Who'd Have Thought We'd Be Watching The 'Homeland' Finale To 'De-Stress'?

Apr 27, 2020
Originally published on April 27, 2020 8:32 pm

For eight seasons, Homeland has closely tracked real-life events and anxieties. Claire Danes played CIA officer Carrie Mathison — chasing down traitors and terrorists, al-Qaida plots and Russian bad guys. Showrunner Alex Gansa says the show has held a "funhouse mirror" to events in Washington and overseas.

But now, the show drops its finale in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic — a terrifying real world plot twist.

"For the first time in the history of the show, we're being watched as a de-stresser — as something that can lower anxiety," Gansa says. "And that's a novel place for us to be."


Interview Highlights

On Carrie being an unreliable narrator, especially in an era of so-called "fake news"

One of the things that we always treasure on the show as writers is the ability to get at the truth by dramatizing conflicting opinions about the same event or a same idea — with the idea that there was some truth in the middle somewhere ... And obviously that idea has gone out the window in the last four years. It's just very difficult to find your way to what is real. ...

So that became difficult to write about on our show when we when we're trying to present something that feels real and it feels truthful. And I think the character of Carrie Mathison actually helped in that way because ... she is bipolar, and just her ability to hold contradictions in her head is profound — and so she actually was an asset in that mission.

On Carrie not being a traditional hero and whether it was hard for viewers to sympathize with her

I think there are plenty of people that did stop watching because of that. But for us, that was the thrill of writing the show. And Claire is such a compelling actress that, whether or not you find her likable, it's hard to turn away from her. She is electric on screen and she lived inside this person in a way that you just don't often see on television.

On the symmetry between the beginning of the series — when Marine Corps sergeant Nicholas Brody is suspected of being a traitor — and the end of the series, when Carrie is suspected of betraying her country

We were certainly not headed there. I'll tell you, when the idea came to me and that was at the end of Season 7, we were filming a scene on a bridge in which Carrie was being returned from captivity. She'd been in Russian custody and deprived of her medications. So she'd actually gone into a psychotic state and she was being ushered across this bridge back to the Americans and back to Saul ... her mentor and boss. And she's being returned to Saul on the bridge, and she's so far gone that she doesn't even recognize him.

And it hit me like a thunderbolt standing there in that cold, Budapest night, that, my God, she's in exactly the same position that Brody was in — Season 1 being returned after captivity. And it just felt poetic, in that moment, to put her in Brody's shoes for the last season. So that was really the first big idea for Season 8.

On whether the show — which, when it began, was really a mirror of the moment — will still feel relevant a decade from now

I hope so. But it's unknowable. You know, it really is. I mean, one thing that we tried to do in the finale is leave the story open-ended in a way that it could live in the imagination of our fans — and I think that's where it's going to live most strongly.

Fatma Tanis and Sarah Handel produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Over eight seasons, actress Claire Danes has played CIA officer Carrie Mathison - chasing down traitors and terrorists, al-Qaida plots and Russian bad guys. The show is "Homeland." The final season is just out. Now, "Homeland" has always tracked real-life events and anxieties closely, which prompted me to ask Alex Gansa, "Homeland's" lead producer, or showrunner, this question. What's it been like to launch the series finale during a plot twist almost no one saw coming, a world transformed by the coronavirus pandemic?

ALEX GANSA: Well, what's kind of interesting about it is, I think, for the first time in the history of the show, we're being watched as a de-stressor (laughter)...

KELLY: (Laughter).

GANSA: ...As something that can lower anxiety. And that's a novel place for us to be.

KELLY: Sure is.

When Alex Gansa and I chatted the other day, we also talked about the arc of the series - what it's been like to hold up, as Gansa put it, a funhouse mirror to events both overseas and in Washington.

Let me ask you about your main character, Carrie Mathison. Did it become more comfortable or less comfortable to have as your main character an unreliable narrator when, in real life, we entered this era of so-called fake news and alternative facts and competing versions of reality?

GANSA: Well, I'm not sure it was more difficult to write that character as it was to deliver the show every season, you know? One of the things that we always treasure on the show as writers is the ability to get at the truth by dramatizing conflicting opinions about a same event or a same idea and with the idea that there was some truth in the middle somewhere or that there was some way to achieve that. And obviously, that idea has gone out the window in the last - you know, in the last four years. It's just very difficult to find your way to what is real. And, you know, we were talking about the coronavirus before we got on the air here and, you know, it just - what is the truth about this thing? And so that became difficult to write about on our show, when we're trying to present something that feels real and that feels truthful. And I think the character of Carrie Mathison actually helped in that way because, you know, having this illness and, you know, her brain is mercurial and able to hold...

KELLY: She's bipolar, we should mention for people who don't watch the show. Go on.

GANSA: Right, she is bipolar. And it just - her ability to hold contradictions in her head is profound. And so she actually was an asset in that mission.

KELLY: She does do some stuff these - in these last few episodes that is hard to sympathize with. She's never been a traditional hero. But did you ever worry you were taking her character too far, that people would stop watching if they hated your main character?

GANSA: Well, I think there are plenty of people that did stop watching because of that. But for us, that was the thrill of writing the show, you know? And Claire is such a compelling actress that whether or not you find her likable, it's hard to turn away from her. She is electric on screen, and she lived inside this person in a way that you just don't often see on television.

KELLY: I want to talk about bringing things full circle.

KELLY: Season 1, "Homeland" starts, and you have this character, Nicholas Brody, who is a Marine Corps sergeant and a suspected traitor. And the big question hanging over that whole first season is, did Brody betray his country while he was detained by al-Qaida? Eight seasons later, here we are. And in this last season, it's Carrie who everyone is suspicious of. And the big question hanging over everything is, did she betray her country while she was imprisoned in Russia? Were you always headed there, to that symmetry in your characters in the plot?

GANSA: We were certainly not headed there. I'll tell you when the idea came to me.

KELLY: Yeah.

GANSA: And that was at the end of Season 7. We were filming a scene on a bridge in which Carrie was being returned from captivity. She'd been in Russian custody and deprived of her medications, so she'd actually gone into a psychotic state. And she was being ushered across this bridge back to the Americans and back to Saul.

KELLY: Saul is her mentor and boss.

GANSA: Correct, Saul is her mentor and boss. And she is being returned to Saul on the bridge. And she is so far gone that she doesn't even recognize him. And it hit me like a thunderbolt standing there on that cold, you know, Budapest night that, my God, she's in exactly the same position that Brody was in Season 1 being returned after captivity. And it just felt poetic in that moment to put her in Brody's shoes for the last season. So that was really the first big idea for Season 8...

KELLY: What a great moment as a writer for you having shepherded this thing all through every season to suddenly think, I've got it. I figured out...

GANSA: Yes.

KELLY: ...Where this - where I was going this whole time.

GANSA: It's more like the greatest relief you've ever felt in your life (laughter).

KELLY: (Laughter). Yeah. And as you know, I mean, what makes it so elegant is that Carrie doesn't know if she's a traitor or not. She has no idea if she gave away CIA secrets.

GANSA: Right. And that takes the Brody situation, and it ramps up, you know, the drama that much more. So, you know, it's not exactly the same situation. In fact, it's more complicated than it was with him back in Season 1.

KELLY: Yeah. Given that the show, as we've been talking about, was such a mirror of the moment in which you were writing and filming it, do you think it will hold up? Is this the kind of show that, a decade from now, people will be watching the reruns and it will still feel irrelevant?

GANSA: I hope so, but it's unknowable, you know? It really is. I mean, one thing that we tried to do in the finale is leave the story open-ended in a way that it could live in the imagination of our fans. And I think that's where it's going to live most strongly.

KELLY: That is Alex Gansa. He's the lead producer for "Homeland." After eight seasons, the final episode is now out.

Alex Gansa, thank you.

GANSA: Thank you so much for having us on the show - really appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF THOM YORKE'S "ATOMS FOR PEACE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.