When it premieres on October 5th, Season 4 of the Showtime drama series Homeland will be something of a reboot for the series, with Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) back in the field in the Middle East and Saul (Mandy Patinkin) working as a private contractor. While at the Showtime portion of the TCA Press Tour, executive producer/writer Alex Gansa talked about saying goodbye to one of the shows favorite characters, how much the criticism of the show hurt, why they’re filming this season in Cape Town, South Africa, Carrie’s grieving period, getting the chance to comment on what is happening in the world, the status of the Brody family, and how they would define the show’s identity in Season 4. Check out what they had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
ALEX GANSA: In regard to saying goodbye to favorite characters, we certainly did that last season, and it was a painful and sad loss for Homeland. This was a character who people loved to hate, and people hated to love, and it’s somebody that we miss, every day, in the story room and on set.
You mentioned that the original idea was that Brody would only be in one season, and there did seem to be a feeling that perhaps three seasons was more than that character could sensibly take. How did you feel about that reaction?
GANSA: We love our show. We bleed for our show. So, when there’s any criticism that comes back our way, we take it seriously and we take it personally. It’s hard for us to view what we’ve done objectively. I think Brody’s participation in the third season was limited, for the very reason that you mentioned, which is that we didn’t feel that we had a lot more road to go with him. I’m biased. I can only say that I don’t know how you can look at the last six or seven episodes that we did last season and not say that Homeland is one of the best shows on television. I am so proud of those episodes. And in my view, the last two, especially, were among the best episodes we’ve ever done. The criticism hurt. The lack of an Emmy nomination hurt. But we’re going to come back strong and try to get to the mountaintop again.
When you first conceived the character of Carrie Mathison, there was this past in which she was an operative in the Middle East. Did you always imagine that, if the show were to run for multiple seasons, you would send her back into the field, in this capacity, or was this a response to what you discovered about the character, in telling a more intimate, character-driven, isolated story?
GANSA: When Howard [Gordon] and I first conceived the idea, on our many walks through the Palisades, we always imagined the Brody story to last only a season. So, we were fully expecting to take Carrie overseas to do what she was trained to do, which is to be a case officer. It’s just taken us three seasons to get there instead of one.
Why is the season being filmed in South Africa?
GANSA: Although Cape Town might not seem like an ideal place to shoot for Islamabad, it’s actually amazing. A lot of Bollywood films have started shooting in Cape Town, and there’s a big expatriate community of Pakistanis and Indians there, which provides us extras and great character actors.
Events in the Middle East are heating up now, and you had to move production. How will real-world events in that area of the world affect what you’re writing now? And are there any subjects that become too sensitive because of what’s happening in the real world?
GANSA: Well, we spent about two weeks seriously considering the possibility of setting the show in Israel, this season, and all I can tell you is that I’m very happy that we didn’t. One of the great things about Homeland, unlike almost all television shows, is that we really do get a chance to comment on what is happening in the world, in a very immediate way. We do a big field trip with all the writers and Claire [Danes], at the beginning of each season. And sitting down for those days in these marathon sessions, we get a fairly clear and profound briefing about what is going on, what is being discussed in the halls of power, and what the intelligence agencies are most afraid of, and that is represented in the season, as it is represented in every season. We’re in a very particular and exalted position to be able to do that, especially with the people who watch our television show.
How much is Carrie going to be pulled home, even though she’s back in an overseas posting?
GANSA: Carrie is very stable, in terms of her illness, but she’s got a period of grieving to do and coming to terms with what happened, at the end of last season. Clearly, that’s represented in and identified by the child that she had. So, the baby exists as a marker for her, emotionally. But the place that she’s in now is a place where you cannot have dependents, so she was forced to leave the child at home.
In real life, you lost a member of the Homeland cast, who was left with the baby, at the end of last season. Can you reveal some of your plans to deal with that situation?
GANSA: I’m really not going to do that except to say that Jim Rebhorn was one of the kindest, most supportive and wonderful men to work with. We want to honor him this season. But, how we’re actually going about doing that, I’d rather not say.
GANSA: It’s hard to say definitively right now, but I would say probably not.
Given the fourth season is a bit of a reboot, after your ending the Brody story, do you think that somebody who maybe stopped watching in the second season could jump in this year?
GANSA: I’ll say first that the viewership for Homeland has never ebbed. It has flowed since the first season. There is definitely an opportunity to lose some viewers who were invested in Brody completely, and an opportunity to gain a whole new set, by virtue of the fact that a very compelling character is in a very compelling part of the world. I think we have a great advantage. A lot of people are first turned off by stories that are set in foreign countries, but here we have a group of characters who we’ve, hopefully, come to love. Taking them overseas gives us a leg up with that, and we have the opportunity to tell a story overseas, which is always interesting.
How would you define the show’s identity in Season 4, and going forward?
GANSA: That’s a very good question that I don’t know how to answer. I do think that the show is about the private and public costs of keeping America safe. That’s the overarching theme of the season. And we put a compelling character at the center of that, in Carrie Mathison, to really identify the personal costs of the journey. But there also is a national cost to our policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, specifically. One of the things that the intelligence officers and the State Department people were talking to us about in Washington is this idea that we have left Iraq and we are about to draw down in Afghanistan. What did all those years of blood and treasure mean, and who’s left on the ground to pick up the pieces, once the military draws down? It’s usually intelligence officers and State Department people. Those are the embassies that are scattered in Islamabad and Kabul. That’s the story that we’re dramatizing this year, so it’s got some juice to it.
Is Saul’s positioning within the CIA going to continue to be a plot thread in Season 4, or do we begin Season 4 with Saul in the position that he’s going to stay in?
GANSA: I don’t think that I’m giving too much away to say that Saul is no longer in the CIA, as per the end of last season. But another interesting ramification of a military draw-down in Afghanistan is that private contractors become that much more important. It’s a market opportunity for people that work in private contracting and private military business. That’s who Saul has gone to work for. So, largely, that’s how his character gets introduced back into that world.
Homeland returns to Showtime on October 5th.