Showrunner Josh Safran talks the penultimate episode to the midseason finale, teases next week's women-of-'Quantico'-centric hour
Credit: Phillippe Bosse/ABC

A lesson on background checks and an emergency hearing kept the NATs on their toes in the Quantico/present timeline, while in the future, Alex unwillingly turned the tables on her own (and only) allies when she agreed to have FBI agents watch their every move.

But more importantly, both timelines were all about Simon. As a NAT, his shady history in Gaza drove the others further away from him, and his previous actions result in him being kicked out of the Academy. In New York, Simon finally spilled about his involvement with the bombing: He was the mastermind, though he never planned to have his schematics fall into the terrorists’ hands. And when he returned home, Elias grabbed him in the closing minutes. With all that going on, EW asked showrunner Josh Safran to answer burning questions and to look ahead to the winter finale next week:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I know we’re so close to finding out who the terrorist is, but I have to ask, does this mean Elias is the terrorist?

JOSH SAFRAN: I cannot comment on that, I’m sorry. All I can say is that obviously what’s revealed in the final seconds springboards us into the finale.

Okay, let’s focus on Simon instead. Why was it important to have him expose everything about what’s been going on with him and the bombing in this episode?

I just think, as I’ve always said, we haven’t wanted to drag everything out. This just felt like the natural point for Simon to talk about his story. I think we have spent a lot of time with Simon in these 10 episodes, really delving deeper and deeper into his past, into his psyche, into his motivations, and I think it was time for him to finally come clean.

Just to clarify: In the park, was he simply confirming the facts of the bombing — that they matched his old plans — with Orin, his bombmaker friend?

He was just discussing with Orin, did Orin take his plans and create this event or not. After he left Quantico, he came up with this plan with Orin, but he eliminated a piece of it so that it wouldn’t come to fruition… So what he’s doing here is he’s checking with Orin to say, well, Orin, did you actually make my schematics work and carry this off? And Orin assured him that has not happened.

Actor Tate Ellington has had to pull off, for 10 episodes, this character who toes the line between good and bad. Did you talk to Tate over time about his role and the reveal that he came up with the bombing plan?

Tate did a masterful job, he just astounds all of us every day… In the first episode, he knew his character wasn’t gay, and that he had endured trauma, which forced him to withdraw inside himself and create a persona. Around episode 2, he knew pretty much his entire backstory in Gaza, so we had had conversations along the way about that, about how we were meting out those pieces.

So he knew when it was coming and what he was building towards, but in terms of whether Simon is a villain or not, I think the show is very interested in the grey, never the black and white, so we never had a conversation about, is Simon a villain? The conversation has always been about what we do in our lives that we regret and what we do in our lives that we can’t fathom or handle. I think Tate has just been an incredible, incredible actor. He just managed to go deeper and stronger and kind of make you understand Simon’s trajectory. I think this episode is a showcase of everything he can do, and hopefully there will be more showcases for him.

Last week, we talked about how everyone was on Team Alex. Now it looks like no one is.

[Laughs] Well, they’ve recently been on Team Alex in both an emotional and a professional capacity, and I just think that in this episode, they will still obviously be on Team Alex in a professional capacity because they know she’s innocent, but they are definitely no longer Team Alex in an emotional one.

And by the end of the episode, what’s running through Alex’s head? Does she have a plan, without anyone to turn to?

What’s running through her head at the end of the episode is that in 12 hours, she’s going to go to jail for the rest of her life. The plan was Simon, and Simon has turned his back on her and is now indisposed, and she has nowhere to turn.

On a production note, this was the first episode where we saw the whole cast (except Jake) in one room for the New York scenes. Did that feel different in any way to work on?

The only reason why it didn’t [feel different] is because on Tuesday, they’re in the same room when we do the Quantico portions. But I think we, as writers, knew as the season progressed that one by one, they would all be pulled into the orbit of Team Alex. We very much liked the reverse “Ten Little Indians” in a way, like, one by one, they’re knocked up, instead of knocked down until they’re all standing together. That was the plan from the first day, so we’re just really excited about it coming into fruition. I think we’re just really, A, grateful we’ve made it this far [laughs] and, B, very excited about where we’re going to go.

Over in the Quantico/present timeline, where does Ryan’s departure leave Alex and Ryan’s relationship, especially after that touching goodbye?

I really love that scene, and I love that song. Simon and Ryan are out of Quantico and they are not returning, and we are being honest to our audience in that there is not any fake-out, they don’t suddenly become trainees again next week. When you’re kicked out or when you leave, you’re out. So Alex is going to have a hard time now alone, without Ryan. Am I going to say she’s never going to see Ryan again in the Quantico timeline? I can’t say that, but I can definitely say that he’s no longer at Quantico, and she’s going to struggle in a major way.

Next episode, the midseason finale, deals with that in a very fun way. It’s probably maybe the most Gossip Girl episode of Quantico possible. I definitely had fun being able to spend a lot of time with the women of Quantico.

What else can you tease about the midseason finale? We haven’t talked about the twins or Shelby and Caleb yet — anything you can tell us about them?

The twins’ storyline has been building and building, and you’ve clearly seen in this episode, that even though Nimah closes the door and Raina walks away from Simon, it’s clear that Raina still has compassion for him, while Nimah has none. And I think in the next episode, once again because the story deals with the women of Quantico, you’ll see a little bit more about that.

And with Shelby and Caleb, they definitely get to a major turn in their relationship, because we introduce Marcia Cross as Claire Haas, and there’s a major Haas family story that takes pretty much center stage in the episode, so that’s obviously going to do a lot to Shelby and Caleb’s relationship.

The midseason finale is a game changer for the show, and I know people say that all the time, but it really is for this one. And more than that, I think the audience will be surprised at how far we get. I think most people would have assumed that we were going to try to string this along for the year, but actually, I think they will find that it’s a very interesting, surprising midpoint. This is definitely the end of season 1A, and we will come back in season 1B, which in our minds, is basically season 2.

To get back to this episode, why was it important for everyone to be present at the emergency disciplinary hearing for Natalie but not have everyone witness Miranda dismiss Simon?

A NARB [New Agent Review Board] is in front of everybody, but when she dismisses Simon, that’s not a NARB. A NARB is a real thing, and when it is called, everybody watches so they understand and learn from the disciplinary hearing. Simon being dismissed is because Miranda overhears what Ryan says to Simon [about his actions in episode 3], and that wouldn’t cause a review board because that isn’t about the conduct of [a NAT], that isn’t lying about some major part of your history. That’s about something that immediately gets you dismissed, there’s no trial to be had [for Simon]. He had rage. He exploded, and you cannot have that. That’s immediate dismissal, whereas with Natalie, the question is, does [what happened] make you unfit?

This means that Ryan ended up getting Simon kicked out even though he was defending him.

But he didn’t know Miranda was in the room. I don’t know if he would have said that in front of her; he was just saying that in front of everybody who witnessed that moment. And also, I don’t think any of them understood that was something that would get them released immediately, because even Ryan, as an agent, wouldn’t be privy to the protocols that he hadn’t already experienced. No one had blown up at him when he was a trainee. That was just a surprising byproduct of him trying to help.

Will he learn that he had a hand in getting Simon kicked out?

I believe he does know. When we meet Simon in episode 3 in the future [timeline], he says everybody turned their backs on him, everybody helped and had a hand in his leaving, so this is the payoff of that. The fun thing for me, not that anyone will ever do it, maybe they will, is that if you go back and you watch the first 11 [episodes], I think and I hope the audience will be surprised that we really did [connect everything].

My joke to the writers that makes their heads explode because they’re so busy that they don’t have time to do this, is I would love to edit a linear version of the show, maybe for the DVD, because I think everyone would be surprised at how even tiny details are paid off.

That would be cool! But right, only if someone has the time.

I know. [Laughs] Maybe I’ll do it in my Howard Hughes old age after I’ve sequestered myself in a house with nothing more to do. And no one will care.

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

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