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Quantico postmortem: Showrunner on Alex's Die Hard moment

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Giovanni Rufino/ABC

WARNING: The following contains spoilers from season 2 of Quantico. Read at your own risk!

Let’s just go ahead and call Alex (Priyanka Chopra) the new John McClane. This week, she not only killed a terrorist, but also capped off the hour by tossing her corpse through the skylight of the room holding the hostages with a cheeky note declaring “2 DOWN!” attached to it.

Of course, executive producer Josh Safran had already told EW that the terrorist plot would be inspired by the film, so the homage wasn’t the biggest surprise of the night. Just ask Miranda (Aunjanue Ellis), who got blindsided by Shelby’s (Johanna Braddy) report on all the recruits they had investigated for Mission: Stop the AIC — or even Harry (Russell Tovey), who had no idea Ryan (Jake McLaughlin) would do something as reckless as attempt to fight him in the middle of a hostage crisis. The present timeline at the Farm also saw some key developments, especially with Lydia (Tracy Ifeachor), Harry, and new recruit Leigh (Heléne Yorke). Below, Safran answers our burning questions on episode 3, “Stescalade”:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with the action-hero version of Alex we see striding away at the end of the episode. Why make that the moment you shout out to Die Hard, the film that inspired this storyline?

JOSH SAFRAN: Well, moving forward, I think that’s probably the last shout-out. There might be a name drop or two but other than that, these were the only clear shout-outs. We just thought we’d lean into it and have fun with it, make a joke about it. When it came to her throwing the body over, weirdly, we weren’t even going to do that until we found this amazing location with the skylight. And then it was like, “Well, we have to do that now!” [Laughs] And then our awesome director, Jen Lynch, just had a lot of fun staging that scene.

On a more serious note, what does this mean for Alex? Did that closing mark a turn in her, as in she’s now more aggressive, more on the offensive than she was before? We did hear her saying sorry to the terrorist she unmasked, who used to be an instructor of hers at the Farm.

[She said that] because she’s human, she’s Alex, and she doesn’t want to kill anybody, but she also knows that she needs these terrorists to know that she’s there, she’s not going away, and she’s going to be a thorn in their side. She’s going to try to stop them any chance she gets. Yes, [she’s changed]. It’s a whole new day for Alex.

Now as for Ryan and Harry, they obviously have some issues to resolve. What’s running through their heads?

They clearly do not like each other from some incident that we have not yet seen, which of course we will see in the near future. You’re going to learn a big piece of information about Harry very soon, which I think will connect some dots.

Does their chilly relationship have anything to do with the mention that six months ago, the AIC mission got nixed?

It probably does have to do with that. [Laughs]

So last time we talked, you said that this season would show which sides people were on: Alex’s or not. Given what Shelby does to Miranda, albeit unwittingly, can we safely say that Shelby’s on Alex’s side?

Yep, I would believe that to be so… I like Shelby and Miranda together. [Laughs] We joke about how this is Miranda’s episode where she’s Wile E. Coyote and Shelby’s unknowingly the Road Runner.

We also see Will Olsen again. Will his scene with Harry tie help reveal what’s going on with Harry?

Definitely. You will see Will again and very soon, and you know, it’s just nice to have Jay back.

Why was it important to bring him back first, instead of any of the other season 1 characters who survived?

Honestly, Will is the first of what I hope to be others — and maybe there are others, I don’t want to say. It wasn’t so much “Why Will?” It was just that Will was the first person for the story that we were telling, and you know, you’re just gonna have to wait and see. [Laughs] What Harry is doing with Will is going to be very clear, and that is that.

Giovanni Rufino/ABC

As always, I want to learn more about the exercise featured in the episode. To learn the assessment lesson, they get dropped in the woods and have to find their way back. What can you tell me about researching this?

[The exercise] is real. We actually wanted to do this story in season 1 because they’re also taught land navigation at Quantico. It ended up morphing into the episode where they cross the border. In Montreal, we couldn’t find woods close enough to the stages to shoot it. In New York, that was not the case. Once our consultant told us about assessment and what they’re supposed to learn and how they learn it, we just married the two together. And you know, if we had the budget, we would have done a couple more fun things, but I think we got the core basics in there… There are some scenarios this year that are actually [based in] fact. The Farm operative training is actually more active, so we’re able to hew closer to the truth.

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How do you go about choosing which exercise to show in which episode?

We do the present first. We do what exercise they’d be taught at this particular week and then we extrapolate from there and talk about themes. So the theme of this episode was lay of the land, or assessment, and everyone’s actually assessing everybody. We do the future second to the present, because the future is not based in fact, it’s our imagination. If we do the part based in fact first, then we let that guide the future story, which we did not do last year.

That’s another reason why the story’s a little clearer this year. We did it as much as we could last year, but there’s no precedent for a terror event that is ongoing while there is, sadly, a precedent for a hostage crisis, so it’s much easier to look at all the pieces that make up a hostage crisis and find all the skills you need to survive one.

So last year for season 1, did you break stories by doing the opposite? As in, you figure out what’s happening in the future first, and then pair the present story to it?

Sometimes. It actually went back and forth. As the season went on, starting around episode 12, once [Alex] was no longer a fugitive, we were able to do more of the Quantico episode first, and then marry it more to the future. But even then it was hard, because we had the Voice talking to them, so it wasn’t a very set thing. We made a decision this year that we wanted it to be more thematic. There are thematic words for every episode, and we carry those through. This one was easy because it’s all “assessment,” but other ones are more emotional, like “betrayal,” which is the one we’re working on right now.

This episode introduces Leigh, a new recruit. Why bring her into the fold? What does she bring to the table that made her an important addition?

In season 1, before it was even a show, I had sort of envisioned Shelby as Legally Blonde a little bit, but in the writing of the pilot and knowing that Shelby’s backstory was one of tragedy, I no longer wanted Shelby to be that. That wasn’t in her DNA anymore, but I always wanted to do that [character] because I’ve met people in positions of power who disarm you by being like, “I’m a mess, but I’m actually the most focused person here.” So we always wanted that character. We tried to put her in season 1 along the way but it never worked, so we decided to put her for season 2 and then it was too many characters to introduce in the [season 2] premiere, so we punted her introduction to [episode] 3.

I just loved that she had Post-its with her, even in the middle of the woods.

We were joking about that, like, she keeps them in her boots. She’s never going to be without Post-its, because everything has to be accounted for at all times. They just asked for their phones and wallets, they didn’t ask for their Post-Its.

Giovanni Rufino/ABC

Lydia has something up her sleeve. What should we keep in mind while following her story? Should we be paying attention to Lucas?

You should not be paying attention to Lucas at all. Part of the change to this season is to sit with people and the issues that they have, so she’s locked in this issue with her father, which is that she is essentially a better operative than he was, in her mind and maybe in reality, so the idea that he would trap her there and not allow her to do her job [is something] she reads as resentment. Lucas is just part of telling that story and showing that Lydia and Owen are just too far apart. They cannot get the lay of the land on each other, just to put a fine point on it. They think they know where they are at all times, but those places don’t line up. It was just to show that Lydia is going to look at any way to not be her father.

She also says, “I’m in. Tell me what to do next.” Any clues to what that means?

You’ll know in the next episode.

Finally, the rogue faction is now known as the “AIC.” How did you and the writers come up with that?

Honestly, I believe Jordon Nardino, one of the co-EPs on the show, was just like, “Why do we have to call them ‘rogue faction’? ‘Rogue faction’ is just ridiculous. Let’s just call them AIC!” And we were like, “What?” And he was like, “It’s the CIA in reverse!” So basically, all that dialogue was between me, Jordon, and Beth [Schacter], the writer of the episode, and [co-EP] Cam Litvack, and we’re everybody in that scene.

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

 

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