In the first episode of Quantico, we see Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra) meeting a fellow FBI recruit Ryan Booth (Jake McLaughlin) on a plane and then having sex with him in his car shortly upon landing. Parrish does not want anything other than a one-time romp and when Booth begs to differ, she tells him that she’s already figured him out; he’s “not her type”. Parrish plays a little Sherlock game with Booth and correctly guesses five key facts about him. To Chopra’s credit, she pulls off this scene fairly well: we have always known about her effervescence onscreen. Interestingly, one of the five facts is that Booth is “damaged goods”; he has been married before and fairly recently. It’s a moment of subversion that uses the language of the man who is used to sowing his wild oats and turns it against him. Is this what Chopra meant when she said that the show is “not feminist, not man-hating”?
But I digress: Quantico, the most anticipated TV show of the year, has started on a slightly ridiculous note, although it manages to dish up more than its fair share of cheap thrills; its pace and infectious energy may yet salvage it as the season progresses. It was pitched to the folks at ABC as “Homeland meets Grey’s Anatomy”. So far, it’s proving to be better at mimicking the latter. With a serviceable rather than outstanding cast and plot twists by the bucketful, it is frenetic cable television at its most hard working: the show’s writers must surely have been vetted using an audience consisting solely of people with Simon Cowell masks.
The story follows two timelines: the first showing Parrish as part of a nuttier-than-thou group of FBI trainees at Quantico, and the other with Parrish as the prime suspect in an explosion that flattens New York’s Grand Central Station, the “biggest terror attack on American soil since 9/11”. There is a lot of potential in a narrative technique like this: it’s a little bit like a howdunit in the sense that it makes you wonder how things went from point A to point B. But unlike the howdunit, it allows the writer to keep most of the suspense alive. However, Quantico, in its first couple of episodes, does not use this structure nearly as well as it could have. For example, at the end of the first episode, we see Parrish on the run, eager to investigate the Grand Central attack but almost nothing of consequence happens on that front in the second episode. Instead, we are foisted with a love triangle involving Parrish, Booth and a new character called Nathalie (Anabelle Acosta). And so far, the only remotely interesting thing about Nathalie is that she has a fake scar close to her ear.
What does Quantico have going for it, then? For starters, it has a decent cliffhanger game, although nowhere near shows like The Blacklist.
Actually, this is where the show has the most ground to cover: the FBI academy is either shockingly incompetent in real life, or the makers of the show really wanted to portray it as such. Because there’s no way the FBI would have failed to realise that one of their recruits impregnated a 14-year-old girl on an overseas mission. Also, their crime scene investigation drill is ludicrously transparent and yet, nobody had caught on to this before agent Sherlock Parrish pointed it out. Then again, one of Parrish’s trainers did drop the classic Jack Bauer line on us (“She’s too good. We trained her too well. You will never catch her.”)
Among the rest of the show’s Grey’s Anatomy lineup of greenhorn agents, the most intriguing subplot belongs to Nimah and Raina Amin (Yasmine Al Nassri), identical twins who are pretending to be one person. We’ll have to wait for the rest of the season to figure out the significance of this, although a hunch tells me that this will probably be a red herring: the good Muslim character who everybody naturally suspects of being Bin Laden’s long lost grand-niece.
What does Quantico have going for it, then? For starters, it has a decent cliffhanger game, although nowhere near shows like The Blacklist, and that show has far superior actors, led by the swaggering, ageless James Spader. Quantico also has its heart in the right place: it places its rookies in high-pressure situations from the word go and there’s no simpler way to reveal character. The dialogue is witty in places and the writers seem intent to play the long game. But the shock value of its breakneck first two episodes will wear off soon unless the writers wise up: they have to resist the temptation to keep piling up new characters and subplots and get down to the dirty business of revelation.
Finally, an obligatory word about Chopra’s accent: yes, it is a little up-and-down, but with the kind of character she is playing, it almost fits. The next three episodes will be make-or-break for Quantico, one feels: for a show that has borrowed liberally from its genre precursors, they could do worse than follow 24, the show that brought terrorism to our TV screens in a big way.