Press tour: ‘Homeland’ producers defend season 3, preview season 4

“The criticism hurt, the lack of an Emmy nomination hurt, but we’re going to come back strong and try to get back to the mountaintop.”

This was “Homeland” co-creator Alex Gansa, appearing with his fellow writers Alexander Cary and Meredith Stiehm at a press tour panel designed to preview the Showtime drama’s fourth season (which debuts October 5), but that spent a lot of time revisiting a lot of the complaints about season 3.

Gansa tried to steer into that particular skid by opening the panel with a joke about how the series will have to move on without a character whom viewers loved to hate, or hated to love – only he was referring not to Nicholas Brody, but Dana Brody. (He later said that it wasn’t likely the Brody family would appear this season.)

But he, Cary and Stiehm spent much of the panel politely but firmly disagreeing with various season 3 criticisms.

On the plausibility, for instance, of Carrie Matheson being promoted by the CIA after her stunts, disobedience and treasonous behavior last season, Gansa insisted, “What Saul and Carrie pulled off last season was remarkable. It was fraught along the way, but ultimately, they were responsible for reconciling two countries that haven’t spoken in three decades… I viewed Carrie and Saul’s journey last season as one of tremendous success, and one that went out on a winning note.”

(Stiehm also noted that, “Emotionally, she has stabilized, and the mental illness that we’ve dealt with, she has now dealt with. She’s going into this season very steady. I think there are some people so talented that you forgive past deeds and bad behavior.”)

He also spent a long time justifying Carrie and Saul’s behavior during the early part of the season where they were pulling a long con on both the intelligence community and the audience – saying they learned in their discussions with former CIA agents that “The best operations are 95 percent true” – before acknowledging, “I’m explaining after the fact, which is never a good thing, so if people didn’t read that when they were watching the episode, okay.”

“We love our show, and we bleed for our show,” Gansa said at one point. “So when there’s any criticism that comes back our way, we take it seriously and we take it personally. It’s hard for us to view what we’ve done objectively. I think Brody’s participation in the season was limited for the reason you mentioned: we didn’t have a lot more road to go with him. I’m biased, but I don’t know how you can look at the last six or seven episodes we did last season and not say ‘Homeland’ is one of the best shows on television.”

With Brody deceased – even if a year or two later than some viewers might have preferred – and Carrie operating overseas (the new season is being filmed in South Africa, but much of the action will be set in Pakistan and elsewhere), season 4 does offer something of an opportunity for a clean break – Stiehm referred to the process of breaking the season’s stories to making a new pilot – and perhaps a reason for viewers to return or continue if they were otherwise considering leaving.

“The viewership for ‘Homeland’ has never ebbed,” Gansa said. “It has flowed since the first season. There is definitely an opportunity to lose some viewers who were invested in Brody completely, and an opportunity to gain a whole new set, by virtue of the fact that a very compelling character is in a very compelling part of the world.”

Some other notables from the panel, and from the brief assemblage of footage we were shown:

* Where the first three seasons were largely defined by the Carrie/Brody relationship, Gansa said that, “I do think that the show is about the private and public costs of keeping America safe. That’s the over-arching theme of the season. We put a character at the center of that – a compelling character, hopefully, in Carrie Matheson – to identify the personal costs to the journey. But there is also a national cost.”

* James Rebhorn, who played Carrie’s father on the show, recently died, leaving a void in the cast and in her storyline. “Jim Rebhorn was one of the kindest, most supportive and wonderful men to work with,” Gansa said, “and we want to honor him this season, but how we go about doing it, I’d rather not say.”

* “The Strain” star Corey Stoll has a recurring role in the new season, and will not be wearing a wig. I repeat: Corey Stoll will be bald again.

* While planning the season, the producers spent two weeks pondering the idea of filming in Israel, Gansa said, “And all I can tell you is I am very happy that we didn’t.”