A day after “Homeland’s” 90-minute season finale aired on Showtime, Zap2it talked to executive producer Alex Gansa about a lot of interesting stuff — including the explosive (in some ways) season one climax, where the story is headed in season two (yes, they already know) and how he and fellow EP Howard Gordon (both “24” alums) managed to keep a show about politically-charged issues like terrorism and shadowy government operations without getting partisan.
We liked the entire conversation so much, we’ve included it uncut below. We wish we could have talked longer, but Gansa was headed out the door to buy a tuxedo to wear to Jan 15’s Golden Globes — “Homeland” is nominated for three awards, including best drama series and best actor (Damian Lewis) and best actress (Claire Danes) in a drama series.
Read on to find out why Carrie isn’t totally out of the game, why her relationship with Brody will remain front and center for season 2 and Gansa’s take on one of the show’s most illustrious fans, President Obama.
Zap2it: The finale left a lot of possibilities for going into season 2 — have you laid out a roadmap yet, or the architecture for where “Homeland” is headed next?
Alex Gansa: I think we’ve drafted a very rough architecture for next year but as we learned from this year that’s going to change. Until you start getting into the actual episodes it’s really hard to have anything but the most generalized plan for the season. But at the same time, we’ve got some big muscular moves planned and we know where Brody’s going to be and where Carrie’s going to be and I think we’re pretty sanguine about the real basic building blocks for next year.
Is there and endgame already in mind or a number of seasons you have in mind for the story you want to tell?
That we don’t have. I think Howard and I always had a pretty good idea of the first two seasons, to be specific, and beyond that it’s going to be very interesting to see how far we can push this next season and where we leave Brody and Carrie and that’s really the big question. That’s the one that we’re not going to know until we get deep into the episodes — how to resolve that relationship and whether it has legs beyond the first two years.
Considering the things Brody has done, over the season as viewers we kind of went back and forth being on his side and not being on his side. But in the end he did murder Tom Walker and colluded in the murder of Elizabeth Gaines — is it possible for his character to be redeemed? To still come out of this a good guy?
I think there are certain fans that I’ve heard from — for instance, in the interviews I did before you — who were disappointed that there wasn’t more of a resolution to the Brody story and I think for the reasons that you just pointed out, there are. I mean, he did take the attack right up through the moment where he flipped the switch and he was responsible for Elizabeth Gaines’ death, he did kill Tom Walker — there is a sense that he did what he committed to do. It didn’t come off, but he brought himself to the point where he was able to do it. And insofar as he didn’t commit mass murder in that bunker there may be room to redeem him at some level, but I don’t think you can discount the fact that this is not the most stable of men on the planet. He has gone through a certain experience that has left him psychologically damaged and unpredictable so I think all those things are great grist for the dramatic mill in season 2. Whether redemption is one of them, I’m not sure. The thing we feel redeemed him somewhat is that the love of his daughter pulled him back from the brink and he was able to not go through with it. That was one thing that [Abu] Nazeer couldn’t have influenced. Somehow that love for his teenage daughter got past the defenses and brought him to a place where he couldn’t do what he was planning to do.
In season 2 the only way Carrie is going to be able to do anything is by operating outside the system and that presents a lot of interesting opportunities. Have you thought about how that will play out?
We have, actually. The two big subjects of discussion are 1, exactly that and how do we bring Carrie back into the fold? Is she operating as an independent contractor, is she out of the business entirely, is she somehow summoned back into the business as the result of some event that happens that her expertise is required. I don’t think that anyone as brilliant and integral as Carrie Mathison was to the intelligence community is going to be banished entirely. Her expertise is still valued, certainly by Saul, and if events happened in which her expertise were required I could see her brought back into the fold. Or some other way. We’ll figure it out when we get to it.
The other one is how to keep this connection between Brody and Carrie front and center in the story because that’s really the most interesting relationship — these two damaged people who recognize something in each other and how that kind of “Casablanca” story plays out. Which is one of the main reasons we tried to keep Brody alive, because we hadn’t told the full story yet between those two people.
How difficult was it to write a series that — despite dealing with terrorism and al Qaeda and maneuvers at the highest level of government — ended up with no partisan political point of view?
It’s something that Howard and I both learned on “24” — though even if you look at “24,” on the left it was reviled as right wing propaganda. But if you look at the show it was actually very even-handed about all that stuff and it was very sort of non-polemic. And the moment you start to get didactic about this stuff and say “this is wrong or this is right” people just shut off. The trick is to ask provocative questions about, for example, the course of interrogation techniques or are these drone strikes that we’re conducting across the world extra-judicial in a way that we as a country should morally tolerate? These are interesting questions that are being debated at the highest levels of government right now and if we can find a way to frame those questions for people to ask in their own living rooms without coming down one way or another, that’s where you can spark an interesting debate and actually achieve some kind of meaningful consensus about things.
President Obama is, according to Maureen Dowd, a big fan. How’s that feel?
I would love to have a conversation [with him]. Do you notice in the opening titles, too, there’s that picture of him inverted? What does he make of that? I have no idea. I have no idea what I make of that.
The opening credits are incredible. They really do get at the world that these people live in and the world Carrie grew up in.
We love those main titles, too. What would it mean to a young girl with bipolar disorder watching television over the last 15 years and what’s happened? It’s fascinating. And then just sort of the visual jazz of the imagery. The people who did it are brilliant.
How does your show differ from the Israeli show on which “Homeland” was based?
There are a lot of similarities, but there are real fundamental differences. The American version is a fairly dramatic departure from the Israeli version, which is at its core a family drama about t
wo soldiers returning to their lives after 17 years of captivity. There’s no sense that there’s a plot against Israel afoot. And we felt that because returning prisoners of war to America would be much less national figures than in Israel. A returning prisoner here we felt would not have the prominence and so we felt that it was important to introduce an imminent plot against America that intelligence officers suspect him of being at the heart of and that was sort of the organizing principle for the American version. So we became much more psychological thriller where the Israeli version is compelling drama.
How lucky are you to have the cast you have? Is there any way Damian and Claire aren’t going to win the Golden Globes?
You know, we didn’t even get nominated for SAG Awards — these things are so subjective. All I can say is that the actors — you have Claire, Damian, Mandy [Patinkin], Morena [Baccarin], Diego [Klattenhoff], Jackson [Pace] and Morgan [Saylor] who play the two teenage kids — they inspire us on a daily basis. We are in the story room trying to give them the best material because they just elevate the game.
Will you be attending the Globes?
I’m actually in New York, I’ve got to buy a tuxedo today when I get off the phone.