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‘Homeland’ recap: The agony of defeat in ‘Krieg Nicht Lieb’

LOS ANGELES ( - The agony of defeat permeates the penultimate episode of "Homeland's" fourth season.

LOS ANGELES ( - The agony of defeat permeates the penultimate episode of "Homeland's" fourth season.

SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading if you haven't seen "Homeland" episode 11, "Krieg Nicht Lieb."

In another very tense installment of the Fall of Islamabad, it's hard to decide what was more heartbreaking: Hearing Carrie Mathison say the words "We lost" or watching her try to stroke her baby daughter's cheek through her computer screen.

"Krieg Nicht Lieb" (which loosely translates to "war not love") was a fast-moving mix of razor-sharp suspense and softer emotional moments, directed by Clark Johnson from a script by exec producers Chip Johannessen and Alexander Cary that had the briefest bits of black comedy at perfect moments. Even rogue commando assassins aren't immune from body odor after days of feverish plotting.

Nina Hoss has a great guest shot as Quinn's German lover from the not-so-distant past. More than facilitating Quinn's quixotic mission to eliminate Haqqani, Hoss' character delivers to Carrie a pivotal bit of insight into Quinn's character. All this business about quitting the CIA and questioning the morality of being a killing machine? It's a semi-regular crisis that he goes through but never has he pulled the plug. At some point, this knowledge will probably help Carrie feel a little less guilty about pulling him back in to Islamabad, although today is not that day.

(Like Carrie, Quinn for sure is a candidate to wind up living next door to No. 6 in the Village one day. Be seeing you.)

Hoss is good in her steely stare-down with Claire Danes, but the episode belongs to Rupert Friend -- and that's saying something whenever Danes is on screen.

As the hour opens, Carrie looks positively dejected as she walks past the buses being packed up with suitcases -- a nod it seems to the famous image of the last helicopter out of the U.S. embassy in Saigon in 1975 -- and she moves through the nearly empty rooms where teams of intelligence officers once worked. She's never exactly been a good soldier but now she's determined to lead the handful of staffers left through the proper "failure protocol" to shut down the agency. Max tries to egg her on to pull a Hail Mary, but nope, this time Carrie's doing it by the book. For a little while, anyway.

On the other end of the failure-protocol spectrum is Quinn, who has, as many viewers have noted, has gone full-metal-Jack-Bauer in the past two episodes. He's waging a one-man vendetta against Haqqani's highly oiled terror machine -- no matter how unrealistic the odds of his success or survival. "There was a Taliban flag over my head. I can't let that stand," Quinn tells his old flame.

This time, it's personal, which means there's no reasoning with him. Quinn grabs Carrie by the throat -- "for once in your life you need to listen" -- and shoots a Marine in the leg to make his Bauer-ish escape when Carrie tries to drag him in from the cold. The only thing that stops this Terminator from completing his mission against Haqqani is the fact that Carrie stood to be blown up at the same time.

There's some irony to Quinn's restraint once we see a few minutes later that Carrie was ready to sacrifice herself in a true suicide mission. She has a clear chance of capitalizing of Haqqani's growing ego by shooting him at close range as he stands unprotected in a moving car to exult in the adoration of the crowd. She would have been stomped to death faster than Sandy Bachman had she gone through with it. Her desire to avenge Aayan's death turns up the heat of Carrie's personal vendetta, until of course she's tackled by Raza Jeffrey's earnest Pakistani military man Aasar Khan. As we've seen from their semi-regular clandestine meetings, he's kinda sweet on her.

The twist of seeing F. Murray Abraham's Dar Adal character riding in the Haqqani entourage is intriguing -- there's always been something shady about that guy, although it's possible he's working deep undercover. But the real cliffhanger of this episode is how Quinn and Carrie are going to mend fences. A fist-bump probably isn't going to cut it.

All of this tick-tick-tick time bomb of action was leavened by two powerful emotional moments for Carrie that were well-timed for the pacing of the episode. The death of her father, as told to her via a video telephone call with her sister, and the call from CIA director Lockhart informing her that she is once again probably out of favor at the agency as he's about to get the boot.

Sister Maggie was perfect in portraying the sense of stunned disbelief that happens when a loved one dies unexpectedly. She has plenty of cause to give Carrie more grief for abandoning her baby daughter and saddling her with the responsibility of tending to their father's affairs.

But in her shock at the sudden loss, Maggie only wants to connect with her sister. She hauls Franny out from a nap to look at the flickering, fuzzy image of the mother she barely knows on a laptop screen. Carrie's attempt at baby sweet talk is as pathetic as her patting the computer screen in an effort to feel any kind of bond with her daughter.

The call from Lockhart pulls Carrie back into the cold, calculating world of Washington. No sooner has Lockhart expressed sympathy for the death of her father as he's asking Carrie to keep an ear out for gossip on his status and possible successors. And he drops the seedling that "something is up," paving the way for next week's finale fireworks, whatever that "something" may be.

In terms of Lockhart's successor -- gee, Saul Berenson's probably cooling his heels at home in New York and sick of watching daytime TV by now. Just a thought.