Showrunner Alex Gansa on why the new season will avoid 9/11-style terror plots

By James Hibberd
December 20, 2016 at 10:29 AM EST
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Homeland is moving to New York City for season 6, but don’t expect the Showtime political thriller to envision some kind of ambitious 9/11-style terror threat on U.S. soil.

Though terrorism fears will continue to play a major role in the Emmy-winning drama, showrunner Alex Gansa tells EW that he’s deliberately scaled back the level of villainy that Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) will deal with this year — especially after season 5 ended up having eerie parallels with real life tragedy last year following the attacks in Paris.

“Last season, world events tragically caught up to the story we were telling,” Gansa says. “We knew we were going to New York and back to the United States. And didn’t want to dramatize any threats to the United States — and to New York specifically — that don’t actually exist. That was our first karmic principle this year. We’re not going to posit that there are vast ISIS or Al Qaeda cells or networks in the United States like there are in Europe, because according to all our intelligence officers, there aren’t any.”

The Homeland team meets with national security sources each year to get an off-record sense of the threats and challenges being faced by real-life CIA agents and uses that collection of insider intel to shape their storylines. Sometimes that means the show’s storylines seem downright prophetic, though this season’s casting of a new female president-elect who’s a longtime political insider (played by Elizabeth Marvel) was one bet they didn’t win.

“The threat we’re facing right now are these do-it-yourself self-radicalized individuals — and that’s a very different risk than another plot like 9/11,” Gansa continues. “So we made a very conscious choice to not tell a ‘New York threatened by suitcase nuclear bomb’ story. We just weren’t going to do that. The thriller exists in a much more psychological way this year, and we’re curious to see how people respond to it.”

When the season opens, Mathison is working with an organization that provides legal assistance to Muslims who are unfairly harassed by law enforcement. She gets a challenging case when a young man is targeted by the FBI after pushing the boundaries of free speech online.

“It would be convenient and easy to tell the story of a young Muslim who is falsely accused of terrorism and railroaded and essentially framed,” Gansa said. “We have a different tact. This is a guy who’s been vocal online about his opposition to American policies, who’s putting videos up, who is linking to suicide bombers. He’s really testing the boundaries of the First Amendment. And the question for law enforcement becomes: At what point do you consider him a dangerous threat? Are are the things he’s saying warrant imprisonment for 15 years? At what point are we pre-empting terror by arresting people who have never committed a terrorist act?”

Here’s the current trailer below. Homeland returns for its sixth season on Sunday, Jan. 15.

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