SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s Season 6 finale of Showtime’s Homeland.
“We really hope that this year’s finale sets up the final progression of this series,”Homeland showrunner Alex Gansa says of the tonight’s upcoming Season 6 ender on Showtime. “Shocked is always a good emotion to evoke as well, so I guess I would hope they would be shocked as well,” the circumspect EP adds of an extremely germane season of the Claire Danes-led series that has seen a President-elect warring with the U.S. intelligence community along with the proliferation of fake news and other online-information weaponization, among other ties to the real world.
With two final seasons left in the Emmy-winning series based on the Israeli show Prisoners Of War and the stakes ratcheted up, details of Sunday’s Season 6 finale titled “America First” are being keep quiet by Gansa, Showtime and Fox 21 Television Studios. However, with Homeland back on U.S. soil for the first time in many years and Danes’ Carrie Mathison no longer formally connected with a CIA and “permanent government” that seems intent on taking down President-elect Elizabeth Keane, it is pretty clear the series intends to go out large this weekend.
Part of that finale will have to focus on Rupert Friend’s performance as damaged assassin Peter Quinn, who was essentially left for dead last season; Mandy Patinkin’s ex-acting CIA director and potential scapegoat Saul Berenson; and the scheming and ruthless agency official Dar Adal, played by F. Murray Abraham.
Under the umbrella of all that, Gansa chatted with me about Emmy hopes for Friend, revamping the series for the Presidency of Donald Trump, and what was deliberately left out of Season 6. The EP also teased Sunday’s finale, its role in setting up the final two seasons and whether Damien Lewis’ Nicholas Brody could return to Homeland.
DEADLINE: You guys are keeping your finale under tighter lock and key than most classified information in real-life Washington nowadays. But can you break some protocol and tell us what we should look out for in Sunday’s Season 6 ender?
GANSA: I think first and foremost you have to look at the Peter Quinn-Carrie Mathison relationship. That was the first dramatic scene of this season, Carrie and Quinn together in that VA hospital. In large part, that has functioned as the emotional center of Season 6. One can expect that that relationship is going to come to some head in the finale, because that was the first and foremost idea we came into this season with — so there’s that on the table.
There is also how the show plans to dispatch this season’s villain, and this season’s villain is the deep state, that permanent government led by Dar Adal in collusion with Senator Elian Coto and with General Jamie McClendon. These people have been conspiring to first persuade a President-elect to change her mind about her policies, and then try to coerce her to change her mind about her policies. Now it looks like they may try to kill her in an attempt to change her policies. So that story is coming to a head and will be resolved one way or another in the finale.
Then finally, Saul Berenson and where he fits in. A man who has served as the moral conscience of the CIA in our storyline — in what way does he come to terms with his own agency and its checkered past and its current troubles? Where does that all come home in the end? That also will play a big part in this last episode.
DEADLINE: Let’s go back to Peter Quinn for a second and Rupert Friend’s strong performance this season. Here is a character that started on the sidelines in Homeland in many ways and has worked his way to the heart of the series — even more so after he was destined to die last season after being gassed in Berlin. In fact, he has eclipsed Damien Lewis’ Brody for having, after Saul, the longest relationship or friendship Claire’s Carrie has had on the series. Was that always the plan?
GANSA: We knew that Nicholas Brody’s tenure on Homeland was going to be short-lived. We originally thought he wouldn’t survive Season 1, and then we didn’t think he would survive Season 2. Ultimately he didn’t survive Season 3, so we wanted to bring in somebody early on in Brody’s arc that could replace him once he was gone.
Now I’ve been on a lot of television shows, and strategies like that usually don’t work. For reasons not known to me, this one happened to work. We wrote the right part, we cast the right guy, and he came on in a bit of a minor role in Season 2 and he worked his way into the audience’s heart. We feathered in his character in more or less an incidental way at the beginning; I think we were able to catch people by surprise as he grew into his own over the time. So, by the time Season 6 started he became a real force on the show, and one that a lot of people tuned into because he was on the show and that reason only.
DEADLINE: Which puts Emmy consideration in the cards…
GANSA: Yes, but we are not putting him up as a supporting actor. We are putting Rupert up for Emmy consideration as a lead actor, the first time we’ve done that since Damian’s left the show. I really believe his performance warrants that, and not just his performance, but the fact that he carried so much of the emotional baggage of the season and did it in a way that was electric. It was a bit of a revelation to all of us who watched him, largely because he was so transformed as a character.
DEADLINE: Which then makes me wonder if you are considering bring Damien’s Brody back in some form — flashback or otherwise — for the final two seasons?
GANSA: That’s always a possibility. I think Brody was such an important part of Carrie’s past that it might be worth exploring in some way, shape or form. But honestly, I think Carrie, as a character, has moved past that. In a lot of ways she was much more naïve and innocent in that period of her life, and I think she’s really matured into a woman now. There was something a little girlish about Carrie in the first couple of seasons and she really has become a young woman. I think for that reason Brody will remain in the rear view, probably.
DEADLINE: Speaking of rear view, the whole season seemed transformative this as you started out in the vein of The Night Of, then went Rear Window and have ended up close to Day Of The Condor or The Parallax View. That’s a lot of movement – did it feel like too much from your perspective?
GANSA: First, I will say those are three very nice things to be compared to, Dominic, I will say. I love every single one of those pieces of work. Now, yes, seasons do have movements, and this one definitely did take place in three movements and they do have their own separate tones. Interestingly enough, the last movement we really began to write after the election of Donald Trump, which gave it its own particular flavor.
DEADLINE: That seems clear, but looking forward a short distance, I know you are in a spoiler-free zone, but what do you think Homeland fans are going to take away from Sunday’s finale?
GANSA: I hope they feel one thing more than all, and that is, I want to see next season. That’s the purpose of the finale. We really hope that this year’s finale sets up the final progression of this series. That is, Seasons 7 and 8, which we hope to tell as one story, and the finale of this season really hopefully tease that up. Shocked is always a good emotion to evoke as well, so I guess I would hope they would be shocked as well.
DEADLINE: Looking forward even more, how far along are you in planning out the final two seasons and the conclusion of the Homeland story on Showtime?
GANSA: We have some big ideas but we are just at the very beginning of that process. We don’t really even know where we’re going to be shooting the last two seasons. We don’t know what story we’re going to be telling, whether we’re going to be telling a Russian story or an Israeli story or an American story. We’re in that real fun, gestating period. Our research trip to DC happens at the end of this month, so that’s going to be a big part of whatever we decide to do. Also, we’re going to have to keep one ear cocked to see what’s actually happening in the real world, and how much that will influence the story we’ll tell also remains to be seen.
DEADLINE: In Season 5, you guys were filming a potential terror attack in Berlin as a real-life one had tragically occurred just days before in Paris on November 15, 2015. Filled with a President-elect fighting the intelligence establishment, the Deep State, fake news and online misinformation campaigns, Homeland seemed to once again capture the tattered fabric of real life American power plays. So what role do you see the series holding in the discourse?
GANSA: I think the show holds a very particular place right now on television, in as much as we are one of the few shows that gets to comment in a more-or-less contemporaneous way on events that are actually happening. That’s why we try to delay our writing and our filming of these episodes as long as we can, so that we can be as close to current events as possible.
DEADLINE: Which sounds terrifying as well as exciting…
GANSA: Sometimes it is terrifying because we’re so on the edge of making airdates. I’ll give you an example. I am not going to mix the final episode until just days before it airs Sunday.
But that’s what happens when we try to exist in this relevant place in the culture. It really does make it exciting to tell the stories, and it makes us feel a little more prescient than we might be if we’d written the season entirely before we started shooting it. I hesitate to say Homeland is important or anything like that, but I do think that, especially this season, people are watching the show with one eye on the fictional story we’re telling and one eye on the real story that’s transpiring right in front of our eyes.
DEADLINE: When Season 6 opened with a female President-elect about to take office, it felt like you guys may have, as many many people did, seriously misjudged how last year’s election was going to turn out. In fact, I think with Elizabeth Marvel’s marvelous Elizabeth Keane drawing as much on elements of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump as Hillary Clinton, you found a fictional sweet spot that stayed out of real life’s quicksand. But now, looking back on the season, how much of an issue was the election for Homeland this year?
GANSA: I don’t think you can overstate how much it’s affected the show. We had essentially finished writing episode 8, I believe, by the time the election happened. So once the election happened, we first had to get over the crushing feeling that we were somehow going to be immediately irrelevant when we aired.
DEADLINE: As a creator, a showrunner, how do you jump back from that?
GANSA: You go through the seven stages of grief, or whatever it’s called, and then something very interesting happened. Right as the transition began, right after Trump got elected, it became clear that he was going to be in an adversarial relationship with his own intelligence community. Now that is a storyline that we had put at the very front and center of our alternative narrative. In other words, Elizabeth Keane, when she got elected, came into office with an entirely new agenda, largely because she was being advised by Carrie Mathison.
So when Trump began to mix it up with the CIA, all of a sudden the story that we were telling became insanely relevant in a way that it never would’ve been relevant if Hillary Clinton had been elected. Because Hillary would never have been in an adversarial relationship with her own intelligence community. She was part of that intelligence community in the previous administration. In a strange way, we got it wrong on the gender but we got it dead-on right in the dynamic.
DEADLINE: You certainly aren’t alone in this, but you also pulled on the threads of the permanent government and its relationships with the privately run but publicly funded consultants and other organizations that are all over the Beltway. You are very meticulous in your pre-season research, so how did you identify that and the rise of fake news and information sock puppets?
GANSA: Look, we definitely were fortunate enough to put some elements in place at the beginning of the season, before we knew what was going to happen. Elements that have come to the fore in a way that we couldn’t have expected. In all fairness, we did write the last four episodes post the election, and we were able to go back into the first eight episodes which we’d already written, some of which we’d already shot, and retrofit some of the ideas that were clearly going to become more germane to what people were seeing in the real world. The whole idea of fake news, the whole idea of sock puppets, the whole idea of this Brett O’Keefe character who is sort of an amalgam of Steve Bannon and Alex Jones.
So in being able to go back and highlight and introduce things earlier as ideas than we had originally planned to do, it made us look more prescient than we actually were.
DEADLINE: What about what you didn’t have in the season? There was no big terror attack this year — why?
GANSA: Homeland made a promise to itself this season that we wouldn’t dramatize any threats to the United States that didn’t actually exist. That’s why you didn’t see some big coordinated ISIS or Al Qaeda terrorist cell network in the United States, because they just don’t exist.
We didn’t want to fear-monger and we didn’t want to pile on to the fear people are already feeling. That’s why we didn’t posit some big terror attack on New York City. We just thought it would be bad karma and actually counterfactual. The fact that both candidates in the election were calling ISIS an existential threat to this country, in our view is a really overstated and overblown proposition, and our show did not want to put that message out into the world
DEADLINE: Looking back at the very emotionally charged season, with all you planned out, all you had to scramble to get in or rework, and the arc of your core characters, what stands out for you?
GANSA: Hmmm ….one of my favorite scenes of the season is that scene between Sekou Bah (J. Mallory McCree) and Carrie Mathison in his apartment when they’re talking about why he’s doing the things he’s doing, why he’s putting all those things about past terrorist attacks up online. That was a big tentpole moment that we were building up to. Saul talking to his sister in the West Bank. Another big moment in which we’re discussing geopolitical issues but bringing them down to a personal level. Then was we move deeper into the season, it gets more and more personal like those scenes between Dar and Quinn on the dock. All these things are scenes that you know in your mind you want to tell and that you have to build towards.
Look, you carefully craft these things and hope they land for an audience. Some do to greater effect than others. In my view, that’s what an audience is really watching the show for. They’re watching the show for these characters they’ve come to know and love and care about. So, you want to put them in charged situations where they’re laid bare, and that’s the task of any great television show.
Editors note: This story originally posted April 7.