Since tonight's episode is all about the strengths and weakness of our favorite FBI agents-in-training, let's take a little time to talk about what Quantico is good and bad at. First, the good: intrigue.
It's still pretty early, but the series is proving effective at slowly revealing elaborate and interesting secret histories for its cast of paper-thin pretty people. That's good, because on their own, there's not much to hold your attention. Priyanka Chopra's Alex Parrish is currently the most well-drawn character by virtue of being the protagonist, but this backfires a bit with Quantico's weird insistence on telling us how great she is instead of just showing it (and showing it in ways that aren't just "Alex is the only one that figured out the solution to this week's exercise, because that just makes everyone else look incompetent").
That said, this episode does show Quantico's intent to slowly color in other characters in interesting ways. But first, Parrish's mother is in trouble.
The episode begins in the present, with the Parrishes’ Oakland home raided by the FBI — meanwhile, Ryan Booth, having fully recovered from his injury, rejoins the team on the hunt for Parrish. But all is not well with his superiors — Agent O'Conner is being reamed by a superior officer as to how an FBI agent was responsible for "the next 9/11" on his watch. This agent is a new face, but it looks like he'll be an important one, as we'll see later.
In between all this, we flash back to Quantico, where the trainees are given this week’s assignment after a brief pool exercise during which Alex cuts her finger, which bleeds in a way that makes it painfully obvious that it Will Be Important Later. Call it Chekhov's Paper Cut.
As I alluded a few paragraphs up, this week's exercise for the trainees involves each of them assessing their classmate's strengths and weaknesses in a psychological profile; something they go about doing (hilariously) by showing each other Rorschach ink blots, asking personal questions, hypotheticals, or just observing them. In what is still the worst romantic subplot ever, Shelby continues to flirt with Caleb.
Back in the present, we catch up with Parrish, who has made her way to Simon Asher's home. Asher, we find, was ejected from Quantico — everyone "got to see the real him and no one liked what they saw" — and now works for a tech start-up, which I guess is something you can do when none of your old friends like you anymore?
Asher agrees to help Parrish — she wants him to use his start-up's resources (which has convenient government contracts) and technical know-how to analyze the explosive parts she lifted from her apartment last episode. They head to his office for answers.
Meanwhile, Parrish's mother is being interrogated by O'Conner, who says he's "an old friend," thanks to his work with her husband. She's not giving him anything though, and couldn't if she wanted to — she hasn't spoken to Alex since she left for Quantico.
Speaking of Quantico — let's flash back nine months once more! The trainees have completed their profiles, which are full of "the most searing insights into one another that I have seen in my time here," says Miranda Shaw. She applauds them on a job well done, and tells them their results are posted outside, just like in college!
Except that's not entirely true — instead of grading their reports, Shaw distilled them, taking the harshest bits from each trainee’s reports on their classmates and posting them for all to see with the author's name very clearly attributed. So now everyone knows what their fellow classmates really think of each other, and they pretty much hate them for it. Shaw then twists the knife and says they each have to now take what they know and suggest three names to be cut from the program.
That makes for a fun cliffhanger to lead back into the present with, where Alex and Simon have arrived at Simon's empty office — where he deduces the bomb parts are government-made — hence, the terrorist attack was indeed an inside job, and what's more, the person framing her was at Quantico since before she started her training, because the fingerprint found on the bomb is an intact index fingerprint, and her index finger now has a scar because of that injury we saw at the beginning of the episode — everyone, take a drink.
Simon then pretends to betray her, triggering an alarm and making Parrish draw her weapon, but he tells her he's just covering his ass — he has to make it look like he helped under duress so he can continue to help her. This extends her support network to two (Ryan is still invested in helping, since he's the one who called Simon and convinced him to help Alex).
Meanwhile, O'Conner's interrogation of Parrish's mother continues, and some interesting tidbits are revealed: She says she wasn't just protecting her daughter by taking the blame for shooting her husband. She was protecting O'Conner, too — he did something with her husband, something no one should find out.
Once more to Quantico: The trainees simply can't stand each other right now, with all of them arguing and getting nasty with each other. The most intense, however, is the argument between Ryan and Simon — Simon calls Ryan out for being shady about his interest in Parrish, Ryan just thinks Simon is a disingenuous weirdo — this spills out into the hallway and ends with Ryan in a chokehold. Parrish breaks them up and says this is what Shaw wanted, to tear them apart. The only way to win is to not give her any names for cuts — "ten from her is better than three from us."
Simon, however, disagrees: It's a numbers game to him, and he encourages everyone to vote. After he returns, some are about to follow his example, but then Shaw shows up and reprimands them all. Parrish was right — the whole point was to test their character. No cuts were being made, but Simon is now on notice. One more slipup and he's gone.
In the present, Parrish's mother is shown footage of her daughter holding up Simon Asher before her getaway, and she breaks. She has no info on her, but reveals that she sent her to India for ten years following her father's death. However, they can only account for nine. She agrees to make a public statement.
At Quantico, the trainees deal with the fallout from this week's exercise, which mostly entails a bunch of making up. Not everything goes well, though. Nimah confronts Vazquez (whose primary trait is still being a jerk), saying that she pities her for not having anything to go home to. But things aren't so great for Nimah, either. With tensions on the rise with her twin for the entire episode, she returns to her room to find her sister gone. (Can she, like, do that?)
Also note: The show is kind of poor at indicating which sister does what, but it's my impression that it's Raina-as-Nimah in most scenes, with Nimah herself being the one that actually leaves.
Parrish — who has had her father's file from O'Conner since the very beginning of the episode — finally gets up the courage to read it, and confides in Ryan about how horrible she felt, hating the drunk man he was and never knowing the hero that was in the file. O'Conner is observing this whole exchange, though, so it makes me wonder just how trustworthy that information is, since it may have been a play to get Booth close to her again.
In secret, Vazquez video chats with a man begging him to let her see her daughter, sobbing when he refuses due to her disappearing for five months. Shelby looks shifty, transferring a million dollars to an unknown account.
In the present, Parrish's mother addresses the media, asking her daughter to turn herself in. Parrish sees the broadcast, but turns it off when Simon finds her, telling her he's in the clear. She tells him that she needs to find which of their classmates is the traitor, and he urges her to investigate him, too — but she says he's in the clear.
This seems to be a mistake — because the episode ends with Simon getting a phone call from that one agent O'Conner was answering to. He's told to maintain his cover.