As Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) lays into erstwhile “protégé” Fara Sherazi (Nazanin Boniadi), her voice assumes a familiar, shaky warble, half desperation and half rage: “No, you said ’the boy.’ Like he’s some kindergartener instead of a grown adult who’s been smuggling drugs to jihadists. You know what else, actually, since we’re on the subject? If you or Quinn, or you and Quinn, have got problems with this, what I’ve done with ’the boy,’ none of it would’ve been necessary if you had just done your job. You were supposed to recruit him. I had to go in after you fucked that up.” “The boy” in question is Aayan (Suraj Sharma), but the real subject of this caustic exchange is the balancing act of means and ends that’s shadowed Carrie since Nicholas Brody returned from captivity in season one. At what point does the amoral pursuit of American interests transform the War on Terror into a campaign of terror, in which the sacrifice of innocents is seen simply as a necessary debit in the strategic ledger? In this sense, the aptly titled “From A to B and Back Again” is vintage Homeland, spiraling toward the conceit the series has always used to frame its chase down the rabbit hole of American foreign policy: that way madness lies.
Carrie has indeed become, as I wrote of “About a Boy,” “the victim of her own ruse.” The sexual and emotional intimacy she deployed to win Aayan’s trust has also exposed her to errors of judgment, fits of pique, waves of grief, and “From A to B and Back Again” bears witness to these quicksilver changes with increasing vigor. At the outset, Carrie and Aayan loll in bed, rehearsing the details of his new identity—yet another in the series of ploys by which Carrie hopes to convince him of her bona fides. Though it’s clear Aayan won’t be heading to Britain anytime soon, if ever, their easy, relaxed manner suggests that the blossoming relationship isn’t just a recruitment tactic. With each new development, the episode forces Carrie to weigh her personal investment in Aayan against the realpolitik of the hunt for Haissam Haqqani (Numan Acar), a test of means and ends that even Carrie cannot pass.
Fara and Quinn (Rupert Friend), duly skeptical of Carrie’s ability to navigate her own competing agendas, raise their concerns only to face the station chief’s wrath. Carrie’s touchiness in conversation with Fara seems a response, at least in part, to Quinn’s razor-sharp deadpan when Carrie requests three to four agents for an operation involving Aayan: “So I’m guessing clothing’s optional,” he quips. But the fraying nerves are also a product, perhaps, of Carrie’s own realization that the escalating stakes promise to destabilize her once more. “I shouldn’t have let my guard down,” she admits to Aayan, moments before C.I.A. operatives posing as ISI agents burst into the safe house. It’s part of her act, of course, but the fact is that Carrie’s never lying. She’s simply peeling back her protective shell to reveal another layer of the truth.
With she and Quinn at loggerheads, Carrie relies on John Redmond (Michael O’Keefe) to pull off the feigned ISI kidnapping and the subsequent surveillance of Aayan as he makes his way to the tribal areas to meet with Haqqani. Aayan plans to elicit his uncle’s help to escape to Britain by way of Afghanistan; Carrie plans to follow her charge to the target of the airstrike that began “The Drone Queen”; neither plans on being outsmarted by Haqqani, ISI, or Dennis Boyd (the terrific Mark Moses). Dennis, formerly a rather milquetoast, even emasculated, figure, emerges here as a slimy striver. Chattering away to Quinn about “crazy-ass, ball-breaking women,” or impressing his ISI handler (Nimrat Kaur) with new information regarding Carrie’s mental illness, the safe house, and the C.I.A.’s interest in Aayan, he appears nervously excited—motivated, I suspect, by his wife’s comment, in “About a Boy,” that “women secretly fear their husbands are losers,” and desperate to prove his worth even if it means committing treason. (“I guess everyone’s good at something,” he gloats.)
Both Dennis and Carrie ultimately suggest just how cloudy the question of means and ends has become this season, as their fateful political choices, rooted in deeply personal desires, bring the episode to its surprising conclusion. Though it’s not made explicit, the intelligence Dennis hands over to ISI would seem to be the only way Haqqani could know he’s being watched, and by the extension the only logical reason to bring Saul (Mandy Patinkin) along for protection when he meets with Aayan in the final minutes. The encounter, as the episode’s title suggests, upends the narrative and returns Carrie to the same quandary she faced in the season premiere, only now the price of war by remote control is more than she can afford to pay. Only the night before, in earshot of Redmond, she and Aayan exchanged words of love, and now he’s dead at Haqqani’s hands. “Take the shot, goddamn it!” Carrie implores, vengeful and nearly unhinged. “Wipe that fucker out!” With Saul’s life on the line, too, Quinn overrules her. “Are you out of your mind?” he cries. This is one end that does not justify the means. That way madness lies, Quinn suggests, and his intervention staves off the horrific consequences of Carrie’s order. It remains to be seen whether she’s too far down the rabbit hole to hear him.
For more Homeland recaps, click here.