Claire Danes

Exactly one week before the Season 2 launch of Showtime's Homeland, the freshman drama won four Emmys, including best drama series, snapping the four-year winning streak of AMC's Mad Men. "It has been the most outrageous three weeks of my professional life," co-creator Alex Gansa tells TVGuide.com. "It's been an unbelievable experience and doubly sweet because it was so unexpected. There is an angel on our shoulders somewhere. I don't know how we deserve it or why we have it, but we're so grateful."

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It's also one heck of a launching pad for the show's second season. Although there is tons of buzz and excitement currently surrounding the show, the characters within it find themselves in a state of relative calm as Season 2 premieres (Sunday at 10/9c, Showtime), thanks to a six-month time jump between seasons.

"We were at such a high level of anxiety in the storytelling — everything was just vibrating at that time," Gansa says. "To pick it up a couple days or a week later, we'd sort of almost be obligated to pick it up at that same intensity level. If you start at that level, by the time you tell a couple episodes, it's going to feel preposterous where you have to go. So our strategy was to really throttle down, to start up slow and then build the season to another point of high anxiety."

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To recap: Season 1 ended with bipolar CIA Agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) in a manic flight as she tried one last time to prove that Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) had been turned into a terrorist during the eight years he spent as a prisoner of war. Although Carrie was right -- Brody indeed planned a suicide mission to assassinate the vice president on behalf of Abu Nazir -- Brody's attempt failed, making Carrie look all the more crazy.

Disgraced and losing control of her mental disorder, Carrie agreed to undergo short-term-memory-erasing electroconvulsive therapy. But just before the switch was thrown, she figured out Brody's connection to Issa, Nazir's son, and realized Brody's revenge-based motive for betraying his country.

Naturally, that piece of intel will remain hidden in Carrie's mind for a while, and Season 2 begins with a peaceful Carrie audiences have never seen before. Similarly, things are looking up for Brody, who has patched things up with his wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin) and, after being elected to Congress, is on the verge of being chosen by Vice President Walden (Jamey Sheridan) as his running mate in the next election. But ongoing tensions in the Middle East soon upset the balance in both Carrie and Brody's lives.

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After a period of relative silence, Abu Nazir reaches out to Brody via a journalist (Zuleikha Robinson). He's given a mission that Brody believes violates the terms of their agreement at the end of Season 1. "He's started to convince himself that actually maybe it is possible that Nazir won't ask any more of him," Gansa says. "[Brody's] bargain with Nazir was, 'I'm not going to do any more overt acts of terrorism. I'm not blowing anybody up. I'm going to influence policy from within the halls of power.' [And] his functioning as a congressman has been incredibly rewarding to him personally and professionally. That all gets exploded in the first episode and puts Brody on a very slippery slope, which he'll be on for most of the season."

Nazir's plans also bring the terrorist leader to Beirut, where Carrie's former handler Saul (Mandy Patinkin) is now the station chief. When a former asset of Carrie's shows up with information about an attack on America, Saul reluctantly reaches out to Carrie for help. "He is torn between his personal and professional relationship to Carrie," Gansa says. "He knows how much it cost her last year. But at the same time, he's also got that intelligence bug. It's what he does. It's what he's dedicated his life to and in this particular instance there really isn't a choice."

And there isn't really a choice for Carrie either. "She's a dedicated intelligence officer whose whole life up to this point has been about protecting Americans," Gansa says. "When she hears that she could be instrumental in averting [an attack], that's a very powerful draw on her. She realizes the risks that it might pose to her own mental health, but she can't resist. It's what she does. It's what turns her on. It's her raison d'etre, and it's hard to turn your back on that. She's most alive when she's flying close to the sun."

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Even though they can't know it, Carrie and Brody are once again on a collision course. As for the moment they meet again? "I think it's the most charged moment we've done so far," Gansa says with glee. "Carrie clearly remembers what happened to her. She remembers who Brody is. She remembers the fact that she suspected Brody, and she's convinced that she was wrong about him."

But she may not stay convinced very long. "We now know who Brody is, why he is what he is, and what he planned to do last season," Gansa says. "We're going to have to put Brody in another situation where he is pressure-cooked. And it opens up an entirely new possibility for how Carrie and Brody are going to relate to each other."

But the big question remains: Will Carrie once again fly too close to the sun? "It's kind of the point of the whole season in a way," Gansa says. "Carrie is going to have some very, very difficult choices to make by the end of this season."

Homeland premieres Sunday at 10/9c on Showtime.