Cont… can you give concrete examples of how the development has played out on screen so I can understand it & hopefully S8 better. Specific scenes and what how they weren’t just individual scenes but changed the relationship going forward. Much appreciated! Oh and one more thing re: Saul and Carrie, sorry I forgot. Can you also venture a guess what it means in practice? What do you think will happen between them that will feel like closure or catharsis or something that’s expected of a show’s final season and perhaps finale as well?
Note #1: this became a lot longer than I expected (sorry, you asked!). Beyond what I’ve written, I challenge you to go back and watch these individual scenes. I’ve chosen ones from each season to illustrate the full arc of their relationship. Observe the differences in Claire and Mandy’s body language, in their facial expressions, in their discomfort, in the shared trauma of what’s come before. It’s deliberate writing and deliberate acting. Shorter version of this post is here, from April 2018.
Note #2: I chose almost exclusively scenes of conflict to represent the evolution of their relationship because I believe that conflict drives change.
To understand the Carrie and Saul relationship, we’ve got to understand what their relationship was before we met them. From what we know, Saul recruited Carrie, straight out of college. He saw in her something special and unique, something that didn’t come around every other day. She was gifted but she was also alone. She had no partner. She was socially isolated from her family and from the world (he didn’t yet know of her mental illness). This was an advantage of sorts. It meant she could give herself more and more to the work, same as he did. Remember this is his Achilles’ heel: whenever they call, he picks up. He doesn’t know how not to. It destroyed his marriage. But he molds her in his image. He teaches her, he raises her, the way a father would his daughter. He brings her up. Their relationship melds the boundaries of teacher/student, boss/employee, mentor/mentee, and father/daughter. It’s personal, and it’s deeply intimate.
This is what we are given before the pilot and it’s what we’ve grappled with for nearly eight years: his attempts to harness her gifts–often to her detriment–and her simultaneous resentment of him for it and unwavering yearning for his approval.
Key Scenes in the Carrie and Saul Canon:
#1: “What happened to the Saul Berenson that trekked the Karakoram?”: Much of the season one conflict between Carrie and Saul comes from her three thousand miles an hour suspicion of Brody and him being like “whoa slow down pls.” He is the first person she tells of these suspicions and he essentially shoots her down, causing her to go rogue. It’s here where the lines become blurred between boss/protege and father/daughter, because the way in which he chastises and punishes her feels awfully familial.
So when Carrie finally reaches a breaking point in “Blind Spot” (the original Carrie Mathison Appreciation Episode), we feel that as though a family is breaking up. It doesn’t matter that she comes crawling back to him, just an episode later, remorseful.
Carrie underlines just how much Saul has changed: in her words, from the man who “did three months in a Malaysian prison” (HELLO???? repeat: he raised her in his image) to a pussy. We understand that Carrie and Saul are both outsiders in the CIA. We understand that Saul is still grappling with his former employee David Estes bring promoted over him. While Carrie truly seems to not give a fuck, Saul keeps in line. He says “yes, sir.” He advises caution. None of these are inherently bad qualities but in this scene we come to understand that what drew Carrie to Saul was not his caution, his yin to her yang, but his daring and bravery and “FUCK THE CIA” mentality (there’s a reason why that line is in this episode too).
#2: “You don’t know a goddamned thing”: This scene is now famous for lines like “you’re the smartest and dumbest fucking person I’ve ever known” (he’s not wrong) but this scene is actually one of the more important ones ever on this show, and I still maintain that t“The Choice” is the mos important ever Homeland episode. As to why this scene itself is significant in their relationship, I’ll allow Jacob Clifton to explain:
Saul is one thing only, and his love for Carrie comes out of the idea that they are the same. And he’s right. But because she’s giving up herself to something he can’t, it looks like they are not the same. It looks ugly to him. He fights it like an addict fights recovery, striking blindly at her softest places because can’t stand the change in vector: Her madness is only acceptable as long as it’s useful; her self-abnegation is only positive so long as he can understand it.
I bolded that last sentence because it’s almost shockingly predictive of future seasons. We can hem and haw all we want about Saul’s relative rightness about Carrie leaving the CIA for Brody being a terrible decision, but the truth is that he would have done it regardless of who Brody was. He would have done it if she’d left with Quinn, with Jonas, with Otto, with Estes, with anyone, or all by herself. I don’t actually believe that Saul wants Carrie to be miserable. I just think he doesn’t care. I think he sees her gifts, her “saving the world” (to be totally Mandy Patinkin about it) as a more profound and upright calling than, for example: having a family, being a mother, having an integrated and whole personal life… the list goes on.
But the moment when Carrie tells him she doesn’t want to end up alone her whole life, like him, is probably the first great fissure in what was until then a generally even relationship. It establishes her desire for… something beyond everything he’d ever shown her (she literally turns down the greatest career opportunity ever for THE DUDE IN THE SUICIDE VEST… and like, did we ever consider that wasn’t really about Carrie loving Brody so much but more about how much she really didn’t fucking want to be Saul????). She threatens his control and he strikes her at the knees.
#3: Literally all of season three: It’s difficult to choose a single scene in season three to encapsulate just how much Carrie and Saul’s relationship this season was changed but let’s just discuss the overall arc:
Saul and Carrie come up with a plan to lure out Javadi (i.e., Iran) since they know he’s partially responsible for the Langley bombing. In their shared plan, Carrie will pretend to be crazy in front of the Senate and the press so that she seems vulnerable to the influence of a foreign power. Coolness.
Except Saul changes the plan in the middle and:
- Publicly blames the Langley bombing on Carrie
- Outs Carrie’s sexual relationship with Brody on national television
- Has Carrie committed to a mental institution for four weeks with little to no contact with the outside world
- Sics Dar fucking Adal on her when she gets out of the mental institution in order to maintain the cover
The scene at the end of “Game On” where Carrie comes to Saul’s house and tells him the plan has worked is devastating to watch. I don’t think it was entirely clear at the time just how much Saul’s plan had strayed from their shared vision until Carrie tells him, through tears, “you should have gotten me out of there, Saul. You shouldn’t have left me in there.” He doesn’t say anything in response. When she tells him it’s too hard, she can’t keep going, he offers her some tea. It would be funny if it weren’t so fucking sad.
Her madness is only acceptable as long as it’s useful; her self-abnegation is only positive so long as he can understand it.
Season three was all about that: about the lengths Saul would go with Carrie’s own illness, and how far along she’d left herself go too. Javadi literally makes a speech about it.
Now, Carrie wasn’t forced to do any of this (well, except the mental institution, that was extremely forced). We see at times how desperately she craves his attention and approval: in “Tower of David,” when she pleads with her therapist to give a good report back to Saul; in “The Yoga Play,” where he berates her for getting involved in Brody Family Drama and tells her she’s ruined everything and ARE YOU HAPPY ABOUT THAT NOW CARRIE (god, the father/daughter vibes in that one are nauseating); in “Still Positive” when she calls him, triumphant, after having arranged the meeting with Javadi and he’s like “oh yeah by the way we lost you for a few hours there.”
(This doesn’t fit into the above theme but the scene at the end of “One Last Thing” when Carrie tells him in order for any of this shit to work they have to trust each other is one of the most interesting and important scenes of the whole season, simply because it implies one easy truth: they don’t trust each other. And what a change that is from earlier seasons.)
And yet, he needed her for it all to work. Saul may have been the mastermind of the entire clusterfuck of season three (better on rewatch than you would think!), but without Carrie literally every step of the way, it would have gone up in flames. She lured Javadi to America with her 95%-based-in-reality mania. She convinced Brody to go to Iran knowing it would almost certainly end in his death. And then she went straight along to Tehran knowing she’d probably have to witness it all.
The end of season three is super interesting in their relationship because I believe in my gut and in my soul that Carrie still resents Saul for convincing her to convince Brody to go kill himself. I really believe this. Again, she wasn’t forced. She did this of her own volition. But he planted the seed in her head, and I think some part of Carrie–likely equal parts rational and irrational–blames him for it, even as she mostly blames herself.
I won’t even mention Saul’s complete un-acknowledgement of Carrie being nine months pregnant in the last half of “The Star” but Saul basically ignoring Carrie’s child for four years is more significant than we give it credit for.
#4: “Escape or die. I promise.” The season four relationship between Carrie and Saul is interesting because it upends their previous dynamic. Carrie and Saul were always outsiders in the agency, but now he’s actually on the outside and she’s ascended, more an insider than ever. Also, I know part of it was grief, and again this is not an absolution, but where else do we think Carrie learned her casual disregard for human life? I’m just saying, season four came after season three.
So anyway, when Carrie promises to Saul that he’ll kill him before letting him be re-captured by the Taliban, we almost sort of believe her. She nearly killed him once before (wanna know the quickest way to get me from 0 to 1500 words on this show? mention the end of “From A to B and Back Again.” but actually don’t please).
The middle episodes of season four–Carrie nearly killing Saul, reneging on her promise to kill him, and then tearfully saving him from himself–are extremely moving. And they cement the arc of that entire season, of Carrie ascending where Saul had fallen. “The student becomes the master” (or the Drone Queen, rather) and all that jazz. Her journey to save her soul coincided with her journey to save him. Is that coincidental? Saul stopped being Carrie’s moral compass around the time he lied to her and had her committed. But just as Carrie is finding her way amid the chaos and fog of war, Saul is making backdoor deals with Dar fucking Adal to turn a blind eye to Haqqani’s reign of terror so that he could go and be the CIA director again.
Saul preached idealism and goodness and morality in an increasingly terrorized, dangerous, chaotic world. He raised her in that image. She strayed, but was finding her way back to it. In those final moments of season four, that betrayal is complete. She detaches from him. And their relationship is forever altered.
#5: “There’s a line between us that you drew. Forget that. There’s a fucking wall.” Oh, season five. This is getting really long so I’ll try to be succinct: Carrie and Saul’s relationship in season five is about her being in mortal danger and him being like “lol good luck….. NOT.” Ok, it’s only like that for an episode.
How do they come back from the damage done at the end of season four? I think the answer is that they didn’t. They’re not healed from it. Parts of Carrie don’t trust Saul, and parts of Saul don’t trust Carrie. There are the surface elements of course: Carrie went and found a cool life in Berlin, riding bikes and wearing balloon hats and such, working for a man whose ideals often stood in direct counter to the CIA’s. In effect, she basically went and did the opposite of everything Saul had ever done. That this all comes in a time of real upheaval in Saul’s personal life (Mira divorced him, he’s literally fucking a Russian mole) only makes his ego more volatile.
And then we have The Landstuhl Conundrum. I’m calling it this because it doesn’t yet have a name but I’m referring to the moment when the doctors say that they can’t wake Quinn from a coma, because if they do he will probably die or have irreversible brain damage. But Carrie and Saul believe he has valuable information about a terror cell that he’d eagerly share after coming out of said coma. Honestly!!! This show is extremely ridiculous sometimes.
Anyway Saul is like “what would you want me to do if it were you lying there,” implying DUH she’d have him wake her. She says she can’t speak for Quinn. Well apparently she can, because she wakes him. Cue the irreversible brain damage, the almost-death.
Later Saul comes to see her and Quinn at the hospital and asks how he is. “Not great,” she replies tersely. He tells her he didn’t come here to fight with her.
Resentment City: Population of 1. I’ve actually beat this drum for a few years, but I still think that Carrie harbors resentment toward Saul for coercing her into waking Quinn. First Brody, then Quinn. This isn’t meant to absolve Carrie of blame. She convinced Brody to go to Tehran because she believed in that mission. She woke Quinn because she believed in that mission. But I do think that Saul gave her a nudge and I’m not 100% convinced that without his influence she’d have made the same choices. When we talk about Saul teaching Carrie, about him mentoring her… and then we talk about Carrie having no regard for human life, of choosing mission over man, time after time… how much of that is her nature and how much is him nurturing her toward that outcome?
#6: “Maybe I don’t like the idea of you worrying about me.” Season six is spectacularly dull on many fronts, and the Carrie/Saul relationship is not the centerpiece. The evolution of their relationship after Berlin has taken the shape of something like season three. Saul needs Carrie’s help, she’s in no position to give it, he coaxes her with some terrifying outcome If She Won’t, then she agrees, and things still Turn Out Shitty For Her.
Ultimately I think this season highlights that whatever difficulties they now have working with each other, whatever trust issues they both still harbor, at the end of the day it is ALWAYS Carrie and Saul Versus the World. That’s always what this story has been (though this is extremely different from their relationship being the same as it’s always been), and it’s what the show comes back to after Quinn’s death.
He still cares about her. She tells him not to, he’s not her fucking father. This is one of the great complexities of their relationship: Saul often does coddle her the way a father would a daughter, but he’s a firm believer in tough love and all the forms that can take.
Again, I don’t think that Saul wants Carrie to be miserable. I also don’t think he wants her to happy. Her personal fulfillment and well-being is just entirely secondary to her role in his own mission of Whatever The Fuck. I mean I guess his mission is for the world to be more peaceful and better but like… y’know how Thanos thinks that killing half the universe’s population will help with the suffering caused by overpopulation? I’m not saying Saul is Thanos. But they’re both deranged males! (Also, if y’all don’t think Saul would Gamora Carrie right up outta this dimension if it meant fulfilling his life’s mission then please let me sell you this Homeland lamp!) (But honestly, I’m not saying Saul is as bad as Thanos.) (Do not send in asks about this.)
#7: “You’ve given me a hard time these last few years.” Season seven takes the post-Berlin foundation that season six built and adds some new interesting layers that are like a weird inversion/combo of seasons four and five. Carrie’s more on the outside than she’s ever been and now Saul’s the one who’s gone to work for the enemy.
Still, no matter whatever shit has gone down between them, it’s still Carrie and Saul Versus the World. The show highlights some key ideas in the last three episodes. First, it fully acknowledges that whenever Saul comes calling, Carrie will always answer. Remember how he said this was his Achilles’ heel? Remember how in that same episode Carrie said she was going to be alone her whole life? Remember how Saul raised Carrie in his image? These callbacks are not evidence of stagnation of their relationship; they’re references to its elemental core.
Second, the show finally has Carrie acknowledge the… um… storm of shit Saul has put her through while also fully copping to the extreme codependence of their entire relationship:
I’ve not come all this way in that fucking plane and in my life to fail in that mission when I know I can succeed. You’ve given me a hard time the past few years. I’m in, I’m out, I’m all over the place. I am not all over the place now. I’m here and I’m all in, and I need you to say yes.
She pledges her devotion to the mission (above all else). She acknowledges Saul’s hot-and-cold nature with her. And then she says SHE STILL NEEDS HIS APPROVAL because–say it with me–they are in an extremely! toxic! relationship!
In a nutshell, the evolution of the discord in Carrie and Saul’s relationship started with him putting her life at risk in service of the mission. And now we’re at a point where she fully fucking volunteers for the task! In my heart of hearts I think a non-zero part of Carrie is doing it so he will love her more. Did I mention they are in a codependent relationship?
So where do we go from here?
If you are still reading, congratulations! That’ll teach you to ask me a question about Carrie and Saul! Actually, about five questions were asked. The last–what will happen in season eight that will feel at all like a catharsis–is not one that I’ve actually thought that much about.
I think I’ve made a case for Carrie and Saul’s relationship being the soul of this show–its mangled, twisted soul. The truth is their relationship is toxic. They are both their best and worst selves with each other. Like family, they know what buttons to push, and where to strike to make it hurt the most.
What catharsis looks like in this relationship depends a lot on how you see this relationship. For example, it would be cathartic for me for Saul to die, but that will almost certainly not happen. It would be cathartic for Carrie to strike out on her own–finally–and attempt some type of fulfillment. Also very unlikely.
If I had to guess about what the end of this story will look like for them, it’s probably with Carrie dead. Probably on a mission Saul convinced her to believe in.
Saul’s been alone his entire life. He will never be less alone because Carrie is alive. I guess that’s the prison he has to live in. And then maybe she’ll finally be free of hers.
The above is a reading of their relationship that is quite sympathetic to Carrie, obviously, and quite unsympathetic to Saul, also obviously. You will probably disagree. Gail has written very interesting stuff on how the dynamic of the Carrie/Saul relationship is most like handler/asset. I think that is a very astute perspective and there are definitely aspects of it but I think the relationship more resembles the trope of found family: she is the daughter he never had and he is the stable father she never had, and they will both ruin each other. Fin!