Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Quantico 1x16 Review: "Clue" (A Step in the Right Direction)

Original Airdate: April 3, 2016

This week on Quantico, we’re getting back to basics and what made the show so endearing to me in the first place. Of course, by “basics” I mean that the NATs are being tested with some pretty absurd trials thanks to Liam, and in the present-day, Alex is trying to stay one step ahead of a terrorist who has proven time and time again that he (or she) will always be one step ahead of our favorite FBI agent. But what made “Clue” so interesting to me was two-fold: the emotional resonance of the stories in the flashbacks and the titular clue that Simon and Alex discover in the present-day.


Is it just me or does Quantico seem like it’s trying to be Hogwarts with every week forcing the NATs to encounter some obstacle that will inevitably teach them a lesson akin with an after-school special? This week, however, we get two different tests: a test of wills and a test of teamwork. When Liam tells Alex that she’s a leader and that no one will pass until EVERYONE passes, the young woman is a little skeptical (remember all the shady stuff that went down between Drew and Liam recently that Alex was caught in the crosshairs of), but agrees to accept her role as a leader. I kind of love the fact that Alex constantly – in both the past and the present — rebuffs anyone who calls her a leader by saying: “I didn’t ask to be one.”

Classic leader talk right there, Alex. I think it’s straight out of chapter two in the “How to Be A Leader” handbook, actually. In spite of the fact that Alex Parrish never asks for people to follow her, they do. So she spends the entirety of the first exercise (taking down perps during a high-intensity situation complete with weird mood lighting) coaching and instructing and the entire group passes. Yay! No more lessons! The NATs can go back to class or, like, sleep maybe.


Because the episode opens with Liam confronting a review board about the mental state of the NATs (who are not all that great by the way), he decides that the best way to push these students to the point of a mental breakdown is by having them role-play scenarios in which there is an active shooter on an airplane. The group is supposed to work together, but this is easier said than done. Intimate spaces have the tendency to turn us all into frenzied, frantic people under the best of circumstances. What Liam essentially does is bottle all of the pain and tension and trauma the NATs have experienced recently and makes them confront it over and over again in the exercise.

Alex and Drew are on the rocks because he won’t admit to the pain he must be enduring after taking a life. And Alex is infuriated when Drew smugly talks about the trauma that happened to her. Meanwhile, after Shelby’s discovery that her parents are alive, Caleb is wary when she begins to be even more enthusiastic (in more ways than one) and high-energy than normal. In fact, Shelby’s behavior in this episode is pretty much the textbook definition of “manic.” But when he tries to confront this, Shelby becomes irrationally angry with him. Also, Nimah and Raina are at odds and the two women who generally work well together are falling apart due to the latter still keeping secrets (hey, apparently she’s hooking up with Simon on weekends!).

When teams function as individuals, things begin to fracture and break. And that’s what happens in the exercise. Every time a NAT tries to take down a shooter, they realize they made a mistake and the scenario begins to escalate, just like everyone’s emotions: there becomes more than one shooter; Air Marshals become involved; a bomb suddenly enters the fray, etc. If it seems like Liam is pushing and pushing just waiting for someone to have a breakdown, you might be right.

Everyone, actually, is ready to call the exercise quits and Alex herself is beginning to get fed up with the point of it all. But Shelby is not. Potentially just high on pain pills or adrenaline, Shelby insists that the group try again and not stop trying until they succeed. When Alex and Shelby reenter the simulation, Alex takes Shelby’s gun and manages to subdue both terrorists. The NAT class cheers because YAY! They can FINALLY go eat dinner!

... But there’s an eleventh-hour twist in the little exercise, and it’s that there is a THIRD suspect on the plane with a bomb. Shelby dramatically and tearfully pleads with the bomber to let everyone go, but her queries aren’t successful and the entire plane goes down. As you might imagine, everyone is furious and Shelby is upset, storming off the simulation. When Alex confronts Liam about the point of his exercise, it turns out there pretty much IS no point!

As it turns out, the NATs were presented with an unwinnable situation and they had to cope with that. Sure, Liam, sometimes life doesn’t have easy answers but did you really need to waste everyone’s time proving that? And what kind of depressing lesson is that to learn after a week of crisis at your school? Liam may be right in the message of his exercise, but this one felt like the cruelest and most unnecessary of them all.


What I will say though is that I am glad the emotional scene between Alex and Shelby existed. Though I love Caleb and Shelby’s dynamic (and will always refer to them, alongside Mer, as “the Golden Retrievers”), I think that the show has proven time and time again that romantic relationships aren’t the only kind of relationships that matter on this show. There is a deep love that runs between Alex and Shelby — two women who are vastly different in a lot of ways and similar in some, too. Though Shelby isn’t the one to tell Alex about her parents, Alex is the only person Shelby truly opens up to. The blonde breaks down on her bed, and an empathetic Alex reaches out and holds her as she sobs. Shelby is struggling, not just with the fact that her parents are alive, and not just with the fact that she’s spent her whole life believing she’s a victim of 9/11.

Shelby is struggling with something really powerful and heartbreaking: why would her parents lie to her? Why would they abandon her? What did she do that was so horrible that they would leave? (If this sounds familiar, it’s because Felicity Smoak nearly said the exact same words to her estranged father on Arrow recently.)

And it’s at this that Alex really begins to wrap her arms around Shelby and hold her as she cries. These two are their most emotionally vulnerable around one another and I absolutely love it. Props to you, Quantico, for making the relationship between these two women so integral and so moving.


In the present-day story, Hannah becomes roped into Alex’s crusade and the two realize that there is a strong chance the terrorist will strike at Claire Haas’ rally before she leaves the city. How would you expect an FBI agent to respond to this? Overzealously, of course! Hannah can’t do anything without thinking of the big, giant, voice-changed terrorist danger looming over her and manages to get herself kicked off of Claire Haas’ detail and then suspended for shooting off her gun at the rally (once the team realized that the terrorist was planning to knock out the power and presumably end Claire’s life). In spite of the fact that Hannah royally messed up nearly everything she touched in this episode, proving how intelligent and resourceful Alex really is, I enjoyed the dynamic between the two characters. Hannah is rough around the edges, biting and sarcastic, and also tough in a way that leads her to shoot straight. She doesn’t turn on Alex, even when there is a perfectly good chance — with Booth, no less — to do so. Hannah doesn’t do all of this though because she cares about Alex. Really, I think she barely cares about her and Alex is more of a nuisance than anything else.

Hannah does things because she’s loyal to people and she’s intelligent, and when something is amiss, she’s unafraid to be bold and brash enough to stand up and fight against it. Remember how I just said that I don’t think Hannah cares a lot about Alex? I stand by that. But there is one person both Hannah and Alex care about: Booth. And before she’s placed on leave, Hannah asks Alex to not involve Booth. And that’s heartbreaking for a few reasons – one of them being that now, Booth is like a bloodhound, intent on hunting Alex down and discovering whatever plan she’s hatched that got Hannah suspended. Booth believes Alex to be petty or obsessive or a little bit of both, and watching Alex take the brunt of his anger while knowing she hasn’t done anything wrong is pretty sad.

Still, it’s only a matter of time before Booth is somehow involved in this, and it’ll be interesting to see how the two repair their relationship as a result. I have a feeling things will become more fractured before they get better.

At the very end of the episode, we finally — or Alex and Simon, rather — get some answers. Maybe the terrorist slipped up, because the pair discovers that the target of the rally incident wasn’t Claire Haas at all. It was the school’s lab. What did the terrorist take? We’re not sure, but it’s the first big clue that might put these two ahead of the terrorist for once.

Overall, this episode of Quantico was one of the strongest in recent memory, as it focused primarily on relationships while driving the plot forward without giving us an endless cycle of questions as a result. Hooray for progress!

Additional fun:
  • Will and Caleb now have a story together and as it turns out, Will has been learning to mimic other people. I find that both hilarious, a little creepy, and ultimately useful. 
  • “Sometimes the only answer is that there is no answer.” Liam, you’re dumb and so is your exercise.
  • Booth is brought back as a teacher by Liam at the end of the flashback part of “Clue.” I smell love triangle, now that Alex and Drew are getting close.
  • Miranda’s son likely didn’t make it? The show really left that up in the air, but she takes a leave of absence as the NATs teacher, opening up the spot for Booth to step into.
What did you all think of this week's episode? Let me know in the comments below!


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