'Homeland' showrunner on that huge twist, and defending season 3

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SPOILERS: Just when you started to think the Homeland team was writing season 3’s scripts in Crazy Carrie’s green pen, Sunday night’s hour unveiled a twist that upended everything you have seen this season.

The Emmy-winning Showtime drama series’ first few episodes this fall showed Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) locked in a mental institution, publicly humiliated, betrayed by the CIA and — most hurtfully — thrown under the bus by her closest ally and father figure Saul (Mandy Patinkin). It was a brutal arc that left some viewers frustrated and dismayed. Then at the very end of tonight’s hour, there was this revelation: Carrie and Saul have been secretly in cahoots to ruin her reputation to lure out the mastermind responsible for last season’s memorial bombing. Suddenly it seems Carrie isn’t a reckless victim, but as the episode’s “Game On” title suggests, very much in the game, and has been this whole time.

What’s particularly brilliant about this move is that Carrie’s live-wire methods and hunches constantly test the trust and faith of everybody around her. But fans are accustomed to being in the loop, and we get to feel righteously judgmental when others doubt Carrie because we know the truth. This season, the writers gambled by turning the tables: They tested our faith and trust — in Carrie’s sanity, in Saul’s morality, and in the wisdom of the show’s own narrative path.

Below, showrunner Alex Gansa takes our burning questions about the twist, tackles online Dana bashing, and teases the rest of the season:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You tricked us!
ALEX GANSA: I hope in a nice way. Was it in a nice way?

Yes, definitely.
Great. I was an amateur magician when I was in my early teens and my favorite magic tricks were always the ones where the magician makes the audience think he’s made a mistake. Then at the end of the trick you realize the magician has been ahead of you all the time. I hope we came close to that.

So all these weeks fans who were getting annoyed about Carrie being crazy again, getting locked up and Saul throwing her under the bus, were you just reading the online comments thinking, “You just wait. I’ll show you. I’ll show you all!”
I was just hoping we hadn’t played it for one or two episodes too long. It was a long con and maybe we played it for one episode too many. I have no idea, we’re too close to it. I hope it goes a long way toward answering a lot of questions the first three episodes posed.

So presumably that twist was planned from the start as the way of getting Carrie back in the game — not that she apparently ever left.
Absolutely. We view season 3 in three movements, each four episodes, and this is the end of the first movement.

Did you expect viewers to react as strongly as some did to the first three episodes?
We were hoping they would react strongly. In discussions with our consultants — CIA officers both retired and active that we talk to — all of these intelligence operations, the most successful ones are the ones that are the most true. And this is 95 percent true. She and Saul were culpable for what happened at the end of season two. Carrie was questioning her meds. And Saul, the mantle of leadership does not rest easily on his shoulders. Everything is true — except they’re playing a ruse.

Did Carrie really go off her meds, or just pretend to? 
Carrie went off her meds because she truly believes that on them she was dulled. That part is accurate. And the fact that she’s dismayed beyond belief to have been left on that psych ward was true. But it was required. That was the part of the sacrifice that she had to make.

Thus Carrie telling Saul to f–k off when only he could hear it — it makes sense, just in a different way.
Right.

And the other part of this relief is that Saul wasn’t selling her out.
He was clearly the one who leaked the information to the committee about her having an affair with Brody (Damian Lewis) But she was aware that was going to happen. It didn’t diminish the power of it actually happening in front of a national audience. So when she’s reacting to what Saul’s saying, she’s reacting to what it really means, that this is what it feels like. You go back and watch it again. We spent a lot of time with Claire on the set making sure both [ways of viewing the story] were playing.

But then what are we to make of Carrie going to Saul’s house all agitated looking to confront him after he made that revelation?  
She was going back to talk to him about it. And since she didn’t find him there and only Carrie and Saul are playing this, she has to play a role for Mira.

So Saul is the only person who knows? Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) is not in on this?
No. It was hatched between Saul and Carrie in the days following the CIA attack.

If Saul is the only person who knows, that still makes her position pretty vulnerable.
Correct. And it doesn’t make things entirely sanguine between them either. He’s still asking her to do more and she’s not entirely comfortable with it and it has exacted a toll on both of them.

And it was such a public shaming. Now everybody in America thinks Carrie is totally unprofessional and slutty.
They had to find a silver lining in what happened. How do they catch the people responsible? They dangle her out as bait.

I have been wondering if you guys think that Carrie being off her meds and out of control is a bit like Jack Bauer going into exile during every cycle for 24, then he’s brought back into the fold — or, in Carrie’s case, back to sanity. Do you think it’s something she will keep going back to?
This is the plight of a lot of people with bipolar diseases. They miss the highs of being medication-free. That’s when they feel most alive. So to go on medication feels like denying some intrinsic part of themselves. Our view of Carrie’s battle with the meds this season is very much a professional one and in our view it’s very different than what’s come before. She’s doing this because she feels incredibly guilty because she didn’t see what was in front of her eyes in season two. She wants her eyes to be fully open.

Don’t you, as a writer, feel Carrie is a compelling enough character to write her for a whole season without her being off her meds, or out of control?
I think clearly the answer is yes. One of the things you’ll discover this season is that she very much is on her game. What she’s pulled off is huge. And she’s done it in an incredibly professional way and sacrificed a great deal in the process. She’s been an unbelievable intelligence officer these first four episodes.

NEXT: Dana’s online backlash “started to drive me mad”


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