EW stops by the terrorism thriller's new set to gather intel on the sophomore season, which EP Josh Safran calls 'what the pilot promised'
Credit: Giovanni Rufino/ABC

Something feels a bit… off on the set of Quantico. Sure, there’s an instructor wandering through a classroom doling out assignments, and yes, Priyanka Chopra’s Alex stands among the students listening attentively, but the instructor isn’t talking about the FBI, and — gasp! — there’s not a henley to be found.

Welcome to the Farm, the CIA’s grueling, high-tech boot camp where Alex — after being let go by the FBI at the end of the terrorism thriller’s first season — has been training. Today’s lesson? Assessment, or the ability to memorize and analyze every aspect of a room as soon as an operative walks in. Even Alex looks worried as she scans the itinerary for the day’s drill — a difficult scenario that drops recruits in the woods, tracked by drones — and hesitates before leaving the classroom, soaking in as much as she can. “The CIA is clandestine, so it’s all about deceit, evasiveness, and lying, but Alex is all about the truth, finding the truth, and being good,” says Chopra. “She’s suddenly outside of her comfort zone.” She laughs. “I don’t know how Alex is going to do it. I’m nervous for her!”

She should be: Quantico’s second season — affectionately called “Quan2co” by the cast and crew, despite no longer being set anywhere near the eponymous FBI academy — hits the reset button on more than just its locale. Showrunner Joshua Safran says he’ll be dialing down some of the first-season subplots, including its on-again, off-again relationships, which made the show fluffier than intended. “When the show was picked up, the expectation of some people [at ABC] was that it would be a Grey’s Anatomy-type sexy soap,” Safran recalls. “Although I enjoy those shows, that wasn’t my goal.”

Credit: Jonathan Wenk/ABC

Quantico was poised to be the breakout hit of its class, but viewership — despite strong delayed-viewing numbers — slipped from more than 7 million live viewers for the premiere to less than 4 million for the finale. On the heels of ABC’s internal shake-up, during which entertainment president Paul Lee was ousted in early 2016, Safran decided to return the series to his original vision of a twisty thriller, light on melodrama. He also bridged the gap between script and screen by moving production from Montreal to New York’s Silvercup Studios. In his office there, next to the writers’ room that now sits just three floors above the new set, he’s been reworking Quantico’s tone. “Season 2 deals with issues of morality, about the lines you can and cannot cross,” he explains. “That has made the show more mature, more introspective.” He pauses. “I know I’m making it sound dull and boring, but it’s not. It’s still got fun in it, it’s still got sex in it, but no one’s hopping into bed with each other every episode. Season 2 is what the pilot promised. It’s more like the pilot in every way.”

In other words, Quantico won’t be making a complete 180. “It’s not a reboot, and it’s not a sequel. It’s like the next novel in a book series,” Safran says, citing the Harry Potter and James Bond franchises as examples. “The characters were going on to the next year, the next phase, the next journey…. I could have forced [Quantico’s characters to continue at the FBI], but to do that again would have seen diminishing returns.” To help connect the seasons and illustrate how the CIA and FBI interact, Safran brought Miranda (Aunjanue Ellis), Shelby (Johanna Braddy), Ryan (Jake McLaughlin), and twins Nimah and Raina (Yasmine Al Massri) back for a second round. Characters missing from the season 2 cast who survived the first season — like Caleb (Graham Rogers) — have the potential to reappear down the line. (Keep your fingers crossed, Shaleb shippers!)

Credit: Jonathan Wenk/ABC

The two-timeline structure has also survived the transition but pared down. About a year after her CIA training, Alex will be caught in a terrorist event in New York that takes place over a single day, a tweak made to help the jump between the present (training at the Farm) and the future easier to understand. “Present Alex knows something is wrong,” Safran explains. “Future Alex is still dealing with having known that something is wrong. I can’t say anything more than that.” Whatever happens, at least Alex won’t be on the run again. “We can’t exactly do the same thing,” Chopra says. “That would look a little silly.”

For more details on Quantico, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Friday, or buy it here — and subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

Besides, the present timeline has enough to keep Alex guessing. At the Farm, she’ll face some tough competition in her classmates, including thief Harry Doyle (Russell Tovey), driven lawyer Dayana Mampasi (Pearl Thusi), and daring photojournalist León Velez (Aarón Diaz). “Don’t believe anything you see,” Diaz teases, smirking. “We’re all deceptive.” Leading this cagey pack of wannabe spies is instructor Owen Hall (Blair Underwood), who may have a few secrets of his own. “He was one of the top operatives in the CIA,” Underwood says, “but how he left and why is a mystery.”

Talk of secrets and spies may be back, but the henleys, the ubiquitous blue shirts the FBI recruits wore throughout season 1, have been abandoned for Quan2co. “I really miss them,” Chopra deadpans, before leaning in. “Actually,” she confesses, “I’m happy I don’t have to wear them anymore.” The star of Quantico dislikes henleys? There really is something off about this set.

RELATED: Hear what TV shows to watch and avoid this fall

Quantico returns Sunday, September 25, at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

Episode Recaps

2015 series
  • TV Show
  • 2