As "Homeland" begins its fourth season on Showtime, about six months have passed since Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) sadly drew a star on the memorial wall at CIA headquarters.
That gesture honored her disgraced lover/comrade Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), whose mission in Iran ended with his public execution.
In Episode 401, "The Drone Queen," the CIA has promoted Carrie to station chief in Kabul, where she doggedly fights the Taliban as American and NATO combat troops exit Afghanistan.
A call from Sandy Bachman (Corey Stoll), Carrie's CIA counterpart in Islamabad, reveals that the No. 4 terrorist on their kill list has been spotted in a remote tribal region of Pakistan. Sandy won't reveal the source of his intel, but it's been "rock solid" so far.
Carrie directs a pair of F-15 fighter jets to bomb the target. And after viewing the destruction on a video feed, she's amused when her employees bring out a birthday cake.
"The Drone Queen?" she asks, reading the inscription. "I don't know what to say!"
It's a rare moment of levity before news media report that 40 civilians at a wedding party were killed in the airstrike, along with the terrorist. Even as demonstrators picket the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Sandy downplays the fallout to Ambassador Martha Boyd (Laila Robins).
"They scream bloody murder," Sandy says, referring to outraged Pakistani officials. "But it's theater, it's face saving."
The crisis escalates dramatically when a video shot by medical student Aayan Ibrahim (Suraj Sharma), the attack's sole survivor, is uploaded to YouTube by his zealous roommate Rahim (Akshay Kumar).
To the consternation of CIA Director Andrew Lockhart (Tracy Letts), the video goes viral.
There's footage of a joyful bride and little girls dancing. Then a missile strikes. Now the president is apoplectic, the Pakistanis want a full accounting and Carrie's rushing to Islamabad for an emergency meeting with Sandy.
"You two are going to have to put your heads together," Lockhart commands. "Find me a way to spin this!"
Before Carrie arrives, Sandy slips out of the embassy to apparently rendezvous with the "dark asset" who provided the disastrous targeting information. Soon Sandy is placed in mortal danger when he's identified on TV as the man who ordered the bombing.
Fleeing down an alley, he's rescued by Carrie and CIA black ops specialist Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend). The reprieve is short-lived, however. A mob swarms the vehicle and pulls Sandy onto the street, stomping him to death. Carrie tries to intervene but she's stopped by Peter.
"He's gone," Peter insists. "There's nothing more we can do!"
"We could have done more back there," Carrie tells Peter when they're safely inside the embassy. But he won't hear of it.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Peter yells, deeply disturbed by Sandy's brutal murder and other horrific memories.
Back in America, former CIA acting director Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) has a hard time adjusting to his position with a private security firm.
Saul's boss, Aaron (Patrick St. Esprit), wants U.S. soldiers out of Afghanistan as soon as possible so his company can fill the vacuum. In a meeting with Pentagon brass, however, Saul questions the wisdom of drawing down troops so rapidly.
"I think we're walking away with the job half done," he suggests, prompting Aaron to pull Saul aside.
"Save it for your op-ed," Aaron says irately. "We're trying to win a contract here."
But Saul feels obligated to act in America's best interest, just like he did during his distinguished CIA career.