'Homeland' Boss Talks Season 4 Shockers, Post-Brody Reboot

"We're trying to be relevant and provocative"

Homeland returned to Showtime on Sunday night, and longtime viewers who tuned in likely did so with a great deal of uncertainty. When the drama last aired, half of its central duo was strung up in an Iranian public square — laying waste to the central dynamic in place since the 2011 premiere.

The new Homeland, which aired two back-to-back episodes, spent little time ruminating on the deceased (at least during the first hour), instead shifting its focus to Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes)' new Islamabad appointment with the CIA. Things don't get off to the smoothest of starts: A bureau chief played by guest star Corey Stoll is beaten to death in front of Carrie and Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend).

And that wasn't even the most shocking turn. Back in the States, Carrie entertains some infanticidal thoughts when forced to spend the day with her and the late Brody's baby.

Showrunner Alex Gansa spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the biggest moments from the return, how the reboot is shaping up and which of his surviving characters is in the worst shape.

Corey Stoll's TV mortality rate is climbing.
What's amazing about Corey is that in the small amount of real estate he inhabited in that first episode, he created a full-blown character that you wound up caring about in the end. My hat is off to him.

How did you go about picking him for the part?
It was a straight offer to Corey. We had all seen his work on House of Cards and just thought that he would be an incredibly interesting choice. We also needed somebody who was capable of delivering a performance in short amount of space. The minute he appears on screen, he is that guy.

You were very particular about how you structured the third season. Did you approach this one similarly?
This season takes place in a much shorter time period. Season three, which I can barely remember, to be perfectly honest with you, was over a couple of months. The serialization [this year] feels more energized. There's a shorter amount of time that she's in Islamabad, and a lot of stuff happens.

Have you read any reviews of the first few episodes?
You know, I've read one review. It was The New York Times. It's my hometown paper, and that's the one I read. Alessandra [Stanley] gave us a good review. She's pretty much my favorite person in the world right now.

You might be alone in feeling that way.
Oh, I do know that [laughs]. It's nice to know that Homeland is still in the conversation and that in the fourth season of the show, you can open up the paper and be on the front page of the Arts section. That means we're still relevant — at least I hope it does. I've been doing TV a long time, and there's something crazy about this show in how proprietary people feel about it. It raises a lot of passion...on the pro and con side. We're trying to be relevant and provocative. We're going to have better seasons and worse seasons, but it's not a function of our effort. Our effort is sustained.

Speaking of being provocative...society has a lot to say about women who reject motherhood. What made you want to go there with Carrie?
This is a very, very tricky subject. And I'd like to abstain from the conversation. Let us let the images and the story stand for themselves. Clearly there are mothers with postpartum depression, and we are wading into those waters. It's a difficult subject you don't see in television or movies very often, and we're trying to do that in a responsible way.

The scene in the bathtub, where Carrie considers drowning the baby, is going to shock people.
Any drama, whether it's Homeland or Breaking Bad or The Sopranos, is all about constructing a narrative for your main character — and putting her at the heart of the story. This season in Homeland, the story is Carrie Mathison contemplating what happened last year. The hanging of Brody is something she hasn't squarely faced, and that child is a physical representation of that tragedy. As a result, that kid is something Carrie doesn't want to deal with. It all came down to that scene in the bathtub, where, for a moment, she considered that her life would be easier if this little creature didn't exist anymore. This is not an exaggeration: We spent a full five days editing that little piece of film. We wanted to leave it open. Did she put the baby underwater or did she not? It's left in the mind of the audience to determine what exactly happened.

YouTube figures prominently in the first batch of episodes.
When we were first sitting in the story room, we were very influenced by the story we read about a Palestinian kid who took an iPhone video of his sister during an Israeli raid on a village — they were looking for a terrorist — and it was a profoundly disturbing little piece of film. It was put online, and it caused one of the major retirement funds in some Scandinavian country to withdraw any investment in Israel. This is the modern world. Social media is now influencing investment decisions halfway around the world. And it became a subject of great concern for Israel. We're thinking to ourselves, we have to have this be part of the show. This tool is being used, not only by the good guys, but by the bad guys.

And that also facilitates the biggest character introduction.
This character, Ayaan Ibrahim, the sole survivor of an errant F16 attack, has a piece of video that contradicts the official story. What would it do to this kid? How would it affect his life? And how would it affect the Carrie Mathisons of the world?

He's great in the role.
Oh my god. Suraj Sharma, the star of Life of Pi. Wait until you see further episodes. It's extraordinary, his performance. A lot was riding on him, and that particular piece of casting is one that worked out great in a big way.

Everything sort of blew up last season. How much time did you spend figuring out a realistic way to get the gang back together?
The blocking of it was not difficult. Locating everybody emotionally was difficult. Where's Carrie? Where's Peter Quinn? Where's Saul [Mandy Patinkin]? These were the big building blocks of the season, and that takes a lot of elbow grease — to find where these people are emotionally and then discover how they interact with each other with their own conflicting set of problems.

Who's in the worst place: Carrie or Peter?
I don't think there's any question that Carrie isn't in a darker place. In a lot of ways, we are going to experience the extremities of Carrie's emotional state through Peter Quinn's eyes. If anyone can understand what she's going through, he would — having been through it himself. But I think he's farther down the emotional road. He's come out the other side of what she's currently in the middle of, so he's able to look back at her and worry about her. A lot of people ask if it's a romantic thing, and I think we're pretty strongly thinking that it isn't. He's worried she's going down that same rabbit hole that he did when he was just carrying out targeted assassination after targeted assassination.

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