What's next for Carrie Mathison and Nicholas Brody, and how will "Homeland" executive producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon get them back in each other's orbit?
Those were among the questions I asked Gansa in a recent interview (the first part of which is here). In the second part of the "Homeland" discussion, we talked about what Gansa and Gordon learned from Season 1 and where things stand for the characters when Season 2 begins.
Though it had a few wobbles in its debut season, Showtime's "Homeland" was easily the best new show of 2011, and I can't think of any ways in which the duo could have improved the season finale.
The final scene of "Homeland's" first season accomplished a neat trick: The emotion of the moment was undeniable, as disgraced CIA analyst Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) underwent electroshock therapy in a bid to deal with her severe biploar disorder. Even as the viewer's heart ached for the infuriatingly wonderful Carrie, thanks to Danes' impassioned performance, that closing scene had one final cliffhanger embedded in it: Carrie recalled a connection between Brody, a formerly captive Marine she'd suspected of treason, and a terrorist named Abu Nazir.
When they shared an intimate weekend together at her family's cabin, Brody had said the name of Nazir's son, Issa, in his sleep. Will Carrie retain this elusive clue when she emerges from the mental hospital? Where will Brody be within the Washington, DC power structure when Season 2 begins? Will Carrie be taking better care of herself or will she be back to her obsessive, workaholic ways?
I asked Gansa about the Issa question in Part 1 of the interview (don't worry, he didn't answer it in a spoilery way), but the final section of Part 2 below contains spoilers about how much time has passed since Carrie checked herself into the mental hospital and whether Brody is a congressman when Season 2 begins on Sunday, Sept. 30 on Showtime.
You'll get a warning before you get to those spoilers, but before that section, we discussed how Season 1 unfolded, we talked about what the producers learned and I also asked Gansa about his reaction to the news that President Obama is a fan of "Homeland." See his response and much more below.
What was so satisfying about how "Homeland" progressed is that there were these big turnabouts and betrayals and meaty plot twists, but it was also about the people and what they were and weren't willing to do. Things went in shocking directions, but those shocks were grounded in character. And strangely, your show did that in ways that reminded me of "Battlestar Galactica" in terms of the intensity and the life-and-death questions and betrayals and so on.
It's interesting that you mention "Battlestar Galactica," because I was a huge "Battlestar Galactica" fan, and if there is one thing that show knew how to do was end episodes well. They ended episodes incredibly well. We tried to end episodes well and usually we tried to end them on the terrorist plot, because they were the things that said, "Oh shit, I've got to find out where that goes." A couple episodes we didn't end that way, but they were either an emotional thing or both an emotional thing and furthering the [story] and those were always the best episodes.
[Examples would be] obviously the end of "The Weekend" episode, which is both a big plot revelation, but also a huge emotional disaster for Carrie. Or the time Brody and Carrie slept together in the back of the car, which wasn't just a character moment; it was also, "Well, wait a minute, what is Carrie doing there?"
She's working an asset.
Yes, she's working an asset and trying to like have her own back channel [and be in communication with Brody]. So those were always our most effective episodes. This season is going to be different. We're just trying to make it as good as the first one. That's our goal. We're trying -- and understanding that by nature, [in the] second season, rather than try to do what we did the first season, we have to figure out something else to do really well. So that's what we're trying to do.
Are there things from Season 1 where, in a post-mortem mode, you learned about what worked or what didn't work as well? I mean, obviously, "The Weekend" was an incredible hour of TV. I don't mean to single that out, but …
To me, when that episode aired and when that episode was written and conceived and when I saw it up on its feet on the stages, I have to say, that's when I thought that we were sort of moving into some new territory as a television series. We got a hint of it in Episode 4, when Brody and Carrie had their first [meeting] in the rain outside the support group. When those two characters are interacting, the show elevates, and so it's our job to try to get them in each other's company as much as possible. I know that's one thing that we learned.
How long and how many seasons we can keep that relationship vibrating I don't know, but certainly for this one coming up we can.
It's very heartening to me that you say that or even recognize that because I think a lot of networks find their signature show and they keep on going back to that well with the same dynamics again and again, past the point where things have played themselves out. And that's the worst thing you can do to a legacy of a show that did something really well -- go back and kind of use up all that goodwill by doing it over and over with diminishing returns. I mean, in this world people get fired, they fall out of favor, they die. So I'm just heartened to hear you say that some aspects of the show, or the show itself, might have a shelf life.
Right, well, I think that's exactly right -- [there is] an expiration date, and when that's going to be is, we hope, largely determined by whether there are compelling stories left to tell.
People feel so strongly about the show at all levels [of the network and studio], so there are a lot of really heated discussions about where the show should go and what kind of stories we should be telling. But it's all done out of a place of trying to make it better. It's one of my first experiences in TV -- and I've been doing this a long time -- where I don't question anybody's motivation for their opinions. Everybody wants to like make it better and that's really amazing.
What are those really heated discussions about?
Well, one of the things you're talking about, which is, how long does Brody stick around? I mean, there was a lot of argument in the first season. Were we going to have Brody continue into the second year? Were we going to end that story at the end of the first season? I know that Howard and I at the very beginning of the year were really advocating that it was a one-season arc for Damian Lewis, because it was a natural ending. There was a man with a suicide vest in a bunker and there would have been something shocking and profound about the vest actually having gone off.
What changed our minds was not only [because] every time we put those two characters together it was gold, but also we discovered a narrative way to have our cake and eat it too. There was more story to tell.
So you have a huge fan in President Obama. What was it like for Obama to say it was one of his favorite shows?
We were stunned. I remember I was in New York in December when all this news came out and I was in my hotel room and the Sunday paper arrived and there was a Maureen Dowd column about "Homeland" being Obama's favorite show and I just realized that that was the high point of my life. I mean, I'm never going to be waking up at the Four Seasons in New York and reading a Maureen Dowd column about our show ever again. It was amazing. We have a framed picture of the "Rolling Stone" cover of Obama and his quotes about the show right in our story room. So he's looking down on us every day.
Now all you have to worry about is him saying Season 2 is not as good.
If he says that, I'm going to kill myself.
What follows are specific facts about where things start out at the beginning of Season 2 of "Homeland." Spoilers ahoy.
Can you say much about where the vice president is, where Brody is? Are they in political office? In the vice president's case, are they in more powerful political offices?
I can definitely tell you where the season starts -- it's around half a year after the first season. We pick up the second season six months later.
Carrie has had, for the first time in her life, the benefit of professional help for her disease. She will have been in the psych ward for awhile. She will have been in the care of a psychiatrist for six months. She will have undergone a series of these ECT therapies. [The treatment we saw in the Season 1 finale] is not just a one-off.
So when we find her as the second season picks up, she will be in a place where she is centered and quiet and together in a way that we haven't seen her before.
Brody, on the other hand, he is going to be a congressman as the season opens. His seat is vacated through a scandal, and he was appointed by the governor into that seat for a temporary period of time until the election.
So he's running for office as well?
He's not running. Well, he will be running, but he will be a sitting congressman serving in the House of Representatives when we open the season.
And is Jamey Sheridan's character still vice president? Or is he now president?
Jamey Sheridan is the vice president [in Season 2]. It is the second term of the sitting president, so he is the heir apparent to the presidency.
The fact that Carrie was so very wrong and very publicly wrong about Brody -- how do you make her a credible intelligence analyst or person who operates in that world? Aren't people going to just say, a) She's unstable and b) She was incredibly wrong about a very big situation?
Well, that's why she's not in the intelligence community. She's been excommunicated from the agency, so she's not an agent anymore. She's not an intelligence officer anymore. She is literally not in that business when we pick up the season.
I thought maybe she might be working for a private contractor or something like that.
No, we talked about that for awhile and ultimately, she may wind up working for a private contractor, but she is also aware that that kind of stress in that kind of profession is not good for her, so she's steering clear of it.
"Homeland" Season 2 premieres on Sunday, September 30 at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.