'I hope it didn't gross you out too much,' EP Josh Safran says
WARNING: The following contains spoilers from season 2 of Quantico. Read at your own risk!
The terrorists are making good on their threat: Late in the latest episode of Quantico, Leigh (Heléne Yorke) gets dragged away for an interrogation, and when she’s allowed to wander back into the hostages’ holding room, she’s killed via her tightening collar in a bloody death for all the hostages to witness.
Whatever the terrorists are doing, they’re succeeding. Nimah (Yasmine al Massri) has been pulling off the twin con again, posing as Raina in order to gain the trust and work through the clues of the former CIA recruits around her. Lydia (Tracy Ifeachor) gets away with the hard drives and leaves Alex (Priyanka Chopra) bound and trapped. In the present, Harry (Russell Tovey) puts the pressure on Alex and Ryan to deliver their backstory, while the recruits deal with the consequences of killing — and Alex gets lost in her own head with the anniversary of Simon’s (Tate Ellington) death. Below, EP Josh Safran and writer Cameron Litvack answer EW’s burning questions about the episode.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start off with Leigh’s gruesome death. Why her, why this death, why now?
JOSH SAFRAN: Well, “why Leigh” is something that you’ll find out about as the show continues. Why that way of dying? We needed to show that those collars were real and that [the terrorists] mean business and yeah, it’s terrifying. I’m sorry, I hope you weren’t eating! I hope it didn’t gross you out too much.
I had braced myself after the warnings you gave about this episode. How did Heléne take it, and what was the vibe like on set for the season’s first big death?
SAFRAN: I know it’s really gory and terrifying, but the only images in my brain are of Heléne dancing around in a puddle of her own blood and having the best time in the world. She was very excited. The gorier she could have gone out, the better for her, so I think we all just took our cues from her. And you know, slitting somebody’s throat in the Oak Room of the Plaza Hotel has always been a dream of mine. [Laughs] After all those times Chuck and Blair met there, I kind of wanted to do the American Psycho version of Gossip Girl.
CAMERON LITVACK: I was on set during episode 5 when we had to deliver the news to Heléne. I pulled her aside and I was very to-the-point about it, and the first thing she said to me was, “But it’s going to be cool, right? You’re going to make it awesome? It’s going to look good?”
SAFRAN: Yeah, [her enthusiasm] carried over to everybody.
How was that shot put together, with the blood spurting out from her neck?
SAFRAN: We had two prosthetics so we could do it twice for the [shot of the] wire cutting into her neck, and we had a jug of blood that pumps blood up to the back of her neck. The first time they did it, they pumped too hard, and the pump flew off the back of her neck and blood went down her back and down her legs, which she made a lot of fun of. We also wanted more blood, so we kept adding more and more, and David Lim [who plays Sebastian] and Pearl Thusi [who plays Dayana] had to get it sprayed in their faces. That was really fun to do, because they were such troopers… When you watch it all cut together, you’re like, “Oh, this is completely horrific,” and it is horrific and as gory as it was supposed to be [to show the terrorists were serious]. I think we expected to have to pull it back in editing, but ultimately we didn’t have to.
Will we continue to see Leigh in the present? Or did she leave the Farm because she misses her children too much?
SAFRAN: Unfortunately, we only had Heléne for four episodes. That was our deal. She’s a series regular on [Epix’s Graves].
We also saw Nimah in play in the future timeline. Is she squarely on the terrorists’ side?
SAFRAN: You have to keep watching for the answer to that. We are at the halfway mark of our terrorist event, so that is a key piece of information that will now set the dominoes to fall. [Yasmine] knew from day one [that she’d be playing the twins’ switch], so she was excited to once again play the duality in the twins.
Is Lydia squarely on the terrorists’ side then?
SAFRAN: I can’t say, but she doesn’t want the terrorists to get those drives. The question becomes whether you believe Lydia or not [about wanting to keep those drives intact for the CIA]. That will be answered.
Let’s talk about the present timeline. Simon’s death haunts everyone, particularly Alex, and it culminates in a ceremony by Simon’s grave. What was it like writing that scene, and why was it important to revisit Simon?
SAFRAN: We always knew that we were gonna catch up to a year from the finale and we needed to address that. We didn’t want season 1 to disappear into vapor, and it hasn’t for Alex. I think it’s probably really hard for anyone to notice this, but she wears an Israeli coin around her neck. That’s just a small thing Priyanka came up with that we really loved, the way she keeps Simon close in her mind.
It was a really beautiful scene to write. I’m Jewish, I had been to funerals, and I had said the Mourner’s Kaddish a lot and knew I wanted to do that here. It was a beautiful scene to shoot as well. We went to this graveyard in Queens. It was 11 o’clock at night, we all took a van from the stages, and we actually watched the season premiere, because [the cast] hadn’t seen it, and I think that drove them, and when they saw the tombstone with Simon’s name on it, they just all kind of got emotional. It was foggy and cold and, I don’t know, it all felt right. It was one of those stories where we knew we wanted to tell it and we hope the audience feels we told it in the appropriate way, because we definitely did.
How did you go about choosing who would recite the Mourner’s Kaddish?
SAFRAN: Nimah and Raina have a facility with language, especially Raina. And also, Nimah reciting this for Simon is in some ways an apology for how she treated him, like a nod towards a little bit of guilt she might feel over pushing him so far.
I want to clarify a few things about Harry. Is the story he tells Sebastian actually true, and he was only trying to throw Ryan off his scent? Or did he really lie to Sebastian?
SAFRAN: I actually thought it was clear that it’s true and that he just lied to Ryan, but I think it’s okay if you’re questioning at the end of the episode whether it’s true or not, because you’ll find out in the very next episode that it is true.
Is Harry also being truthful when he tells Ryan he won’t push him and Alex further, but will of course continue his investigation into them?
SAFRAN: Yes. Harry’s not a liar. He only lied to Ryan because Ryan was trying to use his personal information against him. That lie to Ryan was borne out of a “I can’t believe you’re actually trying to manipulate me” [idea]. So you can believe Harry.
One more thing: When Sebastian overhears Harry lying to Ryan, does Sebastian also overhear that Ryan is working for the FBI?
SAFRAN: He does not, and that is an unfortunate cut that was due to time. That shot had actually showed Sebastian getting into place.
Harry has become the most developed new character this season. How do you approach writing him in the writers’ room, and how do you keep all of his layers straight?
SAFRAN: It’s actually surprisingly easy. Harry was created for Russell, so when you create a role with a specific actor in mind, you create that role with an image of them and you’ve seen them move and you’ve seen them talk, and after they start playing that role, like after episode 2, Harry was very set for all of us. We did do a lot of work on him though, with giving him the biggest backstory.
LITVACK: Yeah, the amount of backstory that we put in is enough to fill its own show. Once we had that, it was also just knowing at the end of the day that the mantra was going to be “Harry’s in it for Harry.” A character like that allows you to go to different places and let him interact with people in different ways, whether he’s foil or friend. It ignites any scene he’s in. And once you meet Russell, it becomes, what do we want to see Russell do? What situation do we want to see him in? When we were developing episode 5, it was, “All right, let’s see Harry-slash-Russell get his comeuppance.”
SAFRAN: The character-dynamic, not romantic, triangle of the season is Harry, Alex, and Ryan. We knew we had two storylines going, the FBI and the CIA. The CIA story is Alex, Harry, and Ryan, and the FBI is Miranda, Nimah, and Shelby. That was our rule. Harry was the first piece of the puzzle, and then Owen. Last year, it was very clear from the beginning that Liam was a very big part of the show, and we didn’t want to repeat ourselves again, which is why Owen is staged like a shadowy figure for a few episodes. I think you’re starting to learn more about Owen now as you are about Harry.
What are the implications of having Shelby go undercover? Will she go undercover?
SAFRAN: That’s the question. It is up to Shelby. To go undercover for Shelby would mean she could no longer be Alex’s handler, and she has to make that choice. That is the crux of the next episode.
How much should we read into the fact that mentioning Surabaya or locations around Southeast Asia triggered the terrorists in the future?
SAFRAN: That is more of a clue in and of itself. It’s not actually that important, those specific locations. It’s about what those locations represent…
LITVACK: It’s a key to the door we are opening to the back half of these stories that helps tie the present and the future.
Anything else you can tease about next week’s episode?
SAFRAN: Next week’s episode is a tour de force for Blair Underwood. It deals with a very real thing that CIA recruits have to go through, and it is an uncomfortable episode to watch.
LITVACK: And an uncomfortable episode to write.
Quantico airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.