'Quantico' postmortem: Showrunner teases Alex's future
WARNING: The following contains spoilers from season 1 of Quantico. Read at your own risk!
And with that, it’s all over. Alex and Ryan killed Liam, Liam’s nuke threatened to go off at the Academy, and Simon sacrificed himself to save the team. The terrorist plot ended with a funeral and Alex’s exit from the FBI. But in the finale’s last scene, Alex is given the chance to continue working for her country — this time, with the CIA. Where will she go from here? Executive producer Josh Safran tells EW about Alex’s decision, breaks down the finale, and looks ahead to season 2:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with Simon. Why was he the one who had to pay the price?
JOSH SAFRAN: We always knew that his story was going to be one of redemption at some point, and when it came time to tell the story, we knew we needed somebody in that car. Even though we didn’t want it to be Simon, it was the only story that kept feeling right. Even Tate [Ellington, who plays Simon] understood immediately. He kept being like, “So when am I gonna die?” from pretty much episode 10 on. He really thought he was going to die so many times.
And so Simon’s whole story was a journey of redemption, through going through Quantico, getting closer to Raina and Nimah and Alex, having been through what he has with Alex and Elias… It was all leading up to this. It felt like a very organic thing, even though it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Even up to an hour before publishing the script, I was like, “Oh f—, are we really going to do this?” The writers had to sit me down and go like, “Yes, this is the right thing to do.” I personally tried as much as I could to get other people in that car and it just didn’t work. Every cast member cycled through that driver’s seat.
What about Josh Hopkins? He found out he would be playing the terrorist, but did he learn at the same time that he would be killed off in the finale?
He assumed when he heard he was the terrorist. [Laughs] One of the first things he said was, “Please let me go out in a blaze of glory.”
And he did! The way he dies is similar to the way Alex’s father does, with Alex pulling the trigger to save someone else. How does killing Liam affect Alex going forward?
It’s going to affect her in a slow manner. Things are never black and white, and she’s learning that, so the question is, can she live with the person who does the [morally] grey thing, which can include killing for the right reasons but still taking a life? I think she will be dealing with it, but I will say that all of the events of this season will filter through to next season, but the storylines are not tied together.
On that note, how much will we see of our main cast from this season next year? Now that Alex is separated from her FBI colleagues, will there be a new cast around her?
This is all stuff that we’re dealing with now that I can’t really answer yet, but I will tell you that there will definitely be new additions to the cast. We have new stories to tell, and there will be returning cast members, but season 2 is definitely more of a new novel than the next chapter. It’s like, instead of a sequel that continues the story, [we follow] the character who’s been through what they’ve been through but further down their road. So yes, there will be new people, new circumstances, but also returning people.
Do you mean kind of like how Bond movies have to have the core group of characters—Bond, M, Q, etc.—but characters around them rotate in and out depending on the story?
Yes, it’s like that. So you have Q, you have Moneypenny, you have M, so there’s some people that carry around that still go through, but yes, it is the journey of Alex Parrish, and then the people around her.
You’ve said that season 2 will also revolve around a central crisis. What can you tell me now about that?
What I can say is that we’re very interested in looking at how the CIA does things compared to the FBI. The FBI teaches honest and trust and finding the truth and protection, and the CIA teaches deception and lying and twisting information to get what you want, what you need. We’re definitely interested in juxtaposing those two things and seeing how both sides work separately, and how they work when they’re forced to work together.
Where did the idea to pursue the CIA come from?
One of the things I liked very much about season 1 is that you really do learn how people become FBI agents. We heightened certain things, of course, but for the most part, those cases, those studies are true. You cycle through all those different fields, and talk about all those different areas, so I was very interested in doing a season of learning how other government agencies teach their agents. Plus, I had some unresolved issues to deal with regarding how we look at American governmental agencies. I felt like we had just scratched the surface. There’s more to look at as far as how we protect our country’s borders.
So is it safe to say that Alex makes the choice to join the CiA?
The key to that is in the title of the episode, which is usually the last word spoken in every episode. This time, curiously, it’s not, and yet it is. So.
The finale is titled “Yes,” so Alex moves forward with Keyes, Henry Czerny’s character, in the van. How much can you tell me about him?
Pretty much all that you’ve seen is all I can tell you. We’d love to have him back next year, but it’s all being discussed now.
Just to reflect on this episode in general, was there a hardest scene for you to write?
The Simon stuff is going to haunt me to the end of time, because I know he was a beloved character… The first five minutes were very complicated. We went over so many details from the first 12 episodes… I wasn’t sure we would be able to do that opening. I had known I wanted to do that opening since the pilot, which is what we called the “how I did it” scene. We couldn’t do all of what was scripted, just because we couldn’t accomplish everything in the time that we had. We had to show how Liam watched the NATs, how he stole the [Grand Central] plans, the conversations he was listening to, and how he called Elias and killed Agent Goodwin, which I know may be a hanging thread that no one but the writers and I wanted to show the audience how we tied it up. There were a lot of cut pieces I wish we could have included but then the episode would have been 12 hours long.
We got what we could get. I also just wanted to have an excuse to bring Rick [Cosnett, who plays Elias] back and hang out with everybody one last time, even though he only gets two shots.
Both of which were of him looking miserable.
I know, poor guy, but he brings Alex into that bag. Priyanka got into that bag, and we were so prepared to find a way to cut the bag or whatever [to help her feel comfortable], but she just climbed right in like she had done it before, as if she had single white female’d somebody along the way. It was amazing to watch.
Now, one twist we find out late is when Alex confronts Claire about how she didn’t have a blood pressure issue at all, which means Claire must have been working with Liam to terrorize New York. Should we expect this story to continue into season 2?
Yeah, I would say the tie between season 1 and season 2 is primarily with Claire. Hopefully Marcia [Cross, who plays Claire] will come back, but it’s more about the idea that she’s out there and that she got away. It’s like an itch that Alex and the others can’t scratch. It’s the idea of the grey that hangs over all of these people, that you never fully get what you want and that what you’re looking for isn’t black and white. It isn’t good and evil. Even Liam, when he goes on his rant on why he did what he did, was motivated by the idea of changing something, which is a good idea, but then he went about it all in the wrong way. There is good in Claire but there is also obviously bad, and will she do something bad again or will she make up for all the bad that she’s done?
Writing Simon’s death was the hardest emotionally but the hardest scene to write was between Claire and Alex, because we didn’t want to give too much away and in the first version, I definitely did. And Marcia, just because she’s so great, sat with me and we talked for an hour and a half, scripting it out to the point where it was clear that something had happened, and you got enough of the pieces. In the first version, it was more Alex leading Claire to confess things, and Marcia saw very clearly that there was a better version that was more Claire nodding and winking at it, but not actually confessing to anything.
Looking back at the season as a whole, were there any stories you wish you could have done differently or any you would have liked to have spent more time on?
There are always things about what you can do differently or better. I think I have a good barometer to learn… not where we might have gone wrong, but maybe when we take a step too many or a twist too far. So I’m not really looking back, I’m really looking forward. I want season 2 to feel more cohesive. I think season 1 definitely got there and we always knew it was going to get there, but I think the problem was when you’re first ordered you’re ordered for 12 episodes, and you hope you get a back nine, but you always have to write as if you’ll have to wrap it up in 13. Once we got the back nine, we still had a bit of treading water to do. Season 2 will hopefully not be treading water. We have a story that’s large enough that we know it can encompass the whole 22 episodes.
I would also like season 2 to be a little less soapy, but that’s just me personally. I would have liked season 1 to be less soapy, but you know, you have a lot of people who are beautiful who are stuck in rooms together, and it’s just a natural place to take them. [Laughs] I feel like, if season 1 was a college-like atmosphere that allowed for that soap, season 2 is not necessarily a college-like atmosphere, so I’m hoping [the characters] can mature as well so it’s not so much soap as true character connection and a slower build to a relationship.
Right, the CIA’s a whole new level for Alex. Speaking of which, is there any chance she’ll be traveling abroad on missions?
If she does, she’s not doing so in the beginning of the season. The CIA works internationally, but they’re housed here. So the story next year includes international elements, but it’s domestic.
Here’s hoping she won’t be facing another nuclear bomb.
Well, by the way, our researcher Jordon Nardino, did the research on the bomb, and [what we showed] at the end of the finale is true. If you can get a bomb a certain amount of depth underwater, there won’t be fallout, and that’s the way to do it. You know, in case your readers or yourself ever find yourselves with a nuclear bomb [laughs], that is the way out.