Live or let die — that was the question
What would “Homeland” do for an encore?
That was the question as the 2012-13 TV season began, after the taut psychological thriller’s acclaimed debut season, which resulted in Emmy wins for series and its two lead performers — making it the first drama to score such a hat trick in two decades.
“We all felt as though we had a target on our backs, and that we had a tremendous amount to live up to,” says exec producer Alex Gansa, who developed the series with Howard Gordon.
The biggest challenge to start season two was hashing out a plausible way to get Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), the unstable heroine who was excommunicated from the CIA, back into the intelligence community and on the case of soldier-turned-terrorist Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis). That happened when an agency asset in Beirut resurfaced with important information, but refused to talk to anyone but Carrie.
Then it became a matter of when and how to kill Brody — a series-altering development for a show that specializes in delivering the unexpected.
“It was the most profound choice we had to make,” Gansa says. “When we started the season, 100% of (the writers) thought it would have been wise to surprise the audience with his death.”
But they were overruled by execs at Showtime.
Had Brody been finished off too early, viewers may have been deprived of Carrie’s captivating interrogation of him in “Q&A,” a midseason episode written by Henry Bromell, who died in March of a heart attack, and directed by Lesli Linka Glatter (both are Emmy-nominated). The lengthy sequence, which played out in real time as if Danes and Lewis were on a theater stage, left the actors physically and emotionally drained.
“We were in there for 22 minutes of unbroken scene work, and it was thrilling for us to watch,” Gansa says. “Our two leads knocked it out of the park.”
Ultimately, Gansa says it was the right call to spare Brody, because there were indeed more stories to tell with him.
Audiences apparently agree — with the sophomore run attracting 6.2 million viewers over the course of a week, a surge of 43% from season one — as does the TV Academy. The org bestowed 11 Emmy nominations on “Homeland,” including one for drama series, allowing the show to defend its title.
Keeping Brody alive also provided the opportunity for one more plot twist in the season finale.
“At the end of season one, Carrie firmly believed that he was guilty, but nobody else did,” Gansa says. “By the end of season two, we got to exactly the opposite position — where everybody thought Brody was guilty but she believed he was innocent. We were working to reverse the proposition from the first season, and that was the big idea we had in our hip pocket.”