Homeland Q&A: Co-Creator Alex Gansa De-Briefs Us on the Finale and Season 1

Homeland finished its first season yesterday with an intriguing finale that left some viewers applauding and some fuming. I chatted with co-creator Alex Gansa on the phone this morning to discuss last night's episode, love in Season 2, and whether one drone strike could really make a man turn on the country he served.


I imagine you've had an interesting morning. Some people liked it, some people didn't. What's your take on the overall response so far?

I'm looking at all the positive. We're so close to it it's impossible to know. This is where we planned to take the season, this is where the show was always headed. We took some detours along the way and things changed, but this is what we were building to. It's impossible to know, people can respond in ways that are unpredictable. If you try and predict these things, you're often wrong. I'm going to read the New York Times, I'm going to read you guys, I'm going to read the A.V. Club, and they all loved it. So I'm going to pretend everybody did. (Laughs.)


What were some of the changes and detours you just mentioned?

We didn't really know how the attack was going to be perpetrated against the vice president and his team. We hadn't really decided on a suicide vest until late in the season. The actual target of the attack, that is, the Vice President and the team of people who were responsible for the drone strike, was an idea crystallized midway through the year rather than be just one person. Originally it was going to be just the Vice President or the President or head of the CIA. So that was another one. And we weren't exactly sure at what point Carrie was going to have her manic breakdown. We kept pushing it off over the course of the season. Ultimately where we got to at the last two episodes was right, because it was just at the moment where she was most correct about what was going to happen, she was most discredited personally. That seemed like a good confluence of narrative events at the end of the season.


What do you say to those fans who feel they didn't get the satisfying, explosive ending?

I haven't had as much of a chance to sit down and read everything yet. I literally just went on vacation, and I haven't done all the reading I usually do to parse every response. It's funny. The negative things I've read are people—did people want Brody to throw the switch and actually blow himself up? Was that why people were dissatisfied? Or were people dissatisfied because they felt that we reset the show so it brings us back to square one for next season? What was your sense of the polarization? If you can crystallize it for me maybe I can respond to it better.


I think we live in a society where people feel a build up and have an idea of what they want. And some people did want Brody to go through with it. I don't know how that would work for the series as a whole, but it seems people want the instant gratification.

That is what was so great about the suicide vest for us. What we tried to do was put the audience in the position of, not sympathizing necessarily, but certainly understanding and at some level having some affection for this man, Brody. To have these crazy feelings about some guy who is going to commit an act of war. We never really considered what Brody was doing was an act of terrorism. This was an act of war in retaliation for some huge injustice that he saw overseas. He's a soldier who is committing an act of war. By putting him in that vest and putting him in that bunker and actually having him flip the switch felt to us like a dramatically satisfying, though maddening, moment, clearly. We felt we were being true to the character. He didn't chicken out. Something didn't happen there that would discount how we built his character up to this moment. So the fact that gets to this point, actually flips the switch and the vest malfunctions, felt to us like a very profound and ingenious way of having it both ways. And then he goes into the stall, tries to fix the vest, comes out determining to do it a second time, and this is the moment at which the relationship that we've been carefully building with his daughter all season long actually comes to the fore. And the one thing Nazir could not predict is how Brody would be emotionally connected to the people from his old life and his past. And that's the one thing Nazir could never plan for. And that's the one thing that came to save Brody, love. Love for his daughter. It felt to us like it felt emotionally true in the context of the characters that we built all season. The one thing we tried to do all season long was always have people behave in believable ways according to who they were as people. If there's one thing we're sanguine about with the finale, it's that we feel that everybody acted in comprehensible ways determined by who they were character-wise. You know, that Heraclitus as a man's character was a saint, and everybody's fate was determined by who they were as people in the finale. For us, it was satisfying on that level. It may not have been instantly gratifying to people. We also thought there's more of the Brody-Carrie story to tell, and to end it would be premature. There's a love story still to be played out between these two people.


Actually I want to talk a bit more about that. How does the ending set up Season 2? Do you have a clear picture of where you are going to go next?

I think we have a clear picture, but it's a pencil drawing right now. That is going to be the heart of the story, these two people. As it was in the first season. It's going to be played out on a different stage. These are two people who have recognized each other and recognized something IN each other that's very compelling to both of them. We're not going to be able to keep them apart.


Wow. Given everything that's happened between each them--accusations, backstabs, letdowns--you're definitely going back to the love story?

For us, sitting in the writers' room, the love story is the most profound and interesting part of this whole thing. Even at the end of the finale when Brody had to banish Carrie from his life, there was a sense that he was sending away the only other person in the world who really knows him and who he is, and that's tragic for him.


What I love about Carrie is that, from an audience's perspective, she's simultaneously a super-genius and, because of her illness, she's also a sort of unreliable narrator. And what we knew about Brody early on, we only knew it because Carrie told us or we observed Brody, rather than have Brody tell us. Can you discuss your intentions with the idea of perspective, and how you delivered information to the audience throughout the season?

It's so amazing to hear people like you talk about this, because that was exactly our intention. If you look at the first set of episodes this year, what we really tried to do was make Brody as ambiguous as we could. The audience was watching him through Carrie's eyes and looking for clues as to whether or not he'd been turned in captivity. It was all about that for the first five or six episodes. Then once we revealed that he had been turned in captivity by this event with Nazir's son, the question morphed into, "Now that we know he's been turned, will he or will he not carry out what he's agreed to do?" That actually became a much more interesting question than the binary one of "Was he or wasn't he turned?" Then the question became, he's reconnecting with his family, he's actually connecting with this woman Carrie Matheson, the idea of love or connection with human beings, is that going to prevent him from going through with this attack? And again we were looking for clues to see whether that would happen. How would his religion, his new conversion to Islam, how would that influence his decision to go through with this mass murder, this act of war? So it all became about perspective, it all became about us watching this man wondering whether or not he would go through with what he's agreed to do. Carrying over to next season, we have a very similar circumstance. Brody had to convince Nazir that the vest malfunctioning was actually the truth. Nazir doesn't know. Maybe Brody did chicken out [in Nazir's mind]. Nazir is also trying to put this together. So Brody had to pitch Nazir on Plan B. It's the long game, I'm going to insinuate myself into a position of power and influence and change the system from within. But then the question becomes, is he just trying to save his ass? Is he trying to prevent Nazir from putting the screws on his family? There's the videotape out there. All these questions are going to come to the fore in Season 2. How serious is Brody about his mission?



If there's one problem I had with Season 1, it was Brody's reason for turning. Can you talk about how that one instance--the drone strike--made him turn against his country and family, as well as forget about the events of September 11?

It's funny. I remember reading some of the blogs and people's comments about the series up to that episode (Episode 9, "Crossfire"). There was always the concern, "Oh we're never going to know. It's going to be like The Killing where we're never going to find out why Brody did what he did. It's going to be unsatisfying." Interestingly enough, the exact opposite happened. By us trying to explain it, people got upset that the explanation was too literal. Again, you're never going to please everyone all the time. You have to look at that moment with the drone strike and Issa in a much more complicated context. What I mean by that is, this is a man who had been kept in captivity, had been beaten, had been tortured, had been psychologically broken, had been denied human company for long stretches of time, and all of a sudden, been insinuated into Nazir's family and had made a connection with another human being in a way he had never expected to happen. Actually he probably expected to die in captivity. So you have to take a very fragile man, put him in that circumstance, have him establish a new connection with a human being, something he had never expected to happen, and then have that person taken away from him. It's not as rational as I think people respond to, it's much more irrational than that. It's about a man whose life became bound up with another person, this young boy, and then having that boy taken away from him in the most horrific way. I think that's how you have to look at Brody. You can't think that Brody an entirely sane and/or stable person. Because he's not, because of what he's been through.


One last question: Who gave Brody's former guard the razor blade in the interrogation room?

I'm going to leave that question open because we actually haven't exactly determined that for ourselves. There is clearly somebody inside the United States government who is on the Nazir payroll. But whether or not the razor blade itself was passed by that person is one we're going to keep to ourselves.


Thanks to Alex for taking time out of his vacation and speaking with us!


RELATED STORIES:
Homeland: A War With No Winners


Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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Despite my misgivings about the story line, show has really good acting. I hope they get it straightened out.
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Walker definitely got what he deserved but Brody gets his family back and he gets laid on the side. Come on! Next season can we thump the bad guys at least a little bit? Do we really have to make them look so darn smart while we look like all we can do is stumble around in the dark? Please? I miss you 24.
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if you're watching this expecting a '24 reboot' you're sadly misguided the show is so different it's like comparing south park and the vampire diaries!! 24 was very much about Jack bauer saving the day (despite some bad things happening) this show doesn't have winners or losers it's about a more realistic look at the war on terror and that neither side is right or wrong just that everybody gets hurt!!
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Lame, lame, lame! We waited all season for a crappy endng. The show had such potential but the writers lost their nerve. That season ender was awful. I was expecting so much more but instead Brody the main perpetrator just walks off into the sunset like he's some kind of a hero. No repercussions. Are you kidding me? Whoever watched the entire season and then felt good about that ending needs their head examined.

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the last question was da bomb! made me sleepless! well, sorta. hahaha
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Brody murdered Tom Walker and I'm certain he didn't leave a pristine murder scene. I'm wondering how the murder investigation will go and if it will lead to Brody as a suspect.
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Good interview. Especially because some of Ganza's answers reassured my interpretation of the events on the show. I don't like Claire Danes very much as an actress, but she (or her role) had some improvement during the season. I very much like Damien Lewis & Mandy Patinkin instead, both great actors in my opinion. Looking forward for the next season. There's a big way ahead now.
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What I love about the show is that Brody WASN'T "turned." The first few episodes set up the question of whether he had been brainwashed into becoming a terrorist or was still a gung ho American Marine, but either answer would have been unsatisfying. His videotape makes very clear that he is as true to his country as ever but that he has learned from what happened to Issa and the other children that his government isn't his country. He feels that he is serving his country by getting rid of the people who dishonored the country he loves. The suicide vest was not an attack on random people but on the very people who were complicit in the atrocity of murdering 82 innocent school children. Saul is the moral center of the story, and he would never have gone along with that war crime, which is why he was left out of it.



I'm disappointed in people who think that the murder of innocent children isn't a strong enough motivation for someone who loves his country to want to kill the people responsible. Of course, killing in revenge is never right, but for a soldier it would have to seem the obvious solution. I didn't need the excuse of his emotional "instability" to understand why he would consider the vice president and his team as domestic enemies of America. Even though suicide attacks, even against demonstrably guilty people, are never moral, they are certainly understandable.



Brody changing his mind about the suicide attack was perfect because it was love for his daughter that made him realize that such an act of violence was not the answer, or at least not an answer he was willing to execute. It makes me really anticipate Season 2. I enjoy the relationship stories, but I'm also interested in how the writers will handle Brody's dilemma of wanting to save America from the possible future President while also handling the actual terrorist Nazir, who doesn't much care who he kills in his war against the US government.
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Interesting interview! - I just have a problem with Alex Gansa's characterization of Brody's attempted suicide bombing as an "act of war". Nazir has been portrayed as being some kind of Osama (he has been a terrorist long before Issa's death) and once you completely stop worrying about collateral damage it's hard to talk in terms of (legitimate) warfare anymore. To define it as an "act of war" might have been Brody's rationalization for helping Nazir but after living for months with his family I had the feeling that he started to sense that killing all the secret service agents and other government officials who weren't directly involved in the drone attack along with the VP would constitute an act of terror, that there would be nothing patriotic about that. - Maybe Nazir's order to kill Walker will open Brody's eyes. He might become aware that he's just a pawn in Nazir's game, his grief for Issa being instrumentalized to induce him to commit an act of terror.



Brody's pain is real, his desire for retaliation for the injustice he witnessed justified, but the means (a terrorist attack) are clearly and unequivocally wrong. That doesn't mean the VP should be let off the hook. I'm just glad that Brody will probably find a more "constructive" way of exposing him.



About Nazir: I thought it strained credibility that he would even consider Brody's rationale for why it didn't make sense to execute the attack. To have moles/informants in the government surely was very important for state actors like the Soviet Union during the Cold War or maybe China today but for nonstate actors, especially terrorists, who are engaged in asymmetrical warfare it just doesn't make much sense. Their aim is not to undermine and influence and change a system from within but to wreak maximum havoc with the limited means they have (9/11 is the perfect example for this). So what more could somebody like Nazir want if not the opportunity to take out half the US government in one blow? - The writers might try to redefine Nazir as some sort of "Nasrallah" (the hisbollah leader) who's not merely a terrorist, but imo that won't be easy. My guess is that in the second season Nazir and Brody will gradually be pitted more and more against each other because Brody will come to realize that their aims and the means they are willing to use to achieve them are not (or only partly) the same.



Don't get me wrong, these rather critical remarks are no comment on the first season. Homeland has been one of the best TV shows in years and I'm confident that they will be able to maintain the quality in the second season. - Thank you, Alex Gansa!
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First, awesome interview, thanks for hitting the big questions.



@thomaspaine, I concur. I have been unable to overcome my own issue with Brody's intent to carry out this plan of Nazir's. It is not that I do not find Brody to be deserving of sympathy and compassion, it is not that I do not agree without reservation that Issa and the other 82 children that died in that drone attack deserve and have a right to justice, but I cannot accept this man we have come to know could be so committed to an act that is not an "act of war" but an act of terrorism, to be committed against his own people, or that he could be so oblivious or ambivalent to the irrevocable damage to his children his actions would have had. I may be in the minority, but I am grateful Brody did not go through with the attack and that in the end, he chooses to meet the problem in a very American way: change from the inside.



As to Nazir's motives or change of heart on the plan, we know from Carrie and Saul that Nazir is highly organized, well funded and incredibly connected. He comes across as rational and very well educated. Nazir is a thinking man, and he will be familiar with many of the great Western minds and fighters for social justice. I believe he is intelligent and calculating enough to see the value in Brody's plan. A bomb taking out a high ranking US politician will shock and hurt the American psyche and mobilize resources behind a military engagement to continue fighting terrorism, but the truth about the attack that killed Issa will never be revealed, and justice for Issa will be forever out of reach. But if Brody can insinuate himself into the upper echelons of gov't, he can systematically identify each participant in that terrible abuse of power, and who knows what sort of mischief he can get up to while he's at it. Bonus.
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I wonder who got the SD card!
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Tom Walker!!!!!
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Yes, but Alex Gansa implies in the interview that Brody doesn't find it. So it's probably going to play a role in the second season.
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Agree... I think it's vague and they'll be able to play it according to what they plan. I initially thought Walker too, but I doubt he ended up with it.
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What an amazing interview! I have a few episodes to catch up on, but wow, this is getting me excited to find some spare time and veg out on Homeland. I have to agree - I find the love story between Brody and Carrie compelling (for one, it isn't standard boy-meets-girl) but I'm also interested in seeing how this whole thing plays out. Great questions! Thanks for making my morning a thousand times better!
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Good interview.



My only issue is he still didn't convince me of Brody's reason for turning. I totally buy that it would have turned him initially, but I don't think it was strong enough to turn him and keep him turned with the conviction we saw towards the end of the season. We never really saw any moments where Brody was seriously struggling with his choice. I could have possibly bought it if they had gone with a more low key attack, but the vest is killing multiple people and seems extreme enough it would require even more devotion to the cause then other forms of attack.
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"We never really saw any moments where Brody was seriously struggling with his choice"



The whole finale was him struggling with his choice (hint : watch his face !). Furthermore, when he learned that Walker was still alive he stepped out before getting assaulted, abducted and remembered of the reason of his return. And I would bet that all those "immobile staring moments" (sitting or standing) all season long were about him struggling with his choice.
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Yea, I'll admit the finale was that, I meant before the finale. It seemed like they tried to add that on at the end. It was well done in the finale, but I didn't feel it was set up well enough. It took some of the impact out of the scene with his daughter on the phone (which was a great scene). I felt they built her character well enough for her side of the conversation, but for him it felt like they should have done more to set it up.



I again thought showing him that video was not really enough considering he was back living with his wife and kids. Without the wife and kids I could understand, or something less drastic then a bomb vest I could understand.



I would agree the immobile staring moments were probably him struggling with his choice, but they would have done well to give us one or two more scenes were it was obvious, or at least a few more clues.



I thought the scene when he first got home and was curled up in his bedroom was good, but too early to really help. More scenes like that would have been better.



Obviously that's just my opinion, and I did really enjoy the show
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I agree with you about the turning. Alex Gansa actually does a better job explaining it in this interview than the show did: episode 9 was the only episode of the whole season which wasn't fantastic.



I disagree with you though that they only added his moral struggle in the last episode. Actually this was my perspective on the show (and I'm sure I'm not the only one) from the moment it was made clear that he really had been turned. At first I pictured an ending with Carrie talking him out of executing an attack but in the last few episodes it became clear that this would be Dana's role. So the climactic scene with Brody and Dana was predictable in a good way because imo it was totally consistent with the narrative logic of the previous episodes and with character development in general.
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Sorry, I didn't mean to suggest they just came up with the idea of him having a moral struggle and tacked it on at the end. I understand they had it planned the whole time, I just don't think they did enough work setting up Brody's character for it.

I would agree with everything your saying. I knew Brody would be stopped in some way, and then it became clear it would be Dana. The last scene between them was fairly predictable (in a good way), but mainly because of Dana's character development.

While Dana's character development felt solid and complete, it didn't feel like they did a lot to develop Brody once we found out why he was turned. Knowing where the season was going to end, it seems like they could have done more to set up the internal struggle he was going through.

I would have loved a scene with him obviously struggling with his choice once he gets the bomb vest (or during the scene when he picks it up).





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finale was outstanding TV. congratulations to all involved: understood it, connected with it, loved it.
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Thanks for this Tim. I'm really looking forward to the next season. I always thought that it couldn't possibly be as one sided, this tragically beautiful love story as it has been portrayed in these recent episodes. While Carrie always took time out to think of Brody amidst all the chaos that was happening in her life, we never saw Brody indulging in the same, pretty explicable because he was dead set on his mission. But I always wondered what went through his mind when he rejected Carrie in her apartment and his subsequent betrayal, though the most profound moment should be when he is quietly expressing his rage over her having contact with Dana. That Carrie came so close to saving his family. If even part of this is addressed in Season 2, I'll be happy!
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Thanks!

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Fantastic interview. You asked some great questions, Tim. Were you a beat reporter at any time in your career? And Alex Gansa's answers were very thoughtful. I've never really been hung up on Brody's reason for turning, but I thought Alex rationalized Brody's emotional irrationality quite well. But after reading this article, what I'm most excited about is the writers intentions to further develop the quixotically endearing relationship between Brody and Carrie. It's weird, but I can't help but root for these two.



"We're not going to be able to keep them apart" - This made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
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Thanks! Never been a beat reporter, it just took me 6 years to figure out how to ask questions, I guess. I love talking to showrunners. Way more interesting than actors. But I'd be willing to personally interview Claire Danes and Morena Baccarin and nice bottle of wine.
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I'm really looking forward to the Brody/Carrie relationship continuing and growing, especially considering Carrie's mental instability and Brody's backstabbing. I'd like to see how they interact with each other, now that Brody shouldn't be corresponding with her because of his political intentions and Carrie's dismissal from the CIA.
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I like the answer he gives in explaining Brody's response to Issa's death. I haven't thought of it too much, but I never had a problem with the way Brody was turned. To me, it seemed reasonably unreasonable for him to turn because of Issa.



Cool interview.
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i liked the finale
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