It was the thriller-cum-romance that became an edge-of-your-seat ride and critical and ratings hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Occasionally improbable, but mostly compelling. For its first two seasons anyway.
Then things got daft. In America the 2014 Emmy panel voted with their feet, shutting out Homeland from even a nomination in the outstanding drama series category.
That snub “definitely redoubled our determination to try to get nominated again, I’ll tell you that,” says executive producer Alex Gansa with a chuckle. “But regardless of how season three was received, the show was due for a reset, only because we lost our second lead – we killed Nicholas Brody [Damian Lewis]. So the show had to be reinvented at some level.”
That reset worked. Last year’s fourth season of Homeland saw the show blisteringly back on track. Now the coming, fifth season finds the show rebooting once more. And in terms of the show’s exploration of spooks and spycraft, you might say Homeland has come home.
It’s set in Berlin, storied capital of espionage and Cold War legend. “We’ve located Carrie [Claire Danes] emotionally in a space where she’s running from her past but she can’t hide from it,” explains Gansa. “So this is two years after the end of season four, and she is presently working for a German philanthropist. This is a guy who is all over the world, championing human rights and open societies and democracies. And she provides security wherever he goes.
“So she is actually working, you could say, in direct opposition to an intelligence agency like the CIA.” And presumably she, Saul (Mandy Patinkin) and Quinn (Rupert Friend) are drawn back together by a case or character? Just when she thought she was out, they pull her back in – that kind of thing? “Let’s say their lives will all converge in Berlin,” allows Gansa with a wink.
The decision to relocate to Europe arose from the Homeland team’s now-annual January research visit to Washington DC. “The writers and Claire and Mandy, before we start conceiving any season, we all take a field trip. So this year was another meeting of minds between a bunch of Hollywood writers and a bunch of intelligence, White House and State Department types.
“And if you’ll recall what was happening at the start of the year, the whole Edward Snowden thing was really snowballing, the rise of Isis was happening, then there were the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. It all felt that now that part of Europe was the centre of the world.
“Also to put Carrie where she’s no longer in the service of the CIA – she’s a dissident in terms of her relationship with the intelligence agencies. But put her in Berlin, the great spy town. It really is the centre of the world for these surveillance refuseniks and Snowden-types.
“And you have the civil war in Syria – look what’s happening right now with all these refugees. You also have Russia banging next door. There is a lot of concern about Putin rattling the sabre, and concern about the relationship between the West and the East. That plays a big part in this season. And Berlin and Germany seem to be right smack in the middle of things.”
How, though, is Homeland treating Islamic State? “It has been difficult even to do the research required to portray that jihadist movement and dramatise it,” says Gansa. “Should we even acknowledge their existence, make them part of the story, and humanise them at some level?”
He admits that in the initial discussions about season five’s narrative arc, “we thought we maybe wouldn’t even go there, we would just tell a story about Russian and American intelligence in Berlin.
“But it’s just so part of the landscape right now that it felt like we were wilfully ignoring something that couldn’t be ignored. So it has crept back into the story in a major way.”
That said, for all the bloodily vivid nowness promised, the resurgent Homeland is also cloaking itself in more classic espionage. “It’s such a cliché but the place is a character, there’s no doubt about it, with all those iconic landmarks. And just 25 years ago Berlin was a divided city. It’s a fascinating place to shoot and to tell a story.”
Hello again, Homeland. It’s nice to have you back – and on our doorstep.