SPOILER ALERT: Do not read on if you have not yet seen Season 2, Episode 10 of Showtime's "Homeland," titled "Broken Hearts," which aired on December 2.
As Season 2 of "Homeland" enters its home stretch, the pace is amping up, and Sunday's episode may have been one of the Showtime drama's most shocking hours yet.
After Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) was abducted, Congressman Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) helped terrorist Abu Nazir (Navid Neghaban) kill Vice President William Walden (Jamey Sheridan). By assassinating Walden, both Nazir and Brody may feel like they've finally avenged the death of Nazir's son Issa -- but does helping hack Walden's pacemaker mean that Brody has turned for good? Will Carrie protect Brody or turn him in? And just how many more twists can be packed into the tangled, obsessive story of Carrie, Brody and the CIA?
You may also be wondering if pacemakers can really be hacked, what Walden's death means for Brody and for Walden's CIA protege David Estes (Dorian Harewood), who is himself in conflict with a suspicious Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin).
Find out what Sheridan had to say about the death of Walden here, and below, executive producers Howard Gordon and Henry Bromell (who wrote my favorite Season 2 episode, "Q&A,") talk in depth about Sunday's episode, titled "Broken Hearts."
They discuss not just the nuts and bolts of the pacemaker plot and the CIA's internal conflicts, but how they've approached the character arcs in "Homeland's" second season, and some questions, both big and small: Will F. Murray Abraham be back as shady espionage fixer Dar Adul? Could Brody or Carrie die before the season is over?
Gordon, in particular, addressed whether "Homeland's" latest twists have tested the boundaries of plausibility, and Bromell, who's first up, discussed his pacemaker research and what it was like to write the Carrie-Nazir confrontation that was two seasons in the making.
(Note: The interviews have been edited and slightly condensed.)
How did it strike you at first when you heard about the pacemaker idea?
Bromell: It struck me as lunatic. The way it started was Howard read in "The New York Times" about this, and I did the research. Some scientists had written a scholarly piece on the fact that in their lab, they had indeed hacked easily into one of these things and caused it to run amok. [The box like the one Walden had] is for doctors to be able to check in on you without you being there. You have your pacemaker and then a little plastic box -- the one on the show is a real one -- and that box normally is in the doctor's office, and he can check it at any time, and if anything is going wrong, that little box will tell him. Under certain circumstances, if your heart starts to beat too fast, it would slow it down automatically.
When you hack into it, you basically trick it, and the scientists very easily convinced the pacemaker that it should send a huge jolt of electricity into the heart. And bammo, it did it. Now, because of the scientific research, which is pretty new, the guys who make these things are changing them so you can't do this.
Has anyone ever been hurt or died due to something like this in real life?
Bromell: Not at all. I don't even know that anyone knew how to do that except now. Once these guys wrote this article and it ran in "The New York Times," people could have tried it. I don't think anyone has and hopefully, no one will. I'm hoping everyone thinks it's so preposterous it couldn't possibly be true, but it is true.
I'm wondering about the operation with Roya's team, all of whom got picked up by the authorities. Was the plan to take out the vice president Plan B? Was it something Nazir could do if the Roya incident didn't work out?
Bromell: You are absolutely at the core of the remaining episodes of the season -- it's really about that. I'd loathe to say anything, but all that will be answered over [the next two episodes].
In that phone call at the end, why didn't Carrie tell Saul to check on the vice president because there's going to be an issue with his pacemaker?
Bromell: That will also be answered in [Episode] 11. I don't know if it's answered satisfactorily but we know that's an issue. The core of all this is -- it's about her and Brody. It's about this demented love story. She knows when she runs out of that factory that Brody has done this thing. So without knowing the details -- she's heard one side of a phone conversation -- [she flees].
As you'll see at the start of [Episode] 11, she is afraid that if she says anything to Saul or anyone at the CIA, she might [destroy Brody's deal]. Until she knows what's going on, she keeps her mouth shut. That's the logic, which means that once again, she's highly compromised. The vice president is dead and maybe Brody had something to do with it, and she keeps her mouth shut. So what kind of CIA officer is she? She's compromised again, and whether we feel that's OK or not is part of the fun of the whole season.
There are other confrontations in the episode, including Saul and Estes. Is Estes in a weaker position at the CIA, now that his patron, Walden, is gone?
Bromell: That's part of it, and it won't turn out exactly like that. We go a different route to get at what you just said. We hope it'll be a little unexpected but interesting. But yeah, with Walden gone, Estes has no one to protect anymore but himself. That's what it kind of gets down to between him and Saul. Estes makes an interesting decision, I think, on how he's going to handle it. And at this point, no one can accuse Estes of anything.
There were a lot of moving parts in this episode, a lot of confrontations and conflicts. Is an episode like that challenging to write?
Bromell: It is. But it's also about slowing down time. You have these moments of energy and crisis, which are inherently fast -- "Oh my gosh! There's a bomb! Run!" But we like to slow down that whole process and get at the reality of what it might be like to be these people. I have a bunch of people in my family who get up every day and this is what they do for a living, and it'll make you crazy pretty fast. It'll make you crazy because of the conflict in your own head, just trying to hold all these pieces together and trying to make decisions based on fragments. You know, look what [State Department official] Susan Rice is going through right now, based on just that. Assuming that this [Benghazi] thing all wasn't just boneheaded political moves to protect Obama, if it wasn't that, it really was a case of fragmentary intelligence interpreted incorrectly and changed quickly as they gathered more information.
So there's that whole idea, then [there's] the conflict among all these people [in the intelligence world]. It's staggering, the amount of money being spent on intelligence departments, all of whom are in conflict with each other. It's astonishing. It's incredible that it works. You go and talk to any of these guys who've been doing it for a lifetime -- to them, it's just a miracle we haven't all been bombed a hundred times, because our intelligence is just so faulty. And it's faulty because it's very, very hard to do well, and because we constantly hurt ourselves with all these [inter-agency] conflicts. This is the part where it is like "Rubicon." What is it like to be these people and to really, really understand that your job is to keep something hideous from happening, and you're probably going to fail?
That confrontation between Nazir and Carrie was my favorite part of the episode. You didn't have a lot of time, but you had to pack in the depths of the differences between these two people. Was that the hardest thing to write? Did you do a lot of research?
Bromell: I just wrote and rewrote. Collectively we have done a fair amount of research on this, and I knew going in that was the whole point of the scene -- you could put these two in a room for a week, and they weren't going to be able to agree on anything. And they both would have deep emotional reasons for feeling what they felt. The trick was to not make it feel like a bad graduate-school seminar. I wrote a lot that I then pulled out and just tried to come up with the most poetically condensed version of it that I could find, and that process continued the editing room.
Does it test the limits of plausibility that Nazir could be in the United States?
Gordon: Yeah. I mean, look, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet on certain things that strain credulity for a moment that makes you sit up in your chair. And obviously, you'll see [his arrival] wasn't the end of an episode so much as the beginning of a next group of episodes. So Nazir promising his presence rather than his distance is great. And what's causal about it is that this guy is who was targeted by us in Lebanon. He's not safe anywhere, so his coming here felt fairly organic.
And him coming here, that feels like part of his endgame.
Gordon: Yes, exactly.
Would Carrie -- even Carrie -- really go back to that abandoned mill by herself? On the one hand, I was freaking out -- which was the intention -- but on the other hand, a little voice in my head was going, "Really?" Is that another element that you think stretches plausibility or is that in keeping with her character?
Gordon: I think it's the latter. From the very moment we met her, she has this tendency toward extreme action when she thinks something is necessary. So it felt pretty organic.
She did go to Brody's house at the end of Season 1 ...
Gordon: Yeah, she's kind of reckless. [Is] that pathology or the talent? It's probably somewhere between the two.
But I'll just play devil's advocate here for a minute. Obviously the show has been very highly praised and I certainly still think very highly of it myself, but I think this is an episode in which there a few things that stretch credibility come together. Do you ever worry about maybe having one or two too many things of that nature?
Gordon: Yeah, of course. And you know, it's something like [Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's definition of] pornography: "I'll know it when I see it." I do think that sometimes, you have to really go back to the DNA of the series. It sounds like you're saying, if we haven't crossed the line, we're dangerously close to it, and I totally appreciate that possibility, and it's one that we're obviously always testing in the writers' room ourselves.
Our job is to sell it as credibly as possible, but I have to say, the basis of the show is that the CIA operates on US soil and [that] is a pretty strained conceit -- if reality is your metric, if what could happen or what would happen is your metric, rather than what's dramatically and emotionally interesting. I think it's our job to sell the stuff that may be improbable on an emotional and dramatic level.
So the very idea, for instance, of Abu Nazir being here -- look, the truth is there were 18 [9/11] terrorists, some of who were actually on watch lists, who came here and they got on planes. [We think] Abu Nazir slipped into Mexico or Canada. One of the big debates was: Do we put Abu Nazir in a beard of shave him? And [when he was shaved,] my wife said, "Oh, who is that?" So, if she didn't recognize him, having sat through episodes of him in flashback, I can see him [fooling] a border guard or him being shipped in across the Rio Grande. And why not? Why wouldn't he be here? Why couldn't he be here, particularly when he'd been targeted in Beirut? There is no safe haven. All eyes are everywhere; drones are everywhere. It's one of the things we've posited. So we were able to satisfy that question to our liking, and the benefit of placing him here, again, pushed us over the edge.
One thing I've seen people write, in sort of disparaging way that I don't always agree with, is that, "Oh, 'Homeland' is doing some '24'-style plotting."
Gordon: Hey, wait a second.
No, wait. I'll make the "24" defense for you. There was a lot of enjoyable stuff that happened during the run of "24," but I think the point people are making is that show was operating in a very heightened reality that you all created for that world, whereas "Homeland" is much more grounded.
Gordon: No, you're right. I think it's a fair question. I get it, and I get that the aesthetics of "24" were far more heightened right from the get-go, because of the conceit. That allowed for kind of a broader kind of storytelling, or moments that were merely fun. And "Homeland" has a [different feel].
At the same time, as we head toward the end of the season, ["Homeland"] is escalating. And so I think the comparison to "24" [may come up] as things heat up, same as we did last year. I think it really is a matter of execution and hopefully we executed it successfully. It's a valid observation and it's one that we're totally aware of. Hopefully the audience will be sufficiently entertained to forgive us our sins.
Regarding that confrontation scene between Nazir and Carrie, there's something she said that got my attention: "Whatever it takes." That was the title of a famous "New Yorker" article about "24" and the use of torture in the post-9/11 era. Was that a conscious decision to put that particular phrase in there? Was that a conscious callback?
Gordon: I think it was really not a conscious one. I think "whatever it takes" is a phrase that became associated with "24," but it really was not a conscious callback to that. I was aware of it, but I didn't even mention it [when the episode was being discussed], because it was such a normal thing for her to say at that point.
Once Brody has avenged Issa's death, how motivated is he to work toward terrorist goals and be loyal to Nazir?Gordon: I think you're hitting the nail on the head. However stained Brody's conscious and morality is, we have been very, very explicit about what his own personal motivations have been. And now that that motivation's been removed, I think you're exactly right. What more does he owe to Abu Nazir or to some of the broader goals that Abu Nazir had articulated?
F. Murray Abraham is so great as Dar Adul, and his beard-off with Saul was very enjoyable. Will he be in future episodes?
Gordon: He is in [Episode] 11.
And finally, given the way you have all committed to telling this story, is it plausible for Carrie or Brody to be dead or gone at the end of the season?
Gordon: Absolutely. Yes. It is absolutely plausible, and I think we talked fairly openly about [the fact] that it was plausible in Season 1.
And so the real question is how much story is there in the Brody-Carrie relationship? I think that's a question that we're answering -- it has an evolving answer. And without spoiling, it has been more fruitful than we imagined it could be. It's got more legs than we imagined it could have.
"Homeland" airs on Sundays at 10 p.m. EST on Showtime.