Presented in collaboration between The Rock Father™ and the ABC Television Network.
After two seasons on ABC, Quantico found itself in a position where reinvention was the perfect way to both move the series forward and gain new audiences in the process. Despite being well-received by both viewers and critics, many (like myself) had yet to experience the show, and as time went on, the chance for that to happen became less and less likely. During my recent visit to Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to meet with new showrunner Michael Seitzman (Code Black) and a new addition to the cast – Academy Award Winner Marlee Matlin – for a discussion about taking the series in a new direction (and a three year time jump) for season three.
“I would call it a reboot, and I have,” said Seitzman. “I think in some ways it feels a little bit like a throwback to some spy movie that we all know. We don’t quite know which one it is – but there’s a whole genre that’s kind of written on our bones ’cause we’ve all watched movies and television for so many years. Even the music is much different than it was in the past.”
“It feels like the old series Mission Impossible,” adds Matlin. “You see the trend in cable television where we have years missing between new seasons, and I think that people are getting accustomed to that. So, this is nothing unusual for a lot of sophisticated viewers.”
Behind-the-Scenes on the May 10, 2018 episode – “Hell’s Gate”
Seitzman notes that the time jump and stylistic shift is just the hook needed to become a fresh start. “We wanted to invite new audiences into the show as well as serve the loyal audience. There’s an unknown backstory that they can both share as opposed to the new audience not being able to share the two years prior. Now, they can share the three years in between.”
The introduction of Matlin as ex-FBI agent Jocelyn Turner can be traced back to the 2016 Comedy Central roast of Rob Lowe. It was there that Marcia Gay Harden introduced Seitzman and Matlin, a meeting that would later lead to an appearance on Code Black for Marlee, and ultimately a new character for her on Quantico. Michael explains…
“When I took on Quantico, I wanted to work with Marlee again — with that talent, and also with what looks from the outside from people who are not deaf to be a disadvantage and to find the advantage in it. That’s what we did in the show – we found the advantage in being deaf, which is basically Marlee’s life as I see it from an outsider. It’s someone who’s taken something that looks like a disadvantage to some and has made it their advantage, and that’s very exciting and very gratifying.”
Matlin says that she gives Michael credit for being one of the few people in Hollywood who understands how to use a performer like herself. “He understands not to dwell on the disability – the “dis,”, but to look at the ability. I could name a few other people like Aaron Sorkin and David E. Kelley and Ilene Chaiken. These are people like Michael who understand where I can fit into a role without having to be a person who is deaf… it just happens that the character is deaf. This one was extremely unusual because playing FBI agent and dealing with the people in tough situations, dealing in crises, being a sniper – it’s being someone who uses their eyes as a means of surveillance in ways that a lot of people who aren’t deaf don’t.”
The addition of Matlin allowed the writers to further enrich the existing characters by adding nuances such as the use of sign language. It’s not a hiccup, but a smooth transition that’s attributed to the characters having learned ASL as part of language training with the CIA. Where it did create a bit of a learning curve was on the real-life side of the production, particularly in blocking the actors. Since ASL is being used, the characters need to face each other to make sure that their communication is being seen. Additionally, any subtitles are not placed in the traditional “lower third,” but closer to Marlee so that you’re seeing her the way the other characters would.
Looking ahead, expect to see an episode presented in a way that’s possibly never been done before – a deaf actress playing a non-deaf character. In the sixth episode of the new season, audiences will learn how Jocelyn Turner became deaf, in an episode that Seitzman says is “more akin to a horror movie,” and one that promises some incredible sound design.
Quantico airs Thursdays at 10|9c on ABC. You can also catch it streaming on-demand or via the ABC app.
Interview edited for length and clarity. Behind-the-Scenes photos by ABC/Giovanni Rufino