SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details of tonight’s Homeland Season 6 debut on Showtime.
“After the election, our initial concern was could Homeland dramatize anything as scary as what’s going on in the real world, and we’ll just have to see whether it is scary or whether it’s business as usual,” says executive producer Alex Gansa of the tripwire situation the Showtime series finds itself debuting its sixth season tonight in the age of Donald Trump and a fast shifting geopolitical landscape.
Following a season that saw the multi-Emmy winning Claire Danes led spy show set overseas in Berlin in 2015 and running parallel with real life terror attacks in Paris, Homeland has returned to the homeland – though it is an America with new internal battles of its own. As tonight’s Gansa and Ted Mann written “Fair Game” episode reveals, Danes’ ex-CIA agent Carrie Mathison is now working for a private foundation that assists Muslim-Americans while her former colleagues at the Company are dealing with a very unorthodox Presidential transition and an incoming female Commander-in-Chief who distrusts the intelligence community.
Once again, real life and the fiction world of Homeland have deeply intersected – as the series based on the Israeli show Prisoners of War heads into its final seasons, according to showrunner Gansa.
The EP spoke with me about where Homeland is now, where it is going and how it may get there. Gansa also addressed the hedging the bet of who would end up winning the real life race for the White House, what the ex-Celebrity Apprentice host’s victory means for Homeland and what ultimately brought the show home again. Additionally, he talked about how the fate of the Rupert Friend played Peter Quinn was decided after last season’s seemingly chilling end and addressing criticisms of Homeland’s portrayal of Muslims in the post 9/11 world.
DEADLINE: First off, let’s talk a little bit about the idea of bringing Homeland back to the homeland for this season – did you worry that maybe current events were going to get in front of the show?
GANSA: Well, we always worry about current events getting in front of the show, and I think after the election we worried even more – wondering whether a female President was going to be too counterfactual to be relevant. As things have turned out with President-elect Trump’s difficulties with the intelligence community, the story we’re telling does feel a little bit more relevant than we thought it would at the time, so we’ll see, and we’ll see what happens.
DEADLINE: Because events certainly caught up to Homeland last season and seemed to become a double helix of fact coiling around and through your fiction…
GANSA: My God, the attack in Paris and Brussels caught up to the events that we were dramatizing. Last season we certainly weren’t saying every Muslim immigrant in Europe is a terrorist. That wasn’t the message, although some people interpreted that as the message.
This season we’re telling a story about this kid, Sekou Bah, who J. Mallory McCree plays, who actually is not a violent person but is doing things that many Americans would find objectionable. We’re asking the question, what do we do about that, and is that behavior illegal, and Carrie is concerned with that, understandably, based on her own past history and the guilt that she feels over how she behaved in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
DEADLINE: So, why bring Homeland and Carrie Mathison back to America this year?
GANSA: It was less a matter of bring Carrie Mathison back to the United States, and more a matter of bringing Claire Danes back to the United States. She’d been such a champ, following the show around from Charlotte to South Africa to Berlin to Morocco to Israel the past few seasons and it was really time for her to come home, so that was the inspiration for the move.
DEADLINE: On the subject of moves, you’ve talked about Homeland as having a lifespan of eight seasons, at least for you, and ending it perhaps in Israel. So looking at that, with Showtime having renewed the show for a Season 7 and 8, and looking at the way Season 6 will play plays itself out, are you building the story toward a conclusion this season?
GANSA: I’m absolutely building the story toward a conclusion and, barring unforeseen world events, we do really hope to go abroad for the last two seasons and to end the story there. We also hope to get Carrie back into the intelligence agency business. She’s been out of it now for two seasons and I think it’s time that she goes back into the fold and then winds up doing her job overseas somewhere.
DEADLINE: Are there seeds that’ve been planted in past seasons and this season that we’ll see bear fruition for come the final season?
GANSA: Absolutely. Absolutely, and you will see, even in Season 6, some characters that have appeared in previous seasons reappear this season. That’s one of the benefits of having so many seasons behind you, is you have this wealth of characters that you can reintroduce, and that have a history with your current regulars, so you don’t have to start from scratch.
DEADLINE: So, have you planned out how this is all going to end?
GANSA: The entire show or this season?
DEADLINE: The entire show.
GANSA: Have not. I mean, we have some ideas but those ideas are always mutated once you get into the story room and start discussing the particulars.
DEADLINE: Every year you guys consult with intelligence professionals and others as you move forward with the show, does that play a role in where, at this stage, you think this could all end in a couple of seasons?
GANSA: Absolutely. As do unfolding world events. Really, who knows what’s going to happen? What’s going to happen on the ground in the Middle East? What’s going to happen with the Iranian nuclear deal? What is the United States’ relationship going with Putin going to look like in Russia? These are all the questions that Homeland will be dealing with over the next two seasons, and we’ll take a bit of a wait-and-see posture before we start committing to anything, story-wise.
DEADLINE: As we wait and see with the final seasons, where do you see Homeland anchoring itself narratively and in the culture in the Age of Donald Trump?
GANSA: I think we have to wait and see, really. One of the things we’re going to do before we start talking about Season 7 is give this new administration some time and see where everything shakes out so that we can begin our usual Homeland dialogue about contemporaneous events at that time. So, right now, it’s really impossible to say.
After the election, our initial concern was could Homeland dramatize anything as scary as what’s going on in the real world, and we’ll just have to see whether it is scary or whether it’s business as usual. It’s really very difficult to predict.
DEADLINE: Obviously, you made somewhat of a prediction going into this Season 6 that we would see a female President with your President-elect Elizabeth Keane…
GANSA: Right. Well, I think the Homeland staff and much of the rest of the country thought there was slightly better than a 50/50 chance that Hillary Clinton would get elected, so we assumed we would have the gender right. But we did hedge our bets in terms of characterizing the new president-elect, and she is not a Hillary Clinton stand in. She’s more of a maverick. She’s more in the Donald Trump mold, although her politics are different, so we did hedge our bets.
DEADLINE: OK but as the Season 6 premiere indicates, this year of Homeland is taking a more measured approach, at least narratively – why the shift from the real heart pumper of last year in Berlin?
GANSA: It was all a function of our conversations with our intelligence consultants and the journalists we know down in Washington DC in February. The universal chorus we heard was that there are no coordinated Islamic state or Al-Qaeda terrorist networks in the United States like there are in Europe. Knowing that, and knowing how much fear-mongering was going on at the time, and may still be going on, we didn’t want to pile on, and we didn’t want to dramatize any threat to the United States that was counterfactual. So one of our first mantras was, we’re not going to posit another big attack on the United States and on New York, in particular. We just felt that was bad karma.
Once we made that decision, the season itself became more measured in its tone and less, for lack of a better word, thriller. So, yes, the season does have its own rhythm to it and it’s different from previous seasons. And I think that’s a good thing. Hey we’re in Season 6, I think we’re allowed to change it up a little bit now.
DEADLINE: To that end, you didn’t change it up so much that we don’t have Peter Quinn still with us, even after it liked he was dead or dying for sure at the end of Season 5…
GANSA: It’s interesting how that last scene in Season 5 was interpreted. It was shot to be more than ambiguous, and it was shot not to imply that Quinn had died, but to imply that Carrie had a choice to make in that moment whether to kill him or not, and so the intention was to leave that a very open question.
Some people interpreted it in different ways, which is fine and which might speak to a failure on our part to actually crystallize that moment in the way we wanted, But look, we talked about Quinn’s longevity as we moved toward the end of Season 5, and I think we decided that he was a character that was worth keeping around, and I think this season his presence, albeit a changed one, really does invigorate the story-telling as we move through the first six or seven episodes of the season.
DEADLINE: In the story you are laying out early in this season, it feels like Homeland is more, for lack of a better term, aware of some of the criticism of it that have emerged in past years – like your depiction of the Muslim world and individuals in it. Do you guys have your radar up a little higher now?
GANSA: I think we absolutely do and we want to. We spent a lot of time at the beginning of this season really investigating the industry that has grown up in the United States since 9/11, surrounding our domestic counterterrorism programs and the number of agencies that have sprung up, the money that is poured into this effort. Some would say, well, we haven’t had another big attack since 9/11, and other people would say, well 9/11 was a one-off and all this money that we’re spending is wasted and counterproductive…
DEADLINE: Not to mention the consequences of both perspectives…
GANSA: Not to mention what the Muslim community in this country has suffered and is suffering as a result too. That’s not to say that there are not homegrown terrorists. That’s not to say that the FBI shouldn’t be vigilant or that we should have our borders secured, But it is kind of unassailable that a lot of money and resources are being poured into that effort, and you wonder how many people are out there that are actually guilty of wanting to commit a terrorist act, so it’s a very interesting question and we spent a lot of time last winter in 2016, spent a lot of time talking to people and hearing stories about that, and we chose to dramatize that a little bit this season.
DEADLINE: So, with Carrie now in NYC and working for a foundation that helps Muslim Americans, how have we seen an evolution of her character and the dialogue we’ve been having politically and culturally about the Muslim-American community since 9/11?
GANSA: That’s a loaded question…
DEADLINE: It’s a relevant one…
GANSA: That is a loaded question, but I am fully expecting the show to catch a lot of flak for dramatizing this particular story about this particular African-American Muslim man. For a number of seasons we’ve caught a lot of criticism for a one-dimensional portrayal of Muslim terrorists, and I would quibble with the one-dimensional moniker. I’m sure this season we’re going to catch criticism from the other side about portraying a Muslim who is doing important things that are not necessarily illegal, and that’s going to be an interesting conversation to have,
But it’s not like Homeland is taking sides. We’re just putting it out there and let people decide for themselves, where’s that line that you draw?
DEADLINE: Let’s take a side on one thing,how has Homeland changed for you from the show that you started out working on and developing with Howard Gordon based on the Israeli series Prisoners of War to the show that you run today?
GANSA: It’s a little unrecognizable in a way. There was such as purity about the Carrie-Brody dynamic of those early seasons. I know there’s controversy about whether we drew that story out for too many seasons, but there was a real reason for Carrie Mathison, an active intelligence officer, to be in the United States when the character of Nicholas Brody existed, because he became the center and the focus of her entire life, both professionally and personally.
Once that character died, it was very difficult to tell a story about an intelligence officer of the United States since their business is overseas, which is why we went overseas for two seasons, and now that we’re back in the States again, we’re faced with that same difficulty, how do you tell a believable story?
Well, in our case, Carrie Mathison is no longer in the intelligence agency so she has another purpose to be there, and that purpose is revealed as we move forward in the season, but one of the reasons she’s back, obviously, is to supervise the rehabilitation of Peter Quinn, and to give her daughter a more normal life, which is what she’s decided to do – and we have too.