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Inside Homeland

The epic TV show has already won awards, and promises to keep everyone on the edge of their seats in the second season this fall
Marshall Fine
From the Print Edition:
The Brains Behind Homeland, May/June 2012

(continued from page 1)

(SPOILER ALERT: The following paragraphs reveal key plot points about the first season of “Homeland.”)

It’s the intersection of paranoia and terrorism, to be sure. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) is an American Marine, long thought dead before being rescued after eight years of captivity in Iraq and Afghanistan. Having suffered torture and worse, Brody must adjust to the life he left behind in the U.S., a life that went on without him. His wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin), assuming Brody was dead, launched a relationship with Brody’s best friend; Brody’s return causes ripple effects not just for Brody’s wife, but for their children as well.

Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is a CIA agent with a checkered career because of her tendency to buck authority. A couple of years earlier, she’d been told by an informant that there was an American POW who had been turned by his al-Qaeda captors into a sleeper agent, who will return to the U.S. and carry out an attack. Now Carrie believes Brody is that sleeper.

But Carrie has a secret of her own: She suffers from bipolar disorder, which she hides from her employers by illicitly getting drugs from her sister, a physician, that manage her illness. When Carrie expresses her suspicions about Brody to her CIA superior and mentor, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), the audience initially is left to wonder whether this is a fantasy whipped up as part of her condition or an example of her keen professional insight.

By the season finale, Brody has, in fact, been revealed (to the audience) as the sleeper agent Carrie believes, though she has no proof and can’t make anyone believe her. When he’s unable to carry out his suicide attack, Brody convinces his terrorist handlers that he is of more value to them alive, because his hero status has made him a political figure—one who the vice president has maneuvered into running for a suddenly empty Congressional seat.

Carrie, however, has had her mental illness revealed to her employers, who force her out of the CIA. She submits herself for electroshock therapy to deal with the depression part of her bipolar cycle, but just as she’s about to undergo the shock treatment (which will wipe out parts of her recent memory), she makes a mental connection that could prove Brody’s involvement with terrorists. Will she remember it when she wakes up? (END SPOILER ALERT.)

The show’s first season focused on issues—the nature of terrorism, the ramped-up security mentality in America post-9/11, the fallout of American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—in ways that no previous TV series had. Figuring out the story for that first season was challenging; why, Gordon and Gansa note, should creating the second season be any easier? After all, when Gordon and Gansa wrote the show’s pilot, they had a premise—a returning POW/war hero who was a possible terrorist sleeper-agent, a bipolar CIA agent who is the only one who suspects him—but not much else.

“We spent a lot of time mapping and charting where the Brody story would take us to,” Gansa says. “We did a lot of work on that because there were a lot of details to figure out. We were not aware early on of how Brody would carry out his plan.”
“Or what his target would be,” Gordon adds.

Observes Henry Bromell, a consulting producer for the show who wrote two episodes, “Alex and Howard had some strong ideas about what the first season would be, and those mostly changed as we went along.  No matter what you say you’re going to do, if a show’s good, it will change while you’re doing it.”

Damian Lewis, who plays Brody, says that when he initially discussed the role with Gordon and Gansa, “They never made it clear whether Brody was a terrorist or not. I had a series of conversations with them. Ultimately, you go on a hunch.”

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