‘Homeland’ Creators Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon on Drone Strikes, Iran’s Nuclear Sites, and Carrie Mathison and Nicholas Brody’s Futures

Homeland, Showtime’s freshman drama about bipolar CIA agent Carrie Mathison and Nicholas Brody, the former prisoner of war she suspects of being a terrorist and falls in love with anyway, starts its second season on Sunday at 10 PM. I caught up with the show’s creators, Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, who collected Emmys for best drama writing and for best drama last weekend, at the Television Critics Association press tour in August to talk drone strikes, Carrie as assault survivor, Brody’s political future, and putting Islam on screen. This interview touches on the basic setup of the show’s second season, and has been edited for clarity and length.

I wanted to start out by asking one question that had been percolating in my mind since last season: were we meant to think that Carrie was sexually assaulted after she was pulled out of the prison in the first episode?

Alex: We didn’t explicitly want you to think that, but it was always a subject of our discussions: what exactly happened to her? And the possibility certainly was there. What made you think that?

I thought the transition in the pilot between that and the scene where she’s washing her genitals after that, there’s that sense of carried-over shame that was really interesting.

Alex: We talked about that. At one point we were going to show some of that period where she was being held, and we chose not to. It just felt at some point like it was beside the point at that time.

How much time has passed between the first season and the second.

Alex: Six months. Ish?

That’s a quick turnaround for Brody as a Congressman.

Howard: It’s sort of like, dog ears, six months in TV time. Some stories are better explained. The idea would be that he was appointed to that seat…Which is what happened last year [with former Congressman Anthony Weiner].

I also wanted to ask about the vice presidential storyline, where Brody learns that Walden is considering him for a spot on the ticket, because while it’s nice to have him close to the Vice President, it’s hard for me to believe he would pass even an initial vet.

Alex: Well, I mean, Sarah Palin passed a big vetting process. Look, the guy’s a national figure. He’s generally acknowledged to be a hero. He’ been demonstrated to be incredibly good when he gets up to speak.

Howard: And in the context of what we posit geopolitically, he’s especially valuable to Walden in terms of casting an image of strength and service.  

Alex: But we also want to make it clear that he’s not the only choice out there. There are other, he’s being vetted among a number of vice presidential choices.

Howard: And he’s still a long shot.

Is this a way to get the political world of the show a little bit bigger? We lost our key fundraiser, Elizabeth Gaines, in the attack last season, so I was curious if we see more of that environment.

Alex: I think initially it was going to take us into more political stuff, and we do a couple of episodes like that. But it hasn’t completely taken over the story. You’ll know why in episodes four and five, you’ll understand why that’s no longer the case. We were also going to be airing in the time of a big presidential election so we thought that would be interesting. But I don’t think it quite panned out the way we originally thought it would.

I also wanted to ask about David Marciano, who is a regular this season. I have to admit, I hope we’re going to see Carrie and Virgil solve mysteries in a van, maybe with a large dog, so I was wondering if you could talk about what his role is going to be, because I thought he was a wonderful addition to the cast.

Alex: He’s fantastic. He is going to come back in a big way, but not until, I think he comes back in episode four. It’s just a matter of getting Carrie back, believably, into intelligence work again, so it didn’t begin right off the bat. But they will get back together.

Howard: With a big dog.

Now we need a Velma character. You don’t have enough brunettes on the show. I was also curious, given the way the drone strikes debate has heated up, and I don’t know if you saw Tom Junod’s Esquire article, where that’s going to take us this season. David Estes has a sort of cavalier attitude towards this program: is that going to come back on him?

Howard: It might. Certainly, it’s a card we could always play.

Alex: It’s interesting, that whole drone strategy is being discussed at such high levels of the government right now, the morality of it, how intelligence officers are saying we’re not allowed to use harsh interrogation techniques anymore but we could fire a drone at Pakistan or blow up a terrorist, or even a United States citizen in Yemen. I don’t think it’s going to hold as prominent place as it did last year, just because of what Brody’s been facing.

In this first episode, we have an asset of Carrie’s who reemerges. Was one of the advantages of shooting overseas broadening that tapestry and seeing the people who are affected in their homeland?

Howard: Yes. What’s interesting about it is that Carrie and Brody, that seminal event, which is Israel’s posited strike on Iran and its implications, really one of the ripples of that is Brody is activated in a way, and so is Carrie. So from that pebble in the pond, we’re seeing two people who we’ve come to know, they’re connected by this geopolitical act.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the pilot for Last Resort?

Howard: No. What did you think of it? That seems like the one people are talking about…That was our second choice this season, Pakistan. I’m glad we chose Israel.

Alex: And Iran. We would have done something about the loose nukes there, the fact that the facilities aren’t as secure as they might be, and the government isn’t as stable, and the relationship between the United States and Pakistan is so fractions.

Showtime President David Nevins said today that the sky is limit, he wants to go on forever with you guys. Maybe Last Resort will get cancelled in five episodes and you guys can have Pakistan afterwards. Alex, ou and I were chatting last night about the final scene in the premiere, and I think one thing you guys have done beautifully is portray prayer and belief. I was wondering if you could talk about how that’s going to play out this season.

Howard: [Brody’s conversion] was one of those threads that we’re sort of dangling that we had to answer. And I think you do that in the context of his political ascent as a liability, particularly opposite Jessica’s own increased faith in Brody’s absence. They now say grace at their meals and go to church in a way they didn’t before. So faith is portrayed as a very positive, non-cynical way here.

Alex: Also, burying the Koran [after Jessica desecrates it by throwing it on the floor], it’s something he’s going to hide a lot more than he did in the first season.