'We Exploited the Sexism'

Newsweek, September 24, 2012 | Go to article overview

'We Exploited the Sexism'


'Homeland' returns, with TV's most compelling female character.

When Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa set out in early 2010 to adapt the hit Israeli drama Hatufim for American audiences, they knew they'd preserve the original premise of the series: a POW comes home after years in terrorist captivity. But Gordon and Gansa wanted to amp up the suspense as well, and they needed a character--a CIA operative--who would suspect the returning Marine of having been turned, by his captors, into a terrorist himself.

In Hatufim, the closest parallel was an Israel Defense Forces psychologist named Haim Cohen--a man. But Gordon and Gansa chose, from the start, to make their hero a woman. "A gender switch was the first thing on the agenda," Gordon tells Newsweek. "Alex and I reverse-engineered someone who was carrying with them the fear of another terrorist strike. We said, 'Who's a character no one believes, like Chicken Little?' And because the CIA has been a boys' club for such a long time, part of that was her gender. We exploited the sexism."

And so Carrie Mathison was born, and Homeland took off. Ever since the show's first season aired last year on Showtime, most of the commentary from fans and critics has centered on Claire Danes's haunted, high-wire performance; the messy bipolar disorder Gordon and Gansa chose to saddle her with; and the twists and turns of a story that combines Manchurian Candidate intrigue with the kind of patient, probing character studies usually reserved for shows called The Wire or The Sopranos.

But now that Homeland's second season is set to start on Sept. 30--and now that Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette, writing under the pseudonym Mark Owen, has revealed that it was a real-life Carrie Mathison who led him and his colleagues to Osama bin Laden in the first place--it's worth revisiting Gordon and Gansa's initial "gender switch." Because Homeland isn't just a remarkable drama about post-9/11 paranoia. It's also a remarkable drama, in its own subtle, sophisticated way, about being a young professional woman in 2012.

The fact that no one ever obsesses over Carrie Mathison's gender is precisely the point. Almost every television show with a strong female protagonist derives a lot of its drama from the tension between motherhood, wifedom, and work. But Homeland doesn't put Carrie in that box. She isn't a mother. She isn't a wife. And she's no more concerned with "having it all" than a guy her age would be. …

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