‘Homeland’ Creator Alex Gansa On Darrell Issa, Ruslan Tsarni, And What He Learned From Aaron Sorkin


Credit: Showtime

Credit: Showtime

Credit: Showtime

This post discusses plot points from the September 29 episode of Homeland, and foreshadows one plot point from a subsequent episode.

Last night, Homeland returned with a bang: Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is off her medication, Congress is considering cutting the Central Intelligence Agency to the bone, Dana Brody (Morgan Saylor) has attempted suicide, and when Carrie’s affair with Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), now reviled as a traitor, becomes public, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) sells her down the river in a public hearing to try to save the agency. It’s a setup for a radically different season than the two that preceded it, one where the terms of the battle have changed, but the war for normalcy is no less pitched than it was before.

Right after seeing rough cuts of the episodes this summer, I sat down with Homeland creator Alex Gansa to asks some big questions about this season, including the role of the press, whether it’s all right for intelligence agencies to lie to Congress and the public, and why it’s so hard to capture a Congressional hearing for the movies. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Part of what interested in me about the hearing storyline is that it raises all the issues, the same issues, that the Snowden case has, which is: intelligence agencies lying to Congress, is that for the good of the country? Is it for the good of the agency? That seems like a real central tension this season.

Absolutely that’s the case. I mean, look, two things: One is, Carrie’s perjuring herself in front of Congress is a huge deal to her. And she’s doing it to protect this institution that has organized her life, and kind of saved her in a way. And then, to have to take the fifth, and then to have to suffer the Chairman’s, you know, diatribe about harming the country—the worst thing she could possibly ever hear—and then to having that arena be the forum for Saul selling her down the river. I mean it’s just like, it was a wonder tripartite kind of storyline there. And it was completely, completely influenced by Darrell Issa and what was going on. I found Hilary’s testimony for that so fascinating.

Issa’s an amazing figure, I covered him for a long time when I was a trade reporter.

What do you think about him? I don’t really know, I don’t know much, I know he’s from California, I know he’s a bit of a nutball a little bit there.

Carrie’s testimony raises an interesting question: Is she right that the CIA can sort of thrive in the open air, right?

The whole thing is fraught because, look: the whole conception of the season is the CIA itself is on trial, you know? And where that puts Carrie and Saul at odds with each other is also front and center in the story. And we just, you know, look: the most important thing to do with any hearing on television, is to make it feel real. I mean, if it feels fake, you’re just dead, you know? And so that goes to the cast [especially Tracy Letts, who joined the cast as Sen. Andrew Lockhart], that goes to the room where we shot those things, that goes to the actual back and forth of the questions, you know?

You know who did this amazingly well was Aaron Sorkin, he did it amazingly well in the West Wing whenever he had a hearing like this. So we looked at those scenes, and how did he organize them? And how did he construct them? And, you know, the fact of the matter is there are iconic images, I mean this, you know, with those flashbulbs going by and those reporters in the front. I mean, it just sets a mood that is so dramatic. So anyway, yeah. You’re absolutely right about all that stuff.

What’s the role of the press going to be this season? Because you know, you have Carrie going to a reporter, you have the sort of press persecution with Brody. Those people are doing their jobs, as unpleasant as they are.

You know, not as much as I would have liked, frankly. They are very important in the first couple episodes. And then you’ll see the story takes a turn in a different direction. But we don’t have, you know—like Boss did that quite a little reporter time, which I thought was beautifully handled. Not as much as we’d like. I mean, we’ll save that character for another season.

And are the Brodies sort of the Tsarnaevs this season? I mean, you mentioned the Boston Marathon bombing…I’ve always felt such incredible sympathy for those families.

Don’t you, though? Really, you’re absolutely—who was the uncle who got up?

Ruslan Tsarni, yeah.

I mean that guy was riveting, was he not? Watching him, what he said?

Unbelievable television.

It was incredible television.

But also very human too.

Completely. And look, that’s what the writers really wanted to do with the Brody family. And we talked a lot about you know, whether we were going to have Dana actually try to kill herself over the first couple episodes, or whether we were gonna let that have happened during the break. And again, we felt rather than being melodramatic it’d be much better to sort of, see Dana emerging on the other side of that. Also, the whole idea of a rehab facility where she’s hanging out with people who are battling things at the same level of extremity that she is, also afforded her a place to be herself more than she could be at home, which was a really cool idea too.

Well I was really struck by, sort of Jessica talking about maybe sort of dust off her accounting degree, her mother has this sense that she’s sort of entitled to some continued benefits. You know, I thought that was a very striking—just her effort to do something as simple as find employment is obviously a real challenge, both because of her skills and because of the larger context.

Well, also, how a family just inevitably gets ostracized, you know? From the things that are most familiar to them. From their schools, from their churches, from each other. From the perpetrator of the horrific attack, whoever that is. It’s fascinating that stuff, it’s great.

Christopher Butterfield assisted with the transcription of this interview.