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Quantico: Showrunner talks channeling Mr. Robot, writing personal story for Harry

EP Josh Safran breaks down episode 4 of season 2, ‘Kubark’

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ABC/Giovanni Rufino; Patrick Randak/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images (inset)

Everyone on Quantico felt the pressure this week: In the present, the recruits were fitted with stress monitors that tracked their heart rate while Owen (Blair Underwood) and Lydia (Tracy Ifeachor) tried to rattle their cages, and Ryan (Jake McLaughlin) and Alex (Priyanka Chopra) carried out their own counter-mission. In the future, Alex discovers a way to outmaneuver the terrorists, only for Raina (Yasmine Al Massri) to fail in their mission because of double-agent Miranda (Aunjanue Ellis). Below, EP Josh Safran breaks down the latest episode and looks ahead to what’s coming next.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You spoke last week about how each week’s lesson and future storyline has a theme. How would you define this week’s? Is it about everyone’s fears?

JOSH SAFRAN: It’s not fear. It wasn’t weaknesses. It’s your pressure points, so it is your weakness, but it’s [about], can someone find your weakness and exploit your pressure point? Alex is exploiting the pressure point of the terrorists in the future by realizing that those hostages they didn’t really care for, the ones in Federal Hall, are their weakness. And in the present, it’s about everybody in the CIA knowing their pressure points. When you say “weaknesses,” that means emotional weaknesses. This isn’t emotional weaknesses; this is about the things in life that freak you out.

Right, they’re things that rile you up, that make your stress monitor turn red. So why did this theme make sense for this week’s story?

Because it’s something that actually does happen [at the Farm]. We really liked the idea that if you cannot conquer the parts of you that will pretty much either get you distracted, get you killed, or out you, then you cannot succeed. It’s an early lesson that would have to be taught, because if you’re out in the field and somebody pushes your pressure point, your career could be over. We just all talked in the room about how it’s an early lesson, that recruits have to be able to prove to the higher ups at Langley that they are able to be operatives without melting down. So we ran with that, and we also knew about stress monitors, so we put those two things together. 

We know Ryan and Alex’s pressure points well because we’ve seen them go through trauma in season 1 and know them the best. For the other recruits, how did you come up with their stories and how much will their stories matter going forward?

All of the stories that you hear here about their pressure points are consistent with the character moving forward. For Harry, it’s about, like, did he screw up somewhere along the way and make a wrong choice? He’s not freaked out over what he might find, he’s somebody who’s very controlled and planned and usually knows exactly where he is at all times and what he’s doing, so the CIA is f—ing around with his memory, and you’ll come to learn more and more why his memory and what he’s done in his life is so important to him. For Dayana, she knows she didn’t make a mistake, but she’s so afraid of making mistakes and there’s a reason for that, which we’ll learn about. For Léon, the prison story has been unfolding since we first heard about it, so that’s just an ongoing story, and for Sebastian, you get a detail about when he was younger and tried to kill himself, which obviously connects to Harry’s past. And all of that is not a one-off in any way for these characters. We go deeper and deeper with them every episode.

Let’s go back to Harry, because he delivers a monologue to Sebastian about his painful past that’s quite personal. Why was it important for you to have Harry open up like this?

Well, this story is really important to me, and I won’t say any more than that, but it’s a story I very much wanted to tell when we came up with the characters of Harry and Sebastian, and I think that they have a very complicated, almost friendship. That’s one of the things about all of these characters this year: They’re adults, they’re not 20-somethings like Caleb was in season 1. They’ve had their own careers and their own lives, and the CIA is breaking down control they’ve had over themselves.

So for Sebastian especially, he is somebody who has had a lot of structure in his life, whether religious or emotional, and Harry recognizes in that something from his life. Harry is somebody who’s not controlled at all, so that connection between them is an odd couple of sorts, but there’s something underneath that tying them together, and that is a story that we just shot. If you liked that scene in 4, we just shot a scene in episode 10 that is really great… When we knew we were no longer beholden to being a “sexy soap,” which I was told [season 1 would have to be] by parties no longer present, I knew this show could be what I want it to be and what I hope it to be, so it allows us to tell personal stories, and there are so many more coming. 

Now, about Lydia and Owen, we see that Lydia talks to someone on the phone in front of Owen, about Owen, so we should assume that she’s no longer working against her father, right?

I wish we could have had the time to shoot the other side of the phone call, but we couldn’t because we only had Henry [Czerny, who plays Keyes] with us for a brief period in this episode. That’s the one part of the story that I’m like, “We knew what we wanted, but maybe it didn’t come across.” So in episode 3 she says on the phone, “I’m in,” and in episode 4, it’s clear what she’s meant to do is to take her father off of his vengeance course, but then she is like, “You know what, I think maybe my father has some right here,” so she’s telling Keyes that Owen has let it go, but she’s lying. 

Got it. Something else we learned in the present is that Leigh has been bugging her fellow recruits, so what can you tease about what’s coming next in regards to her?

I don’t want to spoil, but I think episode 5 is one of the best episodes we’ve ever done. All of us over here think it’s just so good, so we’re going to leave it at that. It’s our most Ocean’s Eleven, Out of Sight episode yet. 

ABC/Giovanni Rufino

Turning to the future storyline, what was the inspiration behind the idea to bring in Eric Boyer, a hacker, into this terrorist plot? And what exactly was he doing for the AIC?

If I even tell you a little bit about what Boyer was doing, you would know the whole story. All I can say is that the answers are not going to be drawn out. This entire hostage crisis will come to an end before the end of the season and you will learn all, so what he’s doing is explained soon. Once you know what he was doing, you’ll understand why they needed a hacker.

We talked a lot about, especially looking around now, how hackers are affecting the political landscape, because they don’t feel allegiances to anything other than what they perceive to be the truth. We talked a lot about how, like, WikiLeaks is aiding Russia potentially, and how a terrorist organization who purports to be opening the world’s eyes to the truth might find an alliance with a hacker like a Snowden or an Assange who maybe feels like these acts of terrorism are helpful. 

I just figured maybe you had all been binge-ing Mr. Robot

It’s so funny, because we did joke about Mr. Robot. Our joke was we should put him in a hoodie, but actually we already had a Mr. Robot allusion in the series. We are fans and clearly it was in the back of our consciousness, but Lydia is in a hoodie in episode 1 in the Post-It montage, just like Elliot, when she’s bumping into everybody and giving them Post-Its. Now when you go back, you’ll see. That was our allusion. The actor in the hoodie wasn’t [Tracy Ifeachor, who plays Lydia], but it was meant to be.

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Shelby learns that Miranda has been turned in this episode as well. What can you tease about what Shelby can possibly do next? She’s kind of alone in this now.

Exactly. The next opening she can find she’s going to try to use to stop Miranda. I don’t want to give it away. Again, episode 5 is really good. [Laughs.] And I want to give my personal shoutout to how great Aunjanue [Ellis, who plays Miranda] is in that van [scene, when she threatens Eric]. We just had so much fun with that whole sequence.

 

Did you ever have any other character in mind to be the double agent?

No, it was always Miranda from the very beginning. Aunjanue had a lot to do last year but at a certain point, once all that stuff with her son happened, she had less to do. So when we first sat down to create the story sessions for season 2, the big headline was, let’s get Miranda back into the story before we even knew the plot for season 2.

After all this, who would you say is in the most danger in the future storyline?

Alex. I mean, there are literally 20 terrorists who just entered the building to find her, and she’s stuck in that building… At a certain point, she can’t even stop that wall.

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

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