of War. These episodes introduced Saul’s asset in Russia, established the importance of said asset, saw it removed, and saw it replaced. This narrative provided the means with which the writers provided Carrie and Saul with a satisfying, even arguably happy, ending. Both will continue to thrive within their element. Less defined is how the country, and the rest of the world, will fare.

In a recent interview, showrunner Alex Gansa revealed that the ending was only recently developed, and in many ways, it shows. The sudden introduction of Saul’s Russian asset smacks just a bit of deus ex machina, suddenly providing Carrie with a means to prevent the coming war. Still, the ending is beautifully executed for the two main characters. Everything with that ending just makes sense. It fits.

However, there are a few loose ends that went unresolved. While we see a brief image of a shocked President Hayes (Sam Trammell) as he hears the flight recording, as well as a defeated Zabel (Hugh Dancy) forlornly looking on as Hayes calls off the aggression against Pakistan, we’re given no hints on the future of the Presidency. While this particular catastrophe was prevented, the White House remains incredibly vulnerable. Further, we’re left completely in the dark on the ultimate fate of the relationship between Tasneem (Nimrat Kaur) and Jalal (Elhma Ehsas), and how Pakistan at large will fare.

These unanswered questions serve to underscore the fact that the whole point of these characters was to add fuel to the fire that was the coming war over the Presidents’ helicopter being shot down, and again, this could have taken place anywhere. The fact that the characters most responsible for perpetuating that narrative are cast aside for the final episodes really makes clear how pointless it was to set the final season largely in the Middle East.

Completing the Arch

The episode opens with a memory. Before going through with the attempt to assassinate Vice President Walden in season two, Nicholas Brody (Damien Lewis) recorded a video explaining why he did what he did (or was about to do). Since the assassination attempt failed, the video is relegated to evidence of intent, rather than commission. Still, it provides a window into the mind of someone who feels justified in committing an atrocity in the name of the greater good. This finale episode opens with Brody’s video intercut with Carrie, driving back to Saul’s home after speaking to Gromov, the weight of her task weighing heavily on her shoulders.

HOMELAND (S8E12) “Prisoners of War”: Riding Off Into the Sunset of Civilization
source: Showtime

Brody’s video provides a perfect bookend to the episode, but also provides definitive evidence of Carrie’s similarities to Brody. As I mentioned in the review for the previous episode, it seemed as though the writers had left behind the idea of directly tying Carrie’s season 8 arch to that of Brody’s throughout the first three seasons: as an agent being turned. With this video, presumably playing in Carrie’s mind as she drives, they brought that idea right back to center stage. However, Brody served more of an ideal than an actual organization, and as we see by the end of the finale, Carrie plays a double agent in the ultimate service of American Intelligence.

In typical Homeland fashion, it’s a fantastic bait and switch. Carrie has found home, not only in her life with Gromov, but in the mission she has given herself to keep the American Intelligence network alive. In doing so, she’s also provided Saul with a reason to continue his life’s mission. The series concludes by intercutting between a dolly in closeup of Saul, and a crane shot moving toward Carrie sitting at the concert. Both are smiling, embracing their new role. Both are experiencing chaos: Saul with the movers in his home, Carrie in a crowded Jazz concert. Still, they’re comfortable. We’re left with a feeling of closure; we feel the balance return.

“The Cost of Doing Business”

There’s a line that’s spoken twice in this episode, once by Saul, and later by Gromov. This line is spoken in order to justify the terrible costs of espionage and cyberwar, as well as physical conflict. As Carrie asks both Saul and Gromov, in different scenes, to see the bigger picture, they both refuse with a taught “That’s the cost of doing business.”

While opinions may vary on which characters were “correct” in their arguments on the show, it’s that line I want to highlight for a moment. Indeed, even Carrie has used very similar rationalization when making many of the decisions she makes throughout the series, but we can always chalk up the depicted casualties of a television show as devices meant to enhance drama or further a storyline. In the real world, we don’t have that luxury. Those words, with only subtle variation, have been used to justify atrocity since the beginning of civilization. Typically, this argument is used to dismiss the cost of a means in order to achieve an end; to excuse collateral damage. Even throughout Homeland there have been multiple instances of such justification, not the least of which was bombing a wedding in order to try and kill Haqqani, or the bombing of a school that ultimately turned Brody into a double agent.

While there are certainly times where the ends do justify the means, a significant problem remains: who makes those decisions? Who is it that gets to decide when a certain end is worth a terrible means? Very often, the decision comes down to a question of power. Who has the most power? While the President of the United States may feel justified in protecting the country by bombing a target, those who lose friends and family in the collateral damage certainly won’t feel that way. Why don’t they have a say? Simple. They don’t have the power needed to secure a seat at the table.

While many Americans may feel secure in their situations, never having lived in fear of bombings or other violence, we would do well to pause periodically, and put ourselves in the shoes of those we don’t think twice about sacrificing as part of “the cost of doing business.” In the end, espionage and cyberwarfare are, like the guns, ammunition, and explosive payloads of physical warfare, little more than tools of destruction meant to weaken other countries and empower one’s own. The road to power is littered with corpses. I may be branded an idealist just for asking, but isn’t there a better way?

If we insist on pursuing our current course, we have only pain to look forward to, as individuals, organizations, and countries continue to vie for power, no matter the collateral damage. After all, it’s just “the cost of doing business.” As Mandy Patinkin said in a recent interview: “The wheel is always turning. So if you’re on top, know that one day you’ll be on the bottom. And if somebody is knocking on your door, open it and welcome them, or no one will be there when you need help.”

Homeland Season 8 Episode 12: Prisoners of War aired on April 26, 2020 on Showtime. The series is currently available to stream on Showtime Anytime.

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