Spies, Television

TV: Quantico (Season 1)

July 10, 2016

quanticoMy immediate impression of the pilot of Quantico: not bad, but is it sustainable? Short answer: nope. Indeed, while I considered it my duty as a spy fan to watch and report, this post is the Goodreads equivalent of a DNF review. I bailed several episodes before the end, and indeed my emotional investment flagged far before I stopped watching.

Quantico revolves around a class of FBI recruits, bouncing back and forth through time to follow their exploits. In the past track, their formative training and early relationships are on display, while in the future, their skills and connections are put the test in a frantic terrorism crisis. Headlining the class is top student Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra), who’s following in the footsteps of her father — and has a hidden agenda to uncover the secrets of his service career. But she’s not the only recruit with concealed motives or dubious histories. The class is full of mysterious characters, and when Alex later finds herself the pivotal figure in a terrorist conspiracy, she’s suddenly facing them down as suspects.

Even in the early stages, Quantico is an odd, stylistic mutant, mixing 24-style action twists, Lost-like flashbacks, Shondaland tone and diversity, and a deeply weird reality-showesque approach to the training montages. It shouldn’t all work together, but at first, it kind of does, thanks largely to Chopra’s charismatic presence and key support from her suspect list of classmates, specifically Jake McLaughlin, Johanna Braddy, Tate Ellington, Yasmine Al Massri, Graham Rogers, and Annabelle Acosta. The pilot, anyway, manages this large cast adroitly and keeps the back-and-forth mystery coherent and engaging.

As the story advances, however, it all falls apart. At first the characters and scenario fueled the intrigue, but later, as suspension of disbelief erodes, a more meta intrigue develops: what the hell are the writers doing? Quantico’s early confidence lapses into random reaching, plotlines contorting desperately to draw the season out. Meanwhile the tone skews all over the place, from spy thriller melodrama one moment to upbeat teen soap opera the next. The training sessions, tailored to inform events in the future track, devolve into ludicrous game show exercises. By midseason the cast is so fractured by pantsed plotting that a next generation of students is integrated into the class to generate silly, new conflicts. Then along comes Hannah Wyland (Eliza Coupe), perhaps the show’s most convincing character, who blows massive holes in the logic of the heroes’ behavior, and then randomly throws in with them to destroy her own career. Any credibiity the show had left at this point goes right out the window.

I wanted to like Quantico. Chopra is a legitimate star, or at least she could be in a better vehicle. The cast is promising and diverse, and there’s something to be said for its audacious structural ambition. But it starts at a very difficult place and goes straight downhill from there, uncertain what kind of show it is, or even wants to be.  An unfortunate mess.

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