Alex is about to learn everything. At the end of Quantico‘s midseason premiere, Miranda (Aunjanue Ellis) pulled Alex (Priyanka Chopra) away from the FBI and told her she’ll be a terrorist just like Miranda soon. But who exactly is Miranda working for, and what’s going on with this other rogue faction Shelby (Johanna Braddy) has figured out is behind a part of the plan in downtown New York? And will newly sworn-in (but not elected) President Claire Haas (Marcia Cross, set to return in next week’s episode) have anything to do with it?
Meanwhile, at the Farm, Alex reveals to Ryan (Jake McLaughlin) that she’s been tapped for the AIC as well — a twist Chopra says she loved playing. “I was so excited,” she tells EW. “I love the cat-and-mouse relationship between Ryan and Alex.” But how will Ryan react to Alex’s play? Chopra laughs. “Let’s just say that he wants to take revenge on me soon,” she teases.
Of course, there are many more burning questions to be answered, and showrunner Josh Safran spoke with EW to help break down the latest hour, talk the changes made to the back half of the season (including the plan to switch to one timeline), and look ahead to the episode that will act almost like “a new pilot” for viewers.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Before we dive into the plot of this midseason premiere, can you talk a little about your approach to writing the second half of this season? How did the timeslot change — from Sunday nights to Monday nights — factor into the writing?
Well, we didn’t know about the move until we were shooting episode 13, so that was a little bit difficult. We didn’t want to drop people in the middle of [the story] in episode 9, but we were able to get Eliza [Coupe, who plays Hannah Wyland] to come back to set up where we’ve been and why we’re there. The arc of the season hasn’t changed at all. We were always going to move to a single timeline, and 80 percent of the plot we were always going to tell is in the back nine [episodes]; 20 percent of it has adjusted because of the political landscape.
So the scene with Hannah that opened this midseason premiere was added afterward?
Yes, well afterward. We were between episodes 12 and 13 when we heard about the move, so we took all of the crisis storyline, we threaded it together as one, and we shifted pieces around to make it so you weren’t following a normal storyline of the crisis. We decided to limit it to just one strand [from now on], so in episode 9, it’s just Alex in that room with Hannah. The next episode is Alex and Miranda.
I also wanted Eliza back this year, but she’s doing a show on Hulu and said she’d love to come back so we had her come for a day and a half and we wrote all of that [interrogation scene] for her. Episode 9 hadn’t just been shot and edited, it had also been locked [by the time the timeslot changed], so there was an entire storyline that we dropped to make room for Eliza.
What was that storyline?
It was similar but it was Alex being interrogated by General Richards, played by Laila Robbins. In the previous version of [episode] 9 that no longer exists, while Alex was trying to convince General Richards that she wasn’t a terrorist — because General Richards doesn’t know her at all — Shelby had a lot more to do in putting together what’s going on [on her own].
So during the crisis timeline, when Miranda says Alex will be a terrorist, too, is she talking about a terrorist for the AIC or that other rogue faction?
You’ll have to watch the first 10 seconds of the next episode. [Laughs] Miranda will fill in the gaps.
RELATED: Listen below for the latest in TV news this week
Are we going to meet more rogue factions after this reveal?
No. It is these two.
So how did you come up with the idea of having another rogue faction enter the picture? Was that always the plan?
Yes, it was always planned from the very beginning. Rogue groups happen, but what happens is people have a lot of differing ideas of how to stop a rogue group, and other rogue groups pop up because people split in their decision-making. You can look at the country; you can say it’s divided in half, but obviously it’s not. We’re all in different pockets, and some of the pockets align with other pockets, and some don’t align at all. We may march together, but we may be marching for different reasons. There’s a lot of discussion about that coming up. Marcia Cross talks about that extensively in episode 10 [as Claire Haas]. She’s gonna be back, and she’s gonna be there more than once.
How much is Claire involved with the factions?
She is incredibly involved in what’s going on, but we’ll learn more in episode 10. Episode 10 is amazing in that Johanna and Marcia pretty much have a two-hander. They shot one scene all day that’s just the two of them, and it’s incredible. We shot it the day after the election, and it was very emotional for everybody. The crazy thing is we didn’t have to rewrite any of it at all, so when you hear some of the lines about how she wasn’t elected president and she just got the position, there’s just a lot of eerie parallels and alternate lives, and that’s a complicated episode itself.
Will we get an update about Caleb?
[Laughs] I can’t say. But the Haas family will definitely be prevalent in this season and will only become more so.
Now what can you tell me now about the ideology of that second group?
You’re going to hear about that in the next episode. So there’s the AIC, the rogue group from the CIA that decided to take matters into their own hands since they were sick of oversight. And then you have the Citizens’ Liberation Front, who are the people who have come in to stir up this hostage situation. You will now hear who makes up the Citizen’s Liberation Front, and what they actually are. There will be no more questions.
At the Farm, we see Dayana on the phone talking about Leon. Is she talking to someone we’ve met?
That is someone that we’ve met, yeah.
Any clues you can share about who that might be?
At the end of the next episode, you’ll meet that person again.
As for Alex, she was tapped for the AIC, right?
Why did you keep that away from the audience as well as from Ryan? We’ve always seen everything Alex is up to.
We talked about whether we wanted to show Alex getting the phone when they all got the phone, but there was actually a reason why they don’t know about Alex, so once that reason is revealed, you’ll go, “I understand why we didn’t see her get the phone with them.” We decided instead to save it for a reveal, to let Alex keep it from the audience for a change, which she’s never done before, which was fun, and fun for Priyanka as well.
I’m always curious about how the lessons tie into the episode thematically. Why did asset recruitment work this week?
As you know, we get a list from our consultants on what they’re taught. We wanted to go deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole so that’s why, after [lessons on] drone strikes and burning bridges, now it’s about, “Can you use yourself?” So while it is asset recruitment, we focused this episode on how you’re the tool. Can you divorce your conscience from your body? The one thing we were not able to do, just because of the budget of a show, is that normally when you recruit an asset, you work them, you have to go to many different levels with them, so if we had all the money in the world, the people they recruit, we would have cast them for many episodes and shown that.
We’re still kind of seeing it through Leon and Shelby.
Exactly, but still it would have been great to see Samantha after Ryan sleeps with her and destroys her wedding day. Instead, we told the story more of “you destroyed a person’s life, but you shouldn’t care, because you did the job you were supposed to do.”
Going forward, what else can you tease about next week’s episode and what’s ahead?
On the Farm timeline, it’s a little bit like episode 5 — it’s a caper, and Javier Muñoz — who plays Hamilton on Hamilton now — is in the episode, and that’s really fun.
How and when will the switch to a single timeline take place?
The single timeline actually starts in episode 13 — it doesn’t start in 14. Episode 14 could be a new pilot. If you’ve never seen the show before, you could walk right in and not have any trouble following a single thing. It is brand new. That’s why we’re set [from changing more of the story to reflect the political landscape], because the structure of episode 14 is so crystal clear without a single moment of confusion anywhere.
Quantico airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.