Quantico Recap: Zero Dark Crazy

Priyanka Chopra as Alex. Photo: Phillippe Bosse/ABC
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What a weird episode. After taking a week off for the American Music Awards, Quantico comes back to kick off the march towards its fall finale with an episode about … serial killers? I'm not sure why. I mean, the show has a reason for it, but I really doubt it'll satisfy anyone.

It's all tied to this week's lesson, which is given by guest instructor Dr. Susan Langdon (Anne Heche), since Miranda Shaw is laid up in the hospital and Agent O'Connor has gone AWOL, falling into depression and heavy drinking after he confessed his big secret to Alex last episode. Dr. Langdon is an expert on Forensic Pathology and serial killers, and quite frankly, her assignment feels an awful lot like the busywork that all substitute teachers assign. It's group work!

No, really. They're divided into two groups and assigned a profile of a serial killer (the Welfare Mom Killer and the Widowmaker), along with case files on all of their victims — and one bogus file is given to each team. They have to figure out which victim doesn't belong. This is something they both do in about two minutes of screen time, and the only real complications are that Nathalie seems uncomfortable (and Shelby notices) and Simon seems to think the professor gave his group's killer (Welfare Mom) two bogus victims instead of one. One of these problems is kind of important, and the other is not.

Once they figure out the answer, Dr. Langdon gives the group the second part of the assignment: How to avoid bringing the work of understanding killers home with you. The answer is a bar, and she offers to buy them a round later that night. Normally, this is where there's a twist in the assignment, but no, drinks is exactly what Langdon had in mind for the trainees.

Throughout tonight's Quantico story, the latest complication between Alex and Squinty Hunk Ryan unfolds, and it all involves Agent O'Connor. Alex learns that he's been drinking himself into a stupor, so she takes it upon herself to shake him out of it. She couldn't do this for her father, she believes she owes it to herself to at least try for her father's former partner. Alex doesn't want to tell Ryan about it, though, probably because he wouldn't take it well. She's right, but I'm not convinced that he would really be so upset. This feels like a dumb TV conflict, and not an actual one — mostly because she doesn't tell Ryan what she knows about O'Connor, which is what made her sympathetic in the first place.

But that twist we were talking about? That's where things get crazy. Simon can't let go of his suspicion that there was a second victim in the Welfare Mom Killer file that didn't actually belong to the killer. He confronts Langdon about it away from the group, over burgers. Then he doubles down, telling her that he's read her work, knows she worked that particular case and couldn't catch him, and believes she may have falsified evidence to put him away — and it seems like he's right, especially once Langdon tells him they're in a camera blind spot, and escorts him out, pretending that they're going home together.

Ryan, however, notices the stiff manner of their departure, and catches up with them outside. He asks what's going on, and Langdon tries to keep up the charade while holding a syringe to the base of Simon's neck, out of sight from Ryan. After a few tense moments, she lets him go, confident no one will believe him, and Simon tells Ryan that he's "pretty sure he saved his life." That's it. Not HOLY CRAP OUR SUBSTITUTE TEACHER ALMOST KILLED ME WE GOTTA DO SOMETHING. Simon is a pretty understated bro, it seems.

The Quantico half of this week's episode concludes with a few minor beats and a big one before we get half of tonight's cliffhanger. First: Nathalie finally tells Shelby what's been bothering her all day. The assignment made her worry about her daughter, who she still feels guilty about leaving for the FBI. Caleb gets a call from his dad, suggesting that Shelby's sister might not be a real person. Then, thanks to Alex, Liam finally cleans up his act and goes to visit Shaw in the hospital for the first time. We learn that, despite Shaw's suspicions, her son Charlie did not stab her — there's evidence that suggests he was kidnapped by Shaw's stabber.

When Alex goes to Ryan to hash out their disagreement about O'Connor, Ryan is suddenly replaced by some other character who makes zero sense and decides he is Very Offended by Alex's actions, then decides to leave Quantico and rejoin the FBI, since he doesn't even have to be there anyway.

The doozy of an ending for this portion of our story comes when we follow up with Simon, who finds all the other trainees blown away by news reports that the man known as the Welfare Mom Killer was put away based on falsified evidence doctored by Susan Langdon. Brandon asks Simon if that's what he meant by his constant questions about victim number nine, and he says yes — no one believed him, so he found someone who would.

LITERALLY EVERYONE yells at him for this, since a killer might go free because of his actions and his notion of holding the FBI to a higher standard makes him seem all holier-than-thou and good lord why is everyone so irrationally angry this week? This is like, an ethical dilemma, you know? But no one has any chill, and instead of rising above the lack of chill and displaying a level head, Simon calls his bomb-making friend from last week and meets up with him all heated, saying stuff like THE FBI IS SUPPOSED TO STAND FOR TRUTH AND JUSTICE BUT IT'S JUST A LIE and I'm like, Chill, my dude, you sound like an angsty teen.

As jarring as this shift is, it really seems like Quantico wants us to believe that Simon is the bad guy, because his bomb-making friend gives him a USB drive with blueprints to every subway station in New York City, and we won't hear any more about that until next week.

You'll notice that this recap hasn't mentioned the present-day plot line yet. That is because it is butt. It's an exercise in treading water that slightly nudges the characters forward, while also undermining any dramatic tension it builds up by episode's end. It can be summed up thusly: After the episode begins in an intriguing place with Alex turning herself in, then ratchets up the tension by taking Alex out of O'Connor's hands and into a branch of government run by crazy people who like torturing people in basements, "Guilty" proceeds to go nowhere.

Team Alex — which now includes all of the main cast, plus Nathalie and Elias, who makes his first appearance as Alex's legal counsel with a bone to pick with Agent Clayton — does the thing they should have done at the very start, and used their D2: The Mighty Ducks super-spy tech to piece together what Alex did the morning of the attacks. They learn she disappeared in a security-camera blind spot, and find a van just chilling in that blinds pot, and find evidence of chloroform in that van, which they bring to Agent O'Connor to convince him that she was kidnapped and framed. Then O'Connor's like, "Oh crap, we should do something about the crazy people who have her now."

Those crazy people, who are clearly inspired by Jason Clarke's character in Zero Dark Thirty, decide to get Alex to talk not by torturing her, but by torturing the wounded Ryan, whom they intercepted before he escaped with the Unknown. There are lots of scenes of Ryan screaming in pain, but Alex continues to maintain her innocence and yell about the second bomb. No one believes her until O'Connor snatches jurisdiction back from the Zero Dark Crazies, saving them both.

Once everything is — and here's the key part — back where we started, O'Connor apologizes for suspecting Alex, and then asks her to go along with his plan. He wants her to continue where they left off. Pretend that she's guilty. Let the bomber, whoever he is, think nothing had changed. Alex agrees, is promptly put in an orange jumpsuit, and marched before a judge to be formally charged. She pleads guilty.

Hey, that's where the episode title must've come from! It's nice to — like the Joker in Batman — give a name to my pain.