After the end of the last season of Homeland, which saw the CIA decimated by a terrorist attack, double agent and Congressman Nicholas Brody on the run, and CIA agent Carrie Mathison struggling to make sense of the attack on her agency and the way her lover had been used as cover, it’s no surprise that the third season of Showtime’s drama was one of the hot topics of discussion at the Television Critics Association press tour. Without spoiling the third season, which premieres on September 29, here are five things to watch out for when Homeland returns:
1. The CIA is less-trustworthy than ever: If it felt implausible to you that terrorists could sneak a massive bomb onto the CIA campus, you’re not alone. As I’ve noted before, a Congressman, played by the playwright Tracy Letts, will be looking into how the attack happened–and whether the CIA is capable of protecting the rest of the country as a result. “As a result of the attack last year, the CIA itself is on trial,” Homeland creator Alex Gansa told me. “That is an agency that couldn’t even protect itself. How should it be expected to protect the country?” And Letts’ Congressman, inspired by Rep. Darrell Issa’s probe of the attacks on U.S. diplomatic personnel in Benghazi, won’t be the only person raising questions about the CIA’s integrity and effectiveness.
2. The Brodys are the Tsarnaevs: After Brody went on the run, his wife and children could have dropped out of the show as Homeland moved on to other storylines. But the show decided to keep them, as part of its mission to examine the cost of the War on Terror both for active combatants and for their families. Gansa said he and co-creator Howard Gordon polled the new writers who came on staff at Homeland this year about whether or not to keep following the Brodys and “It was a unanimous consensus that there was interest in those people. There was interest in Jessica and Dana and Chris, and we took comfort in that because we felt we had to honor those people that we created and what would their lives be like after this devastating attack and after their father, husband, you know, was accused of being the guy who did it. And also, you know, all these other things were happening. There was the Sandy Hook shooting and there was the Boston Marathon bombing. And all these family members are always paraded in front of the cameras, and it felt like a very good avenue to explore, you know, how this would reverberate down on to these people, and Dana and Jessica and Chris obviously, and we made that choice to dramatize their story.” In particular, Gansa told me he’d been struck by Ruslan Tsarni, the uncle of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, and the way the media seized upon him. Jessica and Dana, in particular, will face enormous pressure in the wake of Brody’s disappearance.
3. Saul is out of his element, and it’s showing: Watching the first two episodes of the new season, I was struck by the very un-Saul-like actions Saul takes, and things he says to his CIA colleagues. Gansa says his behavior is the result of an outsider becoming the ultimate insider, after the attack on CIA headquarters while Saul was attending Abu Nazir’s burial at sea left him the senior figure in the agency. “Saul finds himself in a very unique and different position than he’s ever been in before that is he is sitting in the director’s chair,” Gansa explained. “He’s been quite comfortable on the sidelines for the last 20 years criticizing, making suggestions. All of a sudden, he finds himself now having to make the decisions. And with the actual existence of the CIA in question, he has to make some very uncharacteristic choices that he’s not comfortable making, and, obviously, one of them has direct bearing on his protégé, Carrie Mathison.”
4. Carrie is not in good shape: Claire Danes, who plays Carrie Mathison, told the TCA that “Carrie is always sitting on, you know, her own personal ticking bomb, and I she’s it’s just an impossible dilemma because she is not great on the meds and she’s even worse off of them. But there’s a really great sweet spot, you know, in the middle of those two states that she’s always trying to land on where she’s, you know, exceptionally high performing, and we get to enjoy her process of finding that balance.” Enjoy might be a strong word for the tense, upsetting episodes that begin the season. But it’s powerful to watch Danes play a woman whose brilliance lies at the razor edge of a nervous breakdown.
5. The world of the show gets bigger: “We shot, you know, some scenes from a number of episodes down in Puerto Rico this year, and we will probably be going back to Israel to shoot the last couple of episodes of the season,” Gansa told reporters. Word is that Israel is standing in for Tehran this year, an intriguing possibility given that last season began with controversy over the U.S.’s attempts to take out Iran’s nuclear capabilities. I’m excited to see that will be an ongoing thread in Homeland.