Credit: Showtime
Episode 601

Homeland hit the reset button Sunday night with a gripping season 4 premiere that was squarely focused on Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) in her new role as CIA’s station chief in Kabul. Though Brody is gone, the memory of Carrie’s departed lover haunted the action as she struggled to cope with a drone bombing that went terribly wrong and deal with her rather severe detachment to her baby, now being raised by her sister back in the States. Below, showruner Alex Gansa takes our burning questions about the premiere, including that shocking bathtub scene.

EW: Carrie was riveting yet scary in these first two hours. Aside from one scene we’ll get to in a moment, she seems very stable and capable, yet also cold and selfish and sort of a terrible person. Is it because she’s emotionally shut down after Brody?

ALEX GANSA: I think that’s exactly right. What she did at the end of last year, arguably sending the man she loved to his death, is something she’s having an incredibly difficult time facing. So she’s compartmentalizing her grief; compartmentalizing her culpability. That has left her in a place where she can no longer deal with her own child, which reminds her of that ever day. It’s also where she’s in a situation where she’s executing orders employing American power and doing it from the minute she gets up to the moment she’s gone to sleep and its had somewhat an anesthetizing effect on her. So I’m not sure she’s a terrible person—she’s carrying out orders, she’s killing bad guys, but as Quinn was quick to point out, it’s not particularly healthy.

We don’t get the sense she’s really impacted by the fact she bombed a wedding, other than being annoyed about the political inconvenience of it. Does she care?

I think obviously Carrie cares, but she’s just so cut off about what she’s feeling, she’s only concerned about the viability of the program. If the word gets out they made such an awful mistake, the program could get shut down and that would lead to less bad guys getting killed. I think she’s got the mission front and center in her brain, but she’s not factoring the human costs yet—but she will.

I like the nickname The Drone Queen. There are drone bees and queen bees, but only the latter give birth to offspring. Carrie now has offspring, but doesn’t want it, so she is indeed both a drone and a queen.

Only you would know that! The whole idea of the drone program was something we explored the first season and how it motivated Brody to turn into a terrorist of some kind. We went back to the same well this season because it’s just so front and center in the news—the whole question of the draw-down in Afghanistan and what U.S. forces are doing there on the ground and in the air to make conditions as positive as they can for the Afghan security forces. There’s just a lot of killing from the air going on in that part of the world right now and the actual criteria for who is a target has become very loose, and it’s a question that needs to be asked. The other thing we began to respond to is just this thing is everybody is using social media now and not just Al Qaeda, but everybody good and bad. ISIS, of course, is starting to use images. Everybody is using this powerful tool to their own end.

I also liked the scene with the Navy bomber in the lounge. It’s like she was open to sleeping with him, then it all went bad for her.

Right. I thought Claire’s performance in that scene was astonishing how she turned on a dime. But it’s also meant to underline the fact that victims of this program exist on both sides of the line. American drone operators and pilots can be just as traumatized by the orders they’re asked to carry out as the people on the ground.

Do station chiefs really have such crappy apartments?

No idea. But the quarters aren’t that great. And actually where Carrie is living in the first episode is in Kabul, where all those hooches have just been put there recently as our presence has grown and grown.

So, the bathtub scene. This has to be the darkest moment in the show’s history. And it’s all the more shocking because you led into it with this mundane montage of baby-care scenes. You feel like, “Maybe I can slip off to the bathroom real quick,” and then Carrie almost drowns her child.

It’s going to be a very controversial moment, I think. That scene, we spent five days in the editing room making that scene what it was. We tried to leave it in the mind of the audience—did she actually put that baby underwater or not? That’s left to the audience to decide. But it certainly is motivation for her to get out of the Untied States. She realizes she is a danger to her own child and cannot stay there.

The way it played to me was like the child was underwater.

It went through a lot of iterations. Where we left it is in the eye of the beholder. Did she just contemplate it? Is it all in her head? Nevertheless, it terrified her, and I think Carrie’s response where she yanks the baby out of the bath we realize how terrified she was.

Was Showtime nervous about it?

You know, I think we’re all nervous about it. We certainly don’t want anybody to turn off to Carrie. But frankly, from the research we’ve done, it’s not an uncommon thought for parents of newborns whose lives have been turned upside down to contemplate doing something terrible. And of course, it does actually happen too.

It’s a scene that does color our perception of her even though she didn’t go through with it because it’s such a horrifying potential act.

I think it shows the extremity of her state. She’s in an extreme place emotionally and cut off from her grief, and it’s causing her to behave in ways that are upsetting to her.

Moving on, I thought Corey Stoll was well-cast as the Pakistan station chief Sandy Bachman. You needed somebody in that part who could feel credible as that character and also get our sympathy very quickly in a few short scenes. If you don’t care that he died, the season doesn’t have its launch fuel.

I thought Corey did a fantastic job and you’re exactly correct—he established and conveyed a character in the most economical space. He’s one of these guys you just believe him the minute he steps in front of the camera. Especially that moment where he’s outside the apartment where he’s supposed to meet his asset and the lock has been changed and he’s been informed that he’s blown—that moment is the worst moment any case officer can confront—and that moment when he drops his head and realizes his entire world has gone to sh-t and he may be in deep danger. He just conveys it in the most powerful way. And obviously where he winds up at the end of episode, it’s the worst thing.

Peter Quinn feels like the wounded-warrior Jesse Pinkman of Homeland this season. Especially with Carrie shut down, it’s valuable to have somebody who is in touch with their emotions—though he’s like more in touch with his emotions than perhaps serves him, while she’s not in touch enough.

The fact that you got that is fantastic. That’s what we’re going for. Quinn has made a living killing people for awhile, he understands the toll it’s taken on him. He’s a lot further down the road of awareness than Carrie is—she’s kind of a newbie at this. He sees the warning signs and is concerned about her and is going to do everything he can to prevent her from crossing over to a dark side you can’t come back from. The dynamic between Quinn and Carrie will be driving a lot of the story this season.

Quinn’s relationship with the apartment manager was interesting. First you play it for a laugh with that shock-cut to them having sex; then you play it for something more.

It’s an unlikely duo, and it speaks to Quinn’s need to comfort after what happened and his open-mindedness about who’s a suitable partner. You’ll see as we move into episode 3 that the relationship deepens.

It’s tough to buy Saul [Mandy Patinkin] working for the contractor because the very first time we see him he’s going against his boss. It’s tough to picture him in a role he’s so uncomfortable with.

He’s an archetypical Washington character. He’s a man in his 60s who has been in the center of the action for so long and now finds himself on the outside. It’s a painful place to be. You’re not in the center, your adrenaline doesn’t race everyday, and you’re not doing anything that has a higher purpose—and those are things that motivate a character like Saul. Without them, he feels bankrupt.

We also have the journey of Aayan [Suraj Sharma], a different track we’re following with a character apart from the rest of the action.

We really decided to go for it and give ourselves a Pakistani point of view. This was the most significant storyline and piece of casting we did this season. We decided to create a point-of-view character whose path didn’t cross with any of our other major characters for a number of episodes. He does hold the screen, he holds the frame on his own for a couple episodes, and it’s so compelling to watch. That story feels like it holds the same weight as our other scenes.

There’s been fan speculation that Brody will appear in flashbacks since Damian Lewis was spotted by the set.

I can confirm that, yes, Damien Lewis was in Cape Town on the set. But I can also confirm Nicholas Brody is dead.

That doesn’t answer the question, which I assume was your intention.

That’s correct.

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