By James Hibberd
October 21, 2013 at 04:39 AM EDT
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SPOILERS: Just when you started to think the Homeland team was writing season 3’s scripts in Crazy Carrie’s green pen, Sunday night’s hour unveiled a twist that upended everything you have seen this season.

The Emmy-winning Showtime drama series’ first few episodes this fall showed Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) locked in a mental institution, publicly humiliated, betrayed by the CIA and — most hurtfully — thrown under the bus by her closest ally and father figure Saul (Mandy Patinkin). It was a brutal arc that left some viewers frustrated and dismayed. Then at the very end of tonight’s hour, there was this revelation: Carrie and Saul have been secretly in cahoots to ruin her reputation to lure out the mastermind responsible for last season’s memorial bombing. Suddenly it seems Carrie isn’t a reckless victim, but as the episode’s “Game On” title suggests, very much in the game, and has been this whole time.

What’s particularly brilliant about this move is that Carrie’s live-wire methods and hunches constantly test the trust and faith of everybody around her. But fans are accustomed to being in the loop, and we get to feel righteously judgmental when others doubt Carrie because we know the truth. This season, the writers gambled by turning the tables: They tested our faith and trust — in Carrie’s sanity, in Saul’s morality, and in the wisdom of the show’s own narrative path.

Below, showrunner Alex Gansa takes our burning questions about the twist, tackles online Dana bashing, and teases the rest of the season:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You tricked us!

ALEX GANSA: I hope in a nice way. Was it in a nice way?

Yes, definitely.

Great. I was an amateur magician when I was in my early teens and my favorite magic tricks were always the ones where the magician makes the audience think he’s made a mistake. Then at the end of the trick you realize the magician has been ahead of you all the time. I hope we came close to that.

So all these weeks fans who were getting annoyed about Carrie being crazy again, getting locked up and Saul throwing her under the bus, were you just reading the online comments thinking, “You just wait. I’ll show you. I’ll show you all!”

I was just hoping we hadn’t played it for one or two episodes too long. It was a long con and maybe we played it for one episode too many. I have no idea, we’re too close to it. I hope it goes a long way toward answering a lot of questions the first three episodes posed.

So presumably that twist was planned from the start as the way of getting Carrie back in the game — not that she apparently ever left.

Absolutely. We view season 3 in three movements, each four episodes, and this is the end of the first movement.

Did you expect viewers to react as strongly as some did to the first three episodes?

We were hoping they would react strongly. In discussions with our consultants — CIA officers both retired and active that we talk to — all of these intelligence operations, the most successful ones are the ones that are the most true. And this is 95 percent true. She and Saul were culpable for what happened at the end of season two. Carrie was questioning her meds. And Saul, the mantle of leadership does not rest easily on his shoulders. Everything is true — except they’re playing a ruse.

Did Carrie really go off her meds, or just pretend to? 

Carrie went off her meds because she truly believes that on them she was dulled. That part is accurate. And the fact that she’s dismayed beyond belief to have been left on that psych ward was true. But it was required. That was the part of the sacrifice that she had to make.

Thus Carrie telling Saul to f–k off when only he could hear it — it makes sense, just in a different way.

Right.

And the other part of this relief is that Saul wasn’t selling her out.

He was clearly the one who leaked the information to the committee about her having an affair with Brody (Damian Lewis) But she was aware that was going to happen. It didn’t diminish the power of it actually happening in front of a national audience. So when she’s reacting to what Saul’s saying, she’s reacting to what it really means, that this is what it feels like. You go back and watch it again. We spent a lot of time with Claire on the set making sure both [ways of viewing the story] were playing.

But then what are we to make of Carrie going to Saul’s house all agitated looking to confront him after he made that revelation?  

She was going back to talk to him about it. And since she didn’t find him there and only Carrie and Saul are playing this, she has to play a role for Mira.

So Saul is the only person who knows? Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) is not in on this?

No. It was hatched between Saul and Carrie in the days following the CIA attack.

If Saul is the only person who knows, that still makes her position pretty vulnerable.

Correct. And it doesn’t make things entirely sanguine between them either. He’s still asking her to do more and she’s not entirely comfortable with it and it has exacted a toll on both of them.

And it was such a public shaming. Now everybody in America thinks Carrie is totally unprofessional and slutty.

They had to find a silver lining in what happened. How do they catch the people responsible? They dangle her out as bait.

I have been wondering if you guys think that Carrie being off her meds and out of control is a bit like Jack Bauer going into exile during every cycle for 24, then he’s brought back into the fold — or, in Carrie’s case, back to sanity. Do you think it’s something she will keep going back to?

This is the plight of a lot of people with bipolar diseases. They miss the highs of being medication-free. That’s when they feel most alive. So to go on medication feels like denying some intrinsic part of themselves. Our view of Carrie’s battle with the meds this season is very much a professional one and in our view it’s very different than what’s come before. She’s doing this because she feels incredibly guilty because she didn’t see what was in front of her eyes in season two. She wants her eyes to be fully open.

Don’t you, as a writer, feel Carrie is a compelling enough character to write her for a whole season without her being off her meds, or out of control?

I think clearly the answer is yes. One of the things you’ll discover this season is that she very much is on her game. What she’s pulled off is huge. And she’s done it in an incredibly professional way and sacrificed a great deal in the process. She’s been an unbelievable intelligence officer these first four episodes.

NEXT: Dana’s online backlash “started to drive me mad”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: After all that Carrie went through, we feel like we need a hug from Saul too. Do you promise to never mislead and abuse us again?

ALEX GANSA: A promise I cannot make.

You mentioned a moment ago that CIA consultants advise on the show. There’s a moment where the lawyer said what will happen to Carrie if she continues on her current path — that she’ll be beaten down, “controversialized,” and then she will be killed. Do you think that’s the way our government would treat an agent in that position?

Well, look. There’s a long ignoble tradition of intelligence agents eating their own. I would point you to [former CIA case officer] Bob Baer talking about Homeland in the New Republic. He says that’s one of the parts of Homeland that rings true to him. There are scapegoats who are thrown out who don’t deserve it. There is psychological pressure. You can be polygraphed at any moment. Your public and private life are scrutinized. You sign away a tremendous amount of your constitutional rights when you become an intelligence officer.

Talk about the addition of Fara (Nazanin Boniadi). Was it important to have another Muslim character on the good guy’s side?

The short answer is yes. But you will see she’s a conflicted character too. She’s not just wearing a white hat. Her allegiance is torn. But she feels compelled in the wake of this attack by the Iranians to lend a hand.

Another thing that’s interesting is that Saul and Fara’s intelligence gathering is leading them Caracas, where Brody is. So presumably those plot lines are intersecting at some point?

They intersect, but not in a literal way.

I really liked Brody’s episode in the Tower of David. It’s a very unique setting, What else can we expect with that storyline?

We had originally thought to set that story in a South Eastern or South American jungle, in a very Graham Greene-like setting. In fact, the character of the doctor is called Dr. Graham in honor of him. Then there was a piece in the New Yorker about the Tower of David in Caracus. And we thought that would be a very interesting and unique place to set the story. And a CIA intelligence agency does have some rather nefarious connections with South American drug dealers — you just have to witness what happened during Iran Contra scandal. So it’s quite plausible that Carrie might have had dealings with some warlords down there. We found an an empty building in San Juan where the construction have stopped.

I’m pretty sure people are going to be reacting on Twitter Sunday night to that road trip for Dana. Can you talk about that storyline?

Poor Dana has been getting some heat this season. Brody is a huge part of the architecture of this season as you’ll see as we move into the last eight episodes. And his relationship with his daughter is a big fulcrum in this season. We really had to set her emotional table here; what she’s been through as a result of what she thinks he’s done. That’s why we’re telling that story.

What’s your take on the online backlash?

I have stopped reading it. It started to drive me mad at the end of the last season, and I’m not kidding. I have stopped reading all that stuff. I hear anecdotally people think we’re giving her too much room on the show. It’s a story we thought we should be telling and it’s important to the last eight episodes.

I can’t help but empathize for the actress (Morgan Saylor), the content of the criticism seems over the top sometimes.

Bill Mahr had some funny things to say about the whole Twitter culture. People just have license to be so mean — about Mother Teresa for godsakes.

Is there any chance of Dana’s storyline intersecting with the rest of the story?

The story intersects on an emotional level. Her talking about her father lying to her while looking at the place he deployed — that’s an important emotional strand. That’s an important thematic strand. She feels she was lied to and the relationship she had with her father is bankrupt.

Another choice is that this is the first season without a clear sense of the potential villain or threat so far. Saul is investigating the Iranian group responsible for the CIA bombing, but that feels pretty distant at this point. Will that get clearer now?

That’s correct. You’ll start to understand who Majid Javadi is and the history Saul has with this person.

So if you were to tease the rest of the season, how would you do it?

We’ve got some new characters stepping up to the stage. Sen. Lockhart is coming back. We got Dar Adal as major character now. We got Fara. Quinn is going to be a major character this season. The theme of this season is the cost of being an intelligence officer. We will see that. We’ve already seen that Quinn shot that kid — that’s going to be big part of the show.  This season will begin to pick up pace now. By the time we move into the last five episodes, we’ll be back in breakneck speed again. In the writer’s room, we’ve been playing a long con too.

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