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'Quantico' postmortem: Showrunner talks Harry's trip to London, Alex's behavior

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ABC/Giovanni Rufino; Patrick Randak/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

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

At the Farm, the recruits are looking forward to Thanksgiving — and so is the AIC, which has finally tapped Ryan (Jake McLaughlin), Dayana (Pearl Thusi), and Léon (Aarón Díaz). Meanwhile, Harry (Russell Tovey) heads back to London over the holiday to reconnect with his handler and his family. 

As for the future crisis, EP Josh Safran isn’t saying whether Ryan is really working for the AIC — remember how he and Raina (Yasmine al Massri) had tried to take down the terrorists early this season? — but one thing’s for certain: Ryan and Alex’s (Priyanka Chopra) rift has grown deeper over time. Below, Safran talks the latest developments in Quantico‘s second season winter finale.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me about writing Alex and Ryan’s relationship up to this point. We’re seeing them at their happiest in the present, but they’re so fractured in the future. 

JOSH SAFRAN: We wanted to look at something different between them this year and at them trying to hold strong in spite of the fact that they were working together when they weren’t planning to. They haven’t gotten into any sort of petty disagreements, almost breaking up all year, [like] in the torture episode when Alex didn’t like the way Ryan behaved but even then they had a conversation about it. I do think that sadly in this particular moment, what’s motivating Ryan’s proposal is the fact that he just aided in killing a man and I think he is feeling like he desperately needs something good in his life to hold on to, and I think that is Alex, and that is probably the wrong reason to propose to somebody, and I think we’ll see what happens,

Last time we talked, you talked about putting a scene back into the episode at the last minute. Was this the scene between the twins, talking about why Nimah joined the AIC? What was the biggest challenge to writing that and reinserting that so late?

That’s the scene. It’s challenging because it’s always hard to have a character that has up ’til now been purely on the side of good to do something potentially not good. Nimah and Raina’s whole issue in season 1 was about the fact that Nimah felt she wasn’t treated properly in this country, but she felt very much of this country and she wanted to protect her country, and that was when Raina was sort of more at peace about who they were and how they fit into the world, and she was very open and loving and understanding.

We talked in season 1 about, could either of them ever be a terrorist or perform terrorist acts? They couldn’t, but when it came to season 2, in the discussion, we realized that not all terrorism is based in ideology and yes, Nimah and Raina would never be turned ideologically but they could be turned intellectually, and that is how we came to this sequence.

What exactly is Nimah thinking here? It seems like she just got so frustrated by how there’s constantly a battle to be fought. Has she given up?

I wouldn’t say she’s given up. She’s given in. But it’s different, because giving up is like, “I’m done,” but giving in is, “You know what, I’m going to join.” So she realizes, it’s what she said: “We have to stop pretending this country doesn’t have the same civil wars that are being fought all over the world, and we have to pick up on things and fight ourselves if we want to get things done,” and that is possibly the worst thing for Raina to hear.

I think it’s very prescient, what Nimah’s saying. That sequence was written and shot months ago, so the wall [proposed by President-Elect Donald Trump] was kind of just in the news at the moment, and we took that and ran with it emotionally. Yasmine hadn’t played the twins in the same room in a while, so it was just one of those magical scenes where it came together so perfectly, so quickly, and it was sad to lose it in the cut but we found a way to put it back.

What was it like shooting those air vent scenes?

That was really fun. We built that big air vent. I realized after that, because you have a limited amount of stage space to put swing sets, which are the sets that are existing only in that episode as opposed to your standing sets which exist all the time, we have room for one to two swing sets every episode, but an air vent takes the space that an air vent would, so we were able to snake it around so that we could still build two swing sets for the episode. It’s not that big, you know? I wish we could have air vents in all my episodes because then I could build all the sets that I want.

How did the actors feel about it? It looked super cramped.

Are you kidding? They loved it. They were so excited to get in there. We have photographs of the writers and everyone inside. We had this incredible crane that the camera goes at the end of, and then it just extends all the way, so you could put the crane at one end of the air vent and it could extend all the way through to them. There was a camera in front of their faces the whole time, leading them, which was great. David [Lim, who plays Sebastian], Russell, and Priyanka are always gonzo [for scenes like these]. The thing that was sad was I think Jake really wanted to go in there, but he wasn’t in that sequence.

Also in the future timeline: General Richards (Laila Robins) leads the military’s move against the terrorists. Why involve them now?

The military has to intervene because, especially in light of the transition between President Todd and President Haas, the military has to keep [control] while that loop is closing. They’re the steady line, so we will see more of them. You’ll definitely see them again in the next episode. Episode 9 is our big midseason premiere so it’s got some big surprises in it.

ABC/Giovanni Rufino

Pivoting to the present, where was Miranda this whole time, when she should have been talking to Alex about her changed mission? Will we find out what she was doing?

No. It simply was the fact that there’s a lot she has to do [to handle this mission]. She has to talk to Keyes, and they have to make sure they’re making the right decision. They have to make sure that Shelby’s getting enough of a connection with Léon, so even though they knew in the last episode it was going this way, she had to prep the exit strategy. What feels like a long time is actually only two days. Our consultants explained to us that the extraction process is not that easy. Miranda had wanted no one to tell Alex but herself, so if Alex hadn’t followed Nimah and butted her nose in it, it would’ve happened appropriately.

Alex seems a bit reckless in her decision to go off on her own against the AIC. Why does she pursue this? Is she hoping she’ll get better results than Ryan does?

So there’s two reasons. One is that Alex knows she wasn’t doing her best at the beginning of the season at the Farm, but she’s slowly become better and better, and she has a direct connection to Owen now. She thinks that Miranda and Nimah did not give her a second look. Number two, the answer to that question is revealed in episode 9. I can’t say any more than that.

How frustrating is it for Alex to have all that work with Owen dismissed in favor of what Shelby’s up to?

She doesn’t even really know what Shelby is doing. The one scene that had to go once we put Nimah and Raina back in was a scene with Alex and Owen at the end of the episode where they meet at the Gold Leaf and have a conversation. He basically turns her to leave the FBI without her knowing. They talk about, like, when do you know when you’re done with something? It was a really beautiful scene but ultimately we felt like it took away Alex’s decision-making on her own, because it required a conversation with somebody else to come to that. I think if you had seen that scene, it would have helped audiences understand why what Alex is doing isn’t reckless, but at the same time I think it was more important to show Alex makes this decision on her own.

As far as the AIC goes, Léon and Dayana have been tapped along with Ryan. Why did Léon and Dayana make sense as AIC recruits?

Léon clearly has done some shady stuff and if Owen is the recruiter for the AIC, then from episode 5, he’s seen that Léon will do what is asked of him, and if it’s shady, he has no qualms about it, although we know that he does, as witnessed by the scene when he comes to Shelby, or “Jane.” For Dayana, her whole path has been this child soldier she’s tamped down inside herself that she’s reawakened, and there’s nothing a general wants more than a great soldier.

Should we read into which parts of the murder they committed? How did you choose who would tie up the guy, who would shoot the guy, and who would clean it up?

It’s simply laid out that way. We knew we wanted Léon to fire the gun and we were like, do we want Dayana hauling this guy around? Initially there was a fourth person, just like an extra that we were going to include. And then we were like, “Let’s just keep it at three people.” 

And does it matter who the guy was? Will we find out his identity?

It doesn’t necessarily matter who he was but you will learn more about the guy.

Finally, we saw Harry go to London for Thanksgiving. Given how recently Brexit happened, when did this piece of Harry’s backstory fall into place and why tell it now?

I wanted to look at more global governmental agencies, not just the CIA and FBI, so we knew we wanted to deal with Brexit from the very beginning. I mean, how could you not? We did our research for this about how England will maintain its interest once we’re no longer tied with them, and that’s a storyline moving forward. And, of course, we jumped at the chance to work with Lara Pulver. We always knew we wanted Harry to have a handler in that story, and that’s Charlotte, Elliot’s sister.

What can you tell me about the code Harry hands her?

It’s funny, I cut a line that said what it was. Charlotte says it, but I cut it because I thought it was cooler just to see it. But it is a cryptogram, and you can decipher it at home. [Writers] Beth Schacter and Jordon Nardino just went full board on that and once you read it you’ll be like, “Of course that’s what it says.” It’s not like there’s a secret or an Easter egg. It’s like, “Oh yeah, that’s it.”

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

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