Quantico postmortem: Showrunner talks writing for a female president
EP Josh Safran talks having a female president in charge on Quantico
Alex (Priyanka Chopra) may not be a part of the AIC, but her journey's not over. She's operating on her own at the Farm, hoping to carry out her mission and prove herself without the FBI's help — or Ryan's (Jake McLaughlin), for that matter. In the future, she similarly winds up going at it alone. After hearing Miranda's (Aunjanue Ellis) side, Nimah (Yasmine al Massri) stops them and lets Alex run free.
Alex, though, was nowhere near the biggest fireworks of the episode: the argument between Shelby (Johanna Braddy) and President Haas (Marcia Cross). The two women talked about their duties to their country, Claire's guilt over having funded the AIC, and how breaking the glass ceiling is harder than it sounds. Below, EP Josh Safran dives into those Claire and Shelby scenes, how the election affected the writing, and what to expect next on Quantico.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let's start with all the scenes between Claire and Shelby. You told me before that you shot this the day after the election — what was it like writing this dialogue?
JOSH SAFRAN: Actually what happened was, we were supposed to shoot it the day after the election, but we ended up shooting it on Monday instead of Thursday because Thursday was too crazy. We shifted a couple of lines but really hardly anything. It was more that Marcia is very political, as are we, so we gave ourselves more time. Marcia and [the writers], we just sort of talked about what we felt was going on with Claire. It was sad, it was depressing, because it was a female president and we didn't have a female president. So you know, that added to everything. It was just an emotional week.
When did you originally write the dialogue?
Probably like two or three weeks before.
So if the election had turned out differently, would she have played Claire a different way?
I don't think so. I think the only thing that we did was we added a little bit more weariness for her. I think, yes, there probably would have been a little bit more strength in her position, and the election changed us. The lines that were added were lines like, "I wasn't elected to this." Everything else was the same. It's hard to say what changed tonally because we changed tonally. It was more of a reflection of the whole show going through a bit of a shift in that moment.
How long did it take to film that entire dialogue between Claire and Shelby?
Six hours. They shot it like a play because they don't move, so they did all the scenes as one. It was sort of a 13-minute run, so we had about six hours for that and two hours for the last scene in the boardroom.
Speaking of that last scene, did you ever consider having a different ending?
No. We talked about what the military would do, and that comes from research that we did. If there was a biological agent that could actually kill or affect millions in the city, that is something the military would put on their list, the targeted missile. We could have done it without showing it, but that would have been cheesy. That decision that [Claire] makes is the beginning of the rest of the season.
What was your goal in telling this story around Claire this episode?
I think the goal was, last season we learned that maybe Claire turned a blind eye towards some things for her own political gain… This season, now that she's gotten what she wanted, now that she's seen the other side of the coin, now she who was once [morally] gray becomes white. So the goal was for her to realize the mistakes that she had made, especially when she was the one who funded the AIC without even knowing it, so here's another mistake come home to roost for her, and she realizes that she has a chance to be the person she wanted to be when she was younger versus the person who's been beaten down by her political journey. She is definitely looking at the choices that she has made and struggling to find her footing.
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Moving on to the Farm, this episode revealed that Alex isn't a part of the AIC we know has tapped Dayana, Leon, and Ryan. What can you tell me about what exactly is going on with Alex and the phone she has?
I don't want to give it away because you'll get the answer, but the point is yes, she's clearly not in the same group as Dayana, Leon, Ryan, and others, I'll put it that way. She's in a different group. She's being held for a different purpose.
What's running through Alex's head, now that she's in the middle of all this?
This was her job. She was the one they came to first, she was the one who put her time in at Langley, competing for this opportunity and then once she got it, at the time she got it, they didn't believe in her ability so they paired her with Ryan, so she has a chip on her shoulder.
She hasn't been able to look the other way much like Ryan and Claire have, and now she's starting to be able to play the game her own way. To us, the steps were laid in last week's episode when she said to Owen, "Oh, we don't have to use our bodies for sex anymore, we can actually go about it a smarter way." She's now finding a new way of doing things.
Owen also had a big episode this week. What can you tease about what he does next, in light of his conversation with Alex?
He definitely does not take the fact that it's his daughter very well, so you know, episode 11 is a very Owen-centric episode, it's probably the most Blair [Underwood, who plays Owen] that we've seen so far, so I'll just say that.
Did Blair always know that the character he was playing wasn't the actual AIC recruiter?
Yes, he always knew from day one that he was not the recruiter. We didn't play the game that I played last year where we didn't tell the cast who the terrorist was. [This year], Tracy knew, Blair knew. I will say that that shadiness that Owen has is from the hurt inside him and embarrassment and shame over not having been considered a good operative.
Finally, last week you said that you were following only a single thread or two when it comes to the hostage crisis in the future timeline. Will we pick up with Miranda and Nimah's standoff next episode?
We will not. The next episode is from the hostages' point of view and we stay with the hostages from here on out.
Quantico airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.