Quantico might be a misnomer at this point.
The ABC drama will always have the FBI training academy embedded in its DNA, but Season 2 — nicknamed Quan2co — won't take place anywhere near those classrooms. Instead, Quantico will reset itself, relocating to the CIA, where Alex (Priyanka Chopra) was offered a job in the Season 1 finale after getting fired from the FBI.
"We look at it more like the James Bond series or the Harry Potter series," creator Josh Safran tells TVGuide.com. "This is the next chapter. If Season 1 was college, Season 2 is after college. It's not even grad school, it's true adults in the world."
Indeed, a lot of the soapier elements are gone from Season 2 — there is nary a sex scene to be found in the season premiere — and that uptick in grounded-ness helps set the tone for the "more mature" season Safran envisioned. He was already plotting Alex's CIA upgrade as the show was gearing up for the Season 1 finale, with the goal of slowing things down to keep in line with the CIA's behind-the-scenes intelligence-gathering pace.
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"I always knew I wanted to do the CIA in Season 2," Safran says. "I really wanted to look at all law enforcement agencies in America. Season 1 was about the FBI, Season 2 is about the FBI and the CIA, with a focus on Alex in the CIA. We knew that while we were coming to the end of last season and started to put the plan in place. If anything, we're just excited to see that we didn't abandon the FBI and Quantico is not just a state of mind and the characters are still actually part of the FBI."
So that Season 2 is not a completely jarring reset for fans, Safran retained some familiar faces from the first season besides Alex. Ryan (Jake McLaughlin), Shelby (Johanna Braddy), Miranda (Aunjanue Ellis) and twins Nimah and Raina (Yasmine Al Massri), who are still in the FBI, are all back, and Safran doesn't rule out other old characters visiting every now and then.
The Quantico classrooms are replaced by boot camps at The Farm, the CIA's top-secret training facility that may be used for more nefarious purposes. Alex has been tasked to infiltrate The Farm, where she meets instructor Owen Hall (Blair Underwood) and a handful of shady new classmates like master thief Harry Doyle (Russell Tovey), author Jeremy Miller (David Call), lawyer Dayana Mampasi (Pearl Thusi) and photojournalist León Velez (Aaron Diaz) — all of whom will keep fans guessing about their shifting loyalties.
"We wanted the show to get darker, a little deeper," Safran says. "The CIA is a deceptive place. [Someone] says on the show the FBI reacts when something happens, but our job is to never let it get that far. It's taking a longer view and learning to be insidious. So it's [about] that insidiousness, and how do you get underneath something and really get in the right place at the right time. That's not something Alex is used to — and just being around people trained to lie. It's just a wider view of cultural events. You're taking a longer view of terrorism."
And of course, there's still Quantico's patented dual timeline framing device, which Safran has no intention of abandoning. Alex's CIA training takes place in the present, while the other timeline takes place one year later, when Alex finds herself in the middle of another terrorist event in New York City. (Sis might want to go to another city at this point). Safran purposely streamlined the future incident to cover just one day, versus last year's fast-paced days of Alex being on the run (flawlessly, duh).
"The incident in the future is connected to the past, obviously, but it's not the same kind of urgency or accelerated engine like last year with [Alex] being on the run," Safran says. "It's a little bit of a slow-burn compared to last year... You kind of have to piece the pieces together the way Alex does. That's how the CIA works. We still have twists, of course, but they're not like last year's, where it was something major, like an explosion, every week."
One thing definitely won't be back for a second run, unfortunately: those infamous baby blue henleys. "We were sad to see the henleys go, but at the same time, we were like, 'They can wear their own clothes!'" Safran says.
Quantico premieres Sunday at 10/9c on ABC.