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Quantico postmortem: Showrunner talks season 2, episode 5

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Giovanni Rufino/ABC

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

The recruits faced their toughest real-world challenge yet this week: using the art of illusion to pull themselves out of a scenario that would land them in jail. Though Alex (Priyanka Chopra) and Ryan (Jake McLaughlin) managed to Ocean’s Eleven their way out of getting caught, their efforts to lose Harry (Russell Tovey) backfired. After getting carted off by the police, Harry came back without even a slap on the wrist, thanks to — gasp! — his status as an MI6 agent. 

So what’s this small-screen Bond doing among the CIA’s new recruits, and where do Alex and Ryan go from here? What about Shelby (Johanna Braddy), and whatever’s sparking between her and Léon (Aarón Díaz)? And will Miranda (Aunjanue Ellis) and Co. get thwarted once and for all? Showrunner Josh Safran breaks down the latest reveals.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with the style of this episode’s present timeline. Where did the idea come from to do an Ocean’s Eleven, caper-like episode, and why did it fit a story about illusions and transparency? I guess I just answered my own question there.

JOSH SAFRAN: [Laughs] Yeah, so when our consultants came in and talked to us about all of the different things that are taught on The Farm, we just made a list, and we were just going through and taking stock of everything taught there and what works for the characters in the moment, and we decided on this. We also knew we wanted to do an episode-long action sequence on the future side, so we knew we wanted to spend more time than usual on The Farm side, and we wanted to reduce our characters for the episode, because we wanted to just dive in deeper, particularly with Harry and Léon. So all those things combined made the episode about illusion, and all the stories fell into place. 

There’s so much deception, but the episode has a lighter tone.

It’s so funny you say that. There are still dead bodies, and there’s some dark stuff going on. Will it continue going down that tone? Unfortunately, no. I will say that it is the lightest episode for a while, but again, what I look at that episode as, I look at it as an idea for where we’re going. I can’t say any more than that, but it’s very much a lynchpin episode, so I think when you look back on the season, you’ll see that as a turning point for a lot of the show… Episodes 6 and 7 are pretty much the darkest episodes we’ve ever done, so it’s like, I wish I could say, “Yes, it stays light,” but it just gets into really tough stuff from here on out.

As you promised, we now have learned major details about Harry. What are the implications of that reveal, that he’s a spy for the MI6, beyond the fact that that we now know he’s always had way more control over the situation than we thought?

It’s a story we wanted to tell… There is trade training that happens, even the FBI can take a couple weeks at The Farm. They don’t do the clandestine training that we’re seeing our people do, but we liked the idea. [Having Harry be an MI6 representative] is more about the global nature of the show in season 2 and how intelligence agencies of the world work together. Season 1 was very much about America, and this season is about American interests, and that of course includes England. And you’ll soon meet Harry’s handlerl, who is a great great actor we very much enjoy working with.

Does this mean we’ll be meeting other intelligence agencies as well? Maybe you’ll somehow revive the KGB?

[Laughs] No. There’s no twist. It’s funny, I just think of “twist” as a dirty word now. I feel hesitant to use it because in season 1, we twisted constantly, but the Harry thing isn’t so much a twist, it’s a reveal. The goal in season 2 was to walk deeper into the characters as we go, so this is like another layer that we’re turning over. It’s who he’s always been, so I would say that [there won’t be] other people being with other intelligence agencies… Of course, the CIA has to work with other intelligence agencies, so for example, right now we’re prepping an episode that has some stuff take place in Germany.

Then going back to Harry, he does have this other key moment that shows another layer to his character development. At the staircase, he decides not to follow Shelby, and instead chooses to help his classmates Alex and Ryan. Does this mean he’s evolving to support them? That he’s willing to help them instead of harming them every chance he gets?

The thing is, he was willing to help his classmates, but he’s helping them because it serves him to get to the answer as to who they are, so that wasn’t like, “I’m going to help you!” He definitely wants to help them, but he also knows that in exchange they’re going to tell him who they are. That’s always who Harry is. He is his own intelligence agency. I think he only has one or two ties in his life, one of whom we learned about in the previous episode, and I think that’s definitely how we’re looking at that character. He sort of has that loneliness of James Bond, although with a little more fun… I don’t want to say too much, but again, Harry is incredibly prevalent in this show, so you’re going to learn more and more about him.

Giovanni Rufino/ABC

Let’s move on to Owen. His backstory also got revealed a bit in this episode, showing that he’s still very bitter about being exposed as a CIA agent. Was this story inspired by any real-life events, like the Valerie Plame case?

Yes, a little bit. There have been actually a bunch of agents whose names have been revealed, and we were very interested in what happens to you after that happens, because a lot of work has been created about the moment and what leads up to that reveal, but nothing about the lasting effects of being benched for over a decade. For Owen, it’s been 15 years of still working for the company but being landlocked. Owen and Lydia’s story came out of that, but also out of how she’s able to go do all the things that he can’t do and she may be better at them. He’s jealous of her but also proud of her, and those are the complications they’re in. We’re learning [in this episode] that he can’t let it go, and he’s begun to wonder if his memory of the events are real. He’s going to do his research into that.

In his last scene with Alex, he talks a bit about that itch to be back out on the field and how he’s trying to right the wrongs so he can move safely around the world again, before asking if she wants to learn more from him. Is this an invitation to join the AIC?

I believe Alex takes it as an invitation. Whether or not it is one, we’ll discover very soon.

In the present, we also see how Shelby and Léon connect. What can you tease about that relationship going forward? Clearly, it’s not the best thing for the FBI’s mission…

There’s a whole story there that’s just beginning, and I think it came from conversations about what happens when you are undercover and somebody sees you, but they don’t make you. This came up when we were doing the research for the SDRs, and when you do your SDRs, no one can make you but sometimes you bump into somebody. You can’t look away or run away, you have to play a part and once you play a part, you get stuck in that part, so that’s how this story just blossomed from there. And you’ll understand why Shelby goes back to that diner in the very next episode. There’s a really incredibly beautiful scene between her and Nimah that explains it.

In the future timeline, we see that Will is also on Miranda’s side. With two people we used to trust now believing in the AIC cause, is it still fair to consider them evil? How would you describe them?

I think the AIC is pretty bad, but that all depends. There are people in this country and other countries who believe that you should be able to do whatever is necessary to maintain peace and your country’s interests, and there are other people who believe that there needs to be relations, so that just depends on your perspective… And also, you’ll find out everything so much sooner than even the midseason point. This is a story that evolves; it is not something we’re doling out, so you’ll know the whole story much sooner than you think. 

Will we find out who helped Alex at the very end?

You will. You might have to wait a little while to figure that out. By the way, the good news about having people behind masks is we had some fun [with it]. Much like we did last year with having the entire cast do the Voice and blending it together, we had the entire cast do the “savior terrorist,” as we will call them, and we didn’t even tell them who it was, so when they watch the episode, maybe they’ll be able to hear their voice, but probably not, because we put it through so many layers. In fact, we tried to make it sound like somebody else, just to throw people off, but still that was the fun we had there. 

Also fun: This episode had some sly, sexy scenes. First, there’s Harry getting what he wants from Will (Jay Armstrong Johnson) and then some, and then we got a shot of Harry, Alex, and Ryan in bed together all to demonstrate Owen’s point about illusions. Can you tell me more about putting those scenes together? How do you choose these couplings, or throupling, in the latter case?

[Harry and Will] was so fun. I just like that Harry’s really sex-positive, so he just sleeps with whoever he wants to, and there’s no stigma attached to it. And last year, we kind of had a hint about Will’s sexuality, and we wanted to bring Will back to let the audience know.

Getting the three of them together, that comes from last year. There was a great scene that got cut from the script, where Li Jun Li [who played Iris], Jacob Artist, and Jay were supposed to wake up in bed together, and it would not have been commented on. They were just having a fun night. But instead, that episode became one where they went abroad, and what took its place was [the scene of them] stripping at the metal detectors at the airport. It was supposed to be Jacob Artist but then he couldn’t be in that episode, so we only had Jay and Li Li. We always wanted to do just an offhanded threesome to wink at that in this episode. But also that is a lesson that they are taught [at The Farm], which is that anyone can make it look like anything. You can drug somebody and put them in bed, so that was the most fun way to show that. I did love seeing Jake and Russell just having their arms around Priyanka together. It’s really cute.

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

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