Brody is on the run. Carrie is off her meds. Saul is acting director of the just-blown-up CIA. And Dana's in a mental institution.
Buckle up and get ready for another wild ride as Season 3 of Homelandkicks off Sunday (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET/PT).
"There are a lot of surprises," says Emmy-winning star Claire Danes, who plays Carrie, calling from the Charlotte set during filming of the season's final episodes. "A lot of sophisticated surprises."
So what should we expect? USA TODAY has managed to interrogate most of the staff and provides this debriefing (warning: some might say these qualify as spoilers).
- Less Brody. Played by Emmy-winning Damian Lewis, Marine sergeant-turned-congressman Nicholas Brody, who was a main character in Seasons 1 and 2, isn't in the first two episodes. At all. In fact, Morena Baccarin, who plays his wife, Jessica, says she has no scenes with him all season.
Lewis, who calls Brody "a broken package," explains, "He's on the run and to use the spy terminology, he's out in the cold," he says in an interview in Washington, D.C., where the cast this month toured the real CIA. "A lot of Season 3 will be: Will they bring him in from the cold?"
Does that mean fewer bomb scenarios? Don't Homeland viewers want and expect bombs? "Homeland has never really been an Action Jackson kind of story, but certainly there are momentous actions," says Lewis. "The action comes from tensions and suspense, really. There is a very well-executed piece of action in the first two hours, which will satisfy those people. That's all I can say."
- More Saul. Season 3 has been "very commanding," says Mandy Patinkin, who plays Saul Berenson. "I have a tremendous amount to do."
Executive producer and head writer Alex Gansa explains that the season is an exploration into Saul's "character and the choices he has to make." And he factors into what is really the main focus of the season: "First and foremost, we're going to explore the idea of what it costs to be an intelligence officer – the sacrifices you have to make, the dramatic stakes, the lack of a personal life. That's a theme of the season."
All Patinkin will say is that Homeland, to him, is "about the possibility of people learning to listen to each other and accept each other's differences. At the same time, it's a dangerous world. You can't be naïve and think that there aren't."
- More family. "Expect a darker journey," says Baccarin. "A more internal journey for a lot of characters. Even though there's a lot of investigating going on with the CIA and they're hunting Brody, every character is going through a deep emotional journey."
Darker is the word Lewis uses, too. "I think Season 3 returns to something darker, more hard-boiled." He adds, "It doesn't shy away from the mental health of our characters and the institutions that are... on trial. It'll be a season of people rebuilding themselves."
And it will focus on the fallout of Brody's actions. "Jessica and Dana embody the emotional throughline of the show," says Baccarin. "The family, I think, is the underlying heart of the home, in a sense. So our scenes and stories are about exploring that life, and the effects of war and terrorism on a family, on humanity."
But why take Homeland into the home? "Here's why you go there," says Gansa. "If you look at things like Sandy Hook and the Boston Marathon bombing and Columbine, the one part of the story that isn't told is what happens to the family of the people who commit those crimes? How are their lives changed? How are they blamed? How do they move on?"
He says the writers wondered if it would work without Brody being in the mix to start. "These are all calls you make on the ground. Is anybody going to be interested? We just thought yes, we pushed forward."
- More Dana. Lots more Dana. "Because Brody left and it's really, really affected the people he's close to, especially Dana," says Morgan Saylor, who plays the daugher .
"And I really love that," says Baccarin. "I feel like it's heartbreaking, but it really makes a lot of sense. Dana didn't fare well and you really see what happens, the damage of that to an adolescent."
- Which means more crying. "A lot of emotion, yeah," says Saylor. Those crying scenes were particularly important to Baccarin.
"I really wanted to not be the crying housewife. So I've made a lot of choices that were sometimes against the grain in that department. And even if there was emotional stuff going on, I played against it sometimes. Often, when you're crying, you're trying not to cry. You're weeping and making this emotional scene, trying to hold it all in."
- The CIA under attack. Not in a bomb sense. But from Congress, which in early episodes is investigating whether an agency that can't protect itself from a bomb can protect the country.
- Carrie as scapegoat. Look for her to take the fall for the bombing, because Saul isn't going to. "She's the one that's going to get sacrificed," says Gansa.
She's very "isolated," says Danes. "It's very mournful. It's sad, which makes sense, given the human devastation that was caused by the bombing." While it's "very dark," it's also emotional and compelling, she says. "The show is never boring."
With Carrie off her meds, "she's at a fairly manic pitch" as the season opens, says Danes. "I start it with a bang."
How hard is it to play the always-on-edge CIA agent? "I know her very well," she says. "I've internalized her pretty thoroughly. There are some 15-hour days where I have a lot of complex scenes stacked against each other and I'm pretty ragged by the end of it."
- A lead character will be killed off, at some point. And it sounds like Brody is the likely candidate. "I don't think Brody's going to go soon, but I think that once that story stops producing fruit, we're not going to keep it around," says Gansa. "It's inevitable and it also keeps the show fresh. So we'll see."
Lewis hints at it, too. "Brody feels like someone who could die at any moment. I wake up in the morning wondering if I'm still Brody. Make a quick phone call: Am I still Brody today?" He laughs, and adds, "I didn't expect him to survive more than two seasons. I think maybe the success of the show has altered one or two things and, um, so I feel like I'm living on grace at the moment."
- Setting up Season 4: "I love the direction they have taken with the whole piece," says Patinkin. "I am now clearly seeing where Season 4 is going to go. I think they're setting up incredible, incredible, possibilities."