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Quantico series premiere postmortem with Josh Safran, showrunner

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Guy D'Alema/ABC

Spoiler alert! This story contains details from Sunday’s premiere of Quantico

Watch enough hours of television and you begin to expect character deaths around certain times in a season, during penultimate episodes or finales. But Quantico sent a character to the grave right off the bat: Newbie Eric (Brian J. Smith) bit the dust in front of the entire class after thinking Caleb (Graham Rogers) had discovered a shameful secret he hadn’t shared with the FBI.

And the show didn’t stop there with the surprises. Fellow recruit Nimah (Yasmine al Massri) was revealed to be a pair of twin sisters, Ryan (Jake McLaughlin) has actually been working undercover for Liam (Josh Hopkins) to spy on Alex (Priyanka Chopra), and Caleb got kicked out of the new class of recruits for his involvement in Eric’s death. How’s all that for a first lesson?

Quantico boss Josh Safran tells EW it won’t be this twisty all the time — at least, not every episode will pile on the revelations in every scene. “We’re not going to reveal that Nimah and Raina are triplets in episode 3,” he says. “I’m hoping the audience comes to see that those 180s that happened at the end of the pilot are not just shocking twists, but a road map for where these characters are going and moving forward … The writers and I talked about it as a snapshot that keeps widening out more and more, and then suddenly, the more people that are in the snapshot, the more you begin to realize how they’re connected.”

Now that the first snapshot’s been unveiled to viewers, it’s time to look at what to expect as the season continues. Safran spoke to EW about Eric’s death, the twins, and two new arrivals to the show:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So … Eric. Why did you decide to off one of the recruits in the first episode?

JOSHUA SAFRAN: From the get-go with the pilot, the show was structured so that you would understand that every one of the recruits has secrets that are buried so deep that even the FBI couldn’t find them or see them. The FBI has sort of opened their gates a little wider after their frustration with the government shutdown, so maybe some people slipped in that would’ve been red-flagged at a different point, but I always knew that I wanted a character whose secret was so far buried, that it was so dark that they had no choice but to come out.

And actor Brian J. Smith knew this going in?

Oh yeah, totally. Brian’s a regular on Sense8 so it wasn’t suddenly like, “Oh, I’m going to kill Eric!” I went out to Brian specifically because I had worked with him on Gossip Girl and I thought he would be a great actor. 

What were the technical challenges to doing that scene? You told me a while back that the original version was bloodier.

Yeah, I’ll always be a little bit sad about what I had to cut from that sequence. It still is harrowing and shocking and violent, but it was more harrowing and more shocking and more violent in the cut before. I mean, it makes total sense to me why that wouldn’t be shown on network television, but at the same time, maybe as a DVD extra? He did it all in one take — the gun went in his mouth, he pulled the trigger, and then the blood bag exploded. Now it’s sort of chopped up.

Will Eric’s death continue to have ripple effects on the recruits? It’s already cost Caleb his spot.

Definitely. It’s not something that’s never mentioned again. It’s in the story we’re delving into, but it’s not like there is another secret behind Eric that nobody knew. That was Eric’s secret, it came out in the most horrible fashion, and I think that what hangs over everybody is, will their secrets come out? And when they do come out, will they come out in the most awful of ways? 

Anything you can tell us on what happens to Caleb? Actor Graham Rogers is a series regular.

Yes, he’s not gone. He comes back in episode 2 in a surprising fashion, but I don’t want to say it yet.

Let’s talk about Nimah and her actually being, well, twins. What will we be seeing of Nimah and Raina going forward?

Even though Nimah and Raina have been passing as one in the pilot, you’ll very quickly learn that they have very distinct personalities as twin sisters.

As in one’s good and one’s evil?

No. I mean, maybe! That I’m not ruling out, but I mean in terms of being like sisters. They share some things, but they totally deviate in others. You’ll learn very quickly who’s better, who’s faster, who’s softer. There’s an interesting story that develops there because we might be losing Eric in the pilot, but we’re definitely adding into that same space moving forward with Raina. She’s as much of a character as Nimah. 

Next episode will introduce two new characters, played by Annabelle Acosta (Ballers) and Rick Cosnett (The Flash). What can you tell us about them and what happens when they show up?

Annabelle plays Nathalie Vasquez. She’s a tough cop from Texas who’s worked the border and has always wanted to be a part of the FBI. You meet her instantly in episode 2, and she becomes sort of a thorn in the side of all of the other recruits, because she’s very determined to be the best. It’s just a lot of fun to add her, because she’s just a real adversary for Alex at Quantico, in that she’s always trying to best her.

And then Rick Cosnett plays Elias Harper, who’s not actually a trainee but is at Quantico. He quickly sets his sights on Simon, because Simon is the first openly gay trainee in FBI history, which by the way is a sad fact, it’s actually the truth. At least in the research that we did, there has yet to be an openly gay agent trainee. So Simon is the first, and Elias, as an openly gay man, is interested in how Simon made that happen.

The premiere covered a lot of Alex’s history, the attack, and the events at the academy. How will the show be juggling these timelines as the season goes on?

You’ll see into characters’ lives outside of Alex’s point of view. It’s not a show around Alex’s point of view, although she drives a segment of it. I think interestingly with the pilot, that sets up this flashback structure, but that was never the intention of the series. I think that’s an important thing to say, which is that the series takes place in two time periods at the same time, and those time periods run parallel and forwards. And so it’s not all going to be the hour of the attack. Moving forward, it’ll become more clear that it’s a story that’s about the echoes across time periods.

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

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