Kidnapping victim Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) makes it halfway to freedom before being recaptured by Pakistani terrorists on “Halfway to a Donut,” Episode 408 of Showtime’s espionage thriller “Homeland.”
The former CIA director is the great prize of Taliban leader Haissam Haqqani (Numan Acar), who demands to swap Saul for five high-value prisoners held by the U.S. military at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
If the prisoners are released, Haqqani’s command structure will be restored, thus posing a significant threat in the turbulent region.
When Haqqani transmits live images of his bloodied hostage to American and Pakistani officials gathered for an emergency meeting, Saul makes his wishes abundantly clear about the proposed prisoner exchange.
“Don’t do it,” he yells, prompting Haqqani’s thugs to yank Saul away from the video camera.
“You tell them,” CIA Director Andrew Lockhart (Tracy Letts) angrily instructs his Pakistani counterparts, “if he’s hurt, all bets are off!”
Just like Saul, neither the intelligence agency nor the White House wants the prisoners released, Lockhart emphasizes to Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), CIA station chief in Islamabad.
“But I will not have my predecessor join Daniel Pearl and Jim Foley with their heads in a basket,” Lockhart fumes, referring to American journalists brutally murdered by Islamic militants.
“We find another way,” Carrie says, hoping for a lucky break.
That break seemingly occurs when Saul escapes from his handcuffs, strangles a guard and flees into a remote mountainous area near the Afghanistan border. Carrie tells Saul by cellphone to take refuge in a village 20 miles away and wait for U.S. Special Forces to arrive.
Terrorists soon pinpoint Saul’s location, however, and relay this critical update to Tasneem Qureshi (Nimrat Kaur), a Taliban sympathizer with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
“I will not be a pawn in this prisoner exchange,” Saul emphasizes to Carrie during a private phone conversation. “You need to promise. Something goes wrong, you drop a bomb on the whole mess.”
“Escape or die,” Carrie assures her father-like mentor.
But when Taliban soldiers close in, Carrie can’t bring herself to order a drone strike or let Saul commit suicide. Instead she lies about Special Forces being just blocks away.
“Saul, they’re waiting for you at the rendezvous,” Carrie says as convincingly as she can. “Don’t let them down!”
Seconds later he’s engulfed by a Taliban swarm.
“He was counting on me and I betrayed him,” Carrie confesses to CIA black ops specialist Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend). “How can saving someone’s life be the wrong choice?”
The reason, Carrie laments, is that “there are only wrong choices” in that part of the world.
Now Lockhart is forced to make a humbling announcement when he rejoins the Pakistani delegation.
“Tell Haqqani we’ll meet his demands,” the CIA chief bitterly says.
“Well, you won,” Carrie cynically remarks during a secret meeting with Lt. Colonel Aasar Khan (Raza Jaffrey), ISI’s counterterrorism chief.
“Did we?” Aasar replies, knowing that the prisoners about to be released killed Pakistani civilians in terrorist attacks. He also bristles at Carrie’s consistently hostile attitude.
Still, Carrie is starting to trust Aasar. That’s because his men rescued her the night before when she hallucinated and turned violent after taking what she thought was a prescription drug to manage her bipolar disorder.
If Aasar hadn’t freed Carrie from jail, she would have been relieved of her duties and sent home to America.
“It was Dennis Boyd who switched your pills,” Aasar reveals, correctly implicating the treasonous husband (Mark Moses) of Martha Boyd (Laila Robins), the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan.
“He’s working against you,” Aasar adds in a hushed voice. “That’s all I can say.”