The problem with Quantico right now is that its biggest draw is also it’s biggest hang-up — the future terrorism plot. The writers have been very smart about seeding clues and red herrings about the big mystery driving this season’s plot (who bombed Grand Central Terminal?), but Quantico’s bread and butter is its soap operatics, which mostly unfold several months before. In the first batch of episodes, most of the ways they connect have been perfunctory and kind of clumsy — something a character says or does in the past ends up being relevant in the future. It’s very Slumdog Millionaire, and it can get a bit tiring.
But when both past and present work together to further complicate characters’ motivations and loyalties and make you wonder just what everything’s hiding? That’s good stuff. “Go” is good stuff.
It seems like it won’t be at first, however — after the sudden emotional turmoil of last week’s episode, things kind of just go back to normal. We start in the future, with Alex and Simon arguing about the Nimahs — since we saw them on footage just before the attack, they’re the latest suspects. They decide to track them down with a bit of help from Ryan back at the FBI office. However, this gets him noticed by Natalie, which is bad news.
Eight months ago, in Club Quantico, the trainees are told that it’s time for their midterm exams. Midterms! Even Feds have to do them! While they’re all put through the paces of several different examinations, Shaw opens up the Nimahs’ private bathroom door (guess I was wrong last week when I said it was a closet, there really was no way of telling) where Simon was locked up in the final moments of last week’s episode.
She tells him how he must have questions — but it turns out he doesn’t. In what’s probably the best Simon scene thus far, and probably the most chilling moment in Quantico thus far, Simon cites the exact text from which Shaw’s strategy for twin operatives comes from (that’s right SECRET TWINS is a chapter in the FBI Bible). Simon is furious, because the fact that he could blow the Nimahs' cover just by walking in on them meant they were incompetent, and since he fancies himself a damn good agent, he’s offended he didn’t get any secret assignment. He then delivers the best line of the night:
“I don’t have questions … I have plans.”
Shaw’s only response is to say that if he keeps this secret, she’ll wipe away his probation.
Down the hall, Shelby storms into Caleb’s room complaining about him standing her up for one of their hook-up sessions, only to turn around and see that his dad, Agent Clayton, is there.
Oh man. This makes everything in the future so much worse, because now they both definitely knew exactly what they were doing when they decided to have their affair in the future. Agent Clayton: confirmed to be a huge dick.
It’s not like Clayton has any problems with being thought of as a dick, either, considering that he also more or less bribes his son to flunk out of the coming exam and stay away from the FBI.
Speaking of that exam: Once all the trainees are assembled in the lecture hall, Shaw hands out the tests and tells them to flip them over once she leaves the room. They do, and it’s blank.
Shaw is a tricksy hobbit.
Future time: Alex and Simon have found Raina in Queens, and after getting her up to speed, she tells them what her and her sister have been up to. There’s an Islamist terror cell hiding out in a house across the street and Nimah has infiltrated her way in — and Simon thinks she may have gone native. Meanwhile, Shelby lets slip to Caleb that she knows which twin was spotted at Grand Central, and tries to leave with Ryan since their cover is potentially blown. They are, however, stopped by Natalie, who pretends to let them go but is instead tracking them.
Back at Quantico, the gang tries to figure out what their exam actually is, totally stumped until they figure out one person wasn’t actually given a paper, and that they should check the security camera to see who it is. It’s Brandon, who hasn’t been doing so well since the exams started and played ignorant because he figured he was supposed to and didn’t want to screw things up for himself any more than he already has. Worked up, he leaves, the room goes into lockdown, and Elias finds a timer under Brandon’s chair.
The trainees decide that the best thing to do is to interrogate Natalie about Brandon, since the two of them were sleeping together and she would know more about what he’s been up to lately than anyone. She tells them that he’s been erratic lately, complaining about the FBI’s management and on a bunch of meds, going missing at night and just being a suspicious dude.
That gives them the idea to check the security camera for the night Brandon went out, and it makes them wish they hadn’t — they find that he hid a bomb under the lectern. This really messes with the trainees' heads, since it’s becoming hard to tell if this is an actual situation or just part of the exam (which makes sense for a group of people who saw a classmate kill himself during a routine exercise).
During all this in Future New York, Alex, Simon, and Raina confirm that Nimah has made it back to the terrorist hangout, and hatch a plot to have the twins switch places so they can interrogate Nimah about what she was doing in Grand Central (these people just love interrogating each other). Raina pulls it off, only managing to arouse minimal suspicion.
Nimah tells Simon and Alex that she got close — bedfellows close — with the terrorist leader, and learned they were planning to attack “a symbol of American strength,” which doesn’t really sound like Grand Central because it isn’t — and that their plot was never able to get off the ground. Meanwhile, Raina meets the terrorist leader, who wants to make out and tell her about how they now have to leave the country.
Shall we check back in on the most stressful midterm exam ever? I think we shall.
Remember a few episodes ago when we learned that Simon knows his way around a bomb? This is what they were referring to. Simon is able to stop the timer and thereby unlock the door, but when some knucklehead trainees just bolt out, they end up restarting the timer, only faster. (This is my favorite bomb-defusing trope. It’s not a bomb-defusing scene unless something causes the timer to speed up.)
Before we continue, I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about something very important to me: Elias is the goddamn worst. He has the worst line of the night (when the room first goes into lockdown: “This is beginning to feel less like an exam and more like the last ten minutes of Saw”) and he chooses this moment to tell the gang how he didn’t sign up for this stuff and just bails with a bunch of other people. Elias is therefore a creep and a coward, and upon this evidence, I rest my case. Elias is the worst.
Anyway, in order to defuse the bomb now, Simon cannot move his hands so he has to talk the rest of the gang through the next steps. Nothing works. In a really kind of … nice (?) scene, they laugh and accept the fact that they’re not going to be able to do this. The timer runs out, and nothing happens — except Shaw applauding them.
They learn that Brandon was just playing a part, and they really weren’t supposed to defuse the bomb, but just stick around to the end. Since sacrifice was the name of the game, anyone who ran failed.
Afterward, the trainees sort through the fallout of the exam. Elias wishes Simon farewell (and Simon, for some godforsaken reason, feels bad about him leaving and lets the guy kiss him! (STOP FEELING BAD FOR ELIAS HE IS THE WORST I PROVED THIS LIKE THREE PARAGRAPHS AGO.) Shelby confronts Clayton about how he’s a dick to his son (really, the more the two of them spend time together, the more irredeemable they become in the future. I’m starting to suspect their affair started in Quantico).
Alex confronts O’Conner, telling him that he’s been dishonest, and says she won’t dig it if he reinstates Ryan to the FBI. If you ignore the chaos behind all the red herrings, O’Conner starts to look like the most likely suspect for the bombing. Consider: Team Alex is growing every week, and it would set up a classic students vs. teacher conflict, probably galvanized by a traumatic death, most likely Shaw’s.
Add to the pile the fact that Ryan finally tells Alex why his badge was revoked: Someone higher up (O’Conner) made a terrible mistake, and he took the fall. (It looks like the two of them are making up, way too fast. Quantico just needs to chill a bit and let things marinate.) Ryan also meets with O’Conner, who offers him his badge back, but Ryan tells him he’s just going to think about it. We last see him in civilian clothes, staring at a photo of two corny-looking dudes and driving off.
Elsewhere on campus, Shelby learns that Caleb is gone, too, even though he passed. When she confronts him about it, he reveals that he’s ditched the analyst polo shirt for the NAT blue pajama shirt — he’s training to be an agent now, yay!
In the final Quantico scene, Shaw does something unexpected: She introduces the class to Nimah, and her twin, and charges them with keeping their secret. No more Secret Twins! I will miss writing about Secret Twins.
In the future, everything’s falling apart: Immediately after Nimah runs off to the terrorist hideout to swap with Raina, the FBI arrives and apprehends Simon and Shelby, and although Alex and Ryan make it out, Ryan gets shot. Nimah makes it out, but whatever cover she had is blown by the fact that there’s an FBI raid going on across the street and her terrorist pals get involved and open fire.
Thanks to the firefight, Alex and Ryan are about to make it away clean, but Natalie stops them. She wants to apprehend them both, but takes pity on Ryan’s injury and is maybe considering joining Team Alex? Who knows. The important part is that she lets Alex go.
Not that things are looking particularly good for her right now.