Quantico postmortem: Showrunner breaks down Muslim registry episode
The task force faced a major setback this week
The task force faced a major setback this week on Quantico, which spotlighted the Amin sisters (Yasmine al Massri) as they became entangled in the collaborators’ plot to push forward a Muslim registry. They failed to stop the vote for a ban that mirrors real-world events under President Donald Trump — but unlike current American politics, Quantico‘s Commander in Chief Claire Haas (Marcia Cross) vetoed the bill. Still, the move could lead to her downfall, which means the task force’s fight to take down the collaborators isn’t over. Below, showrunner Josh Safran talks writing the show’s most topical hour yet.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the biggest challenge to writing this episode as the season has gotten more and more topical?
JOSH SAFRAN: This episode was written and prepped and started shooting before the travel ban was announced, but the travel ban was announced the morning of shooting the scenes in the Capitol, so it was a bit of a shock for everybody. We all felt like we were shot out of a cannon because while we were shooting, everyone was running around to see reactions online to what was happening, because that was the start of the protests and everything. That felt like an unhappy accident. Nobody wanted the travel ban to happen; we thought we were writing speculative fiction based on the things Trump had said in the past.
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Does it worry you that this show is seen as left-leaning? You don’t erase conservative viewpoints, of course:You have characters like Shelby, who explains conservative perspectives.
Not just Shelby, but Ryan also often has a point of view that is not left-leaning. I think on Quantico the characters are center of left. They are just not far right and if they are far right, this show questions their motives. But frankly, this show also questions the motives of everybody.
So no, it actually doesn’t worry me to be a left-leaning show. I think there are plenty of right-leaning shows on the air. I went through a decade of 24 which was fairly right-leaning and I was an avid watcher, so I think a couple of years of Quantico being left-leaning is fair as well. I’m just more interested in looking at the current political landscape and letting the characters debate what they see.
That debate came up in this episode, when Shelby and Clay argued about the Muslim registry before Nimah steps in to point out that it’s “two blond people” arguing about whether she belongs in this country. Are there debates inside the writers’ room that echo what’s being said on screen?
Absolutely. People’s politics are obviously personal but yes, we don’t have a room that’s only far left leaners, and not only that, but the cast is very vocal politically as well. We talk with the cast about their political beliefs and we talk about their characters’ political beliefs and their characters’ religious beliefs, and we talk to the cast about their paths and ideologies. You can’t do a show about politics without being invested.
How do you feel when you see other shows approach the same topics? Homeland also told a story about fake news, along with some other dramas this season.
Yeah, I know, and The Good Fight has talked about this stuff, too. I’m very happy [to see that] there’s room enough for everybody. I’m grateful that we deviate from the news, like we have a character coming up who’s a little bit like [Trump’s chief strategist] Steve Bannon, and we just heard that Bannon was removed from the National Security Council, but when I read that story, I wasn’t like, “Oh no, our Bannon exists and the real Bannon has been removed!” I’m totally happy to be out of step.
This week, you introduced Felix, who works for the speaker of the house, a foe to the task force. Tell me about casting Jon Kortajarena and what we can expect from this character going forward.
I really loved Jon in A Single Man, and Jon auditioned for León, but we were looking for a Mexican actor to play León. Jon was on my radar because of that, so when it came time to create Felix, we created Felix with Jon in mind… The best thing about Felix is that he’s a bit of a lovable d—. You still like him because Jon is so likable. You’ll see Felix a bunch; he’s in all but one of the remaining episodes.
You do realize that by casting him you’ve made the Capitol almost ridiculously attractive.
[Laughs] It’s true, I know Jon is almost a step too far. I don’t have a defense left when people are like, “Why is your show only about pretty people?” I’m like, “It’s not!” And then I cast Jon.
As for Nimah and Raina, what can you tease about their latest switch?
Raina will have a harder time pretending to be Nimah than Nimah did pretending to be Raina in season 1. This is not going to reverse itself [easily]. Nimah goes to jail — or not even jail — and there will be a bit of a mystery as to exactly where she’s being held and how long she’ll be held for. It’s not a story we’re racing to tell quickly. We’re trying to do it as realistically as possible.
Finally, we didn’t see what happened to Harry in this episode. I know Russell Tovey won’t be returning for this season, but are we supposed to assume that he’s definitely dead and gone?
I can’t answer that other than to say that in episode 18 [next week] you’ll get a definitive answer about what happened to Harry in the moments right after the end of episode 16. You’ll discover his fate.
Quantico airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.