Dr. Martin is a prominent psychiatrist with an impeccable education: Choate, Harvard Stanford, and Oxford. His office decor reinforces his aura: soft pastel watercolors, beautifully framed; highly polished mahogany coffee tables with glossy copies of Architectural Digest and Departures carefully fanned out on their surfaces. His clothing -- Armani suit, alligator loafers -- completes the picture.

Dr. Martin, alas, is a fictional character in a short story given to me by L., an old high school friend, to read and critique. Dr. Martin's patient, the story's protagonist, is a stunning blonde in a short, tight, spaghetti-strap dress. Model-tall, she's deeply tanned and wears four-inch sling-back stiletto heels. The patient, Barbie, has a vacuous friend, Chatty Cathy, and . . . hey, wait a minute! We're talking about that Barbie? My friend L. has cast Barbie, as in Ken and Barbie, in her story? She's using America's most famous toy as her main character? And we're supposed to care about her? Come on, that's nuts!

Except . . .

I have a friend who gets simultaneously excited and nervous every Sunday, late afternoon. It's not fantasy football that's causing his heightened awareness and his stress, nor is it the pressure of the upcoming workweek. It's because he's already starting to worry about what might happen to Carrie. Carrie Mathison, that is -- the main character on Homeland. In last week's episode (Spoiler alert!), when Abu Nazir slammed her against the wall in the tunnel, my friend literally cringed. ]

All right . . . it's not really my friend. It's me. I'm in love with Carrie. No, not that kind of love. I'm not crazy. It's more like a father-daughter thing. I feel protective of her. I worry about her. When I see the adorable pig-tails of the child version of Carrie in the introductory credits, it only reminds me of how vulnerable the grown-up Carrie is. I tense up when I see her furrowed brow. I agonize when she gets that wild, hunted look in her eyes. When I hear the desperate panic in her voice, I want to swoop in and rescue her. When Brody blows her off, I feel awful. When Estes doesn't believe her, thinks she's crazy, I want to strangle him.

And it's not just me. My wife feels the same way about Carrie. Last week she told me she'd like to adopt her. Both of us look forward to Sunday nights with eager anticipation, tinged with that sliver of dread. (NFL football all day, then Homeland at night: Could life get any better than that?)

We're bracing ourselves for this Sunday. The season finale. According to the Showtime promo, "nothing can prepare us" for this episode. Is Quinn actually going to kill Brody? Will Estes get away with this plot? Or will Carrie somehow save the day -- and Brody? And what, then, will happen to poor Carrie? Will Carrie and Brody get together, and will Carrie finally find happiness? Or will she end up bitter and alone, like her friend Saul?

I guess we'll have to wait till Sunday to find out.

But then what? A whole winter, and spring, and summer -- without Carrie? Carrie's part of our life. She's family. Whoa, this isn't going to be easy.

So if you get a holiday card from us, and it's signed, "Hank, Carol, Matt, Greg, Robby and Carrie" . . . you'll understand.

Hank Herman's "The Home Team" appears every other Friday. You can also keep up with Hank's adventures with his dog, Ricky, on his blog, "Beagle Man," on the Westport News website, at: http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman/ To reach Hank, e-mail him at DoubleH50@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @BeagleManHank.