'Quantico' Boss on Alex's Big Secret, Toning Down "Soapy" Romances and Season 2

"While there is a lot of character connection and romance, all of that soap-like stuff is being doled out more slowly and much more realistically," showrunner Josh Safran tells THR about the second half of the freshman season.
Phillippe Bosse/ABC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Quantico's midseason premiere, "Alex."]

Just when Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra) thought her name had been cleared, it turned out that first terrorist attack was only the beginning of her nightmare. ABC’s Quantico returned Sunday night fresh off the news it had been renewed for a second season with the action more or less picking up where it left off in the winter finale.

The hour opened several weeks into the future, with Alex taking the stand to testify that she believed there was more than one terrorist involved in the bomb at Grand Central Station, as well as the follow-up attack that killed 32 FBI agents, including Clayton Haas (Mark Pellegrino). Meanwhile, during the present-day scenes, the Quantico trainees merged with another class, leading to high tension and several new frenemies.

By the end of the episode, it was clear there was indeed more than one terrorist involved in the attacks, as Alex walked right into another trap set by the mysterious person and Vasquez’s (Anabelle Acosta) life hung in the balance.

To check in on Alex’s newfound isolated state and what comes next after that massive twist, THR caught up with showrunner Joshua Safran.

How is Alex’s newfound isolation going to affect her down the line?

As the person who is being manipulated, Alex is going to feel even more isolated from people because she can’t tell them what’s going on. But at the same time, she finds a couple of allies, especially after the end of the episode — Vasquez at least knows she’s right. So she has her and she picks up somebody else as well. That really gives her a bit of a home base to ground her. But it is really hard and it gets increasingly harder the longer she’s being tasked by this terrorist.

Is saying Vasquez is on her side a spoiler given that she was strapped to a bomb at the end of the episode?

Her life is definitely in the balance. This terrorist is threatening Vasquez to keep Alex in line, but it isn’t just Vasquez whose life is being threatened, which we’ll discover in the next episode.

By the end of the episode is it safe to say Alex is basically back to square one in terms of this mastermind wanting people to think she’s a terrorist?

Not square one, I’d say in many ways the terrorist has gotten to a new level in that Alex is the last person anyone would suspect of doing anything after having been cleared of all charges and being framed. She’s the perfect patsy. So, yes, she’s at square one, but in a weird way she’s past a line. She’s not on the run and she’s not framed.

Alex being reinstated at the FBI is actually a big part of this terrorist’s plot then?

Correct, very much so. You will see in the very next episode she is tasked to do something within the FBI.

Clayton Haas (Mark Pellegrino) was one of the 32 agents who died in that bombing. Are there more casualties to unroll?

There is definitely a mystery as to what happened to certain people that we haven’t yet seen, but they are not dead. They may be injured or emotionally scarred to the point of no return. There’s definitely some reverberations for people that are beyond life and death.

In the present day we see the merging of the two classes. Does that open up more future connections to play with?

Unlike the first half of the season, there’s less before and after with this new class. This new class stays primarily on the Quantico side because Alex has so much that she has to deal with in the future side. We decided to keep things more separate, but that isn’t to say that Alex isn’t learning stuff from those new recruits at Quantico that we’re going to see her use in the future.

What about the new recruits’ back stories in the present day?

The three main ones get as much backstory time as our initial cast did in the pilot. We really spend a lot of time with them. When you’re kicked out of Quantico you’re actually kicked out — you can’t come back reformed. Ryan (Jake McLaughlin) is gone, Simon (Tate Ellington) is gone. People are going to continue to either leave of their own volition or get kicked out. As that happens it allows us to spend more time with the people that are there. In some ways, you get to know these guys more than you did in the first half of the season.

Does bringing Miranda’s (Aunjanue Ellis) son into the fold blur the lines of professionalism between her and the students?

That is very much the story that we’re telling. It lines up with what we’ve heard pieces of in the future timeline, in the pilot and episodes two and three. We also know that Miranda has gotten downgraded in the future. All of this stuff will catch up to itself, but the question isn’t so much just about Miranda and her son. It is about what lines has she crossed that she shouldn’t have crossed being the person who is tasked with creating the next group of FBI agents.

How does that differ from Liam (Josh Hopkins) and the lines he’s crossed — is his promotion a case of sexism of sorts?

That is exactly the story—it’s like Miranda said in the pilot that the glass ceiling exists in the FBI for women. She watches other people do things in error and get promoted and that is 100 percent the story between her and Liam moving forward. There’s a line that we cut in a future segment where when Miranda saw Liam again after she was released from being held for questioning she said, “I didn’t mind you stealing my job, I mind that you did it so poorly.” I wish we’d kept that in. 

How are the romances going to play in the back half?

We turn down the soapy connections. We were excited at the idea that Shelby was going to have an affair with Caleb’s father, but we put all of that information into one episode so it made your head spin. Moving forward, while there is a lot of character connection and romance, all of that soap-like stuff is being doled out more slowly and much more realistically.

What can you tease about Shelby’s “sister” and how that impacts the future?

That story twists in a new direction by episode 15. Most of the stories that have been bubbling in the Quantico timeline that look as though they don’t connect to the future timeline pretty much come to a head in that episode.

Now that you’ve gotten an official renewal, has your first season finale or season two game plan changed at all?

No. I’m a big fan of wrapping up a storyline that you set out in a season and not carrying it over. You can carry out character dynamics and go deeper into what you’ve established, but I always planned for this to fully wrap up by the end of the season. The Josh Whedon/Buffy style of storytelling, which is your big bad is vanquished at a certain point but not without leaving a bunch of stuff in their wake that launches the next season. So everyone will get the answers they want — some of those even before the season finale. Then in the season finale, the world will shift and change.

Anything to add?

Alex wasn’t the terrorist before, but now she’s going to become one and no one is going to know — and maybe also not believe her should she say anything. While she’s watching everyone deal with the fallout of what’s happening to them, she also knows she’s instrumental in what’s to come and she can’t tell them. Unlike shows I’ve worked on in the past, we’re not saving our big moments for sweeps episodes or every couple of episodes. Really dramatic, life-changing events happen when you least expect them. 

Quantico airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on ABC. 

What did you think of the midseason return? Sound off in the comments below. 

Twitter: @amber_dowling

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