Huge questions hung over the first season of Showtime's "Homeland."
Would Marine Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) do the bidding of the terrorist whom he had come to know during his long captivity? Would CIA analyst Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) figure out what Brody was up to in time -- or self-destruct in the process of trying to implicate him?
An even bigger question emerged: Would executive producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, along with their team of "Homeland" writers and directors, be able to sustain the emotionally charged character drama that won the show so many converts, as well as the national-security cat-and-mouse games that played out during the course of the whole premiere season?
Gansa, Gordon and the "Homeland" cast and crew managed to keep their high-wire act aloft, garnering not just a heap of critical praise, enviable buzz for Showtime and a Peabody Award. Some Emmy nominations are likely on the way, but as Gansa noted in the second part of this interview, it's unlikely that anything will top praise from President Obama, who has said he is a "Homeland" fan.
I sat down with Gansa recently in New York to talk about where Brody and Carrie have been and where they're going in Season 2, which premieres Sunday, Sept. 30. (And if you missed my interview with Gansa and Gordon about the Season 1 finale, it's here.) In Part 2 of the interview, which arrives Tuesday, Gansa talks about what he and Gordon learned from Season 1, when Season 2 is set, what Carrie and Brody are doing when we see them again, and his reaction to learning President Obama is a fan of the drama. [Part 2 of the interview is now posted here.]
This interview has been edited and slightly condensed.
So much of what was pleasing about the show in Season 1 is that it was a high wire act -- "Homeland" struck this balance between being a character story and a political espionage thriller. Is the challenge the same this year or is it kind of a different animal, because we know the characters already?
Well, if you looked at the structure of last season, it was a very binary thing. The first half of the season, you were asking the question, "Was he or wasn't he turned in captivity?" The second half of the season, we were asking the question, "Well, is he going to go through with it?" So it was very pure in that way, and we were able to ask a lot of questions without answering a lot of things.
The second season is a different animal because now it's incumbent upon us to actually come down squarely on certain issues: Carrie's reliability, Brody's commitment to his terrorism. So it's going to be different. I think we're still hopefully going to be able to walk the high wire of character development and thriller, but it's in a different context.
Speaking of Carrie and Brody, is it even harder to get them in the same room, given what happened between them, or is it easier because they now have this history?
Well, I don't want to give anything away, but their fundamental professional relationship is going to change in Season 2. It's not going to be the same as it was in Season 1. So getting them together is not [as much of] a problem in Season 2 as it was in Season 1.
There is going to be hopefully a very organic way in which their lives are going to intersect, although that won't happen right away in this season. But you'll see how their lives again are on a collision course. Just the way that they collide in Season 2 is different than they way they collided in Season 1.
Are the dynamics of how Brody deals with the intelligence community changed?
Well you have to understand the Brody has been completely exonerated in the eyes of the intelligence community and actually even Carrie. I mean Carrie had this sort of epiphany before the ECT about [Abu Nazir's dead son] Issa, but before that, I think she is fairly sanguine about the fact that she was wrong, which is what sent her into the ECT, into the mental institution. She said, "Look, I was wrong. I made a mistake. I intruded on this person's life. I accused him of things that were not true."
And she didn't actually know about the vest.
She had no idea about the vest. She has no idea that Dana made a call to Brody and talked him off a ledge. All she knows is that the bomb never went off, which in her mind and in the CIA's mind and in her period of intense instability psychologically leads her to believe that she was wrong. Which is why she gets into the car with her sister at the end of the finale and says, "I can't live like this anymore. I need help. I have to go get some help."
Carrie's memory of Brody mentioning Issa -- is that going to be important in Season 2? The memory that she had just before the ECT treatment?
It will be important, but not in the way people think.
And you filmed part of the season in Israel, right?
Does that give a different flavor to Season 2? Is there going to be a bigger presence for people from the Middle East, people operating in or gathering information about terrorist networks? Will we see more tracking of people over there?
I think a little bit, but we found that on this show, a little bit of the terrorist plot goes a long way. Our interests as writers and I think as actors and directors is more how these characters evolve -- how they evolve in the context of that danger. So there will be a few other people who are facilitating the plot against America, but certainly not to the extent that "24" did it. We're really trying to tell the next chapter in Brody and Carrie's story.
So much of Season 1 for Brody was just coming home and the shock of that and trying to readjust and reintegrate. Is a big part of his story in Season 2 him trying to figure out how much he's going to follow Abu Nazir's instructions and how much he's going to follow his own agenda? Is he kind of playing a double game?
That's exactly right. I mean, you know he's made this contract in the scene with Walker in the tunnel, when Brody said to Nazir, "Look, I'm of more value to you changing minds and influencing policy in the halls of power than I am as a suicide bomber or as an out-and-out terrorist." So that's the bargain that Brody thinks he's made with Nazir. Now, whether Nazir is going to go along with that or let him off the hook is going to create some problems for him through the course of the season.
And I'm guessing there will be doubt among us as audience members as to how much he is playing Nazir and how much he really wants to execute Nazir's goals.
Exactly. And the one thing that Nazir could never have predicted is this growing attachment he has to his homeland, America, and to his family, especially to his daughter.
What's the nature of Carrie's journey for this season? Is it just trying to find a balance between what she's good at and trying to take care of herself?
I don't want to give away too much, but I could define the Carrie struggle by saying she knows what's best for her, which is a lot of sleep, very little stress, a quieter existence, a healthy, uncomplicated relationship -- that's what she knows is best for her. But where she lives as a person is somewhere else, and that's where she wants to be and that's what's being denied to her at the beginning of the season.
I think one of the things you guys did so well with her especially is create a character for whom her greatest flaws were also her greatest assets. It wasn't like, "Here is the list of her good qualities and they're over here, and here are her bad qualities, and they're way over here." Her obsessive nature made her an incredible analyst and able to see things other people didn't, and yet at the same time, that intense focus and drive meant she had a very hard time knowing where the boundaries and limits were.
It's very interesting. Her illness, her disease, defined in one way could also be defined as her genius in another, and we found in our research about bipolar disease is that when people are medicated to the point where they're not able to experience the highs and lows of their natural state, they miss it. And some people find themselves less artistic, less insightful, and Carrie will certainly find herself in that state at the beginning of the season, but she will be a little even.
In a way she never has been.
In a way she hasn't been.
In Season 1, her family all recognized that she had a disease and we saw that sometimes she was taking medication, but was all of that just kind of an ad hoc solution to her problems?
Completely an ad hoc thing. She was never in the real professional care of an institution or of a person who was looking out just for her. It was very ad hoc because she had to keep it a secret.
Saul emerged as such a favorite among everyone who watched the show. Does he get more to do this season?
Well, my wife said yesterday after an argument, "I wish there was a Saul Berenson in my life."
Don't we all?
I do think that his ultimate role is as her father-confessor and her moral support -- that's really his function this year, as it was last year. He went through his own emotional turmoil, but you're also going to find Saul in an unexpected place when the season begins.
He clearly had this big showdown with [his CIA supervisor David] Estes at the end of the season, in which he really lost the battle with Estes. He is now fully cognizant of the politics that inform decision making on the ground at Langley and that doesn't sit well with him. He's also on the other side of the bell curve of his career, and I think he's going to be in a place of questioning what his future is as well.
In terms of the cast, you already have so many interesting great actors and characters. Are you adding significantly to the cast either with guest stars or with series regulars?
Well, the vice president [who's played by Jamey Sheridan] is a series regular this year, so is Abu Nazir [Navid Negahban], and so is David Marciano, who plays [Carrie's friend and intelligence associate] Virgil. Those are the people that we're going to bring into the fold more this year and there are surprises along the way with some of the characters, which I really can't talk about because they would spoil the first couple of episodes.