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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Quantico remains a puzzle with too many missing pieces

Priyanka Chopra, Tate Ellington
Priyanka Chopra, Tate Ellington
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Quantico creator Joshua Safran did an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, which ran shortly after the premiere, in which he called Quantico one of the hardest shows he’s ever worked on because of how complex the plotting is. Keeping track of the story’s many threads requires “the most whiteboards you have ever seen in any writers’ room ever,” which he estimates at around 15 or 16. “When you’re in there, you actually feel like you’re inside of a math problem.” There’s nothing wrong with making a show as insanely dense as Quantico, as long as watching it doesn’t feel like hard work. But it does. Being in the whiteboard-filled writers’ room may feel like a being inside of a math problem, but watching the show feels advanced calculus, and that’s not good.

Will Quantico always watch like a math problem? Probably not. One thing that can be said for Quantico, and where it differs from shows that employ this kind of fast and furious plotting, is that there’s clearly a specific destination in mind. No one could toss together a bunch of stories like this, with all the overlapping, time-jumping, and shocking reveals, and play it by ear. Obviously a ton of forethought and consideration went into crafting this story, and 16 whiteboards sounds like it might be too conservative an estimate, if anything. But I’m not yet convinced that the meticulous process of braiding together Quantico’s past and present story will lead to anything satisfying, because after “Kill,” we’re way too far into the story for me to still be trying to determine whether I care about any of this.

Quantico is so overstuffed, it’s hard to just watch it without being tempted to mentally edit it down to its better stories. As skeptical as I was early on about the silly-on-paper Nimah and Raina story, by the end of “Kill,” I found myself most interested in them, considerably more than anything going on with Alex. An entire show could be made out of a pair of Muslim twins recruited to the FBI to thwart domestic terror cells while posing as one person, and that’s quite possibly a show I’d watch and enjoy. But it’s pitted against like 17 other shows, all of which occupy the same hour. The Amin twins might not fascinate anyone but me, and that’s because Quantico faces the surplus issue that befalls nearly every movie or TV show with an unwieldy ensemble. Most viewers will think at least one character and their story could be snipped out entirely without hurting the show, but few will agree on exactly which character and story that would be.

Perhaps a better way of streamlining Quantico would be to cut out one of its timelines. I admire the ambition of the flashback-flash-forward structure, which can be spellbinding when it’s executed effectively. But the effective execution of such a story requires that most of the action happen either in the present or the past, and Quantico really is “like two shows put together,” another choice quote from the Safran interview. If it’s two shows put together, I’m far more interested in the present day investigation than any of the Quantico training that led up to it. With the show’s two halves co-existing as equals, it’s hard to steer around issues like clunky dialogue that exists for no other reason than to keep the audience abreast of what they need to know. Again, it won’t always be this way. At some point the show has to lay out all of its puzzle pieces and start assembling them, but this is an incredibly long span of episodes for the audience to still be relying on blind faith to pull them through this quagmire of a plot.

What’s sort of working is the way Alex’s Quantico class is being slowly introduced in their present-day versions as Alex works to determine who framed her. In “Kill,” Alex’s roommate Shelby gets a present-day version and a glam makeover. I like the idea of Quantico as a sort of reverse And Then There Were None, with a new character emerging until the guilty party reveals themselves, and if this show was doing that in a cleaner way, I’d be into it. But there’s no such thing as a revelation that stands on its own on this show, so Shelby arrives back at her apartment while Alex and Simon are looking for evidence of her involvement and Alex is telling Simon about all the dirt she found out about Shelby’s parents after Simon left Quantico. Specifically, Alex says “There’s a lot you don’t know about her, things I found out after you left Quantico. You didn’t see what happened after I told her what I knew.”

Those lines are supposed to tantalize, but instead the dialogue just makes the characters sound like plot robots instead of people. “Kill” is packed full of functional but awkward dialogue that provides information the audience needs at appropriate intervals, but does nothing to illuminate the characters. I don’t know anything about FBI Director Clayton, for example, but I know that he instated Simon as an FBI agent after the agency started investigating the company he was working for. No real clue what any of that means, but if I was left last week with the question of how future ejected NAT Simon was welcomed back into the fold, that question has been addressed, if not quite answered.


I also know that Ryan was on the cusp of being dismissed from his shady assignment manipulating Alex, but he defied Liam by convincing Alex to stay at Quantico despite her turmoil over shooting her father. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that the woman who would eventually become the agent we see in the present day could have been manipulated that easily, and like most of what happens on this show, the training exercise that leads up to it feels deeply contrived. Safran sounded confident that when all of the pieces fall into place, Quantico will be satisfying, though “it just might take us longer than we want it to.” That’s a mouthful, and I hope I have the patience to wait it out.

Stray observations

  • All the present-day stuff happened in two days?! Lord in heaven.
  • Caleb isn’t contributing much of anything as a character. Isn’t he supposed to be a different person or something? I can’t even remember. The rivals romance between Caleb and Shelby doesn’t interest me in the least.
  • Nathalie appeared briefly, just long enough to be irritating and hyper-competitive and show off her pretend scar. Oh, and she’s Ryan’s present-day boo thang, which was implied before but is now confirmed.
  • So apparently Liam’s goal is to get Alex to leave Quantico, but he’s adamant that she has to leave of her own volition, because reasons.
  • Elias is still hounding Simon, but that storyline has entirely lost its juice. It would be one thing if we were waiting to find out how if/how Simon got drummed out of Quantico, but we already know that happened and also that he’s been reinstated, so the fact that he got kicked out doesn’t really matter anymore.
  • Ryan’s texts to Simon really cracked me up:
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