SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details of tonight’s Homeland series finale.
Hurling a Molotov cocktail in its fiery closing minutes, Homeland came to the end of its eight-season run Sunday night and Showtime’s multiple Emmy-winning spy thriller certainly ended with an unexpected bang.
With the reappearance of Damien Lewis’ Nicholas Brody from seasons past in the opening of the “Prisoners of War” episode to the revelation that Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison was now in Moscow arm-in-arm with Yevgeny Gromov (Costa Ronin) but actually sending intel back to the USA, the series co-created by Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon went full circle from its 2011 debut and its own underpinnings in the world of the War on Terror.
“We wanted to go out in a successful way,” Gansa said of tonight’s series finale he crafted and co-wrote with Gordon about the end of their eight-season journey that included some of the best TV ever to show up on the small screen. “We obviously didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of some, you know, to be unnamed shows, that fell down and stumbled at the end,” the showrunner added diplomatically of a final season that was pushed back a bit early last year. “So, we really, really tried hard. We argued. We talked. We tried a bunch of different things, and this is ultimately what we came up with.”
With several years to plan out how Homeland would conclude, what they came up with saw Carrie betray and burn her mentor and one-time National Security Advisor Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), his embedded Russian asset, the United States, and almost everyone in her life and in the intelligence community — kind of.
In a show that has deftly exhibited an often-minimalist stance in its execution while peeling back the complexities of the contemporary Grand Game, Homeland took the stakes as high as they could with a looming nuclear confrontation between America and Pakistan over a potential POTUS-killing Taliban leader and a Cold War throwback for a helicopter flight recorder. Directed by series EP Lesli Linka Glatter, the end of the show that saw Danes win two Primetime Emmy Awards, Lewis take home one and Patinkin, Morena Baccarin, Rupert Friend and F. Murray Abraham earn nominations figuratively took no prisoners with ex-CIA officer Carrie literally trying to kill Saul. It also, as Gansa and I discuss, left the door open for more.
Gansa, at home because of the coronavirus pandemic, also talks about about the legacy of the show based on the Israeli series Prisoners of War, its one-time Oval Office big fan and its current occupant, its leads Danes and Patinkin, Russian interference real and fictional, finding its end in its beginning and the fallout of 9/11, how the L.A.-filmed Homeland finale came together over the long run and why Carrie had to go over to the other side.
DEADLINE: Let’s start right at the end. There’s a time jump of a couple of years in the final minutes and Carrie is in Moscow. She seems to be playing the role, now, of double-double agent. This is quite the twist, and in fact, in many ways, you have kind of book-ended Homeland where it all began.
GANSA: That was the strategy, for sure, and almost more importantly than that, sort of nice, poetic closure, was the idea of slowly trying to repair her relationship with Saul. In other words, she completely burned Saul’s asset, Anna Pomerantseva (Tatyana Mukha). The asset winded up killing herself. Saul was devastated by that. The effect of that all happening was, Carrie was able to avert a war from happening, but the relationship with Saul was severed.
In other words, let me be clear, Carrie really did betray Saul, really did betray her country, really did affect the death of a very important American asset in Moscow. And here is Carrie, at the very end, replacing that asset, becoming that asset, herself, and the glimmer of a repaired relationship with Saul is possible, at the very end. So, that was what we were going for, in that last 15 minutes.
DEADLINE: So, is this truly the end of Homeland? Honestly, Carrie and Saul are both alive. They’re both doing their jobs still. It feels like this could come back in form of another, anytime – which is not unheard of in this Age of Ever-Replenished IP.
GANSA: Well, that’s certainly true but I think what we were thinking more was to allow this story to continue in the imaginations of our fans. Not to abruptly end the story, but to let it continue, and let the people think about, my God, what happens next? Rather than answer that question, just let the hope of that carry you through.
DEADLINE: So, then, having had several years to craft this spy craft conclusion, was this the series finale you always envisioned?
GANSA: (laughs) Honestly, I don’t know. I just wanted to, like every season, not to fall on our face. I just wanted to get out of it alive, in a way.
DEADLINE: TV is like The Doors say, Alex, no one gets out alive.
GANSA: (laughs) No one gets out alive. No one does get out alive, but we wanted to get out of this particular series alive. All we were hoping for, in our wildest dreams, was to find some satisfying conclusion to this eight-year run, and if we got close to achieving that, I think we can all be really happy. I mean, you know, the amount of anxiety and stress that went into these last couple of episodes were just you know, off the charts. Our expectations were so high.
DEADLINE: Series finales are a near impossible feat to pull off, as we have all seen time and time again with the exception of the second Newhart series and Six Feet Under …
GANSA: Yes and we wanted to go out in a successful way. We obviously didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of some, you know, to be unnamed shows, that fell down and stumbled at the end. So, we really, really tried hard. We argued. We talked. We tried a bunch of different things, and this is ultimately what we came up with.
DEADLINE: In that and this entire eighth and final season, you literally upped the stakes as far as they could go with a weak POTUS by succession, an apparent duel assassination blowing the Afghan peace deal out of the sky and the threat of nuclear war with Pakistan. Homeland has always been noted and enjoyed for its, let’s say, prophecy factor, for lack of a better way of putting it. I know you guys always go to Washington and talk to people there, especially in the last several seasons, to get a sense of what’s in the water. Why was this the way you decided you wanted to go?
GANSA: You know, it was just about creating a present that was compelling and interesting to watch We’ve had such a capable president in President Keane (Elizabeth Marvel), and such a nice-guy president in President Warner (Beau Bridges) that you know, we were just searching around for some good, dramatic potential, and an inexperienced guy in President Hayes (Sam Trammell), who is in over his head, and who is a bit of a weather vane, struck us an interesting parallel to the guy that we’re seeing in the current White House. Obviously, he’s not Donald Trump, but he does share some qualities.
DEADLINE: Well, let’s talk about qualities, specifically the qualities of Claire Danes, who for all her past Emmys wins, went to some extremely dark places of betrayal, both of Mandy’s Saul but of herself and let’s say, reality as well this season. Some next-level stuff …
GANSA: Truthfully, I thought Claire and Mandy both took it to another level.
— Costa Ronin (@CostaRonin) April 27, 2020
DEADLINE: Point taken, I apologize. That’s a very true thing to say. Yes.
GANSA: I just felt that their performances this season left nothing behind. I mean, these two actors were fully committed to every scene that they played, to the point of exhaustion. Seriously, you have never seen two people more prepared, more brave, willing to go there, in some very difficult circumstances.
Shooting in Morocco was no picnic, and yes, the two of them just gave it everything they had, so much so, that on their very last day together, it was just so emotional. I mean, it was just beyond emotional.
2 iconic images…the last day of shooting the last shot- on an insert car with the brilliant #ClaireDanes and the last day on the mixing stage of the amazing and incredible journey that has been @SHO_Homeland . Bittersweet Grateful Extraordinary pic.twitter.com/k5SxdzrMGF
— Lesli Linka Glatter (@LeslilinkaG) April 26, 2020
DEADLINE: How do you mean?
GANSA: We called their last shoot together ever on the show and the next thing you know, Mandy and Claire are looking at each other, and then they’re in each other’s arms, and they are sobbing, for 15 minutes, as is the entire crew. It was everyone, everybody who came onto this thing, gave it everything and by the end, we were fairly exhausted, emotionally and physically.
Goodbye, @SHO_Homeland! You beautiful story, you.
— Cliff Chamberlain (@ClffChmbrln) April 26, 2020
DEADLINE: It’s been a few months since you wrapped up everything on the show. Now at home under stay-at-home orders right now, what is it like for you as viewers see Homeland come to its end after what has been a very emotional and intense run on both sides of the camera?
GANSA: You know, I have to say, we’re having this interview before the finale airs, and I am anxious, and insecure as hell about it, honestly. If the response is good, I’m going to feel relieved, and really, really proud, and if the response is not so good, I’m going to be upset, and devastated, for a little while.
But I do have the real knowledge that we tried as hard as we could. And when try as hard as you can, and when you give it your all until the very end, you know, you have a lot fewer regrets. So, I am tired, I’m getting some rest. I’m proud of what we did. I’m missing the people that I worked with, on a daily basis, like crazy.
DEADLINE: You did have the advantage of knowing when you would be done and almost four years to get there. What did you think that allowed you to bring to it, as opposed to that poor EP who gets a call halfway through a year that they’re not being renewed?
GANSA: Oh God. That would’ve been terrible. I mean that would’ve been heartbreaking, because to plan for something like this at the last minute would’ve been impossible.
I mean, we knew at the end of Season 5, that we were going to end this thing at the end of Season 8. So, we really had three long seasons to figure out where we were going and where we were going to wind up, but that is not to say that any of those well-laid plans were where we wound up going.
DEADLINE: Such as?
GANSA: We began Season 8 convinced that we were going to shoot and tell a story in Israel, and obviously, that didn’t pan out. So, we made some serious adjustments in this last season, and we weren’t really settled on exactly where we were going to go, and wind up, until we were breaking Episode 9 and 10. You know, in the story, where we were always talking about the finale, all the way through the season. Where might this lead us to? Where might this take us? Where might this resolve? So, you’re always testing the boundaries, and figuring out, well, if we go down this path, where’s that going to lead us? If we go down this one, where’s that going to lead us?
So, you know, we were exploring, investigating, and we did have the luxury of time to figure it out. That said, you know, the idea for Carrie writing a book didn’t come until 24 hours before we shot those scenes. So, we were constantly, up to the very last minute, figuring out the story.
DEADLINE: Saul getting that delivery and the idea of a Carrie memoir from Moscow, the book was almost pure (Edward) Snowden …
GANSA: Yes! I didn’t have that idea until Wednesday morning, before we shot the scenes, on Thursday morning, and our amazing production designer John Kretschmer put that f*cking book together, got people to clear the photograph, put that glorious book together, wrote all the copy for the cover, the inside book jacket. So, I mean, just unbelievable, what he did in the time allotted. Unbelievable.
And you know what really sold it for me?
GANSA: What really sold it for me, was the not for sale, advanced copy sticker, on the top right-hand corner. That was so brilliant. It was so brilliant, that it somehow made it also just a work in progress, also, in a way.
DEADLINE: Funny you use that phrase, because “work in progress” is the last thing I would attribute to any part of Homeland’s last season. From having Brody appearing to the state of Carrie’s mental health and loyalty after being under captivity by the Russians last season, it felt so well crafted. Like you were going to have history, personal and otherwise, repeat itself to fulfill the circle…
GANSA: Right. Well, the season is really founded on two big ideas, and you mentioned one of them, and that is this tactic of putting Carrie in the very last episode, in the very last season, in the same shoes that Brody was in, in the very first season. That idea was born on a bridge in Budapest, at the end of Season 7, when we were all standing around and watching that amazing scene between Claire and Mandy, and all of the sudden, it just struck me that my God, you know, Carrie really is in a very similar situation to Brody – having been in captivity. Now, Carrie, having been in captivity, and there was a crazily poetic justice to all of the sudden having her be the one under suspicion.
DEADLINE: And the second big idea?
GANSA: Homeland has always been a show about how America responded to 9/11. What we did in the name of keeping us safe, and which of our values did sacrifice, and how has the counter-terrorism industry you know affected our daily lives, and how does this co-exist with our civil liberties. So, the second big idea was what if there was another 9/11, and can we dramatize that on this show?
How do we go about fashioning another 9/11-type terrorist event, and has America learned anything from the first time around? That’s how the whole president’s helicopter going down story came into being. That’s what we settled on. So, on those two pillars, the entire season was built.
DEADLINE: Strong but risky premises …
GANSA: Yeah, but also, it’s being true to the characters that we’ve spent eight seasons with. I mean that was the first command. Do nothing that doesn’t feel out of character, that doesn’t feel like something that these people who we have all come to know, so well, would do. And that really merges into the second thing, which was the entire season and certainly, the series finale, is meant for those fans of the show that have been with us from the very beginning.
DEADLINE: Which is?
GANSA: I mean, all you have to do is look at the first couple of images of the finale to understand that. I mean, it’s Damian Lewis. It’s Nicholas Brody, talking right at the camera.
The entire last season, and certainly, the last episode, was geared for those people that have been with the show. The ones there over all the years, through its ups and downs, and have become invested in these characters, as much as the people that play them, and the people that write them, and create them.
I mean, it is, these are our characters in a way, and so, it was really those two things. Being true to those people that we’ve created, and it’s satisfying those fans who have been with us from the beginning, and those were pretty high bars, you know, and we all stressed about them, as we wrote the final three, or four episodes. How do we honor these people, both in front of the camera, and those people who are watching?
DEADLINE: In that honoring, how did Claire and Mandy figure into putting the piece together on the other side of the camera, as both actors and producers?
GANSA: Look, the process has always been an extraordinarily collaborative one, with these actors, first and foremost.
The conversations that take place, over every script, are exhaustive. I mean, we are on the phone for hours with each other, talking through scenes, on every script, and especially the important ones. You know, so, that did not stop, that process did not change or alter in any way for the final season. However, we all knew in the back of our brains, where we were headed, which was towards the end, and Mandy and Claire had very strong opinions. They inhabit these characters, as they have to sell these characters to an audience, and in many ways, they know these people better than anybody.
You know, Mandy really advocated, like vehemently advocated for a hopeful ending. He did not want this to be doom and gloom. He did not want the world to descend into a nuclear exchange. He was very adamant amount that. Really lobbied hard for a hopeful ending of some kind, and I really hope we achieved it, because I think he was exactly correct.
DEADLINE: Certainly after Carrie playing Yevgeny’s pawn and going after Saul’s longtime Russian asset and then the man himself, seeing Carrie in Moscow at Yevgeny’s side living a life of luxury only to be sending info to Saul, that was a very long-game reveal right at the end …
GANSA: Well, again that was largely due to Mandy really wanting something that didn’t depress us further, in these depressing times. You know, Claire is so intuitive, and protective of her character, and she was just very concerned about the way Carrie moved through the narrative, and what exactly she was doing, from moment to moment, and why she was doing it. She wanted to know things like, in your mind, Alex, does Carrie know she’s not going to kill Saul? Is she aware that this is just a rouse? Is she going through these extreme actions to because she just wants to get him to tell her the asset’s name, or might she actually follow through on it?
So we had long discussions about what exactly her motivations were, for doing this, and then ultimately at the end, also, what is her relationship with Yevgeny? How much genuine feeling is there, and how does it feel for her to be betraying him at the same time as making a life with him? You know, these were all really tricky, delicate questions that had to be answered between writer and actor, before they could play the scenes and make them work.
So, it was an anxiety-filled but ultimately successful process, I hope. You know, we built the trust, over the eight years, and now we were trying to bring the thing home in a way that felt right.
DEADLINE: So, over all those eight seasons, all those consultations with top-level people in D.C., all those threads you tied together towards today, what was the Homeland story you just never got to tell?
GANSA: Oh God, it’s the Israel story. That is the story that we tried to tell. We tried to tell that story in Season 4. We tried to tell that story in Season 5. You know, we tried that story in Season 8, and it defeated us, every time.
GANSA: It’s really hard to place an American intelligence officer at the heart of a story that is essentially about Israelis and Arabs. It’s really hard. You know, we could not figure out a way to do it that was realistic, and then also, meant something, at the end. I mean, it is such a complex and contentious issue, what’s happening in that part of the middle east, and always has been. And we just couldn’t beat that story into submission. We couldn’t get there, every time it led us someplace else.
GANSA: In Season 4, it led it us to Afghanistan, and Pakistan. In Season 5, it led us to Berlin, and in the final season, it led us back to Afghanistan. So, in all those areas, somehow, America was at the center of the story, and an American intelligence officer could occupy that place, and somehow, in Israel, we just couldn’t put her there.
DEADLINE: Over the years, in the places that you did put Claire’s Carrie, the character’s bipolar disorder has seen the show criticized, there were claims of Homeland being Islamophobic, or ignorant and a bit of an Ugly American in its approach. Looking back now, for better and worse, what’s the lens you see those responses through?
GANSA: The amount of research that went into creating this character, and then playing this character was really remarkable. I mean, the number of people that we spoke with, about bipolar illness, the number of books that we read, the number of documentaries that we watched, the number of YouTube videos that we’ve seen and that Claire has studied, the psychiatrists who we’ve consulted with. You know, we did our damnedest to depict this illness in all its glory, because there are highs and there are unimaginable lows, that people who suffer from this, you go through.
And that opens you up to questions of why are you showing this, as well on other topics Islamophobia, and racism, and what is this purpose of telling these stories?
At some level, I am able, in my own mind, certainly on the topic of Carrie’s mental health, to deflect the criticism, about our depiction of bipolarity, because we tried as hard as we could to do it, and I know Claire gave it everything to get it right. Frankly, you know, still 90% of the mail she gets about her portrayal is positive. It’s like, thank you for showing what we go through on a daily basis.
DEADLINE: Another positive response you received not long after Homeland debuted was President Obama revealing what a fan he was of the show. A bit of a mind f*ck, when you look at the way you guys pull back the curtain on D.C. power plays, but also a great shout-out, perhaps even more so now. What was it like having that sort of fan base for the show?
GANSA: (laughs) Look, at the time, it couldn’t have a better validation of what we were doing, that people at this level of government were liking the show, and were finding it, you know, provocative and thought-provoking. I mean, getting a telephone call from President Obama’s Chief of Staff, saying, he’s on a trip, can you get us the episode before he takes off, on Air Force One? I mean, how many times has that happened, in anybody’s career? It’s happened in mine, exactly once.
So, there was that but even more so, I have to say, a lot of the fans of this show do work in the intelligence business and do work in government, and do work for news organizations. I’ve always been so curious about their opinions of the show, and do we reflect or mirror reality in a way that caused them to think, or at least be educated? On the other hand, it’s also terrifying.
You know, you just don’t want to get it wrong, and you know, and we did our damnedest not to get it wrong.