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!
Homeland: A War With No Winners