[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers about Sunday's Season 2 premiere of Quantico. Read at your own risk.]
You know what they say: You can take the girl out of Quantico, but you can't stop the terrorist attacks from following her around.
Sunday's Season 2 premiere of Quantico found Alex (Priyanka Chopra) caught in yet another deadly attack in the future timeline, after the Citizen's Liberation Front militia storms the G20 Summit in New York City, holding everyone there — including Ryan (Jake McLaughlin), who's now working for the president — hostage. The group demands the pardon of one Eric Boyer, to which POTUS obliges, but that doesn't stop them from prepping to behead the first lady by the end of the episode. Yikes.
Alex is, thankfully, not framed this time, but she knew something was amiss when she saw Jeremy Miller (David Call), her former CIA trainee whom she says she had killed, walking around alive and well. During their confrontation later, Jeremy tells Alex that she's wrong if she thinks "she can stop this" and will die too — you know, that classic opaque warning you give someone before you jump out of a window.
What is "this"? Unclear. But it obviously has ties to The Farm, the CIA's mysterious training facility Alex and Ryan join in the present timeline. Miranda (Aunjanue Ellis) and Matthew Keyes (Henry Czerny) want them to infiltrate The Farm to suss out which students instructor Owen Hall (Blair Underwood) is indoctrinating for his rogue group of anarchists. It may or may not include their fellow recruits Harris Doyle (Russell Tovey), Leon Velez (Aaron Diaz), Dayana Tampasi (Pearl Thusi), Sebastian Chen (David Lim) and Lydia Bates (Tracy Ifeachor), who reveals to the class at the end that she's actually an instructor (along with the ominously named Murder Board that will be used to cut recruits after two failed assignments). Oh, and she's also Owen's daughter!
So, yeah, there's a lot going on, but still not as much as last year. We turned to creator Josh Safran to answer our burning questions about this latest conspiracy, what's ahead and the importance of underwear acting.
You said you had always wanted to do the CIA in Season 2. How early did you start planning for it?
Josh Safran: It's funny because we couldn't really talk about this back in May and I think some people thought we just threw the CIA thing in there. But before we got to the end of the [first] season, we knew when Alex got fired from the FBI last year that she wasn't really fired. It was all planted. It kind of came about organically. This is a way for the FBI and the CIA to work together so it's not like we're completely leaving that world and all the people we've established and love behind. We wanted the show to get more mature, darker, a little deeper, and I think being at the CIA will help do that.
Let's start with The Farm timeline. We got a lot of Harry, Leon and Lydia this episode, but not much of Dayana and Sebastian. What can you tease about them?
Safran: It kind of goes with the idea of what the CIA does. It takes a more global view. It's not just about domestic terrorism as much as it's about "what's going on in the world and how can we protect America?" Because of that, the characters are more global. The CIA looks for people with skills that they can send to other countries where they can fit in, so it's been really fun to come up with characters from the entire world and not just from our world. We slow the show down this year.
This episode, you meet Harry Doyle and Leon Velez. You meet Lydia, but she's not who she appears. At the end, you meet Dayana and Sebastian. In Episode 2, you'll learn more about them. It's like stepping things up while slowing things down. While everyone has their secret, it's not like last year, where it was "who can be a terrorist?" It's more that everyone has complicated lives. They're adults, they've lived full lives, they have careers, they've left those careers behind to come to the CIA. It's more of a character study this year than it was last year.
Owen seems to be filling that Liam role, as an instructor at the very least and as a terrorist mastermind at the very worst. Is he actually behind the rogue group Miranda and Keyes say he is?
Safran: They say they hear he's recruiting future agents for his rogue faction. We're going to learn just what that means and just what his involvement is. In the meantime, he's more connected to these people than Liam was. The FBI had different classes. Owen's got his daughter there. He's got a lot going on. It's not just teaching these future operatives the ins and outs and how to survive. He's got personal demons and drama that we'll get to. And of course Blair Underwood is amazing.
Owen and Lydia seem pretty close.
Safran: Yeah, they have a really great dynamic. Tracy is great. You'll find out in Episode 2 more about them. She's sort of the agent that he hasn't been able to be for a very long time. In some ways, she may even be better than him, so I think that's a source of conflict between them.
Is he living vicariously through her?
Safran: I think... we'll talk about it after you watch the second episode!
Is The Farm storyline going to follow the same structure as the Quantico storyline last year, where every week it's a task they have to pass? The Murder Board raises the stakes a bit.
Safran: Yes, I think that's pretty much what the storytelling of the show is. However, the lessons that they are taught at The Farm will actually relate in the episode to what you are seeing in the future. Because some of the people being trained might be involved in this terrorist act in the future, you're witnessing them learning the tools that both the terrorists and Alex have to use to stay alive in the future. The stories are more tightly linked than last year.
Jeremy has to be dead now after jumping out of the high-rise, right?
Safran: He is dead. He also died at some point between The Farm and the G20 Summit. We will revisit it. You will see that happen. I should also say that this year, the incident [in the future] is one day. It's not like five days or 10 days. You always know where you are when you're back there. It's also not going to last all season.
Is it going to wrap up midseason?
Safran: I wouldn't say "wrap up" so much as it will continue to evolve.
Alex had an inkling something was going to happen. Why does no one ever believe her?
Safran: [Laughs] That's the issue. There's an episode coming up where Owen starts to spell out Alex's psychology. He talks about how that's her weakness. That's just her ongoing issue. ... As you saw, she says to Ryan, she thinks these people still exist and Ryan says no. And of course she gets her theory corroborated after this attack on this event. Because she's always believed this was possible, I do believe she has more knowledge than other people, like let's say Ryan, because she's always had it in the back of her mind this could happen. But it's very much a Die Hard situation. John McClane finds himself in that situation, and he happens to be a cop, so he happens to be equipped, but he's never been in that exact situation before. That's what's happening to Alex.
Alex is all about truth and honor, which are values at the forefront of the FBI. The CIA is about deception and manipulation. She was flat-out told she will be trained on how to be a criminal. How is she going to reconcile that?
Safran: That's pretty much what she's struggling with and what this show is looking at. We talked about it in the writers' room and with the actors that sometimes you have to do bad in order to do good. What does that mean? What is the cost of that? So, poor Alex, it is really hard for her. She always believes that if you do things honorably, you will win. But as she learned last year, sometimes you don't win by doing the honorable thing. Does that mean sometimes you have to do the dishonorable thing just to get ahead?
The whole pitch of the show from the very beginning was always about looking at law enforcement as a gray area and not black and white, and that gray area doesn't mean you have to compromise yourself. It actually means that's just the way the world works. That's always a lesson Alex has to learn. That isn't to say that maybe Ryan is better than she is. As a soldier, he's done things that she's never had to do, and I think that's the source of — I wouldn't say conflict because they had a solid relationship this year — but I think it's a conversation piece.
Things seemed a bit testy when he was demanding the engagement ring back.
Safran: Obviously things didn't work out for them at The Farm, but the type of Alex and Ryan arguments you saw in Season 1 is gone. They're a couple that actually talks things through like mature adults. Even if they don't reach a resolution, they are kind and compassionate with each other.
How would you characterize their relationship in the future timeline? Are they still together?
Safran: It's our John and Holly McClane. Holly still loves John and John still loves Holly, but they just can't bridge the gap until those terrorists come in and take over Nakatomi Plaza. So potentially there's hope for Alex and Ryan. [Laughs] ... What's interesting is at The Farm, Alex and Ryan are going through this together as equals for the first time. They might be lying to everybody else, but they're honest with each other. There's fun in them training to be spies and doing all these things.
Who is Eric Boyer?
Safran: He's our version of Assange or Snowden. He will figure in prominently in the near future.
Will we see Claire (Marcia Cross) again? She's the VP and POTUS isn't doing too hot right now.
Safran: Fingers crossed! The president is in a bad way. Some might say he might not be the president for long.
Have you planned out the whole season?
Safran: We're shooting [Episode] 7 now and writing 9. We know everything that happens through 13. We're just now starting to break 14 through 22. That tends to be how we do stuff, sort of seven episodes at a time. This year is different. What happens with a first-year show is you write a pilot, you don't know if it'll get picked up, then they pick it up, you have no idea if your show is going to get picked up, then they pick up your show only for 12 episodes, plus the pilot for 13. You hope they pick up more, but you need to keep in the back of your mind, "I might need to cap this at 13." Then they pick you up and have to plan more. This year, we know we have the 22 episodes, so we can plan for that. It all fits together and we're taking our time more. It really is more about character this year.
My co-workers are huge Looking fans and I told them Russell is shirtless in the premiere, so they want to say thank you.
Safran: [Laughs] To Russell's credit, he knows very well that Harry Doyle is somebody who doesn't just use his brains, but he also uses his looks to get what he wants. It doesn't end with the premiere.
Good to know there's more underwear acting.
Safran: There's a lot more underwear acting for everybody! They're adults. The bedroom-hopping aspects of the show are gone, but when you're a spy, you have to use every tool at your disposal and one of those tools is your body. They are going to be trained in how to use their bodies to get information. It's not about who will sleep together this week; it's about actually being an agent. How do I incorporate sex and sexuality into my job? So, yes, a lot of underwear acting!
Quantico airs Sundays at 10/9c on ABC.