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25 Scoops in 25 Days

Homeland star breaks silence on Quinn's 'unrecognizable' return

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To celebrate our Winter TV Preview (on newsstands Jan. 6), EW is bringing fans 25 Scoops in 25 Days. From now until the end of the month, follow the hashtag #25Scoops25Days on Twitter and Instagram to keep up with the latest — and check EW.com/25scoops for all the news and surprises.

You thought Peter Quinn was a goner. At one point while shooting Homeland last season, actor Rupert Friend thought he was too. “Showrunner Alex Gansa actually called me and said, ‘Listen, thanks for all your hard work and that’s the end of Quinn,” he says. Gansa doesn’t recall being quite so definitive, but at one point he was leaning toward saying goodbye to the steely fan-favorite CIA operative in that sarin gas chamber.

“There was a moment toward the end of last season where I let [Friend] know there was a fairly decent chance he wasn’t going to survive,” Gansa tells us. “We probably thought he was going to die in the gas chamber. But as these things morph and change, as we got closer to that moment, we found a more interesting way to end it. We began filling in the blanks, and there was a need for a character for Quinn to interact with while he’s captured by the bad guys. And as that relationship between them developed, we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if this guy saved Quinn’s life?’ And that led to the whole idea of him not dying in that environment.”

In that season 5 finale, Carrie(Clarie Danes) reads a moving letter than Quinn wrote to her before his tragedy. “Rupert wrote the letter,” Gansa reveals. “It was a moment of showrunning genius where I was so exhausted at the end of making an episode that I was like, ‘Rupert, hey, why don’t you take a run at this?’ And he did a great job.”

So what did it mean, we wondered, that final scene in Quinn’s hospital room last year? Carrie seemed like she was going to smother Quinn to put him out of his misery. Gansa says he never meant for the scene to lead fans down the wrong path.

“The season began with Carrie Mathison taking communion in a Roman Catholic church in Germany,” he explains. “It ended with her having to make the decision about whether to take a life or not. Was she going to be true to that newfound religiosity? Or was she going to grant Quinn’s wish to put an end to him? And we were left with that moment, a moment of grace when the sun comes from behind the cloud’s and illuminates Quinn’s face. And what was Carrie going to do? … I was surprised watching the response that people assumed she was going to go through with it. Our intention in the filmmaking was to leave it ambiguous.”

So where does that leave Quinn in season 6? Changed. Very much changed (the above photo is from last season).

“Peter has been to hell and come back, and not necessarily come back in one piece,” says Friend, opening up about the new season after months of radio silence. “He’s not really even sure if his life is one that’s worth living.”

Exactly how damaged we find Quinn in season 6 is a secret, but let’s just say it’s not subtle.

In the premiere, Quinn’s in a veterans hospital in New York (where the season’s action has shifted after going to Berlin last year) struggling to adapt to his new circumstances. In a way, Quinn’s new storyline is a callback to the show’s very first season when Brody (Damien Lewis) was the focus. “One of the very first ideas [executive producer Howard Gordon] and I had when we talked about Homeland was there was no show on television dramatizing the return of our soldiers from Iraq and Afganistan,” Gansa says. “So now we really get to watch a true causality of the war on terror.”

Friend adds: “Homeland is doing something I don’t think any TV show has done before, where you have a character in season 6 and he’s basically unrecognizable from the previous seasons. Some will say, ‘But where’s my old friend?’ But that’s not the way the world works.”

Other big stories this season include Carrie trying to atone for past sins by helping innocent Muslims battle law enforcement persecution, and Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) wrangling with a new president-elect (Elizabeth Marvel).  The latter is an experienced, capable woman who really enjoys her CIA intelligence briefings — Homeland is often prescient with its politics, but lost a bet this time around. “This season is counter-factual,” admits Gansa, “but that might wind up being a virtue. There will be an element of wish fulfillment for some people.”

In other words: For once, the Homeland’s D.C. politics might seem less scary than real life.

The season 6 trailer:

Homeland returns Jan. 15.