Fans of the Golden Globe-nominated "Homeland" will no doubt be happy to know that Claire Danes, Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin are all returning for the second season of the Showtime drama, which aired its gripping Season One finale Sunday night.
"Homeland" executive producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, formerly of the Fox hit "24," said during a post-finale interview that they had seriously considered killing off Lewis' character, Sgt. Nicholas Brody, at the end of the show's first season. Luckily, they decided against it.
Also locked in for "Homeland's" second season are Morena Baccarin, who plays Brody's wife, Jessica; David Harewood, who plays Carrie Mathison's CIA boss David Estes; and Morgan Saylor and Jackson Pace, who play the Brodys' children. The Season Two plan also calls for the introduction of "some major new characters," Gordon said.
[Note: This interview will touch on details of the "Homeland" finale.]
Before I get to Gansa and Gordon's thoughts on the events of the finale and on their future plans for Brody and for CIA operative Carrie Mathison (Danes), I wanted to offer a few thoughts on the Season One finale (and please check out HuffPost's Michael Hogan's recap of the finale).
Once again, the show's leads gave breathtaking performances that fully captured the intensity of the characters' experiences without ever going over the top. I don't think I've ever seen anyone portray vulnerability and pain as well as Claire Danes; she projected Carrie's deep depression like a force field of weighty despair. Even the driven, obsessed Carrie, who followed her hunches in Virgil's van, gave off a trembling air of insecurity. By the time Carrie got into her sister's car late in the episode, she was a walking exposed nerve ending. It was impossible for your heart not to break for this woman, who, in the end, was forced to agree with everyone else about her mental status. Little did she know, she was absolutely right about everything.
Will she remember Brody's connection to Isa next season? I hope so, but either way, I was intensely moved by Carrie's final scenes. The sad resignation on her face as she prepared herself for the ECT gave the character a dignity that made her suffering all the more poignant.
Carrie is my favorite television character right now, and I've been waiting for a long time for a female TV character like this. She's every bit as nuanced, driven and charismatic as Don Draper or Walter White, and the show's writers clearly enjoy exploring every single bit of Danes' awe-inspiring range. Kudos to them and Danes for not backing away from any of this woman's complexity and combativeness.
But the lingering image that I may take away from the "Homeland" finale was of Brody's pale, sweaty face in that claustrophobic bunker. Director Michael Cuesta made us feel every second of Brody's internal combat, and the queasy doubts the character felt both before and after he'd finally fixed the broken vest were perfectly captured by Lewis.
Whether or not you think the Season One cliffhangers were satisfyingly constructed (and I think they were), as a whole, the first season of "Homeland" deftly balanced complex, charismatic characters with realistic national-security concerns. Like a satisfying spy novel, the season-long story also had welcome sense of momentum; the reversals and reveals never felt contrived or arbitrary. Showtime hasn't said when Season Two will arrive, but let's hope it's sooner rather than later.
Without further ado, here is my interview with Gansa and Gordon. The transcript of our phone interview has been slightly edited for length.
Did you have this particular ending in mind from the beginning or was it something that organically came about as you were writing?
Alex Gansa: We had plotted out the course of the season in a general way early on after we'd written the pilot, but various elements came into play and we changed things. We knew, for example, that Brody was going to carry out some kind of an attack against the people responsible for Isa's death. But we didn't know how he was going to do it. We didn't know, for example, that he was going to put on a suicide vest. We thought there may be another way to do it. So we had the general ideas, but we didn't have the specifics nailed down until probably three-quarters of the way through our writing process.
Howard Gordon: We definitely tried a million things on for size, and at the end of the day, what was interesting is the target [i.e., the vice president] wound up being connected to Brody's backstory, to his captivity. That wound up kind of defining the targets.
I thought that the finale was really good, but my issue is this: The "Homeland" I loved in Season One, it can't be that show in Season Two because you've really taken these characters to some places that kind of can't be undone.
AG: Yeah, but I think there's more meat on the bone. You absolutely have to evolve the characters from this place, but we think there's still a lot of story to be told. But you're right; it's not a reset. I mean, the premise of "Is he or isn't he?" is something that you probably don't want to go to [in future]. Also, he's declared to Abu Nazir this idea that he's going to get close to the next president of the United States. And it’s still an open question about whether he could influence policy or whether he'll go through with it or [whether] Abu Nazir can put the screws on him in a different way. We still have some real estate to cover.
I think the big questions -- Was he turned in captivity? Is Carrie reliable or unreliable? -- are questions that we've resolved at some level. But interestingly enough, I don't think the characters themselves have resolved those issues. So we've got some more runway to play with, I think.
Also, people have been saying after every episode, , if you read the blogs, they're saying, "Well, what can they do now? The show can't go forward from this, can it?" And if you stick around and really delve into the characters and figure out where they would naturally go from here, [the show can move forward].
Speaking of all that, the place that you took Carrie, I thought, was absolutely credible; but it felt so tragic that she doesn't know that she prevented a terrorist attack on American soil. Given what's happened, how could she credibly be part of the intelligence community and/or someone who interacts with Brody next season?
HG: Obviously everything is subject to change -- but we have what we think is a really good way to get her back in the saddle. And if you look at our models, if you look at Graham Greene and you look at John Le Carre. I mean, for example, George Smiley was ...
HG: He's constantly discredited and excommunicated from the Circus [i.e. the British espionage establishment], and then brought back into the fold, as was Jack Bauer on "24." You know, there are many ways to get her back into the intelligence community, whether it's in an official or unofficial capacity.
And don't forget, we can start next season anywhere we want. We could pick it up right after this season or we could pick it up a year later or two years later. You have a tremendous amount of freedom and liberty in the storytelling on a series like this. So we have a lot of possibilities to explore for next season.
One thought that occurred to me was that maybe you could begin it with the vice president having become president and Brody also in office.
AG: I think you're asking great questions and some of them may very well turn out to be the answers to those questions, but we're just not in a position to talk about it.
When you sat down to write the finale or to plot out the end of the season, did you already have in mind what Season Two will be?
AG: Honestly, Season Two was a tabula rasa. We really did not know what Season Two was. We always had a very clear idea of what Season One was going to be, but there was an open question about whether Brody was going to survive the finale or not. I mean, that was debated right until the very end. We realized that there's more [to do with the character]. I don't think it's time to tragically end the Carrie/Brody relationship this season. We’ve got more to explore.
But what I took away from the finale is that he basically helped destroy her career. She did a good job of helping herself destroy her career, but he really ensured that she was driven out of the intelligence community and humiliated on a personal and professional level. How do you bring them together again?
AG: Well, I think he did those things because he was protecting his mission. I'm hoping that in that scene between Carrie and Brody when they’re in the parking lot outside the police department, you get a sense that Brody is banishing a woman from his life who is really the only human being on the planet, with the possible exception of his daughter, who he has any real connection with. I mean, hopefully he feels some pathos in that. Some idea [is] that he still has feelings for her as well, and then the fact that he's brought back from the brink is going to open up the more human side of him to that experience again, possibly.
Going back to Brody, you obviously had that great confrontation in "The Weekend," but then we found out he really was working for Nazir. How many times do you feel like you can go to that well of "What is Brody going to do?" Does that always have to come from a character-driven place, in terms of his own moral struggles?
AG: Well, we began with a very binary question on the show, which is, "Is he or isn't he? Has he or hasn't he been turned?" And then, as we moved further into the season, a much more interesting question presented itself, which is, "If he has been turned, will he go through with it?" And that was really the question that burned through the second half of the season.
That question is still very much alive. In other words, even though he didn't do the big act of terrorism -- because the vest malfunctioned -- he's still in a position to choose how he's going to influence the course of events.
And if he does have a political career, what are going to be his causes? Is he going to be obligated to Abu Nazir? Can the screws be turned on him somehow? Is he going to be forced to do something he doesn't want to do? Will Carrie get back on his tail again? These are all the questions that I think are going to inform the second season.
Is that video he made at the beginning of the finale something that will come in to play next season?
AG: That disk is out there. That little video chip is out there with his confession on it and that can certainly be something that could be used against him. It wasn't in the backpack; let's put it that way.
Speaking of secrets, I watched "24," and you were fond of moles on that show. Is there going to be kind of a mole element in the second season, or is that something you want to steer away from?
AG: I don't think you ever want to say, in a blanket way, "No moles because '24' did it." It's certainly a trope. But that's like saying, "No laughs in a comedy," in a way. I think it's all about how you deliver it. We don't want to do it in a way that feels a cheap or unearned. I think we had enough real estate to cover this season, which is why we chose not to reveal who that person was this season. It just didn't feel like it was necessary.
HG: But we've got an idea.
AG: Right. And the truth is that more often than not moles are never found. You don't know who they are.
Obviously you can't draw sweeping conclusions from one season of television, but it almost felt like "Homeland" was saying that to prevent terrorism you have to be willing to go to extreme lengths, even to the point of maybe trashing your career and your relationships. Is that kind of a commentary on the politics and problems of intelligence work? Or was this just one particular story of one particular analyst?
HG: It's an old story. I mean, in a sense, Jack Bauer was an iteration of that as well. [When] heroes stop [bad] stuff from happening and go home to their wives or husbands and their families and go to a little league game, in a way, it's a little [less intense]. A character who is basically all in is more interesting to watch than someone who's having a fairly balanced life. One thing that you will learn if you interview people in the intelligence community is that the level of dedication is really, really high, and I think that there are personal consequences to that dedication, and we just chose to tell a story of a woman who lives that in an extreme way.
It's so sad for us as the audience to know that Carrie was right and for her not to know that. I'm not asking you to reveal the entire framework of the next season, but is that something that you feel like is important to address going forward for her as a character? Will that idea -- that she was right -- be paid off at some point in time?
HG: Alex and I, when we first talked about this [show], we wanted to embrace -- whether you want to call it the tragedy or the discomfort -- of somebody who was like Chicken Little. We ended on that very thing -- what happens if Chicken Little says, "The sky is falling," [and is right]. We're essentially seeing the sky fall and ending on this very, very painful moment. Hopefully, it's a cliffhanger of a sort. I think you're right, though. I think the audience is going to be waiting for that moment where she discovers that she was right.
Do you see using the kind of serialized structure and pace we saw in Season One going forward?
HG: Very much so. That’s our hope, to do another serialized season. One of the things about thrillers is that they really do demand sort of the mosaic and the stakes and the time frame that a serialized show gives you.
You did a good job of balancing the suspense and the thriller elements with the character journeys. Was it ever a struggle for you to find that balance? Was that something you felt like you learned right away, or was it something that kind of evolved?
AG: It definitely evolved. An interesting thing happened in the first couple of episodes: We thought that people were going to be much less interested in Brody's family situation and in Saul's family situation and in Carrie's family situation, and that we were going to have to shift the emphasis more on to the procedural things. But as we started writing the scripts and sitting in the writers' room, we found ourselves much more interested in the other things. So a natural balance was achieved, and in fact, I think we actually [tilted] the balance much more in the direction of the human character stories, the more personal stories.
HG: Alex and I were just talking about that last night, that it was a trial and error, and some things worked better than others. But we needed to at least acknowledge and have the audience understand and institutionally, we needed the CIA to understand that there was a threat out there. But the question was: How much of a window do you open on it and how much of a story do you tell? There had to be a real plot against America that was happening, and that kind of supercharged the story, but we were able to do it in very small increments.
AG: And the real question remained: Could Carrie bridge her suspicion of Brody with what we knew empirically to be a plot against America?
Obviously this happened with "24," where commentators linked the show to real policies and real events. But the "Homeland" finale seemed to contain an almost a direct commentary on past American administrations and on real politicians. I mean, I wouldn't say it was too overt, but I think for anyone who followed current events in the last 10 years, it seemed like direct parallels were made. Was that intentional?
HG: It's less about specific politicians as it is about specific policies that continue to be debated. I think one could argue that Obama's drone policy is every bit as lethal as, or is equal to, George Bush's. I mean, aren't they following the same policy, unless I'm mistaken?
AG: There's also the harsh interrogation techniques [referred to in the episode], the vice president [who could be seen as having policies that resemble those of Dick Cheney]. All these things [were in the show]. I mean, look, we were clearly referencing past events in a fictional way, but trying not to do it in a polemical way. We don't want any mustache-twirling happening.
We tried to make everybody as sensible and as committed and as true to their character as we could. I mean, Abu Nazir we tried to make that way. Everybody had an axe to grind and we wanted it to be understandable.
[Note: I had a few follow-up questions that I sent to Gordon after our phone interview. Those questions and answers are below.]
You mentioned that you and Alex seriously considered killing off Brody this season. Did you have any ideas of what a post-Brody show would have looked like? Would it have focused on Carrie and the CIA tracking a new potential threat>
HG: We really haven't gone that far in our thinking, but it stands to reason that a post-Brody show would maintain the CIA angle.
Is it your working thesis that the personal trumps the political, for Brody anyway? In other words, he became extremely committed to revenge and terrorism when a child he knew died, and he ultimately rejected becoming a suicide bomber when his own child begged him to come home. Do you think these decisions would have carried less weight had he just made them on his own, without those kinds of motivations?
HG: It's important to remember that his motivation wasn't so much about revenge as it was about his perception of justice and patriotism. It was the central challenge of the series to understand Brody's motivation; to make it credible and real, and we felt that both his motivation to perpetrate an attack and ultimately not perpetrate an attack had to come from his human connections.
Saul seemed to become more and more a part of the show as time went on. Was that you as writers responding to Mandy Patinkin's performance, or were you just interested in the qualities and responsibilities that character brought to the story?
HG: We always knew that the Carrie and Saul relationship is one of the two central axes of the series, the other one being Carrie and Brody. Of course, Mandy's performance blew our minds and exceeded all our expectations.
Was the house near the airport part of a different Nazir plan, or simply one part of the overall vice president plan that didn't work out?
HG: That was most likely Plan A, and Plan B is an evolution, a response to that initial plot being exposed.
One last thing: Brody kept leaving that suicide vest where it wouldn't have been hard for his daughter or another family member to find it. Did part of him want to get caught?
HG: That's a great question. You have to believe some part of him wanted to get caught. And you have to wonder, "What would he have done had Dana actually opened that package?"