It’s before dawn on Monday, April 27th, in Bristol, England, and Sara Rogovin is in her apartment composing a tweet. The fact that more than a thousand people around the world are waiting to read it isn’t remotely on her mind as she crafts her reaction to what is probably the defining moment of her young life: the just-aired final episode of Showtime’s CIA drama Homeland. Today is the first of two personal days she’s taking off from work to give herself the time she knows she’ll need to adequately process the finale.
“I AM POSITIVELY DYING,” she types.
Despite the public nature of her communiqué, tonight is deeply private for Rogovin. This is a night she has anticipated with dread, having been fixated on the series for almost a decade, with an unyielding concern for the fate of Claire Danes’ brilliant, often tormented officer, Carrie Mathison. Rogovin, 29, had calculated all of the ways in which the producers could fuck this up. She was counting on it. Which is why she is positively dying. Tonight may have been the first time this nail-biting, emotionally-draining series has blindsided her with good news for Carrie. She keeps typing: “If you had told me 24 hours ago, 24 days ago, 24 months ago that the series finale of Homeland would have left me SMILING … I would not have believed you. God that was perfection.”
Rogovin’s tweets are a signal to her family, friends, and followers that she has taken down the virtual “Do Not Disturb” sign she hangs whenever she watches a new episode of Homeland. Her phone instantly goes berserk with WhatsApp chat-group chains, texts, and Twitter notifications. She deftly engages with all of them, fueled by caffeine and adrenaline. And joy.
At some point, it dawns on her to check email, and, for the second time that night, she is caught off guard. In her inbox is a message from one of Homeland’s creators. He is not only a complete stranger, he is the Wizard to her Oz. Rogovin works at a software company specializing in health care; her life is literally and metaphorically thousands of miles from Hollywood. She has no idea this guy knows she exists. What the hell? Still reeling from the shock of a happy ending for her hero, she opens the email and reads:
That was for you.
Sara Rogovin runs the blog Hell Yeah Homeland, which is, on the surface, a fan site for the series. When she started the blog in 2013 it was pretty basic, consisting mostly of recaps and personal musings. But as its popularity grew, Rogovin amped up the offerings to include an impeccable catalogue of episode information, a comprehensive archive, and an interactive feature for followers — all of which she has kept up to date, to the minute you are reading this. Die-hard fans, ranging from magazine editors to fan fic authors to “shippers” (people who construct fantasy relationships for characters they wish would hook up romantically), logged onto HYH, where there was all the news fit to print about Homeland. Rogovin became known globally in the fandom.
“She’s basically an encyclopedia for the show,” says Dallas-based interior designer Jordan, a former follower who is now one of Rogovin’s closest friends. “I don’t think I’ve ever watched an episode without thinking about how each intense scene would affect her.”
HYH, too, is much more than a fan site; it’s a virtual hangout for people who can’t stop thinking about the show. People who want to be connected to other fans. When Jordan discovered HYH, she spent every lunch hour catching up on “Asks,” the feature that allows followers to pose questions about the show and receive answers from “sara.” Most of Rogovin’s closest friends are women she met through blog interaction. Like Ashley, a hospital communications manager in Boston: “I started following the blog in 2015 and I found Sara incredibly intimidating. She was clearly a very smart person. I remember thinking that if she weren’t way too cool for me, we could be friends.” Melissa, a social media manager in L.A., sums it up: “Sara loves Carrie Mathison and Claire Danes more than anyone else. She can literally talk about Homeland for hours. I am always happy to listen.”
Homeland was always a show that attracted obsessives. As CNN reported after the series’ first season, “Mention Showtime’s Homeland to just about anyone and two things will happen. One, they’ll tell you they watch it religiously, and two, they won’t stop talking about it to you in painstaking detail. To say the show has a cult following is an understatement.” Full disclosure: I am one of those obsessives. Rogovin and her crew at HYH are mostly women in their twenties and thirties who work in fields like software, analytics, and telecommunication. They know how to make GIF sets and communicate on several platforms at once. I am a fiftysomething film and television producer, a member of the exhausted generation frantically reading articles about “how not to multitask.” On paper, this is an improbable mix, and yet I have spent years interacting with this cohort of the Homeland fandom in ways that are as intimate as friendships I’ve had for decades. Being a fan of the show is the face I show to my friends. Being in the fandom is a secret I have kept from nearly everyone I know, including several of the people responsible for making Homeland. When I try to explain how weird this is, Rogovin tells me, “Everyone is a nerd about something.”
Once or twice, my obsession with the show has brought me to the brink of professional embarrassment. Like the time I blew an important meeting with a movie star because I spent the entire hour talking to our waiter about that week’s episode of Homeland. Or the time I went to a public panel for the show with a fan I’d met online. As I crawled out of the auditorium before the lights came up, I wasn’t sure what I was trying to avoid: being recognized as a superfan by someone I knew onstage or outing myself as an industry insider to my superfan companion.
Something I’m still trying to parse: What makes a person — in my case, someone who already has access — take the step of interacting with strangers, to the point of sharing personal details, because of a television show? Was this my proverbial midlife crisis? Why Homeland? What had happened? Was it the moment when a then-unknown Timothée Chalamet, playing the son of the vice president, gazes into his high school date’s eyes after their first kiss and tells her, “I wanna be your boyfriend.” I know I swooned. Was it during the Emmy Award-winning episode “Q&A,” when Peter Quinn (played by Rupert Friend) arrives in the series like Cary Grant in a verbal pas de deux with Carrie/Katherine Hepburn? Or had it already happened in Season One, during the penultimate scene of the “Achilles Heel” episode (according to Rogovin, the series’ most important scene), when Carrie says to her boss, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), “I had a kind of epiphany today … I’m gonna be alone my whole life, aren’t I?” The camera holds on to their faces while Saul, whose wife has just left him, doesn’t answer, and we are crushed for both of them.
It was all of those moments and more. The writing staff was an all-star team of brainiacs; the reason I began watching the show was because my friends were on that team. The reason I kept watching the show was because of its hold over me. I became one of those people CNN wrote about: Homeland was all I wanted to talk about. I loved this show to distraction, but I couldn’t find anyone in my friend group who was in as deep, and so I was alone — until I found HYH. In 2016, I DM’d Sara and met my people. I experienced the kind of connection I hadn’t had since childhood, talking to my best friend about The Partridge Family. What did I have in common with this group, apart from loving a TV show? A lot, it turned out. We were all women making our way in a man’s world, emotionally invested week after week, year after year, in Carrie Mathison’s struggle to be heard in her world. Often the only woman in a room full of high-level government officials, Carrie was taking terrifying risks every time she spoke up. What’s not to relate to?
Unless you know her very well, Rogovin comes across as either reticent or extremely shy. Auburn-haired with arresting blue eyes, she resembles a grown-up Angela Chase, the complicated teenager Danes played in her breakout show, My So-Called Life. Yet, her beguilingly enigmatic online persona, sara, is outspoken AF. Together, they know as much about Homeland as any human being alive. Like Carrie Mathison, sara is whip-smart, witty, singularly focused, and obsessed with the truth. Within the fandom, she is treated with Oprah-level reverence. Many of the blog’s followers are women who share a similar trajectory: First they became obsessed with the show, then they became obsessed with the blog, then they became obsessed with sara. This happened to Ashley, who messaged her on Tumblr: “She surprised me by saying I LOVE YOUR FIC! I distinctly remember being, like, OMG Sara from HYH knows who I am!!!! I was, and remain, a sara fan-girl.”
When Rogovin started watching Homeland, her devotion to the series was instantaneous. She was a 20-year-old industrial-engineering major at Georgia Tech who binged the first season just after it had captivated the culture by winning both the Emmy and the Golden Globe for best drama series. Rogovin found herself obsessed with Carrie, who spends the entire first season trying to uncover and foil an Al Qaeda operative — a decorated U.S. Marine named Nicholas Brody (played by Damian Lewis) recently released from capture. While most undergraduates in the pre-Trump era would have been making plans for spring break or obsessing over their love lives, Rogovin was focused on Homeland. One half of her brain was consumed with supply-chain logistics and advanced statistics, the other half was preoccupied with whether Carrie would get fired from the CIA for illegally surveilling the Brody family.
“I was hopelessly, desperately in love with this show that no one I knew seemed to be talking about,” she says. “I had never seen a series like this, one that so completely consumed so many of my waking thoughts. A series with characters so extreme, yet so grounded and lived-in. I desired connection and dialogue and creation.”
Unable to persuade any of her friends to watch a show that, by definition, skewed middle-aged and up (then-50-year-old President Barack Obama and then-63-year old Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were also obsessed), Rogovin tooled around online to find people to communicate with, but wasn’t satisfied. She regularly posted on the (now defunct) Television Without Pity forums. But she wasn’t satisfied: “As much as I love TWoP, there were a lot of rules there, and it was entirely text-based. Just walls and walls of text.”
She became aware of the Tumblr community, where fandoms of all kinds congregate. Since Homeland viewers were predominantly older, and Tumblr users were generally younger, there wasn’t a lot of Homeland activity to be found — certainly not a Homeland-devoted blog. So, she started one. “I figured I could create that space, create the content I wanted to see, and drive the conversation,” Rogovin says. ”I had so many pent-up thoughts and feelings about the show but nowhere to put them. It would be an outlet for all my passion around the show.”
She chose the name Hell Yeah Homeland as a tip to Tumblr fan culture where “F*ck Yeah [insert subject]!” was a common account name. (She now hates the name and has abbreviated it to HYHomeland on the website). Her first post, in May 2013, was a photograph of the slate for Episode 302, which she pulled off the internet, adding the caption, “Things we should be excited about.” The irony being there was no “we.” She had no followers, and she wasn’t chasing any. She posted whatever came into her imagination, for her own amusement. Like “brain maps” of the show’s characters. A GIF of Danes and co-star Damian Lewis kissing at the Emmys, which she captioned “The kiss heard ‘round the world Homeland fandom.” Fan art sent in by followers. Production news about casting. Potential storylines. “Things Carrie Wore This Week.” Posts related to Danes’ life. Recommendations for other shows, under the heading “Something That Won’t Ruin Your Life.”
Fan sites are not normally about the person running the site, but Rogovin’s point of view was essential. “I didn’t write ‘Things Carrie Wore This Week’ because I thought it would be wildly popular content that everyone would want to read or engage with,” Rogovin says. “I did it for me.” And then there was that Asks feature, which turned out to be addictive to fans filled with questions.
HYH hit something of a perfect storm. For young people watching the show, for whom following fan accounts was nothing out of the ordinary, sara was the draw. She was funny, confident, cool, and yet so authoritative. Rogovin graduated summa cum laude in 2014 and was hired that summer by the company she still works at today. Twenty-two years old, single, and starting a job in Wisconsin, a state she’d never been to before, HYH moved with her (as it did two more times in her career, to New York and the U.K.). The blog was becoming more than a hobby; it was an identity. Rogovin had become Homeland’s BNF: Big-Name Fan. The fan other fans make famous.
“Sara is a lot like Carrie in the way that nothing escapes her attention,” says her HYH friend Gail. Adds another blog friend, “Sara and I both had really high GPAs in college, and I remember her smiling when I told her mine. Like she was impressed or excited to share that.” Rogovin acknowledges a connection between her brainpower and the unusual nature of the blog: “My job involves problem-solving, research, and investigation. I desire to understand the root causes of things and be able to explain them to people. I think that has really bled into how I approach and react to the show.”
Her near-perfect GPA aside, Rogovin’s saturation in her subject would best any deeply committed sports fan. She corrects you on a line of a dialogue or an episode title before you have finished your sentence. She knows the main characters’ birthdays, where they lived, and what they were doing almost every year of their lives. She is so fluent with the facts of these fictional storylines you forget that these things didn’t happen to her. A graduation date. A hometown. Superfans can feel embarrassed not to know their stuff when Rogovin whips facts out of her Wiki-brain. Go on the site today and you’ll see each individual episode has been mind-numbingly catalogued and tagged so that a follower can find almost anything they’re searching for. HYH’s indices and musings of plots, themes, “parallels,” behaviors, phrases, locations, wardrobe, and ephemera — such as hats, purses, ponytails, and bun hairstyles — are Homeland’s Library of Congress.
Rogovin has easily clocked her Gladwellian 10,000 hours watching, rewatching, writing, thinking, and talking about the show, before and after work, year after year. Like Carrie, she seemed to have 48 hours in a day. In a world where television series begin — and get canceled — without notice, and creators glide from one gig to the next overnight, Rogovin has, in her ’round-the-clock commitment to Homeland, earned the right to be called the series’ expert. And by archiving information about the series in her blog, she has elevated fan life from the cliché of the fawning freak to an academic, even intellectual, exercise.
Inherent in all of this time-consuming work is that other side to Rogovin, the sara side. Yes, HYH is comprehensive and enumerated, as one might expect from Rogovin’s résumé, but it is also chockablock with pith. Her posts, whether they are answers to Asks (“Not familiar with the logistics of public hangings, sorry”) or recap details (“Carrie wears glasses and a ponytail and then you have a heart attack”) emerge straight from her own sense of humor. This authenticity is wildly appealing to her audience. Her musings are usually carefully considered prose, though sometimes there will just be a GIF of Danes looking flustered, as if to say, Haven’t we gone over this already?
You log on and immediately glance on the bottom left-hand corner to check the number of green pen icons. A reference to Carrie’s obsession with … yes, green pens… they mark the number of people on the blog at the same time as you. Not that Rogovin cares about numbers. When the site’s tracker first broke early on, she wasn’t in any hurry to fix it. The very idea of not caring how many followers you have is the essence of HYH, an anomaly in a medium that puts a high value on quantity. Depth of engagement was and continues to be Rogovin’s mission, and there is no end in sight to the intensity of fan interaction despite the series having ended. She estimates the site has had about a million hits. It’s an estimate because when the tracker recently broke again, the actual numbers were lost, but this actually means nothing to Rogovin. She knows she is playing to a relatively small room: Homeland may have gotten massive attention in the early seasons, but viewership eventually began to wane. More notably to Rogovin, “It is about the least fannish show, IMO. There are so many shows out there with active/devoted fandoms. Like Supernatural, Hannibal, Doctor Who, Sherlock, etc. But these shows are famous for having huge and active (and occasionally bizarre) fandoms. The Homeland fandom by comparison is microscopic.” And, admittedly, it’s not as if the Clintons and the Obamas were ever going on fan sites, no matter how hardcore their love of the show.
Growing up outside of Atlanta, Rogovin was both a straight-A student and a rabid consumer of pop culture. Her mother, Mary Rogovin, an executive who retired after 30 years working in employee benefits for Fortune 500 companies, already had a blog of her own. “Beginning in middle school, Sara was really interested in TV, movies, and music,” she says. “She bought herself a subscription to Entertainment Weekly when she was in high school and would read each issue cover to cover. She loved to dive deep into something. And she was always a great writer.” The two watched the Fox teen-drama series The O.C. together, beginning when Rogovin was 13. When it ended two years later, Rogovin was “a wreck. I sobbed uncontrollably; my mom had to literally hold me to calm me down.”
Overwhelmed with emotion and thoughts she ached to express, Rogovin posted her first blog piece ever on Mary’s blog, Mere-et-Filles. The post began: “So Thursday night was the series finale of The O.C. And man, was it depressing. Only 16 episodes this season, but it was a phenomenal season, which made the ending that much more bittersweet.”
Rogovin’s blogging was unusual for a kid in an era that predated social media platforms as we know them. There were no iPhones. YouTube and Twitter were infants. Netflix was not yet streaming. Amazon had only recently introduced Amazon Prime and “Amazon Unbox,” the precursor to its video-streaming-service Prime Video (on which Homeland can now be viewed). Rogovin, a staff writer on her high school newspaper, was possessed of strong opinions. She had the impulse to share them. She started a blog about things that interested her: cooking, music, and television. She wasn’t looking for recognition; she simply had things she wanted to say.
In 2012, when Rogovin first watched Homeland in an epic binge, her life exploded with a passion that far surpassed her time with The O.C. She posted on her new blog, Soulful College Girl: “If you follow my Twitter feed or have even talked to me in the last two weeks, you already know about my Homeland obsession. Homeland — this most brilliant of a television show that it seems almost an injustice to call it just a television show; it’s a work of art, to be sure — has cast me under its spell.”
For the first year or so, Rogovin was running HYH solo. That changed in 2014 when she decided to start a podcast. She had a challenging stutter growing up and knew she would need at least one other person to talk to. She turned to one of the women she’d been communicating with through the blog, and asked if she would join her on the podcast. Soon, other fans of the blog who’d also befriended sara online joined the podcast. The first iteration of HYH’s inner circle was formed. One by one, everyone met in real life. Rogovin’s protective HYH circle could not have arrived at a better time, as she was now at the center of some of the fandom’s loudest cris de coeur over the producers’ decisions, such as the killing of heartthrob Peter Quinn (which prompted a #NoQuinnNoHomeland movement). Fans turned to Rogovin and were horrified that she didn’t share their feelings. While the blog had given Rogovin an international following and a fandom of her own, success also made her a controversial figure, a receiver of hate mail.
“She’s always been a lightning rod for criticism,” says Ashley, “it’s not fair.”
“I get it,” says the sanguine Rogovin. “It’s because I’m accessible and they [the producers] aren’t.” Her critics were just as passionate about their ideas. “My interest skews heavily towards Carrie and away from every other character. I’ve been accused of being too defensive of the show, which is probably true. Ultimately, if I feel that viscerally about a story, it means the writers and producers and actors have done something right. Objectivity is boring.” Years after beloved characters had died, the blog’s inbox was still crowded with wrath for Rogovin to communicate to showrunner Alex Gansa, as if she knew him. Which she didn’t.
A few Homeland insiders had become aware of Sara, however. In 2015, staff writer Charlotte Stoudt called out HYH during an interview on a writing podcast called “On the Page”: “It’s this fantastic place for Homeland fans. It’s run by this mysterious woman named Sara … She is so right-on about the show, she is amazing … I religiously read her blog.” Junior staffers were already turning to the blog as an invaluable resource when searching for a detail they needed on the spot — a line of dialogue from a bit character who might have appeared in just one scene, or a particular hat Carrie wore on a specific scripted day of, say, an episode from Season Six. Whatever it was, HYH has catalogued it and sara has, most likely, shared her opinion of it.
Early on in our friendship, impressed by her intelligence and story sense, I asked if she might be interested in working in television. She told me it hadn’t really occurred to her, making her all the more unique in my eyes. When a job opened up in the Homeland L.A. production office, I impulsively lobbied for her to get an interview. The job was absurd: a lunch-fetching production assistant. When I told her about it, she was faced with a ridiculous dilemma. Did she really want to give up the blog and her steady job to do that? No. Did she want to work on Homeland? Hell, yes.
She flew to L.A. for the interview, which was conducted by a group of assistants. Rogovin was taken by surprise: “I was like a celebrity when I walked into the room — which was so crazy.” She was a celebrity to them. It turns out the assistants already had a nickname for her: “Sara Green Pens.” Before she left the production office, my friends higher up on staff spent time alone with her. Like all really smart people, they asked questions and then they listened. She had a chance to talk about what she wanted for Carrie. She talked about the purpose of the series as she saw it and the journey Carrie was on (tossing in some polite criticism). In essence, Rogovin’s message was: Don’t crush her. That would be the easy thing to do. But don’t do it. She deserves better than that. Words that echoed something writer Stoudt said Obama told her: “I think Carrie should catch a break.” The assistants hired someone else.
Rogovin was born in 1991, the same year as the internet. In 1991, the two top scripted television shows were Roseanne and Murphy Brown, both sitcoms with women leads, women showrunners, and, like the early seasons of Homeland, watercooler talkability. For whatever reasons, Homeland struggled to keep women on its writing staff (Stoudt left in 2017). Director Lesli Linka Glatter, nominated for an Emmy this year for the finale, was a prominent creative part of the team but, writing-wise, few women put words into Carrie’s mouth. Which is ironic because one of the show’s most compelling motors had been Carrie’s struggle to have a voice. It was also the reason Rogovin started her blog: to pass herself the mic. Co-creator Howard Gordon said that what he and Alex Gansa initially loved about the show was “the idea of somebody having a theory no one else believed.” One wonders, to what degree did they understand what it meant that that somebody was a woman?
What makes this fan group unique is to be found in its source: At the heart of Homeland is an intelligent, young woman whose theories are rarely taken seriously. Carrie’s struggle to be heard is compelling to women who relate to her frustrations and also to her tenacity. HYH is a space for feminists, whether they know they are or not. There is no question the writers could have crushed Carrie. There were versions of the ending that did do that. But what made it to the screen, in the episode’s final act, reveals a triumph of sorts. Now living in exile in Moscow, Carrie has written a Snowden-esque memoir about her life in the CIA. People will finally listen to her. This notion of a woman being heard made me think, perhaps romantically, of the fundamental underpinnings of Rogovin’s work over all these years.
That was for you.
“I finally broke down,” Rogovin tells me. “I just took a moment and cried. It was totally surreal. What that email is, is acknowledgement, which is not something I ever needed or even wanted. The blog was never for anyone but me. It was never my goal to get his attention. I just wanted to write about something that I loved. The fact that somehow my opinion helped shape Carrie’s fate has been such” — she takes a breath and chooses her words — “a validation.”
Homeland has been the great passion of Rogovin’s entire twenties, which will also be wrapping up soon. What next, I ask? “I feel pretty confident that I’ll be thinking about Homeland for a long time. I may just be over here talking to myself though. Just like in the beginning.” Or, maybe not. She continues: “The wonderful thing about the blog and the show is that it brought us together, but it’s not what kept us together. What a strange little thing it’s grown into. We often say that the internet is not ‘real life,’ but this community that I’ve created there — I’ve met lifelong friends because of it — most definitely is. It’s really become a home. I couldn’t have imagined that when I clicked ‘create blog’ seven years ago.”
The night of the finale, Rogovin texted our Homeland support group — eight women spread across five time zones: “I cannot believe they ended this series with Carrie’s having a smile on her face,” she wrote. “I have zero notes.”