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Homeland Showrunners Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon on the Season 1 Finale

Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon. Photo: Patrick McMullan

To call Homeland’s Season 1 finale explosive would be both an understatement and not entirely accurate, since (SPOILER ALERT) nothing (and no one) actually exploded. Thanks to a mechanical malfunction and a well-timed phone call from daughter Dana, Sergeant Nicholas Brody didn’t go through with his plan to blow himself, the vice-president, and varied other important government people to smithereens. But, as Showtime promised, there were plenty of other “howl”-worthy moments in the extra-long episode. Crazy Carrie shows up to tell Dana her dad’s a terrorist! Estes is totally in cahoots with the evil vice-prez! Brody shoots Walker point-blank as a (supposed) show of solidarity with Nazir! And, holy shit, electroshocked Carrie! Once we regained proper breathing patterns, we spoke to ever-insightful showrunners Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon about what exactly happened last night and how they’ve set up Season 2.

So, I just watched the finale. Mind blown!

Alex Gansa: Oh, I’m so glad. We have no idea how people are going to respond to this! You weren’t howling? You were satisfied? We’re reading everything you guys are writing, so tell us what you thought.

Well, I did howl at various points. And I’m still working out how I feel about the ending.

Howard Gordon: You’re talking about the whole ECT [electroconvulsive therapy] thing?

Yes. But let’s rewind for a moment. I definitely DID love the scene in the penultimate episode in which Mandy Patinkin makes the Saddest Peanut-Butter Sandwich Ever.

Gordon: It’s crazy, that moment is one of my favorites — even the detail that he uses the ruler. Alex, was that his improvisation?

Gansa: That was a story-room idea.

Gordon: It’s so good! My daughter turned to me and went, “A ruler!”

Going into the finale, how did you handle the overriding challenge that people know there will be a Season 2, but that the primary tension comes from finding out if Brody will blow himself up?

Gansa: Well, we talked a long time in the story room — first of all, we knew he was going to perpetrate an attack of some kind, but we didn’t know he was going to wear a suicide vest until about three-quarters of the way through the season. It gave us a couple of great things off the bat. One, a suicide video, which is a hanging chad that can carry over to next season — it’s still out there somewhere. And the second thing it afforded us was the ability to have him go through with the attack but to have it not work. Which was great, because we kinda got to have our cake and eat it too: He flipped the switch, which satisfied our feeling that this is someone who would go through with what he decided to do, and then it opened up the possibility of redemption after the fact, when he fixes the vest and almost goes through with it for the second time. We all like Brody now, and we want him to be redeemed, and we kind of got to have it both ways. 

I was concerned about the whereabouts of the video chip, and also about where the vest went. Would you say I’m right to be concerned?

Gansa: I would say you’re correct. I don’t know about the vest yet, but you gave me a good idea. I’m writing that down.

Did you at any point consider a scenario where Brody didn’t survive the end of Season 1?

Gordon: I think when Alex and I first conceived the series, it seemed obvious that we couldn’t take the show with Brody as a character beyond the first season. But then we realized how rich that mine was and how much more there was left to get out of it.

Gansa: Brody’s surviving the finale was very much in doubt; we really talked about it both ways. Ultimately, we felt there was more to tell in the saga between Carrie and Brody, in that relationship.

Going into this episode, some of us were convinced Dana would find the vest and disable it. That doesn’t seem to have happened, but where do you think she’s at as a character now?

Gansa: It’s one of the parts of the finale I’m most proud of: We sowed the seeds of Dana calling her father to talk him down from the minute he came home [from Iraq] in that waiting room, in the pilot. That was the relationship in the family that was most natural; Dana is the character Brody fell back into most easily; there was something about his 16-year-old daughter that moved him in ways that Abu Nazir could never have predicted. Over the course of the season, they really have these moments together, and Dana among the entire family has a sense of what’s going on with Brody and helps him reintegrate into his life. That relationship is going to be really, really important in the second season, and that ambiguous ending on the roof — where they’re both co-existing in this knowledge that something happened between them that they can’t really talk about — that was the feeling we wanted everyone to be left with.

Do you think she believed Carrie?

Gansa: Oh absolutely, that’s the intention. She protests too much: “I never thought that, of course you didn’t do it, of course you wouldn’t be that person.” But she’s wishing it to be true as she’s saying it, in an effort to convince him not to go through with his plans.

Gordon: The trick was this beautiful confluence of events; everything fell into place, where Carrie was cut off from Saul, in terms of having an inside voice to help her stop this thing from happening, exploits the fact that she illicitly spied on the family to make this sort of Hail Mary play with the daughter, who she knows is his Achilles heel.

So now it’s official: There is a mole. At least I think so. Right?

Gansa: Well, we think there’s a mole.

So, this is a simultaneously exciting and scary prospect, you realize, right? We’re all afraid of how the Mole will be handled. 

Gordon: Well, the trope of the mole, in terms of playing that card up, the fact of the mole is kind of a mystery, and to keep it that way and sort of play it only when necessary is the idea. So, we did feel compelled, and then resisted that impulse, to expose that part of the story, not to just allow it to exist in the ether. But we don’t feel it’s something that has to be exposed or told just for the sake of telling it. We’ve found we put out a lot of material, we threw a lot of stuff on the table this year that we weren’t sure how it would be assembled. Some got left out of the engine and somehow it still runs, but we still have stuff on the table, including the mole, that didn’t get used this year.

Speaking of mole suspects, what do you guys feel toward David Estes at the moment? Is he just plain out to get Carrie?

Gordon: Estes is someone who has this really rich history with Carrie and the agency; we understood from the beginning of the season this guy is a climber and managed up really well …

Gansa: But I would also say, if you look at the last scene of the second-to-last episode, when Estes comes in and strips the wall and essentially has Carrie kicked out, there’s some sadness in his eye as well. I don’t think he’s entirely out to get her. She’s been operating behind his back and at counter-purposes to his own objectives, but I think he values her still. I think he’s saddened by where her illness has brought her, that he’s conflicted about it, as he was conflicted about what happened with the school. That scene between Mandy and Estes — I mean between Saul and Estes, at the end, when they’re watching that tape — I think you see a lot of remorse in David Estes. I don’t think he’s sanguine about what happened, either.

It’s time for us to discuss Carrie and her thing with jazz. Please explain.

Gordon: That was Michael Cuesta’s early epiphany, wasn’t it, Al?

Gansa: We just thought that would be a musical form that most mirrored what was going on inside her head. There’s an improvisational quality to the way she thinks …

Gordon: Disorganization and resolution, and then, like, the falling-ness of it … I thought Cuesta said he thought of that one day?

Gansa: No, here’s what happened: If you remember back to the pilot, Brody’s tapping? In a very early draft, Carrie was walking out of that bar, where she picked up that guy, and originally she walked past a group of deaf students who were signing at the bar to each other and that’s how she got the idea Brody was communicating with somebody.  That never made it to the final show; when we were at the bar, scouting locations, there was a jazz band playing while we were there, and it was actually the production designer who said, “Look at that guy on the bass, look at his hands on the fret, isn’t that cool? Maybe Carrie gets her idea about Brody from that.” That idea led to the whole jazz thing and the whole revelation, that’s how she put the tapping together, and we backed the story into that idea. It seemed to fit.

Having Carrie undergo electroshock — and to show it in such a raw way — was a huge move to make. How did you guys decide this was the route she would take, and what do you think this accomplishes that having her just remain crazy doesn’t?

Gansa: There are a couple of things it accomplishes. It demonstrates that she’s reached a point where she cannot live with this illness as it is presently affecting her life, the mood swings, the living in secrecy, the uncertainty of everything, the highs and lows, so she’s reached the conclusion she has to try something more extreme than medication. The actual therapy itself, ECT, is a kind of last-resort therapy, but she’s reached a point in her life when she can’t continue. There’s a very positive forward-moving aspect to it; she wants to be healed, she wants to get professional help, she’s going to go into therapy. 

And then of course there’s the narrative advantages of it, which is that she can have a revelation born out of these memories of Brody, that oh my God, he really is complicit in this, and we can use the side effects of the actual therapy to erase that memory. So she gets to have the revelation but have it taken away from her, which leaves us with a second-season advantage of her slowly recognizing oh my God, she was right after all. That’s the saddest part of the finale for me: She was right but she doesn’t know it.

Gordon: The show’s been kind of unafraid of making people squirm a little bit, and allowing these excruciating moments, and I think that’s sort of in the mold.

Homeland Showrunners Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon on the Season 1 Finale