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Episode 2.02 – Lipstick
New CIA recruits run counter-surveillance exercises at The Farm; in the future, Ryan and Raina try to thwart the terrorists’ plan to blend in with hostages










We know season 1 characters are coming back on Quantico, but how will the FBI even be involved in the Quantico story now that Alex is with the CIA? — Bridget
Knowing that Shelby, Miranda, and the twins are back isn’t enough for you? Just kidding — and no worries: Showrunner Josh Safran says there’s a deeper connection between the agencies that justifies the presence of those returning characters, though he’s careful not to say exactly what brings the FBI into play for this CIA-centric season. “By the first commercial break,” he says, “the link is made explicitly clear.” Besides, Priyanka Chopra adds that Alex’s headspace also moves the first season’s story forward into season 2, despite the change of setting. “She’s lost friends, she’s lost family and her sense of self,” she says. “She’s coming into this job with everything that has happened.” In other words, it’s impossible for Alex to simply leave all of her Quantico experiences behind.

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Something feels a bit… off on the set of Quantico. Sure, there’s an instructor wandering through a classroom doling out assignments, and yes, Priyanka Chopra’s Alex stands among the students listening attentively, but the instructor isn’t talking about the FBI, and — gasp! — there’s not a henley to be found.

Welcome to the Farm, the CIA’s grueling, high-tech boot camp where Alex — after being let go by the FBI at the end of the terrorism thriller’s first season — has been training. Today’s lesson? Assessment, or the ability to memorize and analyze every aspect of a room as soon as an operative walks in. Even Alex looks worried as she scans the itinerary for the day’s drill — a difficult scenario that drops recruits in the woods, tracked by drones — and hesitates before leaving the classroom, soaking in as much as she can. “The CIA is clandestine, so it’s all about deceit, evasiveness, and lying, but Alex is all about the truth, finding the truth, and being good,” says Chopra. “She’s suddenly outside of her comfort zone.” She laughs. “I don’t know how Alex is going to do it. I’m nervous for her!”

She should be: Quantico’s second season — affectionately called “Quan2co” by the cast and crew, despite no longer being set anywhere near the eponymous FBI academy — hits the reset button on more than just its locale. Showrunner Joshua Safran says he’ll be dialing down some of the first-season subplots, including its on-again, off-again relationships, which made the show fluffier than intended. “When the show was picked up, the expectation of some people [at ABC] was that it would be a Grey’s Anatomy-type sexy soap,” Safran recalls. “Although I enjoy those shows, that wasn’t my goal.”

Quantico was poised to be the breakout hit of its class, but viewership — despite strong delayed-viewing numbers — slipped from more than 7 million live viewers for the premiere to less than 4 million& for the finale. On the heels of ABC’s internal shake-up, during which entertainment president Paul Lee was ousted in early 2016, Safran decided to return the series to his original vision of a twisty thriller, light on melodrama. He also bridged the gap between script and screen by moving production from Montreal to New York’s Silvercup Studios. In his office there, next to the writers’ room that now sits just three floors above the new set, he’s been reworking Quantico’s tone. “Season 2 deals with issues of morality, about the lines you can and cannot cross,” he explains. “That has made the show more mature, more introspective.” He pauses. “I know I’m making it sound dull and boring, but it’s not. It’s still got fun in it, it’s still got sex in it, but no one’s hopping into bed with each other every episode. Season 2 is what the pilot promised. It’s more like the pilot in every way.”

In other words, Quantico won’t be making a complete 180. “It’s not a reboot, and it’s not a sequel. It’s like the next novel in a book series,” Safran says, citing the Harry Potter and James Bond franchises as examples. “The characters were going on to the next year, the next phase, the next journey…. I could have forced [Quantico’s characters to continue at the FBI], but to do that again would have seen diminishing returns.” To help connect the seasons and illustrate how the CIA and FBI interact, Safran brought Miranda (Aunjanue Ellis), Shelby (Johanna Braddy), Ryan (Jake McLaughlin), and twins Nimah and Raina (Yasmine Al Massri) back for a second round. Characters missing from the season 2 cast who survived the first season — like Caleb (Graham Rogers) — have the potential to reappear down the line. (Keep your fingers crossed, Shaleb shippers!)

The two-timeline structure has also survived the transition but pared down. About a year after her CIA training, Alex will be caught in a terrorist event in New York that takes place over a single day, a tweak made to help the jump between the present (training at the Farm) and the future easier to understand. “Present Alex knows something is wrong,” Safran explains. “Future Alex is still dealing with having known that something is wrong. I can’t say anything more than that.” Whatever happens, at least Alex won’t be on the run again. “We can’t exactly do the same thing,” Chopra says. “That would look a little silly.”

Besides, the present timeline has enough to keep Alex guessing. At the Farm, she’ll face some tough competition in her classmates, including thief Harry Doyle (Russell Tovey), driven lawyer Dayana Mampasi (Pearl Thusi), and daring photojournalist León Velez (Aarón Diaz). “Don’t believe anything you see,” Diaz teases, smirking. “We’re all deceptive.” Leading this cagey pack of wannabe spies is instructor Owen Hall (Blair Underwood), who may have a few secrets of his own. “He was one of the top operatives in the CIA,” Underwood says, “but how he left and why is a mystery.”

For more details on Quantico, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Friday, or buy it here – and subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

Talk of secrets and spies may be back, but the henleys, the ubiquitous blue shirts the FBI recruits wore throughout season 1, have been abandoned for Quan2co. “I really miss them,” Chopra deadpans, before leaning in. “Actually,” she confesses, “I’m happy I don’t have to wear them anymore.” The star of Quantico dislikes henleys? There really is something off about this set.

Quantico returns Sunday, September 25, at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

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Hold onto your henleys: The former NATs will be “more grown up, more mature” when Season 2 opens, says showrunner Joshua Safran. And after a time jump of undisclosed length, the action will once again unspool on two tracks: one takes place over the course of several months, and the other within a single day. New CIA employee Alex “is maybe not so excited at what she’s being asked to do” since moving to the Agency; by the end of the premiere, Safran teases, she’ll have plenty to keep her busy. The exec producer adds that while Season 1 trafficked in twists and episode-ending cliffhangers, Season 2 is more about “the paths [the characters’] lives have taken.” To that end, for example, we’ll see Ryan — who’s still at the FBI, “free of the baggage that followed him around last year” — and others regularly mixing it up with Alex and some new faces, including CIA vet Owen Hall (L.A. Law‘s Blair Underwood) and sly rogue Harry Doyle (Looking‘s Russell Tovey). And if you’re mourning the loss of the FBI academy’s slick training montages, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to ogle the former recruits: “We have a cast that, if you can believe it or not, is even more fit than last year,” Safran reports, laughing. “There’s some amazing love scenes in Episode 2.”

BONUS SPOILER!: “There is a couple together in the premiere,” Safran teases, “but it is not Caleb and Shelby.”

RETURN DATE: Sunday, Sept. 25 at 10/9c (ABC)

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“For eons, women have been told how to be or think or dress. I come from a part of the world where this debate is so heated, especially because we’re a country that has goddesses. We pray to women. But at the same time, we prey on them.”

Priyanka Chopra and I are sitting on leather couches in a basement dressing room full of female solidarity. It is a late weekday afternoon in August, and she is on break from filming scenes for the sophomore season of her hit ABC series, Quantico. About to head to makeup for a touch-up, she offers another opinion about what it’s going to take for women to get what we’re owed in this world. Spoiler: It’s dudes doing their fair share. “Feminism needs men to understand that we don’t want to berate you or kill you or hate you,” she says. “We just need you to stand by us.” Insofar as it is possible to nod enthusiastically, I do.

Like the rest of the internet, Chopra and I are both momentarily obsessed with a 1975 Helen Mirren interview that resurfaced and went viral in the waning days of summer. In it, a TV host basically calls Mirren a slut. (He actually quoted a theater critic who said she has a gift for telegraphing “sluttish eroticism,” but don’t let his posh English accent trip you up). Mirren pushed back perfectly, one insulting dig at a time.

“How epic was she?” Chopra asks, an obviously rhetorical question that I respond to anyway. (Sooo epic.) “That’s what feminism is. Don’t judge me for being me, just like you don’t judge the boys. That’s all we want — equality in treatment.” I am on board with this broad-stroke definition of feminism, as well as most of the other pro-woman party lines with which Chopra shores it up. We are a two-person consciousness-raising group, Chopra and I. Gloria Steinem would be proud.

Except. A decidedly un-Steinem-like thought keeps popping into my head while we are talking empowerment and equality and the overall boss-ness of Helen Mirren, and also eating meatballs. (Chopra likes an afternoon meatball.) That thought is this: Chopra might be the most stunning person I’ve ever seen in the flesh. While Priy — that’s what people call her — is thoughtfully answering my questions, I am distracted by the way her lips move, the shape of her eyebrows, how unfathomably shiny her hair is. A shameful corner of my brain is trying to work out a scenario in which she might let me examine her pores at close range, perhaps with a magnifying mirror. In between bites, I scan her face to evaluate its symmetry. Even in crappy lighting, she is basically a goddess herself.

“I didn’t even know I was beautiful until — I don’t even know it now,” Chopra says, and this from the winner of the 2000 Miss World pageant. The wild thing is, you actually believe her. “I don’t think I was the most beautiful girl in the world. I think I won because I was well spoken and I was decently turned out. The stars aligned that day. But I taught myself to be the best version of myself over the years.

“Beauty is so subjective, whether it’s art, whether it’s human beings, whether it’s nature. What is one person’s ‘Mona Lisa’ is not someone else’s, you know?”

But I’m not ready to back down here until, with a sigh, the subject becomes officially tiresome. “Beauty has nothing to do with me,” she says. “I was born with it. But I don’t want to be known by the fact that I’m beautiful. I want to be known for the fact that I’m an achiever. Not even an actor. I don’t want a label. I don’t want a box. I want a legacy.” With that, she’s beckoned in front of the camera.

Right now, I am watching Chopra jam her elbow into a grown man’s groin. She and her sparring partner, Quantico star Jake McLaughlin, are battling it out in a transparent box, and he has her in what I have to say looks like a very sexy, solid choke hold. She is struggling against the crook of his arm, trying to escape, when her face nearly slams against the wall. Then she taps out, and the training exercise is over.

This is TV. But that does not mean it is not impressively athletic. “I’m not, by nature, physical,” Chopra says. She doesn’t train or keep a regimented gym schedule. Mostly, she assumes she’ll get a little beat up on set. It’s all in a day’s work.

I remember reading that when Chopra won Miss World, her dad put wrought-iron bars up on her windows after one particularly ardent admirer tried to sneak in. That was almost two decades ago, and my guess would be that the assault on her private life has only grown commensurately with her fame. “It’s a hazard of the job,” Chopra tells me, blithely. “It’s like, if you’re a fireman, you’re going to get burned.”

The jump from Miss World to silver-screen superstar was never something she planned for, Chopra insists. She says that she didn’t know that she needed to have actual life aspirations until she was a teenager, after spending a couple years in America. (That, by the way, was not a highlight of her childhood. She says going to school in the Boston suburb of Newton was like living through her own personal version of Mean Girls, in which she played the victim. She returned to India for her senior year.)

“I wanted to be an engineer, because both my parents are doctors and I don’t like the smell of formaldehyde and I faint at the sight of blood,” she says. “So, yeah. I decided to go in another direction.”

Chopra has one tattoo, on her right wrist, that reads “Daddy’s Lil Girl.” It is written in her father’s handwriting. He passed away of cancer in 2013. For eight years, she flew him around the world for different treatments. “I’m a really tough girl,” Chopra says. “I’m really good at fixing things and dealing with things. When the big shit hits the fan: I’m the one who’ll stand up and say, ‘Alright, this is the solution. We can do this. This is fixable.’ But I couldn’t do that with my dad.”

Celebrity legend has it that Chopra was in the process of applying for college scholarships when her mom secretly submitted her headshots to the Miss India competition. Chopra went through with it, she says, mostly to get out of exams. After she won, film producers came knocking. She made over 20 movies in her first five years acting. She started making music, too, with artists like Will.i.am and Pitbull. It was basically a Bollywood fairy tale.

But while she is a megastar in the rest of the world, until relatively recently, Chopra has had a low profile in the U.S. I remember the first time I saw her: in the red carpet photos from the 2016 SAG Awards, in a long tulle dress with hot-pink lace overlays. She was all anyone could talk about for a few days after that.

Confession: When I first saw those images, I immediately wondered if anyone that good looking could also be equally interesting. I regret this thought. But as Chopra puts it: “Women pull each other down all the time. That’s our weakness. The boys come together — like bromance. Why can’t girls do it, too?”

When she scored her first offer to star in her own series, Chopra declined. “I said no, because it’s a really long commitment.” She was in the middle of a bunch of movies in India, and couldn’t imagine taking on anything more. But after she read the Quantico script, she reconsidered. The catch? Alex Parrish — the lead role, and the one Chopra was gunning for — had been written for an American actress. “I’m not even Indian-American,” Chopra says. “I’m from another country. I speak Indian. I think Indian. I look Indian. I really had to wrap my head around who Alex was, to convince not just the writers, but the American people that I’m an American girl.” She wound up nabbing the part and making headlines for being a South Asian woman headlining a network thriller.

But while she’s more than happy to be associated with breaking barriers, she’s sensitive to the language surrounding such achievements. When I ask her about what it might mean if she became the first woman to play James Bond — in an interview earlier this year, Chopra said she’d be keen to take on the role — she set the record straight.

“I know everything is about diversity right now. But I think it should be about humanity. It’s 2016. It’s so easy to separate ourselves and become smaller and smaller pieces of humanity,” she says. “I don’t like the phrase ‘woman of color.’ I feel like that puts women in a box. I’m a woman, whether I’m white, Black, brown, green, blue, or pink — whatever. I think we need to start looking beyond that. It would be a big win for women, period.”

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