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Quantico: How to get away with terror

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The Binge
By Jessica Zafra

YOU WOULD BE forgiven for thinking that the new ABC series Quantico was the talent portion of a beauty contest. It stars former Miss World and Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra as Alex Parrish, an FBI agent who regains consciousness in the bombed-out rubble of New York’s Grand Central Station. Even before her ears stop ringing, she will be hunted by her colleagues as the prime suspect in the terror attack.

QUANTICO_Cast

Flashback to nine months earlier, as Alex runs through her neighborhood in spandex gear with hydraulic properties. She is one of several gorgeous humans who lie about where they’re going. One of them, an ex-Marine named Ryan Bloom (Jake McLaughlin, whom we remember from the short-lived Alfonso Cuaron series Believe), says he’s on his way to the Philippines. Next, Alex and Ryan are going at it in his car. She won’t give him her name, assuring him that they will never see each other again. In TV network-speak, this means, “Of course they will.”

Then Alex and the other gorgeous humans are being welcomed to an FBI training course in Quantico, and if you can’t guess who shows up in the hall, stop and inhale a cup of coffee. You’ll need it to process this frantic, fairly ludicrous, enjoyable thriller that takes America’s fears and turns them into entertainment.

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What is the point of all that secrecy? Why can’t Alex say, “Bye, mom, I’m off to my training at the Federal Bureau of Investigation?” Apparently it’s a covert anti-terrorist program — at least that’s what I think it is, because it turns out everyone is lying. For all I know it really is beauty queen school, because everyone says they’re exhausted from their daily regimen, but they look like they all came from the spa. No wonder the war on terror seems endless: the undercover agents are so easy to identify. Just pick out the most gorgeous human in the bunch.

Quantico was created by Joshua Safran and produced by Mark Gordon, whose credits include another FBI-centered show, Criminal Minds, and 246 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.

This explains a lot. Grey’s Anatomy was created by THE Shonda Rimes, whose recent hits include How To Get Away With Murder. Quantico looks like that show, with a higher body count. It uses all its tricks: flash-forwards and flashbacks, spastic editing, the repetition of scenes from different points of view, and the sneaky withholding of vital information until it is dropped with a bang. It has the characters who are not what they seem, including a guy pretending to be gay and two people pretending to be one person, like the Olsen Twins. It has the artfully choreographed sex scenes and the Viola Davis stand-in.

Like Viola Davis’s demanding, morally compromised law professor, Aunjanue Ellis plays Miranda Shaw as the FBI assistant director who pushes her students past the borders of human rights violation. Not-Viola also has a white ex, agent Liam O’Connor (Josh Hopkins), who drinks too much and is up to some secret stuff. In Quantico, the FBI bosses have so many secret operations going on, they can’t get their stories straight. Lucky for them the narrative chronology is chopped up, because if it were linear nothing would make sense. (Why accept someone to the program, and then assign one of her classmates to spy on her even before she arrives? Why not just reject her application?)

As of this writing the show is only five episodes in, so I have no idea who the bomber is. It could be someone we haven’t seen yet. It could be FBI trainee Simon (Tate Ellington), the one who’s pretending to be gay but is fascinated with his Muslim classmate Nimah (Yasmine Al Massri). It could be Caleb (Graham Rogers) the blond asshat who got kicked out of the program and wormed his way back in as an analyst. It could be that the Mormon trainee (Brian J. Smith from Sense 8) who blew his brains out isn’t really dead. It could be the love interest. It could even be Alex herself.

Ever wonder how many people apply to the FBI after watching TV shows featuring FBI agents? Maybe not Twin Peaks, but perhaps The X-Files or Bones or Fringe.

Quantico gives the impression that FBI means “Federal Babe Initiative.” Time to nuke some more popcorn.

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