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'Homeland' EP Alex Gansa Talks Season 3, Benghazi and Demedicating Carrie -- Again

The showrunner tells THR about the big rifts introduced in the premiere, drawing inspiration from congressional hearings and managing critics: "I view the acclaim of the first season and the criticism of the second season in kind of the same light. Some of it was deserved, and some of it wasn’t."

Homeland Season 3 Premiere Episodic Alex Gansa Inset - H 2013
Kent Smith/SHOWTIME; Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
"Homeland" and EP Alex Gansa

Homeland returned for its third season Sunday night, introducing a dramatic new landscape.

In the wake of the attack on the CIA, Saul (Mandy Patinkin) and Carrie (Claire Danes) are divided by the beltway fallout, a new threat to U.S. security is introduced and Brody (Damian Lewis) remains missing in action -- unseen in the first and second episodes.

TV REVIEW: Homeland Season Three

Executive producer and showrunner Alex Gansa spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the Showtime drama's latest turn, how the writers took their time in deciding what to do next and how the recent security concerns in the Middle East affected production.

When did you decide what you where you were going to take this story in season three?

I would say the majority of the third season was decided after the finale of the second season. We really had no idea. We were faced with so many decisions and choices. Because there are so many, you can get paralyzed, so you just have to make one that leads to another and hope it arrives a compelling narrative. I think the decisions we made are doing that.

Do you have any regrets about season two?

The way I look at it is, I view the acclaim of the first season and the criticism of the second season in kind of the same light. Some of it was deserved, and some of it wasn’t. I went back and watched the first two seasons before we did the third. One of the tragedies of making television is that while you’re doing it you can’t get any objectivity. Are they art? I don’t know. But they’re certainly entertaining.

The Carrie-Saul relationship unravels very quickly in the premiere. How far does that carry them this season?

We spend a lot of time at the beginning of this season thinking about what would actually happen to our characters if they were really CIA agents or CIA officers and if an attack was perpetrated on the agency itself and they had some measure of blame in it. Ultimately, all institutions and bureaucracies look for scapegoats and we tried to figure out an interesting way in which Carrie could play that role and how Saul might have to be drawn into that endeavor. And also it’s nice to mix up the relationship a little bit. Saul and Carrie have come into conflict in the past, and clearly he is her mentor, but she is erratic and he is trying to teach her certain things. We just felt it in this particular instance it was a nice stop to drive a wedge between two characters and give them something new to play.

PHOTOS: 'Homeland': Portraits of the Emmy-Winning Cast and Creators

In writing those hearing that we see in the first two episodes, what kind of research goes into that?

At the beginning of the season, we were watching Darrell Issa do the Benghazi hearings. That was really kind of the extend of the research that was done. I happen to have written that episode with those big interrogations sequences and I did read a lot transcripts from the Church Committee hearing in the '70s -- just to get the language, how they talk and the formality of the proceedings, so your ears tune to that kind of formal back-and-forth.

Who are you rooting for this season?

In this first sweep of episodes seeing what Saul is up against and seeing how uncomfortably he sits in the director’s chair, I am rooting for Saul to make the right call in almost every scene, and he’s not going to do that all the time.

Seeing how well Claire plays crazy, does that make you more inclined to write these more unhinged moments for her?

We were trying to find a new space for her emotionally this season, and the decision is always, “Is she on her meds or is she off her meds?” For a long time, I think we viewed that in a binary -- either she is or isn’t -- and this season we felt that she should have a very compelling reason not to be on the meds. She’s aware of the dangers of not being on the meds, but is she actively trying to manage the illness without them for a very good reason. And that reason is because she honestly believes that they dulled her genius and prevented her from seeing that the attack was coming. Although it’s binary on the side if she’s not taking her meds, it’s much more nuanced and complicated than that.

Fans really latched onto Abu Nazir. Do you want to introduce a new nemesis in that capacity or do you think you’ve told that story already?

One of the big decisions we made in the third season was that we weren’t going to do another attack on America. That narrative invention that took us through the first and second seasons, so we don’t have an impending attack but we do have another antagonist introduced in the premiere. You’re not going to actually meet him until later in the season but he’s introduced in the first episode and he has a history with Saul.

And who is that? 

When Saul’s trying to decide whether or not to go forward with the operation, there’s a picture of the six guys on the board. There’s one guy whose name is Majid Javadi [Shaun Toub], who’s a reclusive figure in Iran, hasn’t been seen in public since 1994 and with whom Saul served in Iran before the Shah was deposed. That’s the guy.

Dana’s (Morgan Saylor) storyline is much more mature this season. Were there any hesitations there?

I think we felt more uncomfortable about it than Morgan did. She came to the show when she was 15 years old, so she’s always going to be 15 for us. She just turned 18 this past year, and we wanted again to find a new place for her to be emotionally. This was an interesting space to put her, in a rehab facility where emotions are heightened. She has an opportunity to discuss her deepest feelings with people in there, a romance happens and a kind of sexual awakening takes place. It seemed like an interesting place to go --  and unexpected from a character who has been so down for the last two seasons. We really wanted to show her in a more positive, ironically better space than she’s been before.

Did you introduce Nazanin Boniadi’s character, Fara, to include a positive Muslim character that viewers could root for?

I think the short answer is yes. We definitely did and want to see what she does this season. Nazanin is absolutely remarkable. She’s just a wonderful person and a fantastic actress. Fara becomes Saul’s new Carrie, a woman who he starts to mentor.

Did you consider keeping Brody's absence in the first two episodes a secret?

I think part of it was the fact that the first episode leaked, and so it was out in the world so that was one thing. In the story room, we’re just not to precious about this kind of thing it doesn’t strike us as a secret particularly worth keeping, like Brody's absence in the first two episodes.

Was anything changed moving that season three shoot from Israel to Morocco?

The scope and magnitude of the shoot has not changed at all. The decision was made on a risk assessment basis. Fox has to identify the production, and their risk assessors decided that going to Israel right now is just not a safe move. 

As a TV writer, how weird is it for you to be involved in a discussion like that?

It’s completely ridiculous. You find yourself rooting for world events to transpire in a way that benefits the show, and you just have to stop yourself and say, “Wait a minute… that’s absurd.” That part of the globe right now is incredibly complicated, and I’m just glad we’re able to go overseas somewhere so that it feels real.  We were planning to shoot Tel Aviv, and now we’re planning to shoot Morocco. It’s a lot better to be shooting in Morocco than it is to be shooting in Texas.

Email: Michael.OConnell@THR.com; Twitter: @MikeyLikesTV