In 'Homeland,' It's Hard To Know Whom To Trust Heroic POW or al-Qaida double agent? Howard Gordon, creator and producer of the new Showtime thriller, Homeland, talks about the twists and turns of the series, and explains why it's very different from his previous show, 24.
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In 'Homeland,' It's Hard To Know Whom To Trust

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In 'Homeland,' It's Hard To Know Whom To Trust

In 'Homeland,' It's Hard To Know Whom To Trust

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DAVE DAVIES, host: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. Howard Gordon is a TV writer/producer was made a specialty out of telling unusual stories in unusual ways. He wrote and produced for the "X-Files," wrote scripts for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," and "Beauty and the Beast," and was executive producer of "24," the high speed, often highly controversial adventures of counterterrorist agent Jack Bauer.

His latest series, the Showtime drama "Homeland," which started this month, also deals with terrorism and counterterrorist investigators. But this time we aren't sure, at least initially, who's the true hero of the story. In this scene from the pilot, CIA officer David Estes, played by David Harewood, his briefing agents on the results of a mission in Afghanistan, which led to the discovery and rescue of a prisoner of war who was missing and presumed dead for years.

The rescued prisoner is Nicolas Brody, played by Damian Lewis. But while watching the video of Brody at the briefing, one CIA agent, Carrie Mathison speaks up with the question. She's played by Claire Danes.


DAMIAN LEWIS: (as Nicolas Brody) I'm an American.

DAVID HAREWOOD: (as David Estes) Turns out he's one of ours. Marine Sergeant Nicolas Brody, MIA since early 2003 and presumed dead, until now.

CLAIRE DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) What happened to his partner? Brody was a scout sniper. They worked in pairs. Corporal Thomas Walker also went missing that day.

HAREWOOD: (as David Estes) According to Sergeant Brody, Walker was killed during their captivity. But that shouldn't damper what is a major win for the agency and for everyone in this room. You should all take a moment, give yourselves a big hand. Because of you, an American hero is coming home.


DAVIES: What makes "Homeland" so unusual and so dramatic is that Brody is either a hero, or as Carrie suspects, a double agent was turned by al-Qaida. While Carrie acts with certitude, others aren't so sure. And unlike Jack Bauer on his missions in "24,"she could be dead wrong.

Our TV critic, David Bianculli, spoke with "Homeland" co-creator Howard Gordon last week, days before the program's premiere.

DAVID BIANCULLI: Howard Gordon, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

HOWARD GORDON: Thanks, David. It's good to be here.

BIANCULLI: How much time was there between the ending of "24," in terms of you're working on it, and your deciding that "Homeland" was going to be your next project?

GORDON: Well, in typical Hollywood fashion, I was halfway through the season on "24" and Rick Rosen, who was my agent, represents this Israeli company called Keshet, which produced the HBO show "In Treatment." And Rick had come back from Israel on a trip visiting his clients, and said I have your next show. So this was an Israeli format and I said, you know, again, I was so distracted with "24" I said sure, sounds great, and kind of signed on blindly. And Alex Gansa, my old friend and writing partner and someone who was working on "24" at the time - I chatted with him and we wound up saying yeah, let's maybe do this together. It would be fun.

BIANCULLI: Now when you signed on for American rights for it or to adapt it for America, didn't even exist yet as a television program or was it still in script form?

GORDON: In Israel it had been - the first 10 scripts had been written and were actually being shot at the time we took it on as an adaptation. But it really does bear very little similarity to its Israeli version. It's really about two guys who were POWs for a very long time and come back. There were three, two of them come back. And it really is more of a Rip van Winkle story that was very specific to that country and to the residences Gilad Shalit and the sensitivity, you know, that's very specific and idiosyncratic to an Israeli audience that really - because we don't have POWs - or at least none that we know of, or very few of them - it's not a national issue for us. And so we created this character and this ongoing implication of a returning soldier. So there was something of it that really we took from that that was valuable, but we really re-created an entire layer then maybe the thriller, where before, it wasn't.

BIANCULLI: So was that the most compelling thing about it for you, was the idea of using the POW experience?

GORDON: The character of Nicolas Brody, a returning veteran, someone who actually had been presumed dead and was now discovered alive 10 years later, was just a really compelling idea for us to ask a lot of questions about the war, the wars and our response to what happened 10 years ago and how our world has changed. And who better than a returning warrior, to explore some of the issues?

I mean it goes back to Odysseus and the "Iliad" and, you know, the returning warrior is a staple in literature. And frankly, we were stunned that it wasn't on the air or hadn't really been treated in movies in a way that we felt it needed to be treated. We think the long frame of - Alex and I both talked about this at length - and it really kind of needed or novelistic approach that even a movie could accommodate. So we loved that character and we loved the idea, reciprocally, of a hero on the other side of the table who was trying to stop some bad thing from happening, who herself was unreliable, who herself, you know, whose own account and whose own fears might or might not be valid. Very different from Jack Bauer.

BIANCULLI: Let's play a clip the first time that they were on opposite sides of the table. From the premiere episode of "Homeland." It's the first time that the returning POW, Marine Sergeant Nicolas Brody, comes face-to-face with CIA officer Carrie Mathison. Everyone else at the debriefing, including her boss, played by David Harewood, sees Brody as a hero but Carrie suspects he may be a traitor, and after a softball introduction, questions him accordingly. Damian Lewis plays Brody, Claire Danes plays Cary.



DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) My name is Carrie Mathison. I served as a case officer in Iraq. Your picture was on our MIA wall. I saw it every day for five years. It's good to meet you in person.

LEWIS: (as Sergeant Nicolas Brody) Thank you, ma'am.

DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) I'm sorry we were unable to find you sooner.

LEWIS: (as Sergeant Nicolas Brody) I appreciate that.

DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) I'd like to start with the first few days of your captivity, if you don't mind.

LEWIS: (as Sergeant Nicolas Brody) Not at all.

DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) How soon after you were taken did the interrogations begin?

LEWIS: (as Sergeant Nicolas Brody) Pretty much right away.

DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) What did they want to know?

LEWIS: (as Sergeant Nicolas Brody) Anything I could tell about U.S. ground operations, supply routes, communication codes, rules of engagement.

DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) When you were debriefed in Germany you said you gave up no such information.

LEWIS: (as Sergeant Nicolas Brody) My SERE training was excellent.

DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) And Corporal Walker?

LEWIS: (as Sergeant Nicolas Brody) Ma'am?

DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) Did he give anything up?

LEWIS: (as Sergeant Nicolas Brody) We were never interrogated together so I don't know.

DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) But still, you must have wondered, especially after you learned of his death.

HAREWOOD: (as David Estes) I'm assuming this point to all this, Carrie.

DANES: (as Carrie Mathison) Oh, there is, sir. As you know, the first 72 hours after a soldier is captured are critical. What he knows can be used by the enemy during that period to devastating effect. The point is, Sergeant Brody stopped being a source of actionable intelligence fairly quickly and yet he was kept alive for almost eight more years. I'd like to ask him if he knows why.

LEWIS: (as Sergeant Nicolas Brody)I often wondered that myself.

BIANCULLI: If you're just joining us, our guest is Howard Gordon, one of the executive producers and writers of the new Showtime drama series "Homeland." Can you talk about the subtlety of the acting and reacting in that clip?

GORDON: Well, it's a very tricky and very high-stakes game that's happening here, because Carrie has got the suspicion that she's not shared with her superiors so she can't show her hand. He obviously cannot show his, to the extent that he has one, although we do learn in a privileged point of view that he has a memory that shows that he's lying. So as it turns out, the hunted and the hunter and, you know, are, at the same time, very much alike as people. Psychologically they're both very broken people. They're both veterans of the same war and they're both damaged.

But the two of them are just spectacular. I mean we pinch ourselves every day that Damian and Claire heading up the cast.

BIANCULLI: I've previewed the first three episodes and for the first three episodes, except for a scene or two, Brody and Carrie are kept apart and yet they are so together for those first three episodes because she set, up surveillance equipment and watches him and he's usually alone, so they're sharing this a long time together. I thought that was, not only a fascinating structure, but clearly one that you had to do intentionally and for a reason. So what's the reason?

GORDON: Well, the reason was to develop a sort of lopsided intimacy from Carrie. Carrie is this person who has given up the idea of having a family, let alone even a loving relationship. In it she watches and invades the privacy - and by the way, the constitutionally guaranteed privacy of this family - she winds up becoming attached in a very voyeuristic way. And, you know, Alex and I discussed some inspirations like, you know, "Rear Window" in "The Lives of Others" and "The Conversation." That really was it. And what's the price of this invasion of other people's privacy, what does it do to the watcher?

BIANCULLI: There are a couple of scenes where she is watching something on surveillance. I don't want to say what it is, but where she decides that she doesn't want to watch it anymore and literally turns the monitor away so she can't see it. And it is during the scenes where Brody is with his wife, played by Morena Baccarin, if I am pronouncing her name correctly.

GORDON: That's right.

BIANCULLI: And it is when they are the most intimate, they're in the bedroom, Carrie has installed a camera in there, so we are seeing what I think we are meant to believe is the only time where Brody really lets his guard completely drop is when he is having physical relations with his wife. But these relations, it's an emotional intimacy, not just physical. And sometimes it's more violent, it's more distant, and it's creepy. But viewers are still voyeuristically drawn into the scene – scene - and it sort of makes us complicit in a way that I thought Alfred Hitchcock used to do. And again, what are the lines that you're trying to draw about how the audience is supposed to perceive this and accept it and want to see or not see these different images and scenes?

GORDON: Yeah. Well, you're hitting exactly on something that Alex and I talked about at length, that this really is a series about perception; and in some ways, you know, frames, how people are framing other people with their expectations. And, of course, at the biggest level, here's Nicholas Brody who's greeted by a public and he's on inside the frame of the television as this great hero home from the hill, who actually is political office later. So he's the charismatic perfect family with this dramatic story. From the privacy of Carrie's voyeuristic, you know, invasion of their privacy, we're seeing this awful drama unfold in the privacy.

I think the thing you're referring to is very uncomfortable. You know, we created about as uncomfortable a moment as one can imagine - that you feel yourself wanting to turn away but compelled to stay watching. And so the audience is complicit, as you described, in this voyeurism as well. So we also were treated to the objective views of Nicholas Brody imagining or remembering his own past and filling in for us the story of what happened to him while he was there, while he was a captive. But is that a real or is that, you know, how reliable is memory itself? So it really is about perception, about perspective, and about this, where the fault lines between all those points of views.

BIANCULLI: Our guest is Howard Gordon, one of the executive producers and writers of "Homeland," a new drama series on the Showtime cable network. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: If you're just joining us, our guest is Howard Gordon, one of the executive producers and writers of the new Showtime drama series "Homeland."

The idea of a man coming back after being totally isolated from civilization and from America for so many years, it plays on two levels. In the pilot, you have a very rare laugh being shared by Brody and his daughter, and the wife is standing outside the door, totally amazed and confounded about what they might be laughing about.

GORDON: Mm-hmm.

BIANCULLI: And when they talk the next day, he's talking about something that she showed him on YouTube and it was about a dog talking about a meal.

GORDON: He's talking. Right. Right. Well, I mean part of the fun of this and whatever fun there is, is the idea of kind of a Rip van Winkle. I mean it's a guy who has been out of this country for the time, I mean, he didn't know - first of all, he didn't even know the name of the vice president and he tells that to his buddies at the platoon. He goes and there I was shaking his hand, I didn't even know his name. And he talks about YouTube and at one point he says, what is this FaceBook thing? I mean...


GORDON: So there is some fun and I think it's not a tragic thing, but it's one of the things we talked about a couple times.

BIANCULLI: What are American TV viewers ready for now in this subject? What do you most want to explore, politically?

GORDON: Well, Alex and I really thought about this. Again, we thought obviously we want to make a compelling and entertaining thriller first and foremost, but there were a lot of ideas that we felt we wanted to accommodate. And again, none of them, we didn't want them to be a – this to be a polemic or at all propaganda or try to use this as a platform to make any points, except that the world after 9/11 and 10 years after these two wars and after we've revised and adapted the way we conduct our wars, and our image abroad, those are questions, you know, that are very complex. What does it mean to be a hero? What's the price of war? Why are we fighting? What are we fighting for? How are we treating our veterans? What do we have to be afraid of? And those were questions that don't have any easy answers. So we just wanted to ask a lot of questions and the questions that say, you know, during "24" things seemed a little clearer. Our fear was a little more pitched and our idea of who is good and who was bad, you know, maybe a little clearer. But at the same time that was 10 years ago.

BIANCULLI: Now that you can step back from "24" and looked over at as a whole, what about that show in terms of its reactions from the audience, from the media, from columnists surprises you the most? Was it, you know, the reaction to the politics, to the polarization, to the popularity of it?

GORDON: I have a lot of reactions to it and some of them were really were wonderful and some were I felt unfortunate and frankly unfair. But the show became a kind of ink blot, or the Rorschach test...


GORDON: Well, for instance the allegations that we were somehow handmaids to a national policy condoning torture. That was the most vexing one. I mean the show after all was a thriller. And I think if you looked at Arnold Schwarzenegger movies or Bruce Willis or Clint Eastwood roughing up a suspect is a staple of the genre and suddenly, you know, I think unfortunately, the unfortunate events of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo made what was a very strong wish fulfillment that Jack represented, a guy who's just going to cut through it and stop the bad guys from hurting innocent people became cluttered by, or I should say distorted by current events. And I think unfortunately, there was a conflation with some of the people behind the scenes on the show's politics by the media and they came to sort of I think read into it and deconstruct the show in ways that I really think if you look at it I could match point by point were, you know, unfair.

I think, you know, "24" also, you know, it was a hot button show. It really did, you know, it did inspire a lot of passion and it inspired a lot of criticism from people. What amazed me always is that people across the aisle, whether it was, you know, Barbra Streisand and Bill Clinton or, you know, Rush Limbaugh and John McCain were all tremendous fans of the show. Michael Chertoff, who was our former Secretary of Homeland Security, put it best to me when said, you know, Jack Bauer really reflected some truth because in terms of what we do here in the Homeland Security because there aren't any really good choices, there are just the better of two bad choices. And I think that was really weird that show lived. And in some ways it's where the show "Homeland" lives as well.

BIANCULLI: And one last question. What's the current status of the "24" movie?


GORDON: I knew you can ask me that. The current status of the "24" movie is, look, it's there are so many...

BIANCULLI: I will ask you that until there is a "24" movie.

GORDON: No, they're moving – look, I'll tell you something. We all want there to be a "24" movie. So I think all the people were invested in it, including the studio, wants this to happen. I know Kiefer does. I know I do. There is a script in development. I think it's going to be finding - Kiefer now has a show coming out so it's going to be finding the right, you know, the right script at the right time. But I will say it's definitely a work in progress and I hope we have something to report soon.

BIANCULLI: Well, Howard Gordon, thanks for being on FRESH AIR.

GORDON: Thank you so much, David.

DAVIES: Howard Gordon, co-creator of the new Showtime drama "Homeland," speaking with our TV critic David Bianculli. David is founder and editor of and teaches TV and film history at Rowan University in New Jersey.

Coming up, Kevin Whitehead business to a CD of unreleased recordings of saxophonist and composer Gigi Gryce. This is FRESH AIR.

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