'Homeland' Boss On Berlin's Hacking Culture, Spies and Carrie's Post-CIA Status in Season 5

"It's a quieter, more internal story," says Alex Gansa. "It's a spy story this year."
Courtesy of Showtime

As promised, Homeland's fifth season kicked off with another reboot. And though Carrie Mathison [Claire Danes] quickly found herself in a familiar (and compromising) scenario, the private-sector version of the retired CIA operative appears very much changed.

Spoilers follow for anyone who hasn't seen the Homeland season 5 premiere, "Separation Anxiety."

Co-creator and showrunner Alex Gansa spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the Oct. 4 season premiere, which found a newly-religious Carrie working as head of security for a German billionaire and shacking up with a civilian, and he said that giving his protagonist a renewed outlook was the top priority this year. Picking up after a two-year time jump in the drama's action, Gansa also talked about the rift he chose to make between his central characters, the reason he chose Berlin as the series' new epicenter and why this season is more about espionage than ever before.

Carrie seems to be truly content for the first time since the show premiered. Do you think it's been that way for the two years since you left her off?

The very first question we ask every season is "Where is Carrie emotionally?" We want to see her in a new place. We want to see her dealing with new issues, in a psychically different environment. It was really important to place her in a circumstance we hadn't seen her in before — and it's a more happy one. She's chosen a suitable life partner that isn't a crazy terrorist, like Brody [Damian Lewis], or Quinn [Rupert Friend], who has his own dark side. This is a stable, serious civilian, someone with whom she might have a long-term future. I think she is content and happy to be out of the agency. She's using all of the skills she used as an intelligence officer to do quite a different task in the world.

Should viewers be reading into the fact that she's with a man, Alexander Fehling, who bears some resemblance to Brody?

You know ... if you like gingers, you like gingers. [Laughs]. That was sort of a happy accident of the casting. Alexander came in, we did auditioning and there was so much alive between the two of them. When you see episode three, you'll know what I'm talking about. We needed somebody who was at Claire's level.

How affected is she by her actions of the past few seasons?

I think she's hugely affected by the course that her career took her. She's chosen a civilian, to be with as a life partner, and she hasn't shared all of that stuff about her. "To know me fully," Carrie would say, "someone would have to know all that about me." It's terrifying to think that it might be too much for some people. That's always in the back of her mind. But her newfound faith is also helped her come to terms with what she's done. She's running away from it, but it's right over her shoulder.  

Religion does seem to play a large role in where she's at right now. Is that why you chose to open the episode with her in church?

We were always wrestling with the idea that Carrie had rediscovered her faith. Her father was Catholic and she was essentially raised Catholic, confirmed and then lapsed. She's since re-found that, in concert with Otto During [Sebastian Koch] — who's also a Catholic. You'll find that in later episodes. They bond over that. Interestingly enough, we shot that scene after we finished the episode because we felt that we wanted to anchor the season that way. Again, it's just very surprising to see Carrie taking communion. The moment you see that, you understand that she's having a dialogue with herself about something. And the season really becomes about that dialogue.

Peter Quinn [Rupert Fiend] seems extra silent in these first few episodes. How much dialogue is he getting these days?

Peter Quinn is quite the laconic type, undoubtedly, but there's that scene in the episode where he tells that group in the basement of Langley. He speaks truth to power in that scene, from his point of view at least ... I don't think dropping a tactical nuclear weapon is what the writers room thinks would be a fix. Quinn does think that on some level. He's been at the tip of the spear down there in Syria. He's confronted some awful things, some awful human beings. I think he's pretty far down that rabbit hole he talked about in season four.

How did you decide on Berlin as the location this season?

Berlin is a real center in the surveillance refusenik community. Germany's privacy laws are among the strictest in the Western hemisphere. People like Laura Poitras, who made the film Citizen Four, Jacob Appelbaum, who's called the most dangerous man in cyberspace, and Sarah Harrison, the woman who ferried [Edward] Snowden through the Moscow airport, they all live in Berlin. And they live there for a reason. All of those elements conspired to make Germany, and specifically Berlin, come to the fore. It was just great to think that, really for the first time, we could shoot in the city where the story was taking place. It's hugely liberating.

It has to make location scouting easier.

In Cape Town we had to manufacture Islamabad wherever we went. The camera could only point in one direction. It has made that part of the process so much easier. And it can't help but influence the tone of and feel of the series this season, which is quite different. With Carrie in Islamabad, every time she stepped out in the street, she was arguably in danger. Stepping out in Berlin is a completely different animal. It's a quieter, more internal story as a result. It's a spy story this year. It's much more about how a station works in a foreign capital that about the pyrotechnics of what we did last season.

Your characters are quite scattered at the top of the season. Presuming you're moving to a place where all of the pieces come back together, how challenging is it to write?

One of the downsides of rebooting every season is that characters you've labored so long to create — think of Raza Jaffrey, Michael O'Keefe and Nimrat Kaur — you have to jettison all of these characters and start fresh again. But you do have those main characters, Claire, Mandy [Patinkin], Rupert and Murray [Abraham]. You've got to find a way to bring those characters together again, and it is a challenge. Especially with Carrie out of the agency this season, that's our main task. How do we get these people in each other's faces and lives again? Is it fun? A little. [Laughs.] Is it challenging? A lot. But it's definitely gratifying when it works.

You poke fun of the fact that people don't believe Carrie is really out of the agency, and out with Saul, but you've done that before. What do you want the audience thinking right now?

Those are the gray questions the show always addresses. We put it out there for people to chew on a little bit. But what I find to be the more interesting dynamic is that the people in the CIA think that she's a traitor for working at the During Foundation. And the people at the During Foundation don't trust her because they think she is still working for the CIA. That puts her in a betwixt and between position where she can't fully commit one way or another.