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Homeland Co-Creator Alex Gansa Discusses the Season Finale

We caught up with the former “24” writer to talk about an epic end to the Showtime drama’s first season.

Photograph courtesy of Showtime.

Judging by the rave responses to the Homeland season finale last night, the show’s co-creator, Alex Gansa, has a hit on his hands. Prior to his involvement with Homeland, Gansa was a writer for 24, but his résumé also boasts shows as diverse as The X Files, Entourage, and Dawson’s Creek. We caught up with Gansa to discuss where season one of Homeland left Carrie Mathison, and what the show’s second season may have in store for her.

How did you first come up with the idea for Homeland ?
I was working on 24 at the time, and my co-creator and close friend Howard Gordon was the showrunner. The show was coming to an end, and our mutual friend and agent, Rick Rosen, who had just returned from Israel, came to us with a script of the pilot of a show called Hatufim [Prisoners of War]. He said to Howard, “I think I’ve got your next series.” And Howard read it and said, “God, this is fantastic—let’s Alex and I do this together.” And that was how it started.

After 24 , how did you approach a show about counterterrorism? What did you want to do differently?
Well, I think we were both—especially Howard—a little sick and tired of the heavy action component of these thrillers, and so we wanted to delve more into the psychological aspects. Also, we’d done a bunch of research into the intelligence community, and the psychological toll that protecting the country exacts on people who do that job was really, really interesting to us. We wanted to tell a much more psychological story than 24 had been, and we were much more interested in the second component of the story, which is what it would mean to be a prisoner of war, or even just a soldier coming home from the war, and the difficulty everybody has reintegrating into their lives. Those were the two aspects of the show that appealed to us more than anything.

The pilot made Carrie’s mental illness a big plot point, and then it seemed to go away for a while as we focused on Brody and his family, but then it obviously resurfaced at the end with a bang. How much was Carrie’s disease integral to her character?
It was huge. And it’s funny, because every episode when we started to break the story, every episode that we worked on, we were saying, “Is this the one where she has her manic episode? Is this the one where Carrie should lose it?” And we kept putting it off because it never quite felt right. And then when we got to that penultimate episode, we were backed into a corner, where it’s going to happen now or it’ll never happen, and it was actually perfect, because the moment where she was most discredited and was fired from her job was the moment when she was most correct about what was about to happen. So in effect we were sidelining our hero and bringing her mental illness to the fore at just the wrong time for her. So we backed ourselves into a decision that was actually so correct.

It was so effective, but it also seemed so cruel that she was right, and not only will no one else give her credit for it, but she can’t even give herself credit for it.
It’s funny—a lot of women who watch the show lock onto that very aspect of the story. In other words, here’s a woman, a professional woman, brilliant, and who is so profoundly right about something, but not only do people around her not know it, she doesn’t know it herself. There’s something about that idea that’s very profound for people, and for women, especially, to whom I’ve spoken.

The series ended in this incredibly visual, shocking way, with Carrie strapped to the hospital bed. Will she get any kind of redemption in season two?
We’re just starting to talk about season two now. Hopefully we were able to provide some redemption for Carrie in season one, and I think even if she doesn’t know it, her character has been redeemed in our eyes. I think that’s important. And I think in the next season she will definitely be redeemed, because at some level she’ll have to be brought back into the fold. She’s going to have to be brought back into the intelligence community in some way, shape, or form, whether it’s as an independent contractor, or whether she’s reintegrated into the CIA somehow. I think she will be redeemed—I think she has to be. She’s still Carrie Mathison, she’s still brilliant, she still sees things other people don’t see, makes connections other people don’t.

With Brody, when we saw him at the cabin he seemed to be a completely different person from who we saw in the final episode when he really tortured Carrie emotionally, twisted the knife, and took advantage of her vulnerability. Was he playing her the whole time, or is he just this very complex character?
I think the answer to that is he’s both. Hopefully he’s a very complex character, but in the episode at the cabin—although you have to look back on it, because at the time you’re not aware it’s happening—he’s in protective mode. He’s got to put Carrie off the scent, and that’s what he did by seemingly opening up to her and telling her everything. The one thing he didn’t tell her was who Issa was, and he lied about that, but again, you don’t know that until a later episode. At the cabin, he’s clearly putting her off the scent—but he’s also spending two days with probably the only person in his life who actually knows the truth about him intuitively. So he’s able during those two days to connect with this woman and to actually have something real with her. And I think it works reciprocally, because Carrie actually has something real with him, too, which makes the whole rest of the season much more complex. For example, in the finale, he is cruel to her, he does manipulate her, but he does it for a very specific reason. And that reason is that he’s kind of in deep shit right now with Nazir for not going through with the plan, and he’s got to make sure that this woman who’s been on his case, and who’s suspected him for such a long time, doesn’t continue to pursue that theory. So he’s in a very complex situation, and the great thing about this show is that audiences have been reading into moments, and in that moment where he tells her, “You can never see me, and you can never see my family again,” and he sort of banishes her to the mental institution—when the camera lingers on him when he’s done that, hopefully that moment is ambiguous, and you see in his eyes some pain that he’s banishing this woman from his life. She’s possibly the only person he’s connected with since he’s come home, and that’s painful for him. Whether it came across, I have no idea.

Why is the Vice President the focus of Homeland, as opposed to the President himself, who almost never comes up?
There’s obviously a little Dick Cheney in this character. That’s one thing. But the other thing is that it was sort of born out of the pilot, and actually, this is was a situation where an acting moment, something completely unexpected that happens on set, led the season in another direction. If you remember in the waiting room scene in the pilot, it’s the Vice President who’s welcoming Brody home, and we did that because we felt that probably the President wouldn’t be there, and he would send the Vice President in his stead. This was also a big difference be
tween the American series and the Israeli series—Israeli POWs who come home are national figures. Americans POWs who come back are probably not so revered and not so immediately thrown into the spotlight, so we thought it was more believable that the Vice President would welcome Brody home. Now, in that moment in the waiting room, when the Vice President comes in, Damian Lewis had something that was so tight and stiff and wary about him in the Vice President’s company, and that was when we started to get the idea that possibly the Vice President would have been Brody’s target all along. And that was the genesis of that whole story—it all happened in that moment between Damian and Jamey Sheridan [who plays William Walden].

Can I ask who the mole is?
Can’t tell you.

Ah, well. It was worth a try.