Is Showtime's Homeland the first post-post-9/11 TV show?
In a word, yes, according to Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, the former 24 producers who developed the show.
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"If you look at 24, it was a response to the towers coming down. It was about America taking action against enemies," Gansa tells TVGuide.com. "This is very much a response to Osama bin Laden's death. It's a psychological exploration of what this war on terror has meant to the United States and meant to the individuals that are involved in it."
Adds Gordon: "It's really about what we have to fear now that all the boogeymen of the last 10 years ... are no longer alive or in jail. We're left asking ourselves, 'What are we afraid of and what does that look like?' It doesn't mean there aren't things that are threatening us out there, but it does mean that those things are a little bit less obvious than we thought they were 10 years ago."
In this case, the threat may be Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), a Marine sniper who's been missing for eight years. When Brody is discovered during a raid on a known terrorist's compound, CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) does all she can (including illegally installing surveillance equipment in his house) to prove that Brody has been turned by al-Qaida and may be aiding the next stateside attack.
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There are just a couple problems: Carrie's theory is based solely on some old intel she received from a soon-to-be-executed source. And she suffers from a psychiatric disorder that she's hiding from her superiors in the CIA. "Because the first six or seven episodes really focus on the question of whether or not Brody has been turned by al-Qaida, Carrie's reliability is front and center in the story," Gansa says. "She's the one who's propagating this unpopular theory about Brody. And the audience is meant to question whether we can trust her opinions about this."
Perhaps providing the audience a little guidance is Carrie's mentor, Saul (Mandy Patinkin), who may also end up in trouble for giving her theory creedence. "This is a guy with a big beating heart, who is a legend inside the agency," Gansa says. "As his feelings about Carrie evolve and change, I think that the audience will look to him to try to get a baseline about how to feel. But Carrie's illness is such that she does reckless and rogue things. And at a certain point, I think anybody who's close to her is going to suffer the consequences of those actions. And that's certainly true of Saul."
Meanwhile, Brody returns home to a wife (Morena Baccarin) who, in Brody's absence, has begun sleeping with his best friend. Plus, he's greeted by a rebellious teenage daughter and a son who has never known his father. "We use the family as a way to dramatize how Brody reintegrates into his old life and how difficult that is," Gansa says. "For some POWs, a marriage and a family feels like a prison into itself."
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But could the family interaction perhaps affect Brody's decisions if he has become an al-Qaida sleeper? That's a question audiences will likely wrestle for much of the season. "The big question was how long can we do this and be compelling and not make the audience feel like we're jerking them around," Gordon says. "I think we found the balance of answering certain questions, which don't necessarily confirm that he is or isn't a terrorist, but that certainly still speak to what he's become and what he's experienced."
Then again, when is a terrorist actually a terrorist? "The question doesn't end just when you answer has he been turned or not," Gansa says. "I mean, hypothetically, if he has been turned, he's really not a terrorist until he commits an act of terrorism. There's the ability to dramatize the struggle within himself of whether or not he's going to go through with it. He will go through a psychic struggle one way or the other."
Ultimately, Gansa says, Carrie's and Brody's equally fragile states will play against each other. "In her surveillance of this man, she begins to develop feelings for him that aren't kosher, that are beside the point," he says. "Really, the series becomes a collision between these two characters — a collision between two people who have been damaged and who are damaged."
And that may well be the lasting observation the series makes on our post-post-9/11 world. "I would say if there is any sort of message, it's that nothing is for free," Gordon says. "We're meticulously not trying to make any commentaries or even polemics about morality. We're trying to certainly ask the questions, but I don't think we're trying to answer them."
Homeland premieres Sunday at 10/9c on Showtime.