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Spoiler alert: This story contains major details from Sunday’s series finale of “Homeland.”

When “Homeland” grabbed the public’s attention and six Emmys, including best drama series, for its spellbinding first season in 2011, the relationship between CIA super spy Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and military hero and suspected terrorist  Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) took center stage.

Over eight seasons, many ups and some downs and the death of Brody in Season 3,  the central dynamic shifted to Carrie, a brilliant operative struggling with mental illness, and her savvy CIA mentor, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin).

That bond frayed at times, as Carrie broke every rule in the book twice, but never has it been as endangered as it was going into the series’ final episode, which aired Sunday, after Russian agent Yevgeny Gromov (Costa Ronin) gave Carrie only one way to secure the black-box flight recorder, evidence that can prevent a possible nuclear war: “Kill Saul.”

Here’s how the finale played out:

As it opens, Carrie imagines being portrayed as a terrorist in her own country if she kills Saul to stop a war. An image of Brody, a hero castigated as a traitor, flashes on the screen,  a reminder of the long road “Homeland” has traveled.

Carrie, who’s under Saul’s supervision at his suburban D.C. home while awaiting trial on serious charges, looks for her mentor, but he’s been at the United Nations trying to find another way to obtain the flight recorder that can explain the cause of the helicopter crash that killed the U.S. and Afghani presidents.

One big problem: Why is Carrie free to run around? She’s charged with being an accessory to the president’s murder. Even though we know the charges are bogus,  she should be locked up tighter than Houdini.

With a 48-hour deadline, Saul and Carrie are separately trying to prevent a war based on the incorrect assumption that the Taliban shot down the president’s helicopter. 

Final mission: Claire Danes takes Carrie Mathison on last ‘Homeland’ mission: ‘She’s kind of a superhero’

Back at the U.N., top translator Anna Pomerantseva for Russian intelligence official Mirov (Merab Ninidze), who was revealed last week as Saul’s long-concealed intelligence asset, enters an office and sees the flight recorder, which Yevgeny stole from Carrie in Afghanistan. We knew the Russians had it; now we know where it is. 

Carrie continues her nonsensical plan to kill Saul, getting poisoning  instructions from Yevgeny’s U.S. mole and the promise that Russian intelligence agents will finish him off after she paralyzes him. 

After failing to bully the Russians into giving up the black box, Saul tries internal diplomacy, arranging an Oval Office meeting with President Hayes but finds yahoo warmonger John Zabel (Danes’ husband, Hugh Dancy) there.

Saul explains that the black-box recording proves the crash was an accident, but Zabel won’t buy it without evidence. Saul argues against going to war based on wrong information, explicitly laying out the show’s intriguing parallel to the 2003 Iraq War, which was predicated on weapons of mass destruction that were never found.

Carrie’s sister Maggie finds Saul and says she’s heard Carrie is back in town, but that she hasn’t come to see her daughter, Franny, whom Carrie left Maggie to raise. We see Carrie in Franny’s bedroom, where she’s come to grab a hidden “go” bag with money and other essentials. She briefly gets emotional seeing a framed portrait of her daughter, which she takes with her.

Carrie returns to Saul’s house as a Russian agent waits in a car outside. Saul confronts her about not getting in touch with Maggie and Franny, but Carrie focuses on the spy asset/flight recorder trade, saying she knows it’s a woman and demands her name.

Saul, thinking of the long game, says his asset is too valuable to give up. He rationalizes Pakistan as “a regional problem at worst” and utters a calculated, bottom-line assessment: “Sometimes, that’s the cost of doing business.”

When Carrie persists, Saul orders her out of his house, but she pulls the poison stunt. This is where the episode really starts going off the rails, a sad note for a thoughtful series that frequently foreshadowed real-world crises. Everything starts to feel rushed, which is a shame for a season that was set up so well.

Carrie threatens to have the Russians kill Saul unless he gives up the asset, saying, “No one person is worth the lives of tens of thousands.” Saul is defiant, even as a Russian agent prepares to apply a lethal injection. Carrie stops the execution; she has another plan.

In what seems like a split second, indicted Carrie, increasingly turning into a cartoon superhero, is in Israel where she lies to Saul’s sister, telling her he’s dead. The woman takes Carrie at her word and hands over a package Saul left for Carrie in the event of his death. It includes the asset’s identity. 

After the sister leaves her home to fly to Saul’s funeral, Yevgeny arrives. Carrie gives him the asset’s name and he promises to turn over the flight recorder. 

Maybe Carrie should have kept Saul under tighter wraps. After the poison wears off, he calls colleague Scott Ryan, instructing him to take  translator Anna into custody at the U.N. before the Russians can grab her. 

Mirov and his Russian subordinates spot Scott and Anna on their way to a public presentation of the flight-recorder evidence. A chase begins. Holed up in a storage room with Russian GRU agents banging on the door, Anna kills herself with Scott’s gun rather than be taken by the Russians.

Next, Mirov presents the flight-recorder data at the U.N., proving the Taliban didn’t shoot down the helicopter. War is averted. It’s unclear why the Russians reveal this right after losing Saul’s asset, the only reason they withheld the evidence in the first place.

Back in Israel, Carrie grieves over her betrayal of Saul’s trust as Yevgeny assures her that they’ll both survive. But they don’t have time to debate, realizing Saul contacted Israeli counterintelligence. They skedaddle. 

In an epilogue, the action shifts two years into the future. Carrie and Yevgeny are dressing up for a night on the town in a tony Moscow apartment. Yevgeny gives her a necklace and congratulates her for “doing a very important thing.” Another room features a picture of Franny and the walls and windows are covered with photocopies and Post-It notes, a nod to the evidence walls Carrie built early in the show’s run.

So, she’s a traitor? Not really. Back in D.C., Saul is moving from his house. His sister answers his house phone, telling him it must have been a wrong number because the caller asked for Professor Rabinow. But that’s Saul, or at least that’s the name he used with Anna, who sent him intelligence secrets in the bindings of rare books.

Saul, recovered from a heart attack and now seemingly retired, visits the go-between bookseller and receives a package that he doesn’t open.  

Back in Moscow, Carrie and Yevgeny are enjoying a jazz concert. Carrie, spotting another woman leaving, excuses herself and goes to the restroom, where the two clandestinely switch handbags.

Saul opens the package. It’s an advance copy of Carrie’s memoir, “Tyranny of Secrets: When I Had to Betray My Country.” She looks sad in the cover photo. Her fear of being branded a traitor, just like Brody, has come true. 

But as usual, things are not as they appear. Saul finds a piece of paper in the book binding on how to neutralize a missile defense system Russia sold to Iran and Turkey. 

Carrie, back with Yevgeny, appears content with her reconfigured life. The chameleonic operative has shape-shifted from Saul’s protege to his asset (although shouldn’t Russian intelligence be on to her?). 

Saul cracks a faint smile. He has a new Anna. He’s back in the spy game. 

And although the episode took a lot of questionable turns getting there, Carrie and Saul end up where they belong: arm in arm in espionage.

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