EP Josh Safran answers burning questions about Miranda's loyalty, designing spy school
WARNING: The following contains spoilers from season 2 of Quantico. Read at your own risk!
Alex (Priyanka Chopra) isn’t doing so well two days into training at The Farm. Though she managed to climb the Murder Board by the end of the season’s second episode, she failed a surveillance detection route (SDR) exercise and cracked under the pressure of her undercover FBI mission. On top of that, the recruits are getting to know each other and know which buttons to press — which means much more drama to come.
Meanwhile in New York, Ryan (Jake McLaughlin) and Raina (Yasmine Al Massri) don’t have much success trying to outsmart the terrorists, and worse, Miranda (Aunjanue Ellis) is in contact with the terrorists, warning one of them about Alex’s presence inside. EW asked showrunner Josh Safran about that twist and more, below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with Miranda. What should we take away from the fact that she’s clearly working against Alex in the future? Or are there more twists on this twist we should brace ourselves for?
JOSH SAFRAN: It’s not so much about twists. In the first part of this season, especially in regards to the future storyline, certain people are set on one side or the other and everybody else is in play. The question is, those people in play, what side are they really on? You are meant to take from the end of this episode that Miranda is on the opposite side of Alex. The question becomes, how did we get from there to here for Miranda? We’re watching her in the Farm timeline and seeing that she is sort of trying to save the day, and here she is in the future, on the opposite side. We’ll see how that happens over the course of this season.
We see that she’s in a relationship with Paul (Aaron Lazar), who works for Vice President Claire Haas (Marcia Cross). What can you tell me about him and his connection to Miranda?
They have a private, personal relationship, but a public, professional relationship. It was important to us to not let the tragedy that befell Miranda last year with her son mean that she would shut down. We talked a lot about how most times, tragedies like that, when you’re in a position in the FBI, it actually renews your desire to go further and work harder and actually open up more. So we thought the idea of her having a love interest that was also somebody who was in law enforcement would show that she wasn’t held back from all that happened to her last year.
In the future timeline, we also see that Raina tries to mark terrorists, but her plan backfires. How will this setback affect her and Ryan?
At the end of the episode she says, “Why didn’t they kill me? They should have killed me.” I think that is a question Raina and Ryan will be discussing very much in the next episode. It’s going darker and darker every time.
I’m curious how you and the writers designed the Farm, the spy school. I know you had a CIA consultant on hand, but I had no idea they had yoga class…
Oh, well, because it is a network television show, we take certain liberties. We talked a lot about what they do for physical fitness, because while the FBI actually does have requirements for physical fitness, the CIA does not. However, they do believe in a mind-body connection at the CIA, and there are yoga classes. They’re just not mandatory, but we happened to make ours mandatory for the show. The Farm truly is a bit of a country club, in that you are being trained in very heavy things so there is also the ability to blow off some steam. There are tennis courts, there’s a swimming pool, and it’s jokingly called a country club for a reason.
In your research, what did you find most interesting about what they do at the Farm?
When I first came up with this pitch two-and-a-half years ago, I initially thought about doing either the NYPD or the CIA, but I thought there were too many things about the CIA and I thought the NYPD was too localized, so I decided to research the FBI. When I initially thought about the CIA, I loved the idea that they all lived in housing, so that was something that always surprised me. Like, they live in houses, with backyards. They can have barbecues, the instructors live there too, and it’s very much like you’re living in suburbia in a country club. That has always fascinated me, so we ran with that.
How did you decide to do the SDR exercise for the second episode?
That’s all true, the trigger, the eye, the box… [At the Farm], you have to run SDRs all the time. Your goal is to constantly be running SDRs because that’s a muscle you can never weaken and you can always strengthen. It’s a constant in your whole life as a spy. So when our consultant came in and told us about it, there was no hesitation that that would be the second lesson.
Owen (Blair Underwood) takes a keen interest in Ryan. What should we take away from this relationship?
You know, Miranda and Keyes said Owen Hall is who they believe to be the recruiter of the rogue faction, so the fact that Owen is taking an interest in Ryan is a good thing for Ryan. It means maybe he will be tapped.
How much does Blair know at this point about whether he’s actually the rogue faction’s recruiter?
We have told Blair as much as we possibly can. This year, we care more about the psychology [of a character] than the secrets they’re keeping… So Blair has all of that information about Owen. This year, the actors aren’t coming up to me, saying, “Am I the terrorist?” or “Am I gonna die?” ’cause that’s not what this season really is. They’re coming up and saying, “How could I go from there to here?” For Owen Hall, it’s, “What would have made me become a recruiter for a rogue faction within the CIA?”
We see Shelby (Johanna Braddy) and Nimah (Yasmine Al Massri) arrive as the FBI handlers for Alex and Ryan, respectively. Why them instead of any other season 1 characters?
I almost want to tell you, but there is a scene where Miranda explains in act 2 of the next episode as to why they make the perfect handlers, so I’d like to wait and have you listen to it from Miranda’s mouth.
I’ll wait! In the meantime, it looks like Lydia (Tracy Ifeachor) isn’t as dismissive of Alex as she was before, by the end of the episode. Why’s that?
So in episode 1, from the get go, Lydia, as a CIA operative, was already wary of why Alex Parrish, national hero, is coming to the CIA. She’s like, “I’m going to prove there’s something up with you here,” and Alex tells the truth, which is, “People think I’m a hero, but I don’t feel like a hero.” So even though Lydia makes an example of Alex in episode 1, she also knows that Alex is being honest, though of course Alex doesn’t say anything about the FBI. Lydia buys the story that Alex is selling.
So in episode 2, Lydia is like, “Now that they know I’m an instructor, let me see who is good and who is not good.” She believes that Alex is not good and that Dayana might be good, and then Dayana fails her and she sees that Alex does not fail her, so she’s like, “Okay, I’m going to switch horses.”
That’s good for Alex, but she still breaks down in that scene with Shelby. What’s running through her head there, and could it have been anyone other than Shelby to be the shoulder she cries on?
I think in that moment, with the pressures and the stresses of going undercover among basically a group of people who might be killers or who might become killers, as well as with her boyfriend, we just felt like a real person would have a private moment with her best friend and have the emotions that she’s feeling. It’s not so much was Shelby the right shoulder for her to cry on, it’s more just Shelby is the one person she can share that to. I mean, now that Ryan is going in on this with her, she can’t be that vulnerable with him. As Miranda says in the episode, they are on the same mission but not on the same team.
And also, personally, I very much like the end of that episode, because from that moment forward, you see how everybody has their rabbit (the term for the target in an SDR), you know? So Alex is Shelby’s rabbit outside that window, and when Alex comes home to that house, you see Harry, Léon, and Dayana are her rabbits, and she is their trigger.
Speaking of Harry (Russell Tovey), he’s making quite the impression so far. When he makes fun of how Alex looks perfect all the time, was that you just being meta and poking fun at everyone’s response to how Priyanka didn’t look disheveled at all in season 1?
Yes. [LaughsI.] Of course! And also, whenever I do anything like that, I’m like, “Priyanka, I’m going to do this!” and she’s like, “Do it!” I mean, of course she looks flawless, she’s Priyanka! So somebody had to call her out on that and that’s Harry. And it’s been two episodes, but you’ll see more and more that she gets dirty, she gets messy in the future timeline. She doesn’t look like she’s running from her manicurist to her salon. We’re trying to make the show more grounded on every level, including that.
Other than that, what else can we look forward to in the next episode?
There are some really great, kick-ass action [sequences]. We are really excited this year to just up the level of action, because Alex is our John McClane, and because this is Die Hard and not The Fugitive, I’m just really excited to have an incredible female action hero on television. You will get to know a lot more about Dayana, Léon, and Harry, and at the same time, Harry gets to know a little bit more about Alex and Ryan. Also, we introduce a new recruit in episode three, which is fun to see.
Quantico airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.