Quantico Recap: Spot the Needle

Alex Parrish. Photo: Phillippe Bosse/ABC
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Editor’s Rating

I know it’s only week two, but I’m worried Quantico might not be crazy enough. This is probably a strange thing to say about a show about an FBI inside job that our innocent protagonist is framed for while reflecting on time spent in a training class exclusively made up of suspiciously duplicitous trainees, but it feels right.

In its second week, Quantico dials back a bit on all the crazy stuff it introduced in its pilot, adjusting the throttle in a manner that seems to indicate we’re really going to sink into everything we already know and just go wherever that may lead us. This is smart, but we also live in a world where Empire drops banana-pants twists every week it’s on the air, so it’s hard not to feel like the kid gloves are still on.

Maybe Quantico should have more rap battles. That might help.

The episode proper begins roughly where the last one ended, reminding viewers about the FBI transport assistant director Miranda Shaw wrecked while helping former trainee turned suspected terrorist Alex Parrish, but we’ll chase that thread in a bit — the first real sequence we get is a montage of interviews from before each of the Quanitco trainees actually begins their training.

Each of them answers a single question (“Why do you want to join the FBI?”) while being shown doing something rather suspicious: Simon carefully selects a pair of glasses and breaks them before taping them back together; Shelby deletes what looks like an Arabic contact from her phone; Nathalie Vazquez (whom we haven’t really met yet but will be a big part of today’s action) looks at a scar behind her ear; Nimah meets with Shaw (!); and while Alex is being interviewed, Ryan Booth is standing opposite the one-way mirror, being instructed by Agent Liam O’Conner that she is his mark.

We then jump to where the primary action of flashback-land will take place, which is week two of training at Quantico. We get a rundown of where the trainees more or less stand with each other: Parrish and Booth are no longer friendly after he put her through the ringer during last week’s interrogation; Nimah and her Secret Twin have some kinks to work out when they trade places, particularly because one seems to hate Simon more than the other. Nathalie Vazquez is pretty much a new character, and her primary purpose is to be Alex’s archrival. She’s the Tupac to her Biggie, the Meek Mill to her Drake. (I really want this rap battle thing to happen.)

Anyway, Vazquez is pretty nasty competition for Parrish, whom we’re told would comfortably be at the top of her class if Vazquez weren’t gunning for her spot so fiercely. This is the first instance of a problem Quantico has that’ll come up a few times in this episode: We are often told how Parrish is the best in her class, but we don’t really see her show off how great she is nearly as much.

Oh, and Vazquez also has the hots for Ryan, it seems, so she is not messing around in her personal mission to beat Parrish at everything.

Anyway, after one morning’s stretch of physical training exercises, the recruits are given their big challenge for this week’s episode: They are to inspect re-creations of real-life sites where terrorist plots were planned, only to be raided and foiled by the FBI. There’s a new wrinkle, though, and it’s a new batch of recruits who are analysts in training. Part of the point of the exercise, see, is building the relationship between analyst and agent, support and field work. Of course, it wouldn’t be Quantico if this addition didn’t help juice up the drama, and it does, thanks to the analyst Elias Harper, a handsome, openly gay recruit who is taken by Simon’s bravery — he’s the first openly gay agent recruit in the history of the agency (analysts have an easier time of it, I guess?). Harper, however, is uncomfortably forward in his admiration, and Simon finds him off-putting.

One analyst is someone we’ve seen before! It’s Caleb Haas, the golden boy who got in thanks to his parent’s clout with the Bureau and saw Packer kill himself in the pilot. He’s pretty nonplussed about it, which rightfully bugs Shelby, even as she seems to be attracted to him? (And boy, if those two are destined for a romantic pairing, I will have words with you, Quantico. Irritated words about an uninspired relationship that is lazy and boring and also seems like it belongs in another show entirely.)

Another thing about this exercise, before we jump to the present: Shaw approaches Agent O’Conner, who is overseeing this whole thing, and tells him that she knows Booth is an undercover agent and suspects that he’s supposed to report back to someone regarding her performance. O’Conner plays dumb, but takes the chance to ask her about what she plans to do with the twins, a question she responds to by laughing because this is episode two and we aren’t scheduled to receive any real answers until November Sweeps, probably.

Back in the present, the hunt for Parrish is on, but she has a walkie-talkie and is totally able to monitor their chatter — that is, until she decides to use it to talk to O’Conner, Jason Bourne style, from a vantage point very near where O’Conner is standing. She pleads her innocence, but O’Conner reminds her of all the incriminating evidence and asks what her game is. She says she is going to “find the needle,” which is A CALLBACK TO SOMETHING WE JUST HEARD O’CONNER SAY DURING THE INVESTIGATION EXERCISE IN THE FLASHBACK SCENE TWO MINUTES AGO and dear Lord do I hate when shows do this.

Moving on: a couple housekeeping scenes where Shaw meets with Nimah and her twin (whom we learn is named Raina) and tells them to get better at syncing up because they have a mission at the end of all this that won’t work if their cover is blown. Caleb is glib about Packer’s death. And then we move back to the present.

Vazquez is leading the hunt for Parrish because this rivalry is Serious Business. We are also reminded by Shaw (who is being questioned by O’Conner for helping Parrish escape) how good Parrish is, and how she won’t get caught. O’Conner says she’s blinded by optimism, a failure she had with her son (hmm). Shaw fires back, asking if he sees Parrish as the recruit he fell in love with or the terrorist who rejected him (DAMN).

Parrish, meanwhile, wants to see who went to her apartment after she left it the morning of the terrorist attack. She goes about this by getting the shopkeeper at a bistro across the street from her building to let her review security footage. In a move that I will charitably call an oversight, she lets the shopkeeper review it with her — and he eventually figures out Parrish is wanted and gets locked in a closet for it.

Flashing back to training, phase two of the exercise involves using the evidence to figure out which of three possible sites will be targeted by terrorists. There’s a lot of arguing, and one group of trainees picks one, a second group picks another, and everyone ignores Parrish, who suggests it might be none of the sites.

In the present, O’Conner thinks he’s cornered Parrish, but it’s just a ruse to get the agents out of her apartment so she can scope out the scene and grab some supplies.

But hang on, we have to figure out who passed the training exercise nine months ago. Of course it is Parrish, who didn’t go to any of the sites and is instead found by the gang in O’Conner’s office. Her reasoning: Evidence is only good if you trust the source, and who said O’Conner was a good source? (She was also egged on by memorabilia from his favorite college football team being hidden in each crime scene).

O’Conner smiles and tells the recruits about how they have to question everything because evidence lies. They were supposed to fail — this was Quantico’s version of the Kobayashi Maru, which is objective proof that the Quantico writers are huge nerds.

Back in the present, Vazquez catches Parrish in the apartment, and a chase ensues — Parrish is able to turn the tables at the last minute and handcuff Vazquez while asking her why she would shoot “the man we both love.” Quantico is gonna get hot.

A few more flashback odds and ends: Caleb tells Shelby how he’s bummed about being the first Haas not to make agent since Hoover, Elias Harper pries into Simon’s time in Gaza and notices his glasses are fake, and Parrish has a moment with Booth — they’re cool again. O’Conner finds Shaw parked outside of a private school, which she did something to save two years ago. The perp (her son?) is up for parole, which Shaw says he won’t get. O’Conner confirms for Parrish that her father worked for the FBI but doesn’t know much more.

Finally, in the present, Parrish calls Booth, who is recovering in the hospital — he’s fine, and very lucky. He offers to throw the Feds off her trail, but warns her that they have to believe he thinks she’s guilty. To that end, he tells O’Conner that Parrish shot him. O’Conner responds by releasing Parrish’s name and photograph to the media. I’m not sure how Booth helped there.

If anything, “America” is a lot like the exercise recruits went through in training. We’re given a lot of pieces — pieces we’re reminded/given more of with a closing montage that mirrors the opening one. Vazquez applies makeup to cover her scar; Caleb is shown browsing a social media profile he has under another name, Mark Raymond; Shelby answers her phone in another language, saying they weren’t supposed to reach out for a while; and Simon has replaced his fake lenses with real ones, having cottoned to Elias Harper’s suspicions.

Spot the needle.