With a female president in office for Season 6, it may look like “Homeland” was betting on Hillary Clinton to win the election. But that doesn’t mean Showtime’s Emmy-winning drama lost out when the Democratic nominee came up short.
“The election of Donald Trump made everyone in the writers’ room sit up in our chairs,” showrunner Alex Gansa said. “We realized we were going to have to adjust and change the narrative a little bit.”
Gansa, speaking after a screening of “Homeland” (Episode 11, “R Is for Romeo”) at the Television Academy’s first official For Your Consideration event of 2017, sat alongside directing executive producer Lesli Linka Glatter and cast members Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin, Rupert Friend, and Elizabeth Marvel. The group discussed the unexpected relevancy of the drama’s politically charged new season, starting with how Trump’s election night victory changed the course of Season 6.
“The first thing we wanted to address was that our election was influenced by another force, and by fake news,” Gansa said. “So we re-engineered some of the earlier episodes.”
While Linka Glatter noted the sock puppet storyline was already in place — a plot involving fake online identities manufactured to sway actual public opinion — Gansa specifically cited Jake Weber’s character, Brett O’Keefe, as an element that was beefed up post-Trump. In “Homeland,” O’Keefe hosts a right-wing radio program built to discredit the President-Elect (played by Marvel). He uses sock puppets to give legitimacy to his outrageous opinions and build his own celebrity.
Prompted by Vulture editor Stacey Wilson Hunt, who moderated the panel, Gansa described O’Keefe as an “Alex Jones-like figure,” referring to the far-right radio host and conspiracy theorist. And it sounds like Jones didn’t overlook the similarities.
“The minute [O’Keefe] got on the air, the real Alex Jones went on a bit of a tirade,” Gansa said. “First, he accused us of ‘stealing his identity,’ which I thought was such an interesting phrase. No, we didn’t have his credit cards, and no, we weren’t charging anything to his accounts. But then he challenged Jake Weber to a fist fight. And here’s the funny thing: What he doesn’t know about Jake Weber, is that he’s a boxer. He’s been boxing for 30 years. I’d like to see that fight.”
Beyond angering an always-angry man, Gansa and his cast saw immediate relevancy in the oft-frightening stories that make up Season 6.
“We were in this incredibly interesting position to make this show even more relevant in the middle of our production schedule,” Gansa said. “[The election] delineated this crazy situation in which the chief executive of the United States does not trust his own intelligence community. What better subject matter for our show than a newly elected president at odds with our own spies?”
Patinkin spoke passionately about the need for kindness and compassion for refugees during the panel. “‘Homeland’s’ greatest achievement this season, in my opinion, is that two new characters were created by Alex and the team: fake news and the truth,” Patinkin said. “They rose to the top of our system. They scream at us with images that are overwhelming. This business of lies affects real people. It’s not just a game and a joke on CNN to entertain us, to bore us, or to make us furious. They really affect people’s lives.”
Later in the evening, Gansa was asked about the show’s future. Showtime picked up the series for two additional seasons in August of 2016, meaning Season 7 and 8 are a certainty. While Gansa said he wouldn’t consider a prequel or spinoff series “even for a second,” he’s already got plans for next year.
“Everything is going to become a little clearer after you watch the finale,” Gansa said. “But one thing we have to do is that we have to get Carrie Mathison back into the intelligence business. She’s been out of the game too long, and the game needs her back.”
Danes, when discussing Carrie’s push and pull between civilian work, spycraft and family, said that “her eternal wish is that she gets to watch an episode of television that isn’t her own show” — hinting, of course, that Carrie could use a break.
“But I actually think there are a lot of romances at play with Carrie this season, they’re just not sexual,” Danes added. “She feels a deep intimacy with people […] and that it’s very intense with Quinn, and with Saul, and Frannie. She has deep, complex attachments to these primary characters. But that’s one of the great gifts of this role: that she is so much bigger than her gender. She is defined by her ethics, morals, political ambition, and there’s just so much at play.”
The Season 6 finale of “Homeland” airs Sunday, April 9 at 9 p.m. on Showtime.