'Homeland' EP Alex Gansa Talks Nick Brody Twist, Defends Opening Title Sequence
The showrunner tackles some burning questions and criticisms on the Showtime series.
There may not be another series on television that handles the mix of relationship drama and high stakes espionage better than Showtime’s freshman series, Homeland.
Last week, the show threw viewers (and its characters) for an unexpected loop when it answered a question that seemed like it would remain Season 1's core drama – one that most shows would dangle for an entire season.
Homeland revealed that the object of CIA agent Carrie Anderson’s (Claire Danes) obsession, Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) had not been turned against America while being held captive by Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Instead, his fellow POW Tom Walker (Chris Chalk) – someone Brody had believed he had been forced to kill by his captors – is not only still alive, but is actually the one who was turned.
“We felt it was important to keep the season moving,” Executive Producer and Co-creator Alex Gansa tells The Hollywood Reporter about the game-changing plot twist. “Not to rely on any one story element -- Carrie’s surveillance, the question of Brody’s innocence or guilt -- too long. Our audience is smarter than that—they expect more.”
Gansa (24, Numb3rs, The X Files) spoke with THR about the decision to reveal that Brody hadn’t been turned, what to expect with the season’s romantic entanglements, and addressed some viewer conspiracies, and criticism.
The Hollywood Reporter: Now that we know Brody hasn’t been turned, what can we expect from his storyline and character conflict going forward?
Alex Gansa: Brody was devastated by the idea of killing his fellow Marine. Now he has to deal with the fact that Walker has been alive all this time. Who can Brody trust? And is his conversion to Islam, partly driven by his intense guilt over Walker, now meaningless? Ultimately, Brody is a soldier. He’s willing to die to protect his country and its values. But in the fog of post-9/11, just what does “protecting your country” entail?
THR: Did the killing of Osama Bin Laden affect your storytelling at all?
Gansa: You know, it did and it didn’t… I believe we had finished a first draft of the first episode after the pilot. We’d finished a very first draft, so that the Bin Laden reference was, actually, put into the script after the first draft had been written… You know, here we are in our little television bubble and we hear that Osama Bin Laden has been killed by the special forces. And we’re, “Well, how does this affect our show?”
Look, it was really a great moment and a great victory for the intelligence agencies that brought Bin Laden down. [Co-executive producer Howard Gordon] and I are very different people. For Howard, the glass is always half full, and for me the glass is always half empty. Howard is Winnie the Pooh and I’m Eeyore. So, Howard was like, “This is going to be great for us.” And I was like, “Well, no one’s going to care about the war on terror anymore now that Osama Bin Laden’s dead.”
And I’m afraid to say, Howard was right, because I think that there was a sense after Osama Bin Laden’s death that the country could kind of take a sigh of relief. I mean, we achieved a victory in that war. And in a way, it sort of allowed us to be more objective, I think, about what the last ten years has meant to this country, and the mistakes that we’ve made, and the successes that we’ve had in trying to combat this new threat to the country.
THR: How far will the show take what I’m calling the “love quadrangle,” because there’s Brody’s relationship with his wife, her relationship with his friend, and now there’s Carrie?
Gansa: I think if you distill it down to its essence, the show is about the collision between these two damaged characters, between Brody and between Carrie. Between Brody, who’s been damaged by his experience in captivity, and by Carrie, who’s been damaged by her illness, and by her obsession, and by her character. And that’s, really, where the show lives. And so I think you will see over the course of the rest of the season that that’s where we come back to over and over again to see how these two people’s lives intersect, to see how they influence each other, to see how suspicion, and attraction, and connection…you know, how that’s wrought between these two people. And that’s really where we think the story lives.
And then, on the other side of the quadrangle, there’s Mike Faber [Diego Klattenhoff] and Jessica [Morena Baccarin]. Here are two really good people trying to do the right thing. And sometimes it’s hard. And I think, you know, Jessica’s estrangement from Brody, and the difficulty in that marriage, and the temptation of the relationship with Mike is always right there. She can have that whenever she wants. And I think that’s also going to be a huge tug on her.
THR: Can you speak to the ambiguity of Saul [Mandy Patinkin], and the fact that maybe Carrie could have a blind spot there?
Gansa: You know, she could. And it’s difficult to talk about without spoiling anything. But you know, I will say that there have been some misinterpretations. For example, when Hamid killed himself with a razor blade, Saul sat down and said the Mourner’s Kaddish for him. And a lot of people thought he was speaking Arabic in that moment, and actually, he’s speaking Aramaic. And it’s a Jewish prayer, which you say over any dead body. And it’s, actually, an affirmation of the joy of life.
And so for people to have taken that as some clue that he might be the mole was, I think, people were reaching a little bit there. But great, I think they should. Or when he adjusts the rug in his office, people were saying, “Well that’s a prayer rug.” Well, it’s not really a prayer rug. I mean, he’s just adjusting the corner of his Persian carpet.
So anyway, people are reading things into moments, which is fantastic. But I think, again, in the next couple of episodes, you will understand more about Saul and those questions will be answered as well. And also, I think it’s a little carryover from 24, which revealed a mole every five episodes. We’re telling kind of a different narrative. And we’re not as wedded to revealing who or who might not be the mole in the first season.
THR: There has been some attention brought to the opening sequence of the show. Some people seem to really hate it. Does that affect whether or not you’ll keep it for next season?
Gansa: I think it’s a love/hate thing. I’ve been following some of the blogs myself. Some people love it; some people hate it. Here’s what I like about it, for what it’s worth. What I like about it is it clearly shows how the last 25 years of bad news, in terms of the war on terror, might have influenced a girl growing up with bipolar illness. And a girl who feels things more deeply, you know, sort of flies closer to the sun than most people, and is affected by these images in a way that is more intense than other people, and chose to devote her life to stop that from happening again.
And there’s something to me interesting about that, and really iconic about the image of the little girl sitting in front of the television. So that, to me, is where the strength and power of the main titles lie. And we look at that main title sequence as kind of visual jazz, in a way. In other words, this is the jazz that’s playing in Carrie’s head. These are the images that constantly invade her consciousness. And to represent that in the main titles just feels cool to us.
THR: Have you figured out where you’re taking the show for Season 2?
Gansa: Well, you know, we had Season 1 fairly well mapped out. Season 2 is like a big wide sea in front of us, so we really don’t know. You know, obviously, we’ve started to talk about it. We just finished; we wrapped the show in Charlotte. So we’re done shooting episodes for this year, and we’re beginning to turn our attention to how the story might progress into the next season. I will say that the Brody family continues on into the second season. We don’t end that story here. There’s still plenty of room to explore what’s happening with that family in Season 2.
Homeland airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime.
Email: Jethro.Nededog@thr.com; Twitter: @TheRealJethro