[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers about Sunday's episode of Quantico. Read at your own risk.]
Quantico went full Zero Dark Thirty.
Sunday's episode was all about enhanced interrogation techniques torture. In The Farm timeline, Owen (Blair Underwood) lets the recruits grill him for his former CIA alias (Jim Dowd). He finally cracks after Dayana (Pearl Thusi), whom we learned grew up under Mugabe, suggests that they waterboard someone close to him: Lydia (Tracy Ifeachor). But Owen choosing "devoted father" over "badass operative" fails to impress Lydia, who tells him that she would've let him die if she were in his shoes. Ouch. (No pun intended.)
Also, ouch: Ryan (Jake McLaughlin) wakes up in the middle of the woods next to an empty syringe and a ringing cell phone that instructs him to "You've been selected. Take this phone. Tell no one." Might that just be the AIC?
In the future, the terrorists subject Alex (Priyanka Chopra) to the same "hurt the ones they love" torture by beating up Dayana. Interesting use of Dayana since we know she could be "one of them" and she can take the pain, given her past (watching her pour boiling water over hands was one of the saddest, most effective moments). Alex breaks, telling the terrorists that Lydia has the hard drives and they can trace her by turning off the jamming signal. And as luck would have it, Harry (Russell Tovey), Leon (Aaron Diaz) and Sebastian (David Lim) break in and save Alex and Dayana, and they all agree to team up. Yeah, that's going to work out well.
Quantico boss on [SPOILER]'s bloody demise
Meanwhile, Miranda (Aunjanue Ellis) frames her flame Paul by planting her incriminating phone in his briefcase. Cold. Blooded.
TVGuide.com caught up with creator Joshua Safran to discuss what he calls their most "intense episode yet," what you didn't see and the last-minute addition to the next episode. (Quantico is off Nov. 20 and returns Nov. 27.)
I liked the theme of torture and how we not only literally torture other people, but ourselves too. When did you come up with this storyline to have Owen be the center of it?
Josh Safran: We had a list of all the things they're taught at The Farm, so somewhere around Episode 4, we laid out the next four, so I think around then, we knew. And we knew we wanted to wait to do torture until the characters knew each other better, and we were told they would learn about it later anyway because it's not a beginner's course. This was where it lined up properly. It's been a step into darker, murkier steps each episode, so coming after the drones, this felt like the most logical place. This is our most brutal, intense episode yet. The next one is not necessarily physically dark, but it's psychologically dark.
Like I told you last week, Blair's a master. Unfortunately we had to cut scenes for time. I think some of the cut scenes will be put online on ABC.com right after airing, which I think is the first time they've done that. There was a whole storyline that had to be cut.
What was that?
Safran: That was the boys escaping so they don't just show up at the end to save Alex.
[Ed. note: Watch the scene here.]
Yeah, because I was wondering about that. That was rather convenient for three of them to show up out of nowhere.
Safran: Right. We had to cut it for time. Frankly, it still works if they just show up and say, "This is what we did." But you didn't get to see it. We didn't want to cut from any of the torture stuff from The Farm, which needs to build. So in order to keep those scenes, we would've had to cut too close to the bone — no pun intended — on the torture stuff.
So this was a bottle episode, not on purpose, but it fit to be a bottle. We had our amazing production designer Jeremy Conway reconfigure the classroom to look like another room in the building that hadn't been used in a long time and Blair honestly stayed in there for hours for the time-lapse stuff. Alone, with music blasting. They filmed it with security cameras. The rest of the cast and crew were on the next stage doing other things. It took several days to shoot the torture sequences. After a while, it did sort of set in. He was so game for it. He was a pleasure to work with.
Are we to assume Owen's never broken before when he previously did this exercise?
Safran: [Lydia] had a line that was like, "I can't believe you're using yourself. It's usually a general from the Marine base next door." We cut that scene because when she comes in to bring him a change of clothes, that scene was more powerful. It's usually not the instructor [who's being tortured], but he's doing it this time because he says he wants to show them this is real, but he's also trying to prove to himself that he would still be a good operative.
Is his alias really Jim Dowd?
Safran: Yes. ... He has numerous aliases, obviously, but that's his master alias. One of his other alias does come into play in the episode we're shooting right now, [Episode] 11.
I loved his dynamic with Lydia afterward, when he was like, "I gave it up for you. I'd do anything for you," and she was like, "I wouldn't have. That's not what a good operative does." That was his whole goal and he still can't balance the father and operative mantles. Is he even more broken and defeated now?
Safran: Yeah, she would've let him die, and that's true. We talked to our consultant about that. They are not in a good place in the next episode nor are they for a very long time thereafter. You'll see more why [in the next episode]. It's not just because of this. This is certainly one big aspect of it. There's another card that's turned in the next episode, which is our last one before the break, and that's the final card in the deck in the Owen and Lydia story.
What's on Owen's six phones and laptop that Alex found?
Safran: I can't say [Laughs] But those figure very, very prominently in the next episode. ... You will know immediately what those are by the end of the next episode. There'll be no questions remaining.
I liked the scene between Alex and Owen at the bar at the end. They were both shunned by the people closest to them, and him telling her that she runs circles around Ryan re-validated that Alex did the right thing by being against torture. And they were going to stop torturing themselves and enjoy a burger.
Safran: Yeah, that [relationship] is a slow burn. They are getting closer, but they'll never be able to fully connect because he has a lot of secrets and she's onto him. They can only go so far without her exposing herself or without him exposing himself. But this is the beginning of a new level of connection. They had a couple of scenes before... but from here on out, they start to spend a lot of screen time together.
What happened to Ryan? Has he been selected for the AIC?
Safran: You will find out in the next episode.
Where is Alex's headspace now? She's being phased out by Ryan, Miranda, Nimah (Yasmine Al Massri) and Shelby (Johanna Braddy).
Safran: That comes to a head in the very next episode. She does not like being phased out. She confronts them on it and they all have a very serious conversation.
All the Harry and Sebastian moments were really great. What is that relationship going to be like now that Sebastian has kissed him?
Safran: To me, that's a very important story, and they're both playing it so beautifully. In the effort of not speeding through story, we're taking it one episode at a time. For Sebastian, there's a lot of questioning going on, not just about his sexuality, but his relationship with his faith and what the CIA is asking him to do. I think for Harry, I think there's a question of whether Sebastian represents a ghost from his past or if he's actually forming a real connection with this actual person. There's a lot more to come for them. Russell and David have really been fantastic. They're about to shoot a really amazing scene that sums up that story coming up.
In the future, is Alex wary of the boys' story of how they escaped to rescue her and Dayana? Is she suspicious of Dayana too? It would make sense the AIC would use Dayana since they know she could take the torture, on top of the fact that Alex knows her.
Safran: It's a little bit of Ten Little Indians. That's the next episode. Can Alex trust any of them? Can any of them trust each other? They're kind of like starved rats in a cage and at a certain point, starved rats turn on each other. ... I think she suspects all of them. I think the one she suspects the least is Harry, knowing he's actually MI6. That isn't to say she doesn't suspect him either because Harry is someone who will look out for Harry. If it's in Harry's plans to be a terrorist, then Harry's a terrorist.
Is Harry Holly McClane?
Safran: [Laughs] I told you there'd be more Die Hard references. Russell would make a great Holly. They're all Hollys, but I think probably Ryan is Holly. Hopefully you'll see him [in the future] at some point
Poor Paul. That was cold from Miranda.
Safran: I know, right? She had to save herself! That's the last you'll see of Paul. Sorry — the event, as you know is in real time, so where we are now is three episodes later, and it's still real time. He's in a cell somewhere. You may see him at the end of the tunnel, but not at this moment. Although I don't think he'd want to see Miranda if he found of what she did.
Does Shelby suspect that Miranda framed him?
Safran: You'll find out in the next episode.
The jamming signal is off. Who and what will the FBI be able to trace?
Safran: In the opening moments of the next episode, the phones are only on for a limited amount of time, so we see how the FBI is using it to their advantage, and Alex too.
When are we going to see Nimah and Raina again?
Safran: In the opening seconds of the next episode.
Safran: Yes. I don't know if I should say this, but I'll say it anyway because I don't care. There is an incredible storyline in the next episode that we ended up cutting at one point. It was an incredible sequence, but it was a question of whether or not the story would go that way in future episodes, and in light of the election, we put it back in. We scrambled and reopened the episode and put back in. Yasmine actually wrapped at noon [on Wednesday] and we were like, "Yaz, can you stay 'til like 8:30?" And she was like, "Sure!" She stayed in her dressing room and we shot a piece. One of the reasons we cut it was the story went a little bit of a different way, but then Yaz herself figured out a way to connect the story to the story we're at now in shooting, so she stayed to shoot a new scene to go into that storyline.
[Producers] Beth [Schacter], Cam [Litvack] and I all woke up the morning after the election — it feels like a year has gone by since it happened — and we all independently had the thought, "Why did we cut that story?" It's very much about what's wrong with this country right now and it was a very powerful scene to film and to write. Yasmine saved the day. That's all I can say right now. I've never put something back into a show this close to air.
What had you replaced it with?
Safran: When we took it out, it left a gap of four and a half minutes, so we put in a different scene that we had cut. We were still two minutes under. Then we were like, "Let's do a minute-long recap!" [Laughs] We didn't know what we were going to do with the extra minute. So now we took out that scene that we had put in and we're back on time. ... I'll tell you all about it after you see it. It was meant to be.
Quantico airs Sundays at 10/9c on ABC.