Homeland Delivers Gripping View of America's Foreign Challenges

Top producers describe how their hit drama is a complex show for a complex time.


Damian Lewis as Nicholas "Nick" Brody and Jamey Sheridan as the Vice President of the United States, William Walden, in Homeland.

By + More

(Ed. Note: This article may contain spoilers for those who have never watched Homeland.)

After watching the first two episodes of Homeland's second season, it's not a stretch to say that the show's creative minds are trying to capture the attention of Foggy Bottom.

While the accolades grow and the awards pile up for Showtime's hit spy drama, executive producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon have created a world that deals with the toughest problems in a region of the world that has long been plagued by chaos and upheaval.

"We're trying to solve the Middle East crisis every day in the story room," Gansa says. "We are all amateur foreign policy wonks. We read, we talk about it a lot. We are very interested in it and have our eye on all the developments."

"The same way Law & Order pulls from the headlines, we do too—just from a different section of the newspaper," adds Gordon.

Unlike the one-man army of Jack Bauer in 24—which both producers worked on—the world in Homeland doesn't rise and fall on the actions of a single defender.

The gray areas where foreign policy, intelligence, and morality intersect are the driving force behind the opening episodes of Homeland's second season, which begins Sunday. The first season focused on bi-polar CIA agent Carrie Matheson's (Claire Danes) and her quest to stop POW-turned-jihadist Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis). The newest installment offers a more intense, nuanced story that infiltrates key American institutions, such as the military, the White House and the nuclear family.

"We are trying to depict a much realer world, a world in which intelligence officers work in the margins and often are very wrong and are deeply flawed people," Gansa says.

One of the subplots woven throughout the first season was Brody's complex relationship with Islam. This time around, (without giving away too much) we begin to see how that relationship will evolve as he tries to balance his faith while becoming a rising star on the American political scene and adjusting to a return to fatherhood.

In a world where the vitriol surrounding Islam seems to be at a fever pitch, Homeland's producers present fans with a unique-yet-challenging look inside life as an American Muslim.

"We're trying to be a little subversive," Gansa says. "We're trying at some level to depict Islam for Brody as a source of comfort and peace to him, and not as a source of anger and violence. When Brody prays, he prays not for strength to commit atrocities, he's praying for clarity about how to move forward with his life."

Both Gansa and Gordon admit that Brody's faith is a touchy subject that they struggled to develop, but argue it will drive viewers to examine their own apprehensions about the religion.

"One of the opportunities the show gives us and the audience is to question our own fears about Islam," Gordon says. "We painstakingly try to separate as best we could Brody's political and personal goals with his faith."

As the various angles of past and present military actions in Homeland's world play out, the second season tries to tackle America's security policies in a post 9-11 world. While it is easy to say that Homeland is the Obama-era answer to the Bush-era's 24, Gansa and Gordon say it's not that simple.

"People are drawing connections that appear to make sense, but they don't," Gordon says. "I think it's a mistake in association. It implies that [the shows] came from a different assessment of foreign policies. I would say Obama is every bit as much of a reaction to Bush as Homeland is to 24. ... The world is different now compared to what it was 10 years ago."

And Gansa adds that over a decade past the emotions of 9/11, America's foreign challenges—and the tools available to political leaders to confront them—have changed dramatically.

"I don't believe that Homeland would have been successful in the immediate post 9/11 world," Gansa said. "The country needed an action hero that could get things done, with clear villains and clear heroes."

"I think people can look back on this last decade and say 'Look, we made some mistakes," he adds. "We did some good things. The world isn't as black and white as we thought.'"