[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers about Sunday's winter finale of Quantico. Read at your own risk.]
Who's the real terrorist on Quantico? After a three-level deep frame job, we finally learn on Sunday's episode that it's... well, it's still not 100 percent clear.
After chloroforming Simon (Tate Ellington) last week, Elias (Rick Cosnett) looks -- and acts -- mighty guilty, telling Liam (Josh Hopkins) and Miranda (Aunjanue Ellis), whilst his head bleeds, that he was pushed into the street that morning. They turn to Alex (Priyanka Chopra), who points out that Simon didn't have a tail on him the previous night. Don't you love how barely 48 hours ago Liam wanted Alex's head on a platter and now he's letting her call the shots? Don't you also love how Alex, who is ostensibly in custody, ran off to Simon's in just her patented FBI-hat-and-jacket disguise? I expect nothing less. Simon's not home, but Alex, Nathalie (Anabelle Acosta), Nimah (Yasmine Al Massri) and Elias find bomb-making stuff in his shed, including blueprints of the hotel where the DNC donors are staying. But the only thing more incriminating is the "Yaaas, it's working" look on Elias' face. No one suspects Elias, until they find Simon, with a bomb trigger taped to his hand in a hotel room, and he bluffs Elias into confessing.
Quantico's Priyanka Chopra: Alex is going to spiral
As Elias tells it, the real terrorist blackmailed him last week because he had proof Elias falsified evidence as a trial attorney in some capital cases (he obviously took some cues from Anne Heche), so he set up Alex, etc. The bomber called again the day before, ordering Elias to bring the second bomb to the hotel. This is where logic -- if there's any left -- goes out the window (along with, um, something else later). Elias says he had three choices: come clean, carry out the attack himself or frame Simon -- since he had divulged the Grand Central attack was based on his plans -- and try to stop it. I'd go for Door No. 1 and save myself all this trouble, but maybe that's why I'm not a failed FBI agent. They figure out, based on that random wire Alex found in her apartment, that the bomb is in the boiler room. As the bomb squad works to defuse it, Elias says he's no longer scared and then pays homage to Revenge.
With one second to spare, the bomb is defused, but seconds later, an explosion goes off at the command center. Who detonated it? This is where the past comes in. Instead of going home for New Year's Eve, the girls -- save for Raina who actually went home and Nimah who has an alcohol-fueled heart-to-heart with Miranda -- end up at Caleb's mansion for a soiree thrown by his congresswoman mother Claire (Marcia Cross). Caleb gets all petulant when he realizes she's reunited with pops Clayton (Mark Pellegrino) because she's on the shortlist for VP. Shelby, since she's jonsesing for Clayton, finds this incredibly rude and dumps Caleb after Googilng his cult past: He and his fellow Systemics members planned a suicide bombing that was stopped by Clayton and his FBI posse. Caleb then dons his Mark Raymond persona and goes to the bank/future command center, where he requests the four biggest safety deposit boxes and admires the location's close proximity to Grand Central.
Meanwhile, at the party, Alex meets joint terrorism agent Hannah (Eliza Coupe) who has her dream job and dream guy -- literally. She's there with Ryan (Jake McLaughlin) undercover. Hannah is his real-life ex-wife, but she's not a regular ex-wife -- she's a cool ex-wife. Hannah gives it to Alex straight about how she and Ryan are not together, Ryan's infatuated with Alex to the point that he wrote a song (!), and she should go a bit easy on him. Oh, and that Alex is beautiful. Yes, she said that to her face. Liam winds up driving a mopey Alex home, but she asks him to take her anywhere else. Actual exchange: "I'm your teacher." "Teach me something."
Is Caleb the real terrorist? Was Elias really blackmailed? Is Alex rebounding with Liam (ew)? Creator Josh Safran and executive producer Jake Coburn give us the scoop.
Let's start with the real mystery: Why does Alex always look so great? She's not even trying to hide.
Josh Safran: [Laughs] I really enjoyed that article. It was awesome! Have you seen Priyanka? Even without a hair and makeup team, Priyanka would look like that no matter what. She can be coming from Mumbai, she can land in Montreal after being on a plane for 20 hours, just walk on the set, be in the hair and makeup chair for 10 minutes and look like that. There's no way to hide that.
So, the bomber: Is Caleb the mastermind? Was Elias telling the truth about being blackmailed? Or is this another red herring?
Safran: I would say that nothing is ever a red herring. Whether or not Caleb is the bomber is a question we will answer in the back half. It's obviously not a coincidence he's asking for safety deposit boxes in the very bank that blows up in the future. There's a lot of stories left to explore and that's of course a major piece of it. I cannot definitely say he is [the bomber]. Sorry! We have always known who the bomber is. When I pitched the pilot way back, a year and a half ago, I knew who the terrorist was. Now the question is whether that terrorist was Elias or whether that is Caleb or whether that person has yet to be seen. It's really whether you believe Elias' story or not. ... You will know by the end of the season, if not before, who the bomber is.
Claire said that people take advantage of Caleb, obviously with the cult. Did someone take advantage of him in this case? Is there more than one bomber behind him?
Safran: You are a very astute viewer and I'll leave it at that!
Jake Coburn: The short answer is yes, there could be [more than one bomber], but we can't say more than that without revealing too much.
How did you come to the decision to kill off Elias? I'm assuming he's dead.
Safran: Yeah, he's dead. Unfortunately, we had to cut for time the shot of his body on the ground, but we felt it was obvious from the height [from which he fell]. He's definitely dead. From the very beginning when we came up with the character, we talked very much about how some people are recruited by the FBI. They don't actually apply like the rest of our NATs and Elias was recruited by the FBI. In Episode 7, during the bomb exercise, he said, "They recruited me. I didn't want this like you did." He's always a character who's been willing to put himself above others. I think that type of character is one that has this ability to be a mastermind or a pulled in to be part of this event.
14 times Alex looked too perfect on the run on Quantico
It was good acting by Rick, but poor acting on Elias' part. He was so desperate to frame Simon, which is why I think he was telling the truth.
Coburn: We all knew from the beginning when we brought Rick in for this role that this was going to be his fate. It was the plan from the beginning and we felt like he played it amazingly. We're sorry to say goodbye to him because we love working with him, but at the same time, we have to honor the story.
Safran: About his face not hiding it as well as he should be, I would say that's true about Elias. He's winging it, framing Simon. This is not who he is. I think Elias, as a lawyer, is someone who pokes holes in a lot of cases, but I think a lot of that was so nobody would poke holes in his own life.
Who died in the bombing?
Coburn: We can't say who is dead, but we can say people are dead.
Safran: People we care about are in jeopardy and they don't all survive. ... The good thing about a show with dual timelines is you can still continue working with those characters should they die, like even Elias could come back to us at Quantico even though he's dead in the future.
Even if Caleb is ultimately behind it, you set him up well in the past that it would make sense, with all the stuff with his family and the cult, and he's always had this chip on his shoulder. But who exactly is Mark Raymond?
Coburn: I would say Mark Raymond is a persona, a fake identity, that Caleb has created that will allow him to accomplish some things he needs to accomplish.
Safran: Whether they are good or bad.
Coburn: Yeah, whether they are good or bad. It's things he couldn't accomplish using his own name. It's part of a long, well thought-out plan on Caleb's plan to take care of some business that will be answered in Season 1.
It's implied that this was triggered by Shelby dumping him.
Safran: That is definitely what seems to be implied and again, astute watching!
And obviously Clayton and Shelby hooking up won't help. When will we see that?
Safran: The Quantico portions will catch up to the New York portions by the end of the season, so of course, everything that we have seen play out in the New York portion, you will see how it all led there. So that's coming. This episode teased it a little bit. You saw Shelby feel really sad for Clayton at the party because she can't stand what Caleb has done to him. You're seeing the beginning of it right there.
I like how Claire said to Shelby, "You destroyed my son, and I plan to make it my business to destroy you too." Maybe she forced Caleb to do this and she can save the day again like during 9/11 and get elected.
Safran: No comment! But I'd like you to join the staff!
Coburn: One of the nice things about Marcia Cross, other than being a fantastic actress, is the moment we saw her onscreen with Caleb, we were like, "That's obviously Caleb's mom." It just looked like a perfect fit with that family. You'll be seeing more of them.
The other big reveal in the past was Hannah. Is this a Mr. and Mrs. Smith situation?
Safran: More like By the Sea. [Laughs] What's interesting is when Alex meets her, she's everything Alex wants to be and then even more when she finds out she's in Ryan's life. The great thing about Hannah is she's a straight shooter. She says everything she feels, she's clear. Even though Alex might not like hearing the hard truth, she still very much respects Hannah. We're not looking for a romantic triangle between them, but one where Alex really respects Hannah and she's going to listen to her and let Hannah be a mentor. Hannah and Ryan are not a couple. They're an ex-couple very much. Everything Ryan said to Alex in the bathroom is true. That's more a story about respect and understanding.
Coburn: Even though they're not together anymore, there is a deep love and affection between Hannah and Ryan. Anything that goes on between Alex and Ryan will certainly be Hannah's business and vice versa.
Will we ever hear the song that he wrote for Alex?
Safran: Funnily enough, Josh Hopkins, when he read the script, he was like, "Oh, my gosh, you totally have to write the song, but don't tell Jake." So my assistant Hunter, who's a composer, composed a really terrible song on purpose and attached it to the back of the production draft, so when Jake read it, he was like, "What's this?" We have that song. Maybe it will be a DVD extra if DVDs still exist.
Coburn: Another one of our writers took one of Madonna's songs, "Cherish," and changed it to "Parrish" and wrote out all the lyrics. I won't name the writer.
Safran: Hunter's is much better!
Maybe Ryan won't want to sing it to her after he finds out where Liam took Alex. Where did he take her?
Safran: [Laughs] I don't know! Maybe he teaches her pool, maybe he takes her ballroom dancing. We'll have to wait and see. ... In the pilot, we hear that something went down between them at the academy and then in Episode 2, Miranda said, "Is that the trainee you fell in love with who's a terrorist who rejected you?" So clearly that's a story we're going to tell.
The past couple episodes have been focused on the bomber and we know more about Simon at this point than Alex. Are we going to delve more into everyone's backstories more in the back half? I need to know more about Shelby's catfishing half-sister.
Coburn: Absolutely. As we were charting the season, we carefully allocated how we would unveil their stories, how we're going to peel the onion. We have major reveals and twists for all of our core characters. You're always trying to balance doling out enough and not enough and trying to figure how to best tell the story.
Safran: Yeah, and like you said, the only person's story we've really heard is Simon's. Everyone will get their time. ... The next character's backstory is Shelby's. In fact, that was a piece that fell out of [this episode]. We decided the very last second we will hold it. We're interested in telling that story. It might be a very long con, but you can't con somebody that long.
Do you know how the season will end?
Safran: We definitely do. The thing I can I say I'm very excited about in Episode 12, which is our midseason premiere, is that it has as big as a story generator in it as the pilot in terms of a bomb going off in the beginning of the pilot. It gave the drive for this 11-episode stretch. Episode 12 also has a strong engine that neither of us, of course, will reveal now, but it will tell you the entire nature of the back half.
What did you think of the winter finale? Quantico returns Sunday, March 6 at 10/9c on ABC.
Watch Priyanka Chopra reveal the three words that took her three days to learn