"Homeland" is back: "The biggest fears, the biggest things that were keeping all these specialists up at night were: Russia and ISIS"

"Homeland's" EP on global security, the series without Brody, Carrie as the show's protagonist, cyberterrorism

Published October 2, 2015 11:58AM (EDT)

  (Showtime/Stephan Rabold)
(Showtime/Stephan Rabold)

“Homeland,” on the eve of its fifth season, is barely recognizable as the show it debuted as in 2011. The Showtime drama continues to garner some kind of acclaim, but the show has never really recovered from the problem of what to do without Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), whose unstable relationship with lead Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) was the foundational appeal of the show.

It would be a common enough story if “Homeland” had simply ended, like most shows that prove unsustainable. But this, really, is the mingled curse and gift of “too much TV”; networks are reluctant to either better supervise shows or to cancel them, preferring instead to throw as many programs on the air as possible. And in the case of “Homeland,” though it is not the show it once was, the fumes of the first two seasons were heady enough to keep the show barreling forward, for both critics and audiences. Claire Danes was nominated for her role again at this month’s Emmys, and the show is the centerpiece of Showtime’s fall schedule. It continues to exist, and so we continue to confront it; though the character arcs of the show are tortured, at best, it is also the only prestige drama dealing entirely with global security in a way that consciously attempts verisimilitude. Despite “Homeland’s" failures in the last few seasons, it cannot help being a significant show.

Emmy-nominated director Lesli Linka Glatter signed on to executive-produce Showtime’s “Homeland” starting in Season 3—arguably the worst moment in the show’s history to start contributing creatively. Glatter directed the Emmy-winning episode “Q&A,” from Season 2, which is in many ways the apex of the show’s thematic explorations. When I spoke to her, she was on location in a small town in Germany, shooting “Homeland’s" fifth season, which debuts this Sunday night. Because she would know—and because I have loved the show, in the past—I subjected her to a line of questioning I can only call “the super-fan’s interrogation.” I’m not sure I got the exact answers I was looking for—Glatter is unfailingly positive about the series, of course. But I did learn something interesting, which is that Glatter sees the show as being about Carrie Mathison’s particular journey. Though she’s the protagonist, I’ve always seen “Homeland” as being more a show about the emotional toll of international conflict—the intimacy of surveillance, the psychological burden of understanding terrorism, the relationships that handlers have to make with people they are exploiting and might eventually kill. I prefer my take, because the last two seasons have not convinced me that Carrie is the best protagonist for the show. At the same time, Glatter’s take on “Homeland” offered me a lot of food for thought. The first few episodes of Season 5, which I had a chance to watch after I spoke to Glatter, did not assuage my doubts about the series, but I’m beginning to accept the more difficult truth, which is that “Homeland” is a pale facsimile of what it once was, but it still does some smart things, from time to time. I asked Glatter whether Carrie and Quinn are dating in Season 5, what the show’s sense of mission is post-Brody, and what’s the deal with all that jazz.

You’re in Germany. What are you filming in Germany? What’s happening?

Well, our season is actually based here. We’re shooting Berlin for Berlin, which—in my experience on “Homeland,” that’s a first. Last year, we were in Cape Town, South Africa, shooting Islamabad, Pakistan. When we find Carrie at the beginning of this season, she is out of the CIA. She’s in an actual relationship. She’s trying to atone for her past and has some kind of a life, literally for about five minutes. It’s about that journey—and being right where Germany is located in Europe, close to Russia.

What is Carrie doing, if she’s not in the CIA?

She is working for a foundation called the Düring Foundation, which is loosely, but very loosely, based on a very wealthy philanthropist, humanitarian foundation that does everything from humanitarian issues to investigative journalism, really trying to make a difference in the world. Otto Düring (played in the show by Sebastian Koch) is the kind of man who comes from a very wealthy family and is trying to do something positive with this family fortune. This would be a foundation that would be doing many things that the CIA would not approve of, certainly in terms of exposing material. If you believe in transparency, the CIA is about secrets, and deals in secrets. They have the strictest privacy laws here [Berlin], so it’s the perfect place for us to be based in this Internet hacker generation, the information age. We’re in the heart of it. Carrie has, in a certain way, not gone to the other side, but she’s made different choices right now.

You said she was in a relationship. Is she with Quinn at this point?

I’m going to let you find that out! I’m telling no secrets, because that would be no fun.

In addition to cyberterrorism, I was reading that Russian politics and Vladmir Putin in some form are going to play a role in this season, is that right?

Yes, yes. Every season, the writers, Alex Gansa, who created the show, and Claire [Danes] and Mandy [Patinkin] all go and have a series of four days, 12 hours a day, of meetings with extraordinary specialists in all different fields. Many people from the CIA and the DNI, about cyberterrorism and warfare — all different aspects of security in the world now. That is a big jumping-off point for the writers in terms of where the season goes. It’s so fascinating and overwhelming. And from these meetings, you know, the biggest fears, the biggest things that were keeping all these specialists up at night were: Russia and ISIS. Rightfully so. Our world continues to get more and more complicated, and the dialogue needs to reflect that. Now, TV is a place to be able to have that kind of dialogue, and to not necessarily have the answers, but to pose the questions.

So, you’re making a show about global security. Politics has to come into play. The choices that your story makes are going to be, whether you intend it or not, interpreted as political. How do you handle that? Especially, for example, this season with ISIS, which is a difficult group to be apolitical about.

I don’t want to be speaking for Alex Gansa and the writers room, but what fascinates me is seeing both sides of an issue. [With ISIS], that’s a tricky one. There’s so little leeway in their point of view. There’s really only one right way to see it. Their use of social media and recruiting films, it’s shockingly sophisticated, and therefore very upsetting as a result of it. But yes, that’s what turned the world upside down and is totally accessible. That’s how they’re attracting young people as well. It’s a point of view that’s not very accepting of other people’s points of view. That’s very difficult. With trying to present both sides of an argument, that’s a tougher one, a very challenging one. We’re in this circular situation where things affect other things. The fact that a TV show can do that kind of global impact: It’s a huge reach. Think of the responsibility.

One of the reasons why I think our readers have liked the show so much is that it engages with the narrative of national security in a way that has cinematic action that is still new to TV — it’s something that requires budget and direction like yours, that is more common on TV than ever before, but requires a good outlay from a network.

This kind of subject matter—of things that are very current, that don’t have answers, where the audience actually has to engage in that, in their own conversation, because it doesn’t present a right or wrong—these issues that we’re all dealing with in this 21st century are immense. Things that people have never had to deal with before. Yes, war, and there’s many things that generationally people have dealt with, but the access to information — the information age — this is a brave new world.

Last season was about Carrie adjusting to becoming a mother. What was behind the decision of having her be pregnant as a result of her last encounter with Brody?

Well, you know, the whole relationship with Frannie, with her daughter, last season was so extraordinarily complicated, because of Carrie’s complicity in Brody’s death, and Franny reminding Carrie so much of [Brody] that she could barely deal with their daughter. Last season, she was so high-functional, but emotionally detached. The process of everything that happened in the season, it forced her to finally look at herself, and deal with her own emotional state. When we find her now in Season 5, she has begun that process of atoning for her past.

But she can’t get very far away from this past. One of the things that has always fascinated me about “Homeland” is that the truth lives somewhere in the gray. There’s no black and white. Everyone has an opinion.

In Episode 2 [of the fifth season, “The Tradition of Hospitality”], two different characters talk about this idea of privacy. They have completely opposing views, and they are both absolutely correct. It’s an amazing scene because these two women are completely, absolutely committed to their points of view. That’s what’s so exciting to me about this show. The heart of it is the amazing Claire Danes, who is just an extraordinary human and a fearless actress and will explore those complicated issues of being a mother but not a very good one, not knowing how to deal with her child. We find her, at the beginning of this season, trying to be all of that. Being a mother, being in a relationship. But again, her past is not letting her do that.

I have wondered at times if Carrie’s bipolar disorder is meant, in some ways, to be metaphorical.

One of the things that certainly Claire and I are always talking about is, “If she is medicated, that’s very different than when she’s not medicated.” What level is she at? That’s a very different way of dealing with emotions, of how she sees the world. It’s a very fascinating perspective because of this disorder that she has. In many ways, it can be a huge plus. She’s had moments of brilliant clarity when she’s been in the manic state. I would say the character sees it as a gift. It’s a double-edged sword.

The jazz scoring Carrie’s specific type of breakdown has become a joke at this point. I’m curious if you’re still using it or how you feel that works for the show.

That was something that they worked with and discovered from the beginning. I think that’s transformed over the years. It’s still very much part of when you look at the opening credits, but, you know, again Carrie overseas is a little bit different. We’re seeing a different, next stage of her career, her development. We’re able to travel to Germany with her. Certainly jazz is reflective of that, but I think that’s transformed as well. But listen, to be a MAD magazine fold-out, that’s fantastic! It’s great!

It speaks to how people are so plugged into the show. And reflects the show’s commitment to relevancy.

You can only try to tell a good story and have it be as researched and as truthful as possible. It still is a story. We’re hopefully being honest to the truth of the information we’re getting. But it is a story, it is a made-up story. I think the fact that it happens to be very timely and dealing with things that are current keep it very relevant. The writers research everything. There is always an element of truth to everything. But it is a story. For me, that is completely fascinating. Some of this stuff I’m getting on email, I’m sure I’m being targeted by I don’t know who. With all the research, I don’t know if I should be saying this. I just got some information sent to me — I don’t want to go into the specifics — very specific information about ISIS. If I somebody looked at what I downloaded on my computer, I would absolutely be suspect. All of us probably are, just because it’s a kind of research we’re doing to try to be as realistic as possible.

You came on as an executive producer after Brody was condemned. What’s it like making this show that was so built on Damian Lewis as Brody? What’s been your guiding force, going forward?

Well, the thing for me, as a director, that’s been thrilling is that the beginning of Season 4 was a whole reinvention of the show. In fact, every year is a different show. What we’re doing now — again, another reinvention. A different country, Carrie’s in a different place. That’s very thrilling. That’s almost like every season, you’re doing a new pilot for this show that is continuing characters, but in a totally different form. That’s thrilling. It’s a huge challenge as a director, being a part of this extraordinary team. I feel amazingly lucky to be a part of this team.

Because that Carrie-Brody relationship was such a linchpin for the show, the reception for Seasons 3 and 4 have been more mixed. How has that affected you guys, creatively?

Obviously, I’d want everyone to love everything. But I think, actually, the reception of Season 4 has been fantastic. I know Season 3 was very mixed. It was a very interesting season, very rich and complicated, but ending the Brody story was a huge deal. The first two seasons were amazing, and that’s a huge story to end, and what will the show be after that? I think it certainly reinvented, in a very exciting way. The CIA works overseas. To actually be with a chief of station and the station be part of that process of being an American overseas offered a different insight that we hadn’t seen before.

I haven’t been quite sure what the show’s driving narrative forward is, now that Brody is dead. I watched Season 4 and I found myself a little unsure of what to hold on to. What would you tell me, as that viewer? What is “Homeland” about, at this point, to you?

Oh wow, that’s a really good question. I’m going to think about that for a second, because I’ve just had a 13-hour workday. I would say that it’s very much to me about the contemporary dialogue—both politically and driven through this very complicated character. For me, there’s always the juxtaposition between the personal and the character and the global and the macrocosm and the microcosm. I feel like we have this amazing character who takes us through the storytelling to look at the world and the world we’re living in. I’m being incredibly inartistic, but I think that she — Carrie Mathison — is such a compelling character, and I think her journey is part and parcel with what “Homeland” is about, juxtaposed to the world and what is happening in the world currently.

By Sonia Saraiya

MORE FROM Sonia Saraiya

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Claire Danes Damian Lewis Homeland Lesli Linka Glatter Showtime Tv