Homeland’s Alex Gansa talks about the season finale’s big reveal

Homeland’s Alex Gansa talks about the season finale’s big reveal

Major spoilers for the third season of Homeland follow.

The third season of Homeland started with one major question—what is the show if Nicholas Brody is no longer at its center but in its periphery instead?—and ended with a fairly definitive answer to that question: The end of Brody’s story had finally come, as the character was publicly executed in Tehran after being captured at the tail-end of a CIA mission. Those final few episodes—involving Brody’s return to the U.S. from a Venezuelan hellhole and the mission he embarked upon to attempt to preserve his legacy—brought a convoluted yet satisfying conclusion to a season that sometimes seemed at odds with itself over what the series was about. Viewed in the light of those final moments, the season becomes even clearer as one final story of who Brody was, what he became, and what he might have been. The series’ showrunner, Alex Gansa, spoke with The A.V. Club about why this was the end of the road for Brody, whether Saul’s master plan made him too omniscient, and what the show might look like going forward.

The A.V. Club: Why did you decide this was the end of the Nicholas Brody story?

Alex Gansa: I believe we decided at the very beginning of the year. That was one of the very first decisions that was made in the story room, that the time had come. And I think you can look at Brody’s limited appearances this season as being a testament to that. In other words, we wanted to make sure that whenever Brody was on camera, whenever he was part of the story, that it was compelling and exigent. So his appearance this season was limited as a result because we honestly thought we were running out of interesting dynamics. And the time had come. His shelf life had expired, as painful as that is for us, because not only do we all love the character but we also love Damien Lewis’ presence on the show. But it was time.

AVC: Did you have the arc of that story planned out as you sat down to figure out the season?

AG: We did, actually, at some level. One of the most germane questions that was asked in the story room was, “If Brody were to have a life now, where could that life happen?” And, really, there’s about two or three places on the planet where it could happen legitimately, where he could live a life out in the open, and one of those is Iran. It felt like a very right storytelling place, especially considering what was going in terms of the whole nuclear question, in terms of what we did in season two. It was a very interesting place for him to end up. And, indeed, a lot of Al Qaeda commanders have taken asylum and political refuge in that country. Which is not to say that they’re welcomed as heroes, but they are given sanctuary. So it felt reasonable that Brody might find sanctuary there. Of course, he was directed to do that by Saul, but it felt like an interesting place for it to wind up. So we knew those things. Did we know he would be hanged in a public square? No, we did not. But once we got him there, we were fairly certain that he wasn’t getting out.

AVC: When world news turned to stories of Iran and nuclear sanctions, did you find that serendipitous?

AG: It became a little surreal when we realized that the lead Iranian diplomat negotiating in Geneva, his name was Javad. At that point, it got a little surreal. [Laughs.] It’s interesting. We were prescient in a way that we didn’t expect, and the fact that these two countries, America and Iran, are talking after all these years is certainly interesting, and was mirrored at the end of the show. But it was complete serendipity. We’re not getting any inside information or anything!

AVC: The Brody family was in the first half of the season, then sort of dropped out. Was there any thought to including them in the season finale, just to see how they’re moving on?

AG: There was some thought to that. You have to understand that Brody’s manner of death and the reason he was in Tehran had to be kept a secret. This could never be acknowledged as a CIA operation. Even though it would probably give some comfort to Dana and to Jessica and to Chris, they could never know, because it would completely and utterly destroy the operational security of the mission and the peace process. So there’s nothing that Carrie or Saul or anybody could have said to Dana or Jessica that would have elicited anything more than the response that you would completely expect. There was no more story to tell. Nothing Carrie could have said to Dana could have changed the power of that last scene between Brody and Dana in that motel room. We weren’t going past that moment. It would have felt like a de-escalation.

And frankly, on the Jessica front, the same thing. There was also the matter that Morena Baccarin was eight and a half months pregnant and could not get on the plane from Los Angeles to Charlotte, so we didn’t have her. There was nothing to be done there. These are some of the issues that you deal with when you’re making a television show. We couldn’t get her to Charlotte, so she couldn’t be in the story. That was it.

AVC: When you came up with Saul’s master plan, did you worry it was going to make him seem too omniscient?

AG: Saul says it at the end to Dar Adal: “We were lucky.” There’s no doubt that Saul was swinging for the fences. I think if you had looked back on his career without that victory, you might argue that his career had come to nothing and that his humanistic sensibilities didn’t yield anything monumental. He alluded in earlier episodes to he and Javadi sitting around talking about how intelligence work could actually contribute to a safer, more peaceful world, and yet none of that has happened. And so here at the very end of his career, at the very end of his tenure at the CIA, he was reaching for something big. And against all odds, he won. And I don’t know that he predicted anything or thought anything was gonna happen, and certainly enough went wrong between the idea of the operation and the actual act of the operation that it just came down to luck.

AVC: Carrie certainly drives a lot of the season’s story, but there are definitely episodes where she drops back to more of a supporting presence. How did you trace her as the lead character of the show throughout the season?

AG: We wanted to make Carrie an incredibly effective intelligence officer. That was a fairly strong motivation in the story room. And if you look at what she pulled off this year, it was pretty spectacular. I guess I might take issue with the idea that she receded as a secondary character. Certainly we brought other people into the narrative, but it was fairly driven by her character. And even at the end, she was the one that was right about Brody. He’s gonna go through with it. He’s going to move forward. He’s going to do this thing. And she was right. And ultimately, Senator Lockhart rewarded her for that at the end, by giving her this plumb assignment in Istanbul.

AVC: Speaking of Senator Lockhart, it’s impressive how he goes from what seems like a cardboard villain to someone whose motivations we gradually come to understand. Where did that character come from?

AG: I think, as in all these things, you have to wait until the story is told before you make any judgments about whether somebody’s a cardboard character or not. First of all, I’d like to single out Tracy Letts’ performance, which in my view was just spectacular. From the moment he chaired that Senate select committee, to his locking horns with Saul, to his slowly coming around to appreciate some of Saul’s humanism and understanding that there is value to human intelligence, as well as to electronic intelligence as well as to drone warfare. He was educated. I think if you could point to any moment in the season, you would point to that moment in episode nine where Saul chooses not to destroy Lockhart, and Lockhart looks at him and goes, “Wait a minute. Saul is something more than I imagined. He really does have the longevity and the best interests of the agency in mind.” And that was the beginning, I think, of Lockhart’s real education. He’s a smart guy. He had a set of beliefs that were visibly changed a little bit over the course of the season, and that last scene between he and Carrie in his office I think showed him in a real complex, deep way.

AVC: You probably haven’t been in the room yet for season four, but how much of an idea do you have of what the series will look like going forward?

AG: Honestly, not much of one, except that we all feel that there’s some value in watching Carrie do what she was trained to do, and that is be a case officer in a foreign capital. That is intriguing to us. But let’s face it: The show is gonna go through a major reboot and reinvention. We’ve lost Damien. We’ve lost Nicholas Brody. It’s gonna be a different show.

AVC: Is that exciting, to have that blank slate?

AG: I think it is! But we’ll wait and see. What does Joseph Conrad say? “Writing is like mining coal with your hands.” Hopefully we’ll find a rich vein.

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