Credit: Kent Smith/Showtime
Episode 601

Brody’s on a potential suicide mission. Carrie’s pregnant and off her meds. Saul is, once again, impressing us with his Langley warrior’s code of honor. Showtime’s Homeland is having its most-watched season yet and heating up for its home stretch, which will spend the bulk of its time following Brody’s assassination attempt on a high-ranking government official in Iran. We talked to showrunner Alex Gansa after Sunday’s riveting ninth episode that included Brody (Damian Lewis) coming off heroin, reuniting with Carrie (Claire Danes) and departing on his dangerous mission. Will Brody ever return?

Entertainment Weekly: That might have been the best episode of the season. Usually I like the episodes that are more story driven, but even though not a lot actually happened in terms of action I was pretty riveted.

Gansa: I’m glad you thought so. It’s a relief. The director, Jeffrey Reiner, did a fantastic job.

We’ve seen a lot of withdrawal scenes before. Can you talk about what you wanted to do differently with Brody?

Gansa: We looked at Gene Hackman’s performance in the second French Connection movie, which was incredible and somehow very personal — that’s what we wanted Brody to go through. Something that felt intimate and personal and not the same old thing. I know Damian did a tremendous amount of research and talked to junkies about what withdrawal is like. I think we do it in a very impressionistic way without spending too much time on it. And we introduced this drug ibogaine that speeds the process up that we learned about in our research.

I wasn’t sure if that was a real thing or an invention to take the scene to the next level.

Gansa: It’s totally a real thing.

Clearly you don’t ever want to go to CIA rehab.

Gansa: But we got to bring in Nazir and Tom Walker again. We’re trying to bring some of these characters full circle and back into Brody’s consciousness and give the audience a sense of what this character has been through and what Saul is asking him to do again.

What was it like shooting the withdrawal scenes with Damian?

Gansa: They were horrific to shoot. It was an extreme physical journey for him to go through. We shot a lot of raw footage. We used about 20 percent of it. Damian gave us a lot of raw material to work with.

You have a montage in there as he gets his strength back. I don’t know if you have done one before, but it was effective.

Gansa: We initially as a joke set it to the Rocky theme. I believe it’s our third montage we’ve had … but this is really the first [protracted] montage we’ve done and we anguished over it a little bit.

I also liked the special-ops team, how they handled Brody and pushed back at Saul. How much more will we get to see of them?

Gansa: You’re going to see quite a bit of them in episode 10. I don’t know if you noticed, but they’re all Arab-Americans.

I noticed, but wasn’t sure what to make of it.

Gansa: You will learn what to make of it in the next episode.

We also had some great moments with Saul (Mandy Patinkin). As much as we want to see him nail Lockhart (Tracy Letts), he refuses to embarrass his wife.

Gansa: That’s one of my favorite scenes in episode nine. It accomplishes so much because it does speak to Saul’s humanity and to his deep loyalty to his wife and his loyalty to the CIA and where he puts his values — rather than stay on as director himself, he realizes how much damage outing Lockhart would do the agency. If you watch the scene, Lockhart clocks that. He’s looking at Saul and learning a lesson about putting the institution first.

Lockhart’s been so consistently antagonistic, I haven’t gotten the impression he’s capable of learning anything.

Gansa: Right, but I think that’s the first moment where you see it. He realizes, “This is a formidable person sitting in front of me.”

So Iran: How much of the rest of the season will be spent over there vs. over here?

Gansa: That’s the course the next three episodes will follow. Following that mission is where we take our main characters through the [end of the season]. The last three episodes, at least three quarters of them are set in the Middle East.

Brody was concerned about the extraction plan and whether there is one during the briefing. Should we be concerned about that too?

Gansa: That’s the big concern. What Brody is going into is a dangerous and might be legitimately considered a suicide mission. It kind of reminds me of Nazir’s appearance in America last season. People took great issue with how could Nazir get into the country, but what they didn’t realize was Nazir was on a suicide mission, so he could take every possible risk because he knew he didn’t have to get him out. In a way, Brody entering Iran has that same flavor — is he ever going to get out of there, and can the CIA really be expected to extract him if he kills Akbari.

I read that Showtime forbid you from killing off Brody last season. Is that true? And if it is true, does that still apply?

Gansa: First of all, that is not true. Showtime was very vocal about the desire to keep Brody alive, but they were completely open to the idea that Brody could die last year, could die this year, could die next year. It’s really about when the time is right and when that story’s shelf life has expired.

Though when the network is telling you “we really want this to continue,” it must put some pressure on you as somebody who would like to continue being the showrunner.

Gansa: It does. But I have to say there is a tremendous amount of goodwill between Showtime and the writing staff of the show. The dialog has been incredibly productive over the years. Though we have to respect Showtime’s wishes, they never would have forced us to do something we didn’t think was right. And frankly, I’m happy they convinced us not to kill Brody in the first or second season. Because we get to play out what happens this year. I think it’s going to be incredibly exciting.

Is Jessica out of the picture?

Gansa: I will let everybody wait with baited breath for the Brody family to re-appear.

We’ve talked before about the Dana (Morgan Saylor) online reactions before. Even if somebody doesn’t like her character, I don’t see how they couldn’t be moved by that scene with her and Brody.

Gansa: Well, here’s the thing: That scene between Brody and his daughter was a scene we knew was coming and were preparing for. And if you didn’t understand what Dana had gone through after his escape from America, if you didn’t see the pain and degradation she experienced, that scene wouldn’t have been as effective. Which is not to say that we maybe played too much Dana. But you had to play something so you could see the pain she went through — the divorce she articulated with her family, and her complete despair when her love affair ended badly. Hopefully when people watch that scene and are moved by that scene they can look back and excuse where we took Dana for the first four, five episodes.

One thing viewers got irked by a couple episodes back is Carrie jeopardizing a surveillance operation to try and clear Brody’s name. Would Carrie really be placing her own needs ahead of the operation when she’s so consistently placed the operation ahead of her own needs this season?

Gansa: It’s a legitimate point. You have to either buy Carrie’s impulsiveness in that moment or not. Clearly we believed that in the course of the pregnancy, she’s starting to face the fact that she’s carrying Brody’s child and wants him to be exonerated. In that moment, it outweighed her operational imperative. That’s how we played the story. One point that’s been missed by a lot of people is that Carrie has been tremendously successful as an intelligence operative this season. She has been. What she put herself through, how she lured Javadi, what she did was heroic. She has been on-point in a way we didn’t really see in the first two seasons … We’ve taken a little critical heat [this season], but I think we’re still building an audience and that is gratifying.

So by that are we to assume she’s keeping the baby? One critic pointed out Carrie seems like the type of person who’s such a single-minded careerist that she would, frankly, get an abortion.

Gansa: I welcome that kind of speculation about Carrie’s character. One of the fascinating things that we’ve found in discussing Carrie’s pregnancy is that she didn’t really believe it until she was 14 weeks pregnant, at which point things becomes a lot realer and the decision becomes a lot more difficult to terminate. And there’s the fact the man she loves is out there and missing. And since this is a part of him, I think it makes it doubly difficult to terminate. I’m going to wait for people to watch the last couple episodes because the pregnancy does factor in. We all welcome the debate about what Carrie would or would not do with that child, but I really believe it’s an open question. Some say she’s a careerist, others say she’s really in love with Brody. It’s a real conundrum for her. And for us, it’s not melodramatic, it’s real. This is the stuff of life. People die, people fall in love, people have babies. To call it soap opera, or melodrama, it’s only in the way its handled. And I personally think we’ve handled the pregnancy in a very impressionistic way with a scene here or there.

Though as a result of her actions, Carrie did end up in a hospital again. You gotta do season 4 without one Carrie hospital scene!

Gansa: We’ll do our best, James, we’ll do our best.

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