On tonight's new episode of 'Homeland,' Carrie travels to Tehran to help support Brody's mission, and judging from last week's stressful events and shocking conclusion, he needs all the help he can get. But when Brody comes into contact with someone from his past, his loyalties are called into question with the CIA -- is Brody an asset, or a liability? Meanwhile, with Lockhart on the verge of his confirmation, Saul takes stock of what he's accomplished and the cost of his failures. 

In the 11th hour (almost quite literally, as it's the 11th episode of the season), 'Homeland' pulls out this intense, striking, contemplative episode, and I wonder where the hell this show has been all season. For all the action in last week's episode, it failed to build or maintain any real semblance of suspense, and the show has struggled all season long with consistence, wavering between soap opera, procedural, and tepid government thriller. But ah, "Big Man in Tehran" brings 'Homeland,' well, back home with gut-churning, riveting force and truly moving, thoughtful moments that have helped to wash some of that maudlin "But Carrie, you're 15 weeks pregnant" taste out of our mouths.

One of the things that 'Homeland' did well from the beginning was its exploration of our faith in institutions, whether they be religious or government, and the overlap between someone like Nicholas Brody and someone like Carrie Mathison -- both firm believers, striving to fulfill a moral imperative. They give everything over for what they believe in and are systematically broken down and used by their higher authorities until they are surrounded by dead bodies, heartbreak, and shattered lives.

When General Akbari fakes Brody out and he's given over to Abu Nazir's widow for vetting instead, the pair share a mournful conversation that dances around these very concepts. As much as their lives have been torn asunder, they remain faithful to these institutions that continue to use them and abuse them, and for what? For knowing they're doing what is right and good and just? Whether it is Allah's plan or Saul's, the personal cost is so dear for the concept of a "greater good."

"Big Man in Tehran" toys dangerously with the idea of Brody turning, and I think Brody himself honestly does give himself over to Iran and Akbari for a few days. He goes on a publicity tour, denouncing the United States and claiming responsibility for the Langley bombing, while Carrie does her best "But he's a good man!" to Saul and Dar, trying to convince them that the plan is still in play. But here's the thing: you see it in Brody's eyes, this tired man, this man who, as Javadi explains to Akbari, has been tortured enough for one lifetime. Maybe he does deserve a little peace, and maybe he does believe that his redemption lies in Iran, even for a moment.

When Saul and Lockhart (who have become overnight BFFs, apparently) agree to "end" the Brody problem and tell Carrie to come back to the States, I think it's Carrie's warning to Brody and pleading with him that flips a switch in him -- similar to the switch we saw go off last week when the proverbial crap hit the fan in the field. But man, does Damian Lewis sell traitor Brody beautifully. It's not even that he's really selling it because there's still something in him that loves Abu Nazir, that believes in the man and his ideals, and that treasures the idea that he's sitting in a room with Akbari -- the very same room where the entire plan to turn Brody began. It is also the room where the plan will end, as Brody, with tears in his eyes, abruptly smashes Akbari's head with an ashtray and smothers him with a pillow. He calls Carrie after like a wounded child, asking to be picked up after school.

When Carrie is asked to leave Tehran, we're treated to a delightful exchange between Dar and Saul ("She's not getting on any plane." "I know."), and later when they find out that Brody was alerted to their plan to kill him off: "Someone warned him." "Who?!" they ask, incredulously. God, Carrie's loose cannon shtick is just laughable now, and even more laughable is how the people who work with her can still be shocked after all this time by her behavior. As great as this episode is, it's still sort of unbelievable that these guys have no idea that Carrie -- whom they acknowledge was going to stay in Tehran for Brody -- would warn Brody of their plan. Brody has, in effect, sacrificed his redemption so that Carrie could have hers, but I've got a feeling the CIA isn't going to let him off the hook for this one.