“Halfway to a Donut” is the most focused episode of Homeland so far this season, and its straightforward narrative seems a necessary respite from the psychological fireworks of “Redux”—until, that is, Carrie (Claire Danes) betrays Saul (Mandy Patinkin) in the closing minutes, and the consequences of her choices come rushing back once more. “Saul, we will thread the needle, you and I,” Carrie reassures him, but as Homeland so often suggests, the distance between the rocks and hard places of American foreign policy can be vanishingly slim.
Rousing from slumber in Aasar Khan’s manse after her drug-induced derailment, Carrie is physically weak, but mentally fit: While she stumbles around as though she’s coming off a bout with the flu, she quickly intuits that ISI has tampered with her medicine. As it happens, even Khan (Raza Jaffrey) needs colleague Tasleem Qureshi (Nimrat Kaur) to explain the endgame, and she berates him for ruining an opportunity to see Carrie relieved of duty and sent back to Washington. Nevertheless, Qureshi remains smug at the conference table as the assembled parties hammer out a prisoner exchange—after all, she’s been one step ahead of Carrie and the C.I.A. since Saul’s kidnapping. These negotiations proceed against Saul’s wishes, as Carrie understood when she ordered the bombing of Haissam Haqqani’s (Numan Acar) convoy in “From A to B and Back Again.” The former C.I.A. director doesn’t want to be a bargaining chip. “Tell them to go to fuckin’ hell!” he screams in a video linkup between Haqqani’s compound and the U.S. Embassy. “Escape or die,” he says to Carrie on the phone a little later. “Promise me.”
Meanwhile, word that there’s been a “breach” in Embassy security gets back to Dennis Boyd (Mark Moses) via his unsuspecting wife, Ambassador Martha Boyd (Laila Robins), who’s too busy holding on to the last, fraying threads of U.S.-Pakistani relations to notice that her husband is one slippery motherfucker. He reports this news to Qureshi, who gives him another assignment anyway; Khan, struck by sympathy for Carrie or angling for a leg up on his ISI colleagues, provides the C.I.A.’s Islamabad station chief with Dennis Boyd’s name. This all has yet to play out, and on this front “Halfway to a Donut” is largely pro forma, establishing the state of play for Dennis’s reckoning. (I hope to see Carrie and Martha come down on him like a ton of bricks.)
The episode’s climactic set piece is a glorious combination of high- and low-tech—pickup trucks and cellphones, pistols and drones, satellites and small-town streets—that finds Saul trying, in vain, to elude the Taliban search party tasked with bringing him back to Haqqani. Carrie convinces Saul to continue on after he pauses in a courtyard to consider killing himself, but it’s only to lead him to recapture, where he’ll live to see another day. “You fuckin’ lied to me! Goddamn you! Fuck you!” he yells, as the seething blur of red dots in the C.I.A. station’s operations room surges forth, a harrowing symbol of the Taliban melee. Though “Halfway to a Donut” isn’t as rich with ideas as certain other episodes this season, it’s plenty exciting, and its concluding minutes ultimately register as the moment at which Carrie finally comes around to her colleagues’ jaundiced view of life during wartime. “How can saving someone’s life be the wrong choice?” she asks Quinn (Rupert Friend), who arrived at this skeptical position long ago. “But it was, because there are only wrong choices. And it’s like I’m finally seeing it now for the first time—nothing good can happen in this fucked up world we’ve made for ourselves, can it?”
For more Homeland recaps, click here.