Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it. No, that bromide isn’t the foundation for this week’s episode of Quantico, though it easily be a line spoken by Liam or Miranda as part of an investigatory lesson that involves traveling to each other’s hometowns or some such nonsense. It is the foundation for this review of “God,” the sixth episode of Quantico and the one that could have most benefitted from some knowledge of how earlier shows have succeeded and failed with this storytelling model. The best example is Damages, which had a stellar debut season, then faltered in its second due to some of the flaws plaguing Quantico. Too much story, too many twists, too many sleight-of-hand tricks, and not enough of the basic components that make a story compelling.

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The bigger flaw that Quantico’s first season shares with Damages’ second is an imbalance between its past and present storylines, which makes the show feel like the writers are robbing Peter to pay Paul. The reason the present storyline consistently feels more interesting and dynamic than the flashbacks to training at Quantico is that at least in the present, the audience doesn’t know so much about what’s going to happen next. Take for example the brewing quasi-romance between Simon and Nimah, which moves to the next phase in this episode when Simon finally confesses his feelings for Nimah along with the truth about his sexuality, only to find out the truth about the twins shortly thereafter. This cliffhanger would have worked wonderfully if the story was being told in a different way. There’s something poetic about Simon, who has been pretending to be gay, being forced into the closet by the object of his heterosexual affection. But it doesn’t work as a cliffhanger when so much of the future is already known. Do I know exactly what happens next between Simon and the twins? No. But I know he’s alive and that he’s still an agent in good standing, and when those are the major stakes, there’s not much suspense to whatever happens after Simon comes out of the closet.

The same can be said for Caleb, who in “God” appears for the first time in the present timeline, revealing that he’s the son of the brooding director who’s been squabbling with Liam. Director Clayton is not only Caleb’s father, he’s also Shelby’s lover, and they decided to share a public display of affection that just so happened to take place at the site of a major terrorist attack. Here’s another example of a storyline in the past that winds up hamstrung because of what we already know about the future. I have absolutely zero interest in the relationship between Caleb and Shelby at the FBI Academy, but for the sake of illustration, let’s say I was invested in that relationship. After watching “God,” I would know not to continue editing my “Caleb & Shelby 4-Eva” fan tribute video, and I would abandon my search for the perfect OneRepublic song to accompany it, because I know that romance ends with Shelby discovering her romantic feelings for Caleb’s father. If I was interested in whatever cloak-and-dagger nonsense Caleb has going on at Quantico with his fake Facebook profile, I’m now considerably less interested in that too because whatever happens doesn’t impact his standing within the agency.

Another week of Quantico, another present-day appearance from a character who is suspected of involvement in the bombing, then methodically acquitted over the course of the hour. That’s become the standard structure for each episode that adds another character to the present-day narrative. Alex, the brilliant, top-of-her-class agent, concludes the guilty party must be the person she was most recently reminded of, then figures out she was wrong, randomly points at the next person and says “Okay, I definitely think I have it this time.” First it was suspicious Simon, then Shelby was the most likely culprit, and now Nimah and Raina are Alex’s preferred suspects because they committed the damning offense of being in the same general area of Manhattan around the time of the attack. If the show hadn’t already followed this template several times before, this might have been the jaw-dropping moment it’s presented as, but if I’m certain of anything, it’s that Nimah and Raina have a perfectly reasonable explanation for this whole mess.

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Alex and Ryan have some sort of interesting scenes this week, though most of the story is painfully stupid. Their chemistry was finally beginning to make sense again after weeks of being unable to remember what the fuss was about. But their bliss was short-lived because as Alex and Ryan are surveilling Miranda’s house for some kind of ridiculous and probably illegal training exercise and Liam inadvertently reveals to Alex his operation with Ryan to spy on her. The way the scene is written is indicative of a show in which the characters are beholden to the rigid needs of the elaborate plotting. Liam accosts Ryan, and Ryan has about five opportunities to shut Liam up before he spills everything. But instead of doing that, Ryan just says stuff like “I wouldn’t do that if I were you” long enough for Liam to compromise them. Cue Alex and Ryan having a tearful confrontation in a version of the classic rom-com breakup scene in which one of the characters says “And what about us, huh? What was that? Just part of your research?” I didn’t like the scene, but there was something sort of reassuring about it because it resembles the version of Quantico I imagined when the show was first announced.

I didn’t imagine anything like the subplot with Miranda and Charlie, her troubled son of indeterminate age. Like most of the stories in Quantico, it’s basically a collection of facts that the audience has to take on faith is going to add up to something satisfying. But it’s harder to trust the process when so much of the story makes no sense at all. Apologies in advance if I muddle this anymore than it already is, but as I understand it, Charlie was arrested for possession of unregistered firearms, firearms he obtained to carry out a school shooting that was thwarted by Miranda. But the authorities don’t realize the unregistered guns were to be used in a school shooting because the sole evidence of that—a note Charlie wrote stating his intentions to carry out said attack—was discovered in time by Miranda, who burned it to protect Charlie. Oh, and Charlie and Liam were close back when Liam and Miranda were getting it on, but Liam stopped coming around after they ended the affair. Oh, and Charlie’s dad has since died. Oh, and also Liam’s daughter, who cut him off because of the affair, attended the school Charlie was going to attack. Oh, and the sinister group who led Charlie to commit the attack is still sliding in his DMs. Quantico: Where even the D-story is hopelessly convoluted.

Stray observations:

  • It’s not just that the Miranda and Charlie scenes are so confusingly written, they are also horribly overacted. J. Mallory McCree says every line with a “Get out of my room!” tone, including when he actually says “Get out of my room!” Seriously, how old is Charlie supposed to be?
  • I’m still thinking Jacob Artist’s Brandon has to be the culprit. He being billed to stand in the background with no lines, but meanwhile he’s giving super-strong “Law & Order guest star” vibes.
  • Note to Shelby: Talking about how ridiculous and “soap opera” what’s happening is doesn’t make what’s happening any less ridiculous and soap opera.

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