Showrunner Josh Safran breaks down the terrorist's plot, drops hints on Caleb's plan, and looks ahead to the back half of the season

By Shirley Li
Updated December 13, 2015 at 12:00 PM EST
Credit: ABC/Phillipe Bosse
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It’s official: Elias (Rick Cosnett) is the culprit. But was he telling the whole truth?

The answer is — as it always is with Quantico — more complicated than that, according to showrunner Josh Safran. See, we find out that Elias was the one who framed Simon (Tate Ellington) and tied him up to detonate that second bomb. We learn that Elias carried out the initial Grand Central bombing, but did not know Alex (Priyanka Chopra) would be involved in the way that she did. And then before he can explain further, he avoids getting turned over to the FBI by falling out of the hotel window and to his death.

At the same time, there’s something suspicious going on with Caleb (Graham Rogers). Just before the second bomb goes off in the New York timeline, we see Caleb — posing as Mark Raymond — walk into the bank that would later become the post-bombing emergency command center, asking to see a vault. Could this mean he had something to do with Grand Central as well?

Things were just as explosive in the Quantico timeline. Alex (Priyanka Chopra) lets Ryan (Jake McLaughlin) go shortly after meeting his stunning ex-wife, Hannah (Eliza Coupe), and learning that she broke his heart, while Shelby (Johanna Braddy) breaks up with Caleb after a disastrous family party at the swanky Haas mansion. Where do things stand with them?

Clearly, we’ve got plenty of burning questions, and Safran was on hand to answer them — or at least, as many as he could without spoiling the rest of the season, which arrives in March. (Yeah, it’s going to be a while.) For now, here’s what we know about the plot in New York and where things stand with our power couples — or ex-couples now — back at Quantico:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Okay, let’s start at the end of this. So the second bomb goes off in the New York/future timeline. Right before that, we see that scene of Caleb walking into the bank — and later, the emergency command center — in the Quantico/present timeline. What does this mean? Is he involved?

JOSH SAFRAN: This is a hard postmortem to do because I can’t give away stuff that’s going to happen three months from now, so I can’t actually say what that scene with Caleb is except to say you obviously see the Mark Raymond story is potentially more tied [to the rest] than we have made it look before.

So wait, can we call Caleb a terrorist?

No, we cannot.

Can we assume, at least, that he’s a villain, that he’s bad?

I will not answer that, unfortunately. I’m sorry, I can’t! You have to spend the next three months wondering the question and hopefully return to see the answer.

Okay, but Elias we can call the terrorist.

The question of what we can call Elias is a different story, because yes, he is definitely a part of the terrorism plot but is he an arm of the terrorist is a question that will be answered as soon as we come back, which is that he tells them all his experience and then the question in the episode is, was he lying or was he telling the truth? Through the course of the episode, he talks about how he’s basically an arm of the terrorist, but you’re left wondering if he was or not.

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You said we would find out the terrorist’s identity in the midseason finale, so to clarify, Elias definitely had a lot to do with the bombing, right?

Elias is, when I said we learn [in the midseason finale] who the terrorist was, I said terrorist or terrorists, and I still stand by that. Elias is technically a terrorist, he perpetrated an act of terror. He did not press the button to blow up the buildings, Grand Central or the emergency command center, but he is a terrorist. The question is, is he a mastermind behind the plan or is he a pawn? That’s the question we have moving forward, but he’s a terrorist.

With his death, does this mean the end of Rick Cosnett’s run as Elias? Will we ever see him again?

There may be pieces of Elias’ story still to be learned, but there are no plans at the present to bring him back. But if we do, we could because he’s still alive in the Quantico timeline. Obviously, we love Rick and we’d love to have him back.

When did Rick find out this was the twist in his story line?

He knew a couple of episodes before, I think probably during the end of episode 8. But we knew for a very long time. It was just sad, of course, because we really didn’t want to lose him, but it was this story that we were going to tell and again, over and over you see how, not only do the NATs have secrets, but they also have ways in which their secrets can be used against them, and so the thing about Elias is that we already sort of knew that he was the only one that had been recruited by the FBI, as opposed to having enrolled himself. It showed when he ran out of the bomb exercise. The whole point was that he never wanted this, like the others did, and a weakness in him was revealed to those around him.

What can you tell me about the terrorist’s motivations? It seems like by targeting the emergency commander, the terrorist had wanted to target the FBI.

[Laughs] I can tell you to watch on March 6 and have your questions answered. But you are an astute viewer to pick up that, yes, in the emergency command center is the FBI but also other first responders and other emergency workers and political candidates from the DNC donor dinner, including Claire Haas.

Hopping over to the Quantico/present timeline, we finally met Hannah and Claire at the New Year’s party. Tell me about shooting those scenes in the mansion.

You mean Charles Xavier’s house from X-Men?

Wait, the Haas family mansion is the X-Mansion?!

It is, it is! We were in Montreal, and I was like, “That looks awfully familiar,” and they were like, “It’s Charles Xavier’s house,” and I was like, “Oh my God.” It was meant to be Georgetown but obviously it was in Montreal.

So what was it like shooting and taking some of the NATs there?

It was fantastic. Look, I will always have many pieces of Gossip Girl in my heart, and as I told you last week, this was probably our most Gossip Girl episode yet. It’s just the women stuck at Quantico and then all the stories converge at a party and things happen at the party and there’s an event at the end of act 4, so it’s the template of a Gossip Girl episode that Jake Coburn, our other executive producer on the show who was with me on Gossip Girl, we had a lot of fun just going back to our roots, as it were. It was great to get out of Quantico and get all the characters in a relaxed atmosphere. We talked to our FBI consultant, who told us about how you only get the three days surrounding the holidays off, and we liked playing with that idea.

Now, where do things stand with Alex and Ryan? She’s so impressed by Hannah and then she’s thrown by who Hannah is in relation to Ryan and then she’s thrown by Ryan in their scene alone together.

Yes. So, I think they have a very star-crossed relationship. I don’t think she expected to see him again so soon, and I don’t think that he expected to see her either. I mean, I’m sure if I were Ryan I would never have expected trainees to show up even at the Haas house. Like, Caleb and Alex aren’t besties. So, you know, Ryan really wants to be with her, and she’s the one who’s actually kind of put up a little bit of a wall toward him.

Even though, in the last episode when he said, “I never said I love you, but I wanted to,” which is sort of him opening the door, and she says, “I’ve never said it at all,” he’s always waiting, he doesn’t want to encroach upon territory she’s not willing to let him be on. And she’s not always opening the door very wide, so he’s going to listen to cues from her. I think that New Year’s night, he finally says to her, “You don’t know what to do with me. Are you going to let me in or not?” And I think they’ve left it in a very tense place in that moment. Liam turns her to look at Ryan as a good person, but Hannah tells her this isn’t what’s best for Ryan. So Alex lets him go.

And then she leaves with Liam, so I’m assuming the back half of the season will go in that direction with a romance between them?

Oh, you can’t assume anything! But no, there’s a lovely scene of them in the car and I think, if anything, Alex came there with a specific purpose to Quantico and she fulfilled that purpose, which is that she learned some of the truth of her father, and she never expected to open up her heart or to fall for anybody. I think with her and Ryan it got very deep very quickly, and they got very entwined. I think she’s back at a point where she’s like, “I’m here for me, I’m here to work,” so whatever might or might not happen between her and Liam, I don’t think it comes from a place of like, “Wow, I really have feelings for Liam,” it’s more like, “Okay, I’m here now, and I’m going to do what I want to do. I’m going to shake off the things that have held me back.” I think she’s in a new place.

With our other highlighted couple, Caleb and Shelby, why was it important to have them break things off? It crushed him. Where do things stand?

All along I think she’s always had reservations. Even though she really, truly loves him, she cannot go with the aspects of Caleb that keep poking through. He’s a boy, he likes to destroy things, he didn’t come directly to her and went behind her back in episode 8. Caleb is not a mature individual … and I think in this episode, Shelby finally realizes she’s not in a place yet where she can get on that roller-coaster and have no idea how long it’s going to last or where it’s going to deposit her when it’s over. So the question is, will she be in the future?

I don’t know, and you’ll have to wait and see, but I think Caleb really does believe she accepts him and loves him in a way that he hasn’t seen before… Caleb feels like Shelby loves him but he’s not used to dealing with the conditions and complications of that, and it’s going to be hard for him to process why she has to put up her defenses around him, and why she doesn’t feel safe around him.

Looking ahead at the back half of this season, what are the main questions and themes the show will be pursuing?

All I can say is that the discussion in the future [timeline] about whether Elias is telling the truth, whether Elias acted alone, forms a major portion of what’s coming, and I think on top of that, there is the idea of how Alex and Simon, especially, handle what just happened. Because while Alex told Simon he could take his hands off that trigger, none of them expected to have what happened to have happened. So that’s going to impact them in a very powerful way.

Is the fact that he triggered the bomb going to destroy Simon? He did deliver a monologue about how easy it would be to just blow everything up.

It’s not looking so good for Simon, that’s all I can say.

Quantico returns March 6, 2016, on ABC.

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