Showtime Chief on ‘Homeland’: Eerie Real-World Parallels Heightened Drama of Comeback Year

Showtime Chief on 'Homeland': Eerie Real-World

Homeland” wrapped a comeback year Sunday by returning its full focus to the United States’ maneuvers in the big scary world of geopolitical chess in the Middle East.

SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading if you haven’t seen “Homeland’s” season finale, “Long Time Coming.”

The show’s fourth season was eerily and tragically prescient about real-world events throughout its 12-episode run, right down to the season finale that aired five days after Taliban gunmen slaughtered 148 people, most of them children, at a Pakistani military school.

It’s taken as a given that “Homeland” stumbled from its own high bar in season three as the storyline focused too narrowly on flights of fancy and the doomed love affair between Carrie Mathison and Nicholas Brody. With Brody gone at the end of season three, the show was forced to reboot its plot engines and relationship dynamics. That gave the writing team led by showrunner Alex Gansa the flexibilty they needed to get the show back into its season-one form.

Gansa declined a post-mortem interview request, preferring to let the show do the talking. Showtime Networks prexy David Nevins said the planning for season four was not so much a reaction to criticism of season three as it was a desire to take Claire Danes’ Carrie into new territory — a place where she was in control, for the most part.

The writers “wanted to focus on America’s role in the world,” Nevins said of the overarching theme of the season. “What made this season so good was that it worked as an action show but it went back to the world of real political complexity. The show’s always best when it takes a complicated political story and wraps it in a complicated personal story. The writers really spent valuable time (early on) figuring out what story they wanted to tell. They told the story of how difficult America’s position in the world is in the 21st century. … They really got at the complexity of the U.S. position in the Muslim world.”

The horrendous slaughter at the military school reflected the dynamics portrayed throughout the season of the rifts within the Pakistani government and the degree to which the Taliban control parts of the country and sway policy decisions.

The headlines from the release earlier this month of the Senate’s long-awaited report on the CIA’s interrogation program in the years after 9/11 played right into the moral and tactical dilemmas that Carrie, Quinn, Saul and others wrestled with all season, right down to the closing “whoa” moment of the finale.

“Last night’s finale really brought that home,” Nevins said. “The conclusion is, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. It’s not a simple question.”

It was also energizing this season to finally see Carrie at work in an official capacity rather than the rogue operative that she was for most of the first three seasons. “We wanted to see Carrie doing what she does best — working on foreign soil,” Nevins said. “That helped us build the new dynamics we needed this season to replace the Carrie-Brody dynamic.”

The always-complicated Carrie-Saul dynamic, meanwhile, went through plenty of changes. There’s no shortage of superlatives to describe the work done this season by Danes and Mandy Patinkin. But perhaps the strongest tribute is the fact that the finale’s closing scene — where Carrie realizes that Saul is willing to cut a deal with the devil (aka terrorist Haqqani) in order to get back into a CIA post — initially had them exchanging a bit of dialogue. In the final editing, however, Gansa realized they didn’t need any words. The emotion on Danes’ and Patinkin’s faces said it all, Nevins said.

As for the direction of season five, Nevins wasn’t about to leak any info. It’s unclear where the show will be shot, after spending season four in Cape Town, South Africa, which doubled for Islamabad and environs. Nevins said it’s likely that Gansa will take the writing team “on a field trip” to Washington, D.C., to meet with foreign service officials, members of the intelligence community and others who can add context and authenticity to the “Homeland” world.

Season four leaves off with CIA director Andrew Lockhart, Carrie and others waiting for the Beltway torture of congressional hearings into all that went wrong at the embassy. (Or as Carrie colorfully described it to her sister, the “mindf—” of a mission gone awry.)

“Homeland” is known to be must-see TV for President Obama and much of official Washington. Nevins said he’s been thinking about the show’s high profile in a volatile world in the context of the massive cyber-attack by North Korea that has created so much turmoil for Sony Pictures Entertainment during the past month.

“What’s happening with Sony is scary and depressing,” Nevins said. “As somebody who makes shows that try to engage in the world and occasionally take controversial stands, I have enormous sympathy and frustration about everything that Sony is having to deal with right now.”

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  1. John Devalle says:

    Homeland works as dramatic fiction, but fiction it is. The US would never end diplomatic relations with Pakistan, the country being a crucial ally in the ‘war on terror’. Even more silly is Homelands unspoken assumption that the US is a force for good in the world, when the reality is that it has imposed murderous tyrants on countries all over the planet. And supports extremist regimes, like that of Saudi Arabia, if their compliant to US wishes. That;s reality.

  2. Randone says:

    I didn’t have Showtime until recently, so I had not seen previous episodes of “Homeland”, and really didn’t know what it was about. I’ve watched the last three episodes of Season 4. It’s fictional, of course, but it’s based quite well on the reality of Pakistan. I say this because I had read the non-fiction “The Scorpion’s Tale”, published in 2010 and written by Zahid Hussain, a journalist and a Pakistani himself.

    What an eye opener that book was. I had known from brief news accounts that Pakistan was a somewhat difficult ally. Hussain’s book gave me a much more detailed, intense picture. The intrigue and conflicts within the Pakistani military, and the Pakistani intelligence service — where it appears many had pro-Taliban sympathies, and acted on them. And the severe threat to Pakistan posed -at times- by the Taliban, militarily in the NW tribal areas, but also in large scale terrorist operations throughout the country, including the nations capital, Islamabad.

    So when I saw these three episodes of Homeland, I related to it right away. I was rather surprised that Hollywood had captured the essence of the confusing and complicated Pakistani dilemma, and how often unreliable it has been as an ally.

  3. Summer says:

    I don’t need shoot outs or action, or even resolution – but the fact is that the last episode was sloppily handled. Character development is good. But you’ve got to finish the story you’re telling. That does NOT mean a happy ending or even a nice resolution, but you didn’t even finish the story with so many questions hanging.

    And let’s not compare Homeland to real life. In real life, there’s no closure or finish. That’s fine. That’s life. Homeland is entertainment – you CAN have a sad ending or even no resolution, but finish the story – cos Homeland is a tv show, entertainment, and not life.

  4. JSB says:

    My guess is that 98% of the viewers will be annoyed with this lame finale, while the 2% who liked it were mainly happy that Quinn and Carrie finally kissed. And the world was happy that Brody was knocked off? The only original focus of this whole series. Sheesh, who’re the writers – Cheney and Wolfowitz and Rummy?

    • Ess Tee says:

      You know so much. I liked the ending precisely because it was quiet. We’d had back to back to back episodes of high drama (like, literally the three episodes before the final were tense as hell), so it was nice just to get some more character insights on Carrie and Saul (as well as Quinn) as opposed to purely plot-driven story.

  5. Chris says:

    This season was a lot of fun to watch. I really enjoyed seeing Carrie’s character development, she’s my favorite heroine on TV right now so it’s always nice to sit back and see her character growth. Last night’s episode was a refreshing step back from all the shooting and bombing and just focusing on Carrie- Homeland’s character driven episodes are my favorites. Also, I really enjoyed this new refreshing dynamic between Carrie & Quinn, although it’s been building up since Season 2, their relationship is a unique one TV right now, two smart CIA agents who both need each other and are best of friends is really nice to see…they’re so much better when they’re together than apart and it also helps that Claire and Rupert’s chemistry is spot on. They’re scenes together in the finale were a breath of fresh air, I can’t wait to see the show give us more juicy stuff now that they’ve kissed. I hope in Season 5 Quinn will return back to Carrie, please don’t kill him off.

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