Before “Homeland” signs off of Showtime this spring, it is going back to its beginning. Rather than “mirror and reflect what’s happening in Washington, D.C.” in the storytelling this season as the show did in the past two seasons, executive producer Alex Gansa said the focus will be on the characters of Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin).
The final season, Gansa said at the Television Critics Assn. press tour panel for the show Monday, is a “real resolution of the primal story” of the mentor and his protege. Additionally, “the really big idea of the season is that Carrie Mathison steps into Nicholas Brody’s shoes: She’s the one whose loyalty is questioned, not only by those in the intelligence community but by Carrie Mathison herself because her memory is fragmented by her time in captivity,” Gansa said.
For Danes, this is a moment of “perfect symmetry” for the show but also a new an exciting acting challenge for her personally. “Psychically it fuses Carrie with Brody in a way that felt right,” she explained. “She is so clear about her patriotism. She can be challenged in every way, but if her patriotism is questioned I think that is probably the most profound insult she can imagine, so that was also interesting to play and explore.”
Although Carrie started the series “100% gungho” about the country, Gansa pointed out, “as the seasons progressed she became disillusioned.” Although he isn’t quick to cop to focusing too closely on “themes” for the series, he admitted that one the show has always focused on is what counterterroism has done to America as a nation post-Sept. 11. “That attitude can be mirrored through [Carrie],” he said.
Gansa also noted as storytellers and filmmakers they never wanted to dramatize a threat that wasn’t credible or real. He cited “fearmongering” around immigration since the 2016 presidential election as an example. But he admitted there is one story that got away, so to speak.
“We wanted to tell a story in Israel,” he said, noting he felt there would be “something circular and great” about telling a story there, given that “Homeland” was developed with roots and inspiration in an Israeli drama. They attempted to crack such a story twice in the show’s run, including for the eighth and final season, but, he said, “it became really hard to put America in the center of that story and after months of trying to do it, we had to abandon that plan.”
Instead, they looked both to the first season as well as the fourth for some inspiration for the final. “Season 8 is for the people who have stuck with the show all of these years, and they’re going to get their rewards. … We wanted to take Carrie back to where she was in Season 4 and there were a lot of loose ends in that Season 4 story that we never tied up,” Gansa said, specifically calling out that the show would offer a resolution to Haissam Haqqani (Numan Acar). “And to put Saul in the middle of the peace negotiations felt like a natural place and so that’s where we chose to take the narrative.”
The team behind “Homeland” has taken trips to D.C. while working on every new season, to meet with policymakers and real-life intelligence offices and “people who are building the world around us, rather than merely reflecting on it,” which Dane noted was one of the things she would miss the most about the show.
As “reality has outpaced our ability to fictionalize” politics, executive producer Howard Gordon said, access to these power players in D.C. has “actually gotten more accessible.” He shared that much like ‘the characters who are testing the edges of their patriotism,” there are people in the real-life government who are questioning certain things as well. His experience has been that they have been “very open about talking with us, meeting with us.” In part, this might be, he speculated, because the show is an “amplifier” for big issues.
Patinkin, who said that the show “certainly increased my comfort zone of discussing world issues,” had a “plea to people who watch ‘Homeland’ all over the world — not just to use their imaginations or escape mechanism, but to use their minds to seek out the truth so that when they go to the polls to elect their officials, they are voting for people they believe will stop the killing, the hatred and the violence.”
Although “Homeland” is coming to an end this year, Patinkin said a show like this will remain relevant long after they fade to black.
“It’s a necessity not just for the news media but for storytellers in general to keep that story front and center for the sake of humanity,” he said.
The final season of “Homeland” premieres Feb. 9 on Showtime.