[WARNING: The following story contains major spoilers from Sunday's Homeland. Read at your own risk.]
If something has seemed off about this season of Homeland, there's a good reason for it: That's exactly what the writers wanted!
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"I was an amateur magician when I was a kid, and my favorite magic trick was always the one in which the magician convinces the audience that he's made a mistake," executive producer Alex Gansa tells TVGuide.com. That's what we were going for this season. [We wanted the audience thinking,] 'How are they going to dig themselves out of this hole? ... They're killing the series right in front our eyes!' And yet you lay down that final card, and you realize that the magician, the writers, have been one step ahead."
Sunday's episode revealed the writers' magic trick as Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) was mysteriously released from her psychiatric hold and allowed to go home. Carrie eventually learned that it wasn't the CIA that arranged her release, but the representatives of Majid Javadi (Sean Toub) — the same man Saul (Mandy Patinkin) has been chasing — who wants Carrie to share information about how the CIA is tracking him and his associates.
After Carrie does the unthinkable and tells Javadi's lawyer (Martin Donovan) she'll be a rat, Carrie sneaks her way to Saul's house. Once there, she reveals her plan to be a double agent, but the audience also learns that everything that's happened this season — Saul's testimony before the senate, Carrie's hospitalization — was a master plan to lure Javadi out!
But has the damage already been done to Saul and Carrie's relationship? And could viewers feel betrayed by this elaborate long con? TVGuide.com chatted with Gansa to answer all our burning questions. (Sorry, there's plenty more Dana ahead!)
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In your mind, when did Carrie and Saul hatch this master plan?
Alex Gansa: I think they decided the very next day after the bomb went off. Carrie and Saul were culpable in what happened, and they were looking for some way to make good, to make it right, to get the guy who was ultimately responsible. They began to hatch the plan right then to figure out how to lure the bad guy of the season, Javadi, out of his anonymity in Iran.
So, Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) and Quinn (Rupert Friend) don't know about this?
Gansa: For the first four episodes they were totally outside the circle. This was a ruse and a plot that was hatched just between Carrie and Saul.
There were a lot of machinations to this plot. Saul continued to pursue Javadi on his own, for example. Was that just to throw the audience off or was it a backup plan?
Gansa: One of the things that our intelligence officer consultants [told us] is that the most effective intelligence operations are 95 percent true. Carrie and Saul were largely to blame for what happened and [they knew] the CIA would be looking for a scapegoat to take the blame. How would they turn that into a silver lining? This was a huge gamble, and Carrie was asked to sacrifice a lot in that gamble. It's not a sure thing, so Saul was really playing all sides of the equation here. And you will see that he's got a Phase 2 of the operation in mind, which he is not sharing with Carrie. Saul is very much the puppeteer here. He's the maestro.
Why would Carrie react the way she did to Saul "outing" her during his senate testimony if she knew this was all a scam?
Gansa: Saul is the one who leaked the idea that she was having a sexual relationship with Brody to the committee. Carrie was aware that he was doing that. However, it doesn't diminish the reality of it when it's actually presented in front of you. When we were shooting it, we were talking to Claire about, "This moment is going to have to play two ways. It's going to have to play one way if the audience is watching it for the first time not understanding that this is a ruse." But when you go back and look at it again, you'll understand that she's not surprised by what she's hearing. She's amazed at how it affects her to understand that she is to blame for what happened. That's where the emotion catches up with her in an unexpected way.
Do Carrie's feelings about being committed fall into similar territory?
Gansa: That's part of the 95 percent of the con that's true. Carrie honestly believes that because she was on her meds at the end of Season 2, she missed something. So, she is wrestling in an honest way with whether or not to take the lithium. That's very present in her mind and it's a real honest struggle that will propel her further into the season.
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This obviously undoes some of the tension we saw building between Saul and Carrie after his "betrayal." But Carrie still seems upset that she had to stay in the hospital for so long.
Gansa: There are degrees of how far you take these operations, and for Carrie, he took it too far. So, that relationship, though they've been on the same side, is still tenuous. And you will see going forward that they're not best pals. It has exacted a toll on each of them and on their relationship.
How much, if anything, does Saul know about Carrie's involvement in helping Brody (Damian Lewis) escape?
Gansa: Carrie has not told Saul that she shepherded Brody across the border. That's not something she has shared with Saul, just as there's a Phase 2 of the operation that Saul hasn't shared with Carrie. So they are withholding things from each other and that will come to a head as we move further along into the season.
Speaking of Brody, we left him in a dark spot. What can you say about how you want to work him back into the story?
Gansa: I can't say anything except to tell you that Brody is a very big part of the architecture of the rest of the season. If I tease it any more than that, I think it will spoil it for people. ... We look at the season this year in three movements. The end of the fourth episode is the end of the first movement of the season. One of the pleasures of watching this season unfold is I hope we've caught you by surprise. I have not read anybody calling this at all.
I entertained the idea of Carrie agreeing to meet with this mystery figure only to be a double agent. I did not expect everything we'd seen to all be an effort to set up that scenario.
Gansa: I was an amateur magician when I was a kid, and my favorite magic trick was always the one in which the magician convinces the audience that he's made a mistake. The audience is going, "Oh my God, he's f------ up," and then you reveal the fact that the magician has been in front of you the whole time. That's what we were going for this season. [We wanted the audience thinking,] "How are they going to dig themselves out of this hole? How can Carrie ever be part of the CIA? They're killing the series right in front our eyes." And yet you lay down that final card, and you realize that the magician, the writers, have been one step ahead.
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Do you worry about whether viewers will trust what they're seeing on screen moving forward? Or is that the point on a show about spies?
Gansa: That's the entire point. Maybe we played the con one episode too long. That's for the audience and the critics to decide, but that was the play. It was always going to be a slow burn. It was going to be trying people's patience, asking them to figure out what the f--- is going on. Why is Saul behaving like this? How can Carrie ever become part of the CIA again? Are they painting themselves into a corner that they can never get out of? These were all the questions that we wanted front and center as a jumping off point for this particular episode.
The audience has been pretty vocal about the Dana (Morgan Saylor) story line, and it has nothing to do with this ruse. What are your thoughts on the reaction that plot has gotten so far?
Gansa: You have to watch that story play out. The truth of the matter is that the Dana-Brody story, that father-daughter relationship, is very important to the series. I'm not going to defend the Dana story. Obviously some people like it, some people hate it. The emotional truth of what Dana is going through does become very important as we move into the second and third movements of the season. That's not to say that her story will be front and foremost as we move into the second and third movements, but it was important for us to set her emotional table.
If the slower pace was intentional in these early episodes, should we expect things to pick up considerably in these next movements?
Alex Gansa: The pace does pick up. It picks up in the second movement, although we're still taking our time. But by the third movement, we're back into full throttle Homeland.
So does Saul think that catching Javadi will end the CIA's problems with the senate committee? Is that his ultimate trump card?
Gansa: The short answer to that is no. I would just leave you with that. Saul has a bigger play than just catching the guy.
Homeland airs Sundays at 9/8c on Showtime. What did you think of the twist?
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS, Showtime's parent company.)