If you like Homeland, you hate John Zabel. That’s just the way it is. From his first appearance in season 8 until the series finale, Zabel is the guy who represents the worst of America. As spies spy, operatives operate, and presidents try to govern, Zabel sits in an office hoping to bomb Pakistan.
Of course, the audience has that reaction because Homeland’s creators made the character that way. And Hugh Dancy, the husband of Claire Danes who played Zabel, did his best to bring to life a guy whom you have no choice but to despise.
[Spoiler alert: Plot details for all eight seasons of ‘Homeland’ follow.]
But, for a moment, forget Zabel (who’d never served in the military) in a tank in a picture hanging above his desk. Also forget about him saying he’d go to war in Iraq again today if he had the chance (no skin off his back). And him telling Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) he was “making sh*t up.”
Amid the frantic events prior to the extraordinary Homeland finale, you may have forgotten just how the beloved Max Piotrowski met his end. Prior to Max’s death, Zabel pushed for two scenarios that sealed his fate.
John Zabel argues that Hayes rescuing Max has no ‘upside’
Things happened fast in the final episodes of Homeland. After Haqqani surrendered himself in episode 7, you had Zabel sucking up to President Hayes (Sam Trammell) by telling him he’d nabbed his own Bin Laden. (Hayes reluctantly accepts the praise.)
As horrified chief of staff David Wellington (Linus Roache) tries to calm the situation, Zabel fantasizes about how many times Haqqani will be shot. However, Hayes does the right thing and gets Afghan President G’ulam to hold off on the execution until U.S. forces have a plan to rescue Max.
But after hearing the chances for success for such a mission are “50-50 at best,” Hayes gets nervous. (He might end up looking like Jimmy Carter, he worries.) That’s when Zabel sees an opening. “Who is this Max Piotrowski anyway?” he asks Hayes, rhetorically. “Not a soldier.”
Then Zabel offers up what might be the most offensive thing uttered in eight seasons of Homeland (which is saying something). “The U.S. government can’t be expected to come to the rescue of every adventurer who get himself in trouble overseas,” Zabel tells Hayes, referring to Max.
Zabel has President Hayes greenlight Haqqani’s execution
Hayes knows that once Haggani dies, Max follows shortly after. He says it in his phone call to G’ulam. But now he’s terrified about appearing weak. And Zabel convinces him there’s no “upside” to the rescue mission. “I’m sorry, but saving some guy named Max is not the same as Osama bin Laden,” he tells Hayes.
Shortly after that conversation, we watch Haqqani get pulled from his cell and shot. Obviously, Hayes gave the green light. When the story shifts back to the tribal area, where Haqqani’s son Jalal is holding Max, Carrie notes that the group is mobilizing. (She has Yevgeny prepare his team to leave.)
Then, looking through Yevgeny’s binoculars, Carrie witnesses one of the more excruciatiing moments in Homeland. On the way to his group’s caravan, Jalal shoots Max three times at point-blank range, killing him instantly.
Thanks to Zabel, Max became expendable in Hayes’ eyes. It didn’t matter that he’d dedicated his life to U.S. intelligence operations. When he needed the help of his country, Zabel decided Max wasn’t famous enough to save.