The disaster in Quantico is the devastating Grand Central bombing, and the looming threat is the potential second bomb ticking away as the FBI spins its wheels investigating Alex. The disaster for Quantico is the two-week hiatus between “Over” and “Guilty,” and the looming threat is the much longer hiatus coming after Quantico premieres its first winter finale. And that’s too bad, because while “Guilty” is characteristically overstuffed and all kinds of outlandish, it also has an energy and a momentum that the season’s sloppier, table-setting episodes have lacked. Now that most of Alex’s Quantico cohort has either come around to her innocence or have at least moved out of the “She’s definitely guilty” column, the story has a sense of movement that Quantico lacked when it was still busy setting up the elements of its elaborate narrative mouse trap. The show is still goofy as hell, and the equal weight of the past and present storylines continues to be a problem, but “Guilty” seems to have a lot going for it.

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I say it “seems to” have a lot going for it because it’s difficult enough keeping track of all these plot elements when there’s only been a week between episodes, but two weeks is enough to nearly wipe the slate clean. God knows how I’ll remember what’s happening next year. The story amnesia is a burden that falls harder on the past storyline than it does on the present one. The Quantico training timeline is the one with the most inert reveals and the most ridiculous story elements, including Ryan’s 21 Jump Street investigation, Miranda’s troubled son, and all those insane, sadistic classroom exercises. There’s also way, way more time covered in the past storyline, while the present-day stuff is a breeze to follow by comparison because everything is compressed into a matter of days rather than weeks. But it all carries the same weight on Quantico because the too-clever-by-half episodic structure relies on linking past and present through some parallel idea or theme.

In “Guilty,” the parallel idea is far more concrete than it usually is, in fact it’s tangible. Most weeks the storylines are linked by something Liam or Miranda says in one of their lectures to the class, typically a vague, obvious statement about human nature that sounds cribbed from The Big Book Of Misanthropic Platitudes. Here it’s the idea of a blind spot, not just in the figurative sense of people unable to see the obvious truth right in front of them, but also in the literal sense of holes in a surveillance system that omit important parts of the story. The blind spot in the Quantico storyline comes when Asher has cornered the week’s guest lecturer, noted criminal profiler Susan Langdon (Anne Heche), forcing her to acknowledge that she was actually behind one of the murders eventually pinned on a serial killer she profiled in her well-received book. I still don’t understand what I’m supposed to get out of a story that briefly imperils a character I already know is alive, but at least Ryan makes himself useful. He notices Langdon hustling Asher out of the bar after the gang plays the world’s most morbid drinking game and stops her from carting him off and killing him. She threatens to neutralize him at the table, boasting her intimate knowledge of what the bar’s cameras can see and what they can’t. It’s a silly episodic story, but it somewhat works because it takes the shape of a straightforward-with-a-twist crime procedural.

The blind spot in the present-day story is a hole in video footage discovered when Caleb starts working to get to the bottom of why another FBI agent had possession of Alex’s ID badge on the day of the bombing, and why she died with her body mutilated to look like she had been in Grand Central. Alex is in the frame one moment and missing from it the next, just as she’s in the custody of the FBI one moment and missing the next, when a group of extrajudicial mercenaries spirit her away to engage in some advanced interrogation techniques. The head honcho, played with menace by Oded Fehr, is smart enough to know that Alex won’t confess if she’s threatened with harm. What will drive Alex crazy is seeing other people suffer needlessly because of her actions. The initial mind games don’t rattle Alex, but she can’t keep it together upon seeing Ryan, who’s already in bad shape thanks to his infected gunshot wound, suspended by his arms and tortured in her stead. After weeks of trying to convince everyone around her that she’s innocent, Alex realizes that she can’t risk causing more pain to the people around her. Ryan’s nearly dead, her other allies are probably all fired, the helpful hackers from the Unknown are God knows where after being intercepted landing in Teterboro. Her only option is to plead guilty.

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Alex’s fading optimism is an important piece of the Quantico puzzle, which will have 22 pieces total following the recent announcement of ABC’s confident episode order. That means that Quantico will still have another 11 episodes to clip through upon its return in the spring, and if the writers can tell the story effectively enough that I can make heads or tails of any of it when the show returns, that’s a victory in itself.

Stray observations

  • This is the show’s best use of Nimah and Raina’s switcheroo training, but I’m glad everyone wasn’t fooled by it.
  • Ryan and Alex’s relationship is getting really murky for me, and it will only presumably get murkier now that we’re witnessing the planting of the seeds that will grow into Liam’s unrequited love for Alex.
  • There’s some quality time with Nathalie this week, from the hilarious moment when she slams a chair down in order to “get serious” with Shelby, to the less hilarious moment when she breaks down about her domestic woes.
  • Elias is back! This time as Alex’s lawyer. If he thought he had fun stalking Asher before, just wait until he sees what Asher’s into now. Even though I’m not entirely sure I know what he’s into myself.
  • What if Charlie didn’t attack Miranda? What if he was kidnapped? What if his continued absence is all that matters to me? Heavy metal rules!

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