But the real problem, Lewis suggests, was him — or rather, his character, Brody. "I think they're dying to get rid of me," he whispers. "I feel like I'm on a constant stay of execution."

The Brody issue

"Dying" might be a touch hyperbolic, but Brody's continued presence has created a major problem for the "Homeland" writing staff.

Initially, the Brody-Carrie relationship was not supposed to be so central to the narrative. But thanks largely to the so-crazy-it-works connection between these wounded souls, Brody has evaded death at the hand of the writing staff not once but twice: first in the thwarted suicide mission at the end of Season 1 and again somewhere in the middle of Season 2.

According to Lewis, "Homeland" got "a bit roller coaster-y" last year because the writers originally planned to kill him off before the finale. After conversations with executives at Showtime, who were eager to keep everyone's favorite redheaded terrorist alive, they scrapped Plan A and were forced to improvise some "major narrative leaps" for the Langley conflagration to play out as intended.

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"I think they've had to compromise a bit, ironically, because the show became successful," he says.

It could be that what some "Homeland" viewers objected to about Season 2 was that it laid bare the messy process of creating a television series, which is as much about serendipity as sweeping creative vision. In an era when shows are pored over like great literature, it's easy to forget these grand narratives are not pre-determined but formed by a committee of writers.

As Gansa puts it, "You are making so many decisions along the way, any of which can bury you."

Though he corroborates Lewis' version of events, Gansa says he was delighted with the outcome — backlash and all. Nor does he resent the pressure to keep Brody alive. "Showtime is the best partner on the planet. Part of the reason why they're great is they have very strong opinions."

Showtime Entertainment President David Nevins acknowledges there were discussions about Brody's fate but insists the decision was ultimately in Gansa's hands. "He knows he's got the latitude to do what he thinks the storytelling dictates. If the writers had really wanted to kill Brody off, he would be dead."

But even if Lewis is "the most charming human being on the planet," as Gansa describes the actor, he warns that Brody is expendable, as is nearly every other character. As if to prove the point, Gansa and his team have delayed Brody's reappearance in Season 3. "His story will end one way or another when his presence on the show stops bearing fruit," Gansa says. "I will say that I think we've traveled a lot of the emotional landscape between these two characters in these first two seasons."

And that's just fine with Lewis. "If all Brody becomes is a love interest for Carrie, then he'll become dull very quickly."

In a corner

Gansa and his staff didn't have much time to lick their wounds after Season 2. Taking just a two-week break, they got back to work the day after the Golden Globes in January, where "Homeland" dominated the awards for the second year in a row.

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"We were worrying about Season 3 from the minute we conceived of the finale of Season 2. We did not even have that little tiny building block," he recalls. "The narrative strategy that we employ in the writers room is how tight a corner can we paint ourselves into and then how can we wriggle out of it."

Making the task more difficult was the absence of executive producer Meredith Stiehm, who left to run "The Bridge" on FX (but will return to write the Season 3 finale). Then in March, executive producer Henry Bromell died of a heart attack. (He was awarded a posthumous Emmy Sept. 22 for writing the riveting "Q&A"; the last episode he scripted, "Tower of David," will air this season.)

"My own analysis is that we are all sad too, in the writers' room, having lost Henry," Gansa says. "I think it infused the storytelling."

The influence of other real-world tragedies is evident in the season ahead. With Brody suddenly the most wanted man in the world, his family grapples with its newfound infamy. In particular, his teenage daughter, Dana, acts out in self-destructive ways straight out of the Carrie Mathison playbook. Says Morena Baccarin, who stars as Brody's estranged wife, Jessica, "I don't know how much more they can go through."