WARNING: The following contains spoilers from the season 2 finale of Quantico. Read at your own risk!
The collaborators fell and the heroes prevailed, but it all came at a cost: Alex (Priyanka Chopra) sacrifices herself to take down Roarke (Dennis Boutsikaris) and winds up back on the run. But in the final scene, as she waits for another drink on the plane to her next hiding place, she’s interrupted by Ryan (Jake McLaughlin), who’s decided that wherever she goes, he will, too.
And with those closing moments, Quantico has come full circle. Alex and Ryan are no longer strangers or NATs or agents for a task force; they’re just two people who want to be with each other no matter where they end up. As for the rest of the team, well, Clay (Hunter Parrish) and Shelby (Johanna Braddy) discover that they’ll never be right for each other, while Nimah and Raina (Yasmine al Massri) are released from prison, Roarke is dead, and Owen (Blair Underwood) is now deputy director of the CIA.
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Quantico showrunner Josh Safran spoke with EW to delve into the finale’s closing moments, why Alex’s decision to become a fugitive makes sense for her arc, and where, if the drama does get renewed, the story can go from here. [Editor’s note: This interview was conducted before the news of the renewal and Safran’s new role.]
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start at the end. What was it like shooting a scene that evoked one of the first ones in the series, and when did you know that you wanted to end this season on that note?
JOSH SAFRAN: It was sad to shoot. That was the first scene we shot for the pilot, and it was almost the last scene we shot for the finale. We knew we were going to end this season with Alex basically being a version of [Edward] Snowden on the run, and being okay with that. She finally learned to do bad to do good. It was around episode 17 or 18 when we realized we should make the finale function as a series finale in case we needed to, so we decided to put Ryan on the plane with her. And once that decision was made, that scene just wrote itself.
Why did it make sense for Alex to become a fugitive again? You spoke before about how her story would reach a logical conclusion — why was this the right move for her?
When we first meet her in the pilot, she’s somebody who is not being truthful about her life at all. She’s on this single, selfish mission to find out who her father was and to make peace with this thing she had done in her past. It was all about Alex, but then she went through the FBI and she fell in with these people. It’s always been [about] Alex opening up and expanding to the point that season 2 ends with Alex having done something for the world and not for herself. It’s the most selfless thing she’s ever done, so that to me felt like the logical conclusion for her character, if it were to be a series finale.
Quantico is still waiting for the news of whether it’ll be renewed for a season 3. If it does get another season, have you and the writers talked about where Alex would end up? What would the story look like?
We have definitely talked about that — we wouldn’t have sent her off without having a game plan of how she would operate. Now she’s on the run, but at the same time, she is probably one of the best operatives and therefore has a lot of skills that can be used… All I can say [for a potential season 3 storyline] is that if it were up to me, I would look at it more like the back nine [episodes], basically that Alex and her team would need to keep the very precarious balance that is in the world that’s tipping us toward war.
Looking back on this season, what would you have wanted more time for?
I definitely would have wanted to have more Russell [Tovey, who played Harry]. When we got him, we knew it was only going to be for 15 episodes and then we got a 16th just because the dates for Angels [in America, in which Tovey is starring in London] shifted, but even then we only had him for two days. I would have also liked to bring Sebastian back but David [Lim] got cast in another show.
I also wish we would not have restructured episodes 9 through 13 as much as we did. I think it actually made it more confusing, so that’s my only regret, even though I did this. I think we should have just stuck to what we had shot. We reset in [episode] 14, but that was 14, not 9.
Is there anything with the story you would’ve done differently?
If we had been picked up earlier [for a third season], we probably would have played a little bit more of an Owen and Alex romance, but when it became clear that we weren’t going to be picked up early, if at all, it felt wrong to do that story improper justice by getting it there and then leaving it there, so we moved off of it. And I would have loved to have done a little more with Nimah and Raina this year. It’s weird. On the one hand, I wish I had 30 episodes where I could have done all of these things, but I also wish we only had 15. [Laughs]
Instead of Owen and Alex, you ended this potential series finale on Ryan and Alex. That means Ryan and Alex were always the romantic endgame, right?
Oh yeah. We always saw Owen and Alex as sort of a Blair and Dan [from Gossip Girl situation], which is that it’s a relationship that’s good for both of them because it helps them get their self-esteem back, and it’s a very safe relationship and it’s a very caring and loving one, but it wouldn’t be where either of them end up in their lives.
Then to talk specifically about this finale, Roarke is absolutely dead, right?
He’s dead, yeah. Roarke is such a proud man that he would not allow himself to be tried in any court, so he would take that road out. We based it on like two generals meeting on a battlefield after one side has lost. It’s like shooting the horse that’s been injured.
Why did you decide to have his death happen off-screen?
That was my choice, I wanted it to stay in Clay’s perspective. That was Clay’s moment to speak his truth and walk out. We actually shot in that room, but I just didn’t want to see it. I wanted to stay in Clay’s head.
Speaking of Clay, why was it important for he and Shelby to reach this decision to stay apart? The timing almost worked out.
We kind of modeled the relationship on The Way We Were, but unlike Barbra [Streisand]’s character, who has a bittersweet ending of watching [her love interest and his partner] go off together, it was going to be Shelby coming to the realization that she can be fully on her own, and does not need to have this relationship with somebody else define her.
We wrote a kiss for them at some point that we ended up not shooting. I talked to Hunter and Johanna about it, and we all felt like it wasn’t right, and so every step along the way the three of us, we would all just make sure we were doing this the right way, and I feel like we told the story the right way. They did care for each other, they wanted to get together, but both of them knew it ultimately wouldn’t be right even if it would be great.
Russia played a role in taking down Roarke, and Alex delivers a show-stopping speech that calls out this president for his criminal actions. Was it almost like wishful thinking for you and the writers when it came to this scene?
Yes, it is almost like wishful thinking. It was very easy to write that speech, because it was what we were all feeling at the time. And sadly, you know, we had no idea that [FBI Director James] Comey would be fired when we were writing this stuff, and here we have it in the episode where [our fictional president] has gotten rid of the FBI and CIA heads. The Russia stuff we obviously knew about when we were writing this episode, but this episode was broken and written at the end of February, so it’s shocking that it’s still so resonant now.
I know that it came out in the pitching of the story. Very often one of us [in the writers’ room] goes on a rant, and the rant ends up in a speech. I mean, we were all feeling it, you know?… It was cathartic to write that. My favorite moment in the episode is hearing Priyanka say “Resist, fight back,” like, we should all hold all of our representatives, Democratic and Republican, accountable for what they do, because they work for us. There has to be checks and balances and they have to listen to us, they have to hear us out. That is what Priyanka is saying, so that was very important. But sadly, yes, it’s wishful thinking.
Now, really quickly, you mentioned a while back that we’d see a Henley again. I don’t remember seeing one — did I miss it?
Oh, it was in [episode 20]! Ryan was in the Henley in the scene with him and Shelby on the couch watching Notting Hill and 13 Days.
Oh wow. I did miss it.
That was his pajamas!
Oops. Well lastly, if this is the end of the road for Quantico, what do you hope viewers took away from it?
For me, the goals were always to make a show that was political, that was sort of soapy, that was inclusive, that was feminist. It was a rollercoaster ride, and I’m just really glad that the show was that. It was what I set out for in the very beginning. When I pitched it, I said it was a Trojan horse. It was entertaining, and inside of it was a bunch of politics and emotions and [drama], and I’m very grateful to have gotten to do that for 44 episodes. If there’s more to the journey, they’re all set up in the right places [to continue].