When Homeland returns Sunday (at 9 p.m. on Showtime), everyone and everything will have been displaced. The CIA is in post-bombing shambles, Carrie and Saul are at odds, and Brody is not even in the first two episodes of the new season. What does it all mean for the espionage drama as we knew it? Vulture spoke to series showrunner Alex Gansa — who took care to steer clear of major spoilers — about how the dynamics have shifted and what Brody stories are left to tell.
You asked the new writers you hired this season whether or not they believed Carrie and Brody were in love. Why was that important to figure out going into the third season?
I think that was in response to some of the blogs. It was in response to somebody writing somewhere that the idea that these two people actually share some sort of true emotion, that you could or you couldn’t call love, was just such a delusion, that it somehow rendered their connection unbelievable. It caught me by surprise, because I have always been a big believer that whether these two people are in love or whether they’re bound up in each other’s lives in an inextricable way, or whether they’re tethered to each other because of their mutual damage, whatever you call it, it seems to me that that is a powerful bond between the two characters, and that some people were calling that bond into question. It made me question my own certainty that that was the case.
Did the writers agree they were in love?
Absolutely. They believe there was a connection between them that was profound. When these two characters talk about some mundane future together, I think both of them are aware that it’s a self-delusion. It’s having a conversation about a future that they know they will never share, and yet it’s one that they want to have because it’s the natural conversation that one might have at that point in a relationship.
Executive producer Howard Gordon said Brody could have died in season two, but the idea was nixed. How much story is there left to tell for that character?
I think that the writing staff was convinced that there was enough story to tell, certainly for the second season, and obviously, by the third season, we’re still telling that story. But I believe there will come a point at which telling that story further is just a case of diminishing return. I don’t know whether that’s going to happen this season, or whether it’s going to happen next season. I think it will be an anticipatory element to the series because, literally, every episode could be Brody’s last.
We already know he’s not in the first two episodes. Was it strange not to be writing for him?
It was when we conceived the episodes — that is, when the episodes were up on the board as cards, but when they got written … I mean, you can be the judge of it. Did the episodes feel like they were missing something? Did they feel less engaging? We didn’t think so and we felt comforted by that. Frankly, when we put the episodes together in the editing room, we also felt that there was a strong enough narrative engine without Brody’s physical presence that really propelled the episodes. And you can’t deny that Brody is all over the first two episodes, he’s just not physically present. So the question becomes, will that exist when Brody is gone for good? I don’t know, but it’s an interesting question.
The Brody family, however, is still in the picture, and especially Dana, who has been deeply affected by what’s happened to her dad. Even with Brody around, how did you come to the conclusion that they were still essential apart from what’s going on at the CIA?
My mind goes back to early Homeland, in the first season, when there was significant debate at the studio and network level about whether anybody would be interested in watching Brody’s wife and children. We faced the same issue this year, which is without Brody actually physically at the Brody house, on the premises, in the United States, was there going to be any interest in watching Jessica and Chris and Dana? The argument that won the day in the story room was there are all these families that are the victims of somebody in the family doing an act of violence. Whether it’s Sandy Hook, whether it’s Columbine, the Boston Marathon bombers, these people all have families who suffer the consequences of these psychopathic actions. It was interesting to think about what would happen to the Brody family. How would the community treat them? Would they be pariahs? Would they be excused? To your earlier question, what’s left for the Brody story is rehabilitation or redemption of some kind. That’s how the family fits in, especially Dana. Right now, Dana firmly believes that her father killed 219 people at the CIA. The question that we begin the season with is did he or did he not do that? Did he or did he not have any knowledge of it? And if he didn’t, how are we going to convince Dana that that’s the case?
At the end of last season, you said that Carrie and Saul would be the head of the institution. Without spoiling too much, that’s not the case when the show returns. What were you thinking then and how did it change?
One of the very first things that we talked about in the story room this season was, let’s say Langley was actually really attacked. What would happen? The first thing that came to mind, of course, is people are always searching around for somebody to blame, and institutions especially are always looking to lay the blame off on somebody. So we asked around. We talked to our CIA contacts, and we wondered what would actually happen. The consensus was that there would be a scapegoat, that somebody at a lower level would take the blame for what happened. Because Saul and Carrie were nominally running the operation that led to the attack, that they were duped in some fashion, the feeling was that the blame would be laid at their doorstep. It felt, just dramatically, more interesting that one or the other would be blamed, and the other one would have to be party to it.
Do you still consider the show a psychological thriller? So much of the first two seasons relied on Brody and Carrie questioning and double-crossing each other.
I do think that the show, in both the first and the second season, could be described as a psychological thriller. I think the third season explores the idea of espionage more than it follows in the footsteps of the first two seasons. It’s really about what Carrie and Saul do as intelligence officers, and it’s divorced from the idea that they’re out there trying to stop an attack. They’re still trying to keep America safe, and they’re trying to provide good intelligence for policy-makers, but the stakes are different, and I think it does lead to a quieter, more nuanced storytelling.
This season starts off pretty quietly. There’s no immediate threat against America that we know about. The CIA is in the process of trying to repair its reputation. It feels like a new dynamic for the show.
I think all of us started this season not wanting to do another season of Carrie and Saul stopping an attack. We did that for the first two seasons. The first season, the attack didn’t come off, and the second season, the attack did, and it felt like we would just be retreading old ground by doing it again. So we wanted to set up a different series of stakes, and what’s really at stake here, in the third season, is the viability of the CIA as an institution.
One thing they do come up against is a leak within the agency.
There is clearly somebody inside the intelligence community that is leaking information to the Senate committee to the effect of, the CIA brought this tragedy down on its own head and therefore should not be allowed to continue. The agency is itself on trial. If the CIA can’t even protect itself, how can it be expected to protect the country?
Could the CIA really cease to exist?
Well, there are seventeen or eighteen intelligence agencies in the United States, some of which we know about, others of which we do not. The feeling was that if the CIA fell down so poorly on the job, its very existence might be called into question by people who are pumping 30 and 40 billion dollars into its annual budget. If the agency itself is deemed to be bankrupt, why not just level the place and start again? A debate about the viability and the future of the CIA is one that has been had in the past, certainly during the whole Church hearings. It was a very live possibility. Do we just restructure another intelligence agency altogether? Cut our loses and start again?