'Quantico' Boss Explains the Show's Full-Circle Season 2 Finale

Showrunner Josh Safran also talks with THR about his decision to exit the newly renewed ABC drama.
Giovanni Rufino/ABC
Jake McLaughlin, Priyanka Chopra on 'Quantico'

[This story contains spoilers from the season two finale of Quantico, "Resistance."]

ABC's Quantico — freshly renewed for a third season — wrapped its second season Monday with a finale that left Alex's fate up in the air.  

Series creator and showrunner Josh Safran, who is stepping down from the drama, penned the episode to double as a season finale and a potential series finale. Creatively, Quantico has already been rebooted twice in two seasons, with the latest seeing it shift course to follow a ripped-from-the-headlines approach. The result, in Monday's finale, produced a long-awaited win for Alex (Chopra) and the rest of her CIA and FBI agents who now operate under the hybrid agency Domestic and International Security Agency. The finale also flashed forward four months to follow the undercover agents as they attempted to recruit more bodies to carry out the Trump-like vision of President Henry Roarke (Dennis Boutsikaris), who succeeded President Clair Haas (Marcia Cross) after he coerced her to resign.  

Roarke, backed by his high-powered allies called "collaborators," took office with an intent to clear out a rigged system, increase border security and effect a Muslim registry. But his master plan was to reshape the U.S. intelligence community and hold a Constitutional Convention — as former first son Clay Haas (Hunter Parrish) called it, an invitation to "rewrite the law wholesale." After a string of losses for the good guys, Alex and her fellow agents exposed Roarke and his corrupt dealings with Russia during the convention. It all came to a head with a presidential suicide in what was dubbed the "political scandal of the century."

But the win did not come without consequences. Alex was forced to flee the country after breaking a slew of laws in order to take Roarke down. In the final moments of the episode, as Alex's colleagues either head back to Quantico or to the CIA Farm, Ryan Booth (Jake McLaughlin) joins Alex during her escape, vowing to live a life on the run with the woman he fell in love with on their flight to Quantico at the start of the series.

THR spoke with Safran about exiting the series (he will remain credited as a consultant), bringing Quantico full circle while also leaving a bit of an open-ended story for season three as well as the show's Trump parallels. 

How did your idea for the finale change after Trump was elected?

We would come up with something and then it — or some iteration of it — would be in the papers while we were still shooting. With the finale, we were writing the worst-case scenario that we hoped would never happen, because that’s what catharsis is: That you write the darkest moment and you live through it through your writing and the performances and then you think, "It’s good the world’s not like that." It’s been unfortunate that by the time several episodes of this back nine aired, many things have come to pass. It’s a scary thing to be a prophetic pop-culture show. 

There were several Trump parallels in these final two episodes with Roarke taking over — from closing borders to bucking the establishment and reshaping the intelligence communities. It all leads up to the Constitutional Convention, which took place once in American history in 1787. Was the convention always the plan? 

The Constitutional Convention was the plan all along. One of our co-executive producers, Jordan Nardino, pitched it when we were breaking episode 14 [ahead of the November presidential election]. We always knew this season was going to lead toward something with the collaborators, but we didn’t know exactly what until we figured that out midseason. It’s not totally outside of the realm of possibility; and it was something that will never happen. The week after the writers' room ended on the season, there was an article about how a Constitutional Convention could happen under the Trump administration. It’s scary.

How do you think the emphasis on reshaping the intelligence community, and potentially the entire government, will play in the wake of Trump firing FBI director James Comey?

One of the issues that Trump presents is that he is very transparent about his feelings. He gets upset and tweets about it immediately and no one monitors him. He actually doesn’t think before he speaks. So we were able to riff off of that a little bit. The idea of dismantling the intelligence communities, Trump had said something off-hand like that on Twitter and it stuck in our heads. Sadly, it’s come to pass.  

Quantico scored an 11-hour renewal after being positioned firmly on the bubble. Looking back, is there anything you wish you would have done differently to help the show grow in season two?

I understand why our viewership eroded. It was darker and colder than most network television shows and darker and colder than this show had been in season one. That was a conscious risk that I took, but I think that probably was the audience that we lost. In the first season, the characters were college students and fumbling around with their emotions and not knowing who they were. Their ideologies were clashing because they hadn’t fully thought through them or fully lived them, and they were still figuring them out. In season two, it was grad school and the decision was that these were adults. These are people who already have a lot of life behind them that they are protective of, and they’re not truly showing who they are, even though they know who they are. So that’s cold and intellectual in a way.

The thing I would have done differently is the whole crazy mishegoss when they moved our time slot from Sundays to Mondays midseason and we had to go into episodes that were already shot and throw things out and reshoot. While I was grateful for that, because it was a big show of faith from the network [but] when I look back on it, the show is confusing even to me. We had a plan and we had already written and shot a lot of it, and we had to rejigger it all. I’m glad we reset the show in episode 14 for the back nine, because if we hadn’t, it would have been very hard to pull it all together. They didn't say we had to reshoot, they said they were moving us and asked what we could do to make it easier for new viewers finding the show. I made the choices of what to reshoot and reshape. If I could, I wouldn’t have done that. I would have gone and said, "No, let’s keep it the way it’s going."

This episode was written as a season and potential series finale. Why was this the journey you wanted to either end or set Alex on?

I'm really proud of the season as a whole because it is so different than season one. Writing the finale as both a season and series finale wasn't that hard, because I also did that with Smash [which ran on NBC from 2012-13]. There was no way it was coming back, but we hadn't been officially canceled and even up to the very last moment I was pitching different versions, like turning the show into a half-hour or making it just about Julia and Tom in L.A. But we still knew we were crafting a series finale. On The CW's Gossip Girl, too, we always knew we were renewed, but a couple of seasons we didn’t know until the very end. So I’ve had a couple of experiences with this before, and I actually think it’s better for shows. Nowadays, especially with 450 shows on the air, you can’t leave your characters in a cliffhanger in May and expect your audience to remember. You’re not going to be able to pump all of that 22 episodes-worth build-up into a minute-and-a-half recap ahead of your season premiere. I actually think you should look at every season as one that should come to a conclusion.

Did you consider any other endings?

We did shoot an alternate ending where we would have had a cliffhanger element to it. The scene has Alex and Ryan getting to their destination and then a new offer presented itself, much like at the end of season one where somebody showed up and presented an offer. It was a little more sinister than that, but it will never see the light of day. If there is a season three, it would not be a part of it. So it’s just in the discard pile. They asked us to do it, so we did it. But when we saw it, we didn’t need it. The ending is still cliffhanger-y enough to know that Alex can never come back to America and is totally off in the world and yes, Ryan’s with her, but they’re not going to have an easy life. But they’ll have a good life.

Why are you exiting?

My deal on the show was two years only and it’s up. I will not be involved in the day-to-day [anymore]. I need to take some time and develop some other stuff, and I'm leaving the show in a good place and capable hands. I'll be watching over its shoulder, but this is the end of the road for me in a full capacity. 

You left several avenues for the show to follow in the finale. Where do you hope the new showrunner will take Quantico?

All I hope that happens for the future of the show is that it remains a show that is inclusive, that is feminist, that is political and that is also entertaining. That is all I care about. I hope there is never a Muslim terrorist on the show. I hope that the women stay at the forefront of the show, because it is their story. I hope that whoever takes it from here, I'll be watching over it. But I'm hoping those benchmarks are the most important.

What did you think of the Quantico finale? Tell THR in the comments below.