“Look, these highly serialized dramas are a high-wire act, and occasionally on the wire, you’re going to fall off,” acknowledged “Homeland” executive producer Howard Gordon at the end of a long press conference call to discuss the Showtime drama’s second season finale. “And if we did fall off this year now and then, I like to think we had a safety net under us, and that that net was our audience, who said they believed in us that we could get back up and cross to the other side. (What a completely convoluted metaphor!) But that was our hope for the finale: that people understood now why Nazir was doing what he was doing, why Brody was doing what he was doing, and what Carrie was thinking. We’re very rigorous about that. Not to defend the show, but in our minds, we have answers to why everything happened. And hopefully we answered things a lot of the questions people had in the finale. And now we can start again in season 3 and begin the journey with everybody one more time.”
Gordon and “Homeland” showrunner Alex Gansa didn’t exactly spend the conference call defending the second season (I reviewed the finale here), but a lot of it was spent on discussing the various objections many critics and viewers had to different storytelling decisions, and whether they were either plausible or relevant to the world of “Homeland.” And they said as much as they were capable of saying about plans for a third season, given that there have literally only been two meetings about it so far, and Gordon hasn’t attended either one.
Among the plot questions fielded over the hour-long call:
* Carrie and Brody were able to get away quickly from CIA headquarters after the bombin because, per Gansa, “Chaos ensued after the explosion, and the first responders were not there to secure the perimeter. The intimation is that Brody and Carrie were able to slip out of the chaos.”
* Though Brody is now the most infamous terrorist in the world, and already had a very recognizable face due to his public rescue from captivity and then his ascent to VP-in-waiting, Gansa suggested that he might be able to make a go of it as a fugitive because, for now, the world likely assumes he died in the explosion, and he has the benefit of all of Carrie’s best, most trusted contacts to keep him safe and get him far away from Washington. (More on Brody’s future role on the show – or lack thereof – in a bit.)
* The CIA wasn’t monitoring Brody’s phone at the time Abu Nazir called him with the demand to murder Vice-President Walden because they believed the operation was already done after they had arrested the rest of Nazir’s American terror network, and, as Gansa says, “They had mistakenly stopped monitoring his movements and his phone.”
* Despite Brody’s crucial role as the patsy in the bombing (more on that, too, shortly), his contact Roya was willing to risk sending him to get the Gettysburg tailor earlier this season because, according to Gansa, “Roya had not assembled her network yet. She didn’t have any operatives on the ground.” Also, she believed the tailor would be too suspicious of anyone but Brody appearing at his door.
* Even though Brody was known to Saul, Estes, Quinn and others as a former terrorist who previously was part of a plot to assassinate Walden, and even though Brody was alone in the room with Walden when he died, no one suspected him of playing a role because, per Gansa, “There were no marks on Walden’s body. This is a man who was known to have a bad heart. He died of natural causes of the heart attack. Short of yelling at Walden very loudly to panic him into a heart attack, there was no trace. That was one of the things that we thought in favor of the pacemaker story was that Brody was in the room with Walden, got to play a death scene with them, however, was completely innocent in the eyes of the world in his death… There was no need for an investigation.”
And on the subject of other storytelling decisions that generated grumbling (or, at least, raised eyebrows) in different corners of the show’s fandom:
* The show moved very quickly through various storylines that could have potentially gone on for much longer – Carrie trapped in civilian life, Carrie going after Brody again with CIA support, Carrie running Brody as an asset – because, Gansa said, with most of them, “The feeling was that it was old ground that we had covered in season 1.” The goal was to get to the moment when Nazir and Walden were both dead, and where Carrie and Brody might be able to contemplate a happy ending with one another.
* Gordon said that the hit-and-run storyline involving Brody’s daughter Dana and Walden’s son Finn was “one of those where there was a deeper plan for it that morphed halfway through the season,” though neither he nor Gansa could recall specific details of the original plan. That said, the goal was to damage the relationship between Brody and Dana, re-establish the amorality of Walden, and also give actress Morgan Saylor, whom the producers love, more to do.
And that motivation leads, in some ways, to the question of what, if anything, Brody’s role might be in the show’s immediate future.
Gansa wasn’t willing to commit to the exact role – or lack thereof – Damian Lewis, Morena Baccarin and the other actors playing Brody’s friends and family might have in the third season. He suggested several times that Brody could not appear in the third season at all, and then return at a later date.
“I do think,” he said, “that there is value in the fact that he’s still alive and still in the world somewhere, even if he doesn’t make an appearance in season three. And I’m not saying that’s necessarily going to happen. But the fact that he’s still alive would mean something to Carrie.”
But Gordon also acknowledged that any motivation they would have for keeping Lewis in the fold wouldn’t come from the fact that he’s the reigning Emmy winner for lead actor in a drama series.
“Obviously, you can’t let the tail wag the dog,” he said. “All the awards in the world won’t give rise to a character or a story that’s either run its course or had whatever shelf life it has. As Alex has said, we love this relationship, it’s become one of the defining pillars of the show… Whenever the relationship is no longer the center of the show. I think as tempting as it is, and as afraid as we are, you can’t let all the awards and acclaim – and Damian’s brilliance – dictate the story in terms of where it needs to go.”
The (very vague) plan for season 3 so far is to deal with the rebuilding of the CIA in the wake of Nazir’s attack. For now, at least, Saul is the acting director, though that’s a politically appointed position under normal circumstances. If they can work out a deal with actor F. Murray Abraham, they might bring Dar Adal out of retirement to help staff up the Agency – and provide conflict with Saul – but the goal in the short term will be to show Carrie and Saul dealing with this strange new world, and possibly going after a different kind of target.
“One thing we might not do again is have Carrie try to stop or witness another attack on America,” Gansa said. “We might try a different propulsive trope.”
And then, of course, there are the loyalty questions still being debated in many parts of the internet (including the comments for my finale review): Was Brody in on it? Is there still a mole? Could it be Saul?
Early in the call, Gansa acknowledged that “A lot of people have told me that they still have a glimmer of doubt about Brody, and if you watch his behavior in the finale, there are moments where it’s a little uncertain about whether or not he was responsible,” and he added that, “It’s up for you guys to interpret, because I don’t want to tell you what to think. But we deliberately left the door open for that possibility.”
Later, a critic asked whether the show at some point has to play fair with us about Brody’s motivations, and that if we can’t believe what he tells Carrie in the finale about being Nazir’s patsy, then why should we believe anything he says going forward?
“Frankly, I completely agree with you,” Gansa replied, “but that doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there that still believe – still think there’s that possibility. I just don’t want to dissuade anybody from that. It’s in Damian’s performance. Both Carrie and Brody are damaged people, and I think that their behavior and allegiances may not be as transparent as somebody less damaged. That’s the only takeaway. I agree with you. If you look back on the season, you would have to think hard to understand why he did certain things, if indeed, he was partially responsible for what happened.”
Gordon added that they weren’t suggesting there was intentional ambiguity with Brody’s actions, but, “I think people were reading into that… We’re playing fair with the audience, but we are astounded sometimes with what people read into it. Most notably Saul last year. He says the mourner’s prayer over a suspect, which is just an act of humanity, and suddenly people said, ‘He’s the mole.'”
(Speaking of which, that happened again in this finale, where Saul again recites the Kaddish prayer, and because the Aramaic of the prayer sounds a lot like Arabic, some viewers who don’t recognize the prayer as a Jewish one took this as evidence that Saul was secretly working for Nazir.)
Because of that – and because Gordon and Gansa used to work on “24,” a show that took great advantage of the idea that almost anyone (except Jack and Chloe) could prove to be a mole at any time – I asked whether they were ever frustrated that their audience wouldn’t take certain events at face value.
“I think the shows are viewed similarly and dissimilarly,” said Gordon. “I think we’ve educated an audience with a vocabulary of paranoia. I think people become much more active viewers on a show like this. They’re looking for behaviors and twists, and sometimes seeing things that aren’t there. I think it’s an advantage, that they’re paying such close attention. I don’t know that it’s frustrating. It’s more surprising than frustrating. I think on balance it’s a good thing. It means people are engaging with what they’re watching… But I think we’re all stunned sometimes by the interpretation of meaning.”
Some other subjects of note from the call:
* Again, plans for season 3 are extremely tentative, but when asked whether Peter Quinn would be a part of it, Gansa said, “Absolutely.”
* Gansa said that some of Carrie’s behavior this season was driven by being on a very measured course of Lithium, where last year she was self-medicating and trying to let her manic genius out, and “There is this idea that possibly her genius is dulled a little bit by maintaining this emotional equilibrium, which we’re going to explore next season.”
* The producers played no role in discussions among Showtime executives David Nevins, Matthew Blank and Les Moonves about whether or not to air the finale – which included mass casualties – only two days after the tragedy in Newton, CT. But both approved of the decision to run a disclaimer, and Gansa argued that they tried not to be exploitative of the violence by, for instance, making sure we only saw the bodies in bags or under sheets. “That’s the real thing,” he added, “and this is a television show.”
* Gordon called the recent “Saturday Night Live” spoof “a double-edged sword,” and acknowledged that “it’s one of the highest cultural honors to be lampooned by ‘SNL.'”
* Because of Fienberg’s interest in the subject, I asked if Saul might ever sing on the show. Gansa said they’re going to try to include a Mandy Patinkin musical performance (which he often does between takes) on the season 2 gag reel. When I asked if that was his way of saying that Saul would not be singing in character anytime soon, he said, “I don’t know, but that’s a good question.”
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org