Press tour: 'Homeland' producers on Carrie and Saul's dark Season 3
Often, press tour sessions for returning shows tend to be a cagey cat-and-mouse game between reporters who want information about upcoming storylines and producers who want everything to remain a secret.
Today's "Homeland" session, though, was different. Not only had the critics seen the season's first two episodes (which, before anyone asks, I mostly liked a lot, particularly in how they deal with the aftermath of season 2), but producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon were fairly forthcoming about what happens in them, to the point where one critic actually paused to ask whether they felt an answer that had just been given should be treated as a spoiler.
Suffice it to say, Gansa is not Matt Weiner, and told us we should feel free to write about that and other things. But I know that many of you want to know little or nothing about upcoming episodes of your favorite shows, so let me put a big fat "HOMELAND" SEASON 3 SPOILER WARNING right here. After the jump I'm going to deal with the stuff that's not spoiler-y at all, and then after that, I'm going to put a second big warning before I get to a couple of the questions that dealt with things you may not want to know.
For starters, Gansa was asked about the backlash against the show in season 2 as certain storylines (Dana and Finn's hit-and-run, bug-eyed Brody killing Vice-President Walden with the man's own pacemaker, Abu Nazir turning into a slasher movie villain) and whether it influenced the writing of the new season, which deals in part with characters being beaten up (or beating themselves up) for what happened at the end of the last one.
"I don't think we were responding to it in season 3," Gansa said in a very relaxed tone. "Our job is to put the shows out in the best way possible, and your job is to like them or not like them. I obviously wish the backlash had never happened, but it didn't really influence the rest of season 2 or season 3. The show built an audience all through season 2, and our 11 Emmy nominations are a nice comeback."
Gansa also said that "one of the themes of season 3 is the cost being an intelligence officer exacts on the people who are in that career," and that both Carrie and Saul are in dark places (and frequently operating at cross purposes) as a result of the bombing that killed nearly all of the CIA's top managers and analysts.
Now for the second SPOILER WARNING, though I'll start gradually before getting to the one that most of us were wrestling with.
Though we ended season 2 with Brody a fugitive from justice after he was framed for the CIA bombing, Jessica, Dana and Chris Brody remain a part of the series, as we see the emotional impact being told Nick is a mass murderer has had on them.
Gansa explained that with the death of writer Henry Bromell and the departure of Meredith Stiehm to run "The Bridge," the show added several new writers, "and the writers were fans of the show, so we were able to ask them some very pertinent questions. The first one was are we interested in watching the Brody family if Nick Brody isn't in the mix... It was a unanimous consensus that there was interest in those people, and we took comfort in that, because we felt we had to honor those people, and see what would their lives be after this devastating attack."
The series has always taken inspiration from what's going through the collective consciousness of America, and with so many recent tragedies like the Newtown shootings and the Boston bombings, the writers wanted to explore what it's like to be one of the loved ones left behind.
Now for one final SPOILER WARNING for something that Gansa insisted he was comfortable with fans knowing, but which I suspect at least some of you will want to be surprised by. Stop reading now if you want to go in relatively fresh.
Okay, so Damian Lewis was on the panel (doing that amusing thing where he toggles back and forth between his natural English accent and his adopted American one), but while Brody is discussed often in the first two episodes, he does not appear at all in them.
Gansa said that there was so much story to tell in and around Washington at the start of the season that there was no room to show where Brody was and what he was up to, and said the one thing that he does want to keep secret is exactly when he'll appear.
Was there any thought, I asked, to keeping Lewis off-camera for an entire season (if not two) before seeing what Brody was up to?
"It's all about timing and touch," said Gordon. "The question was, where's the surface tension of this universe, and what's restraint and what's reckless disregard for one of the characters?"
Lewis joked that "these guys have been trying to kill me since episode 1," and noted that "TV audiences are so literate now, and so good at guessing plot in all its permutations. But it's the timing of story which is the one thing that these guys have left in their power. So if you can shock people by the timing of things — if you can get there just before they expect you to get there — you're going to be constantly surprising and astonishing people, and that's what they've done so well for the first two years."