This episode is about decisions that cannot be escaped. It's about the consequences of a person's choices, and how each choice can irrevocably change that person's future. You've seen this story before — every good drama needs an episode like this, particularly a drama that's one week away from its mid-season finale. That doesn't mean it's always done well, though. "Quantico" (the episode) is still very much like Quantico (the show), complete with tonal whiplash and frustrating story decisions and characters that suck only because the plot needs them to be bad people.
Still, "Quantico" tries to actually be about something. It tries every way it knows how, and crucially, it doesn't just say what it's about. The plot is boring, but the effort is there.
The name of the game is background checks, both in Quantico-land and in the present. In the former, the NAT assignment of the week involves vetting the applicant pool for the next class; in the future, Team Alex investigates their Quantico class with fresh eyes. They don't have a lot of time, either — they believe the attack will take place in 24 hours.
This, on its face, is not thrilling stuff. The episode is essentially about paperwork. But this paperwork has a certain way of applying serious pressure.
Quantico has a weird talent for taking plot points that seem really dumb and wringing crazy television out of them. The best example so far seems to be the Caleb/Shelby (Shaleb?) pairing because LOL, that has gotten wild. This episode pulls off yet another nice pivot with a silly plot point that hasn't really been addressed yet: Natalie's fake scar.
During a bout of hand-to-hand combat training where everyone seems to be working out their issues with each other, Alex notices that Natalie's scar is peeling. She tells Ryan about it, then asks if there's any way he could use his FBI superpowers to look into it. (Ryan, by the way, is sticking around just because he can. Alex, by the way, has some incredible hair this week. It looks like it secretes conditioner. It's really unfair how good it looks.)
Anyway, this is very silly on several levels — the fake scar is silly, that Alex wouldn't just talk to Natalie is silly, and that she would ask Ryan to SEE WHAT THE FBI HAS TO SAY ABOUT HER FAKE SCAR is top silly. It all leads to some pretty good stuff, though, even if Natalie remains completely insufferable in the meantime.
While this goes on, Caleb is trying to prove to his father that Shelby's half-sister is real, so he hacks into her laptop. And while that goes on, Ryan gets back to Alex's room with his FBI file on Natalie, which causes both of these bad ideas to simultaneously implode. Shelby is in the room with Alex and Ryan, Natalie sees Caleb and tells Shelby he's on her laptop, and Natalie also spies the Ryan's file and freaks the hell out.
Wow, I had no idea how convoluted that scene was until wrote it out.
Shelby, meanwhile, is furious at Caleb, and forcibly removes the flash drive he brought to her laptop. She doesn't want to hear any of his talk about how he's actually helping her. Then, all this fun mayhem is interrupted by O'Connor, who summons them to an emergency meeting of the new agent review board. That's never a good thing, since it means someone is probably getting kicked out.
As they make their way to the meeting, Caleb tells Shelby about his dad's witch hunt on Shelby's sister, and Nimah taunts Simon — who really hasn't been having a good time of it lately. His recent decisions have left him out in the cold with many of the trainees.
The review board, it turns out, also reviews the fitness of current trainees — and Natalie's fake scar has become an issue. Objectively, this story line continues to sound dumb, but it builds to a big revelation: The fake scar was Natalie's way to beat the system and break away from an abusive ex, who now has her child because she enlisted. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, to be honest. But the scene gives Anabelle Acosta the chance to finally do some acting, and she sells the hell out of it.
There's another sudden pivot, too. Shaw leaves the proceedings, then Nimah decides Simon is the one who should be on trial, calling him a war criminal. She accuses him of being more than just a translator for the IDF; she says he fired on civilians and committed other atrocities. Simon breaks down and finally tells the truth — he became engulfed in terrible things because his platoon leader had gone rogue and he didn't realize it until he was in too deep. He followed the orders of a very bad man, spoiling his good intentions.
So far, Simon has been the best character on Quantico, tortured and flawed and complex in all the right ways. He's infinitely more interesting than all of the others. This extends to the present-day plot, too — he once again becomes a suspect after Shaw and O'Connor tell Alex that she can't just look into the other Quantico classmates. She also has to surveil Team Alex.
This brings us to present-day Simon, who is meeting with his bomb-maker pal in a park. Alex recognizes this pal, and when the FBI tries to move in on them, they evade capture. Did they know they were being watched? Or was it all dumb luck?
Continuing this trend of twists delivered through frustratingly terrible story lines, Alex's surveillance is blown when Nimah … just walks in on her. She tells the rest of Team Alex, and they pretty much turn on her because they're all on-the-record as suspects and she'll always be the hero and ugh this doesn't make a whole lot of sense, does it?
Then, the twist. Simon shows up and says he knows the truth: He designed the Grand Central disaster. All that suspicious stuff back at Quantico? That was him. He was trying to create a bomb scare that authorities could easily prevent, so the country would shake itself out of apathy and change the world for the better.
This is the problem with Simon. I understand his motivations, but his plan sucks. He's clearly written to be a smart character, someone who would understand that when the country was actually attacked by real terrorists, everything didn't get better. It got worse. That's the sort of trouble you run into when you make a show about something as touchy as domestic terrorism — reality can crash into your soapy fun-house. To Quantico's credit, Alex calls him out on his logic, but the episode still paints Simon as uncharacteristically naïve.
Anyway, Alex is back at square one again. Almost no one is on her side, and there's a ticking deadline left on her freedom.
Back at Quantico, it looks like the weird trial is about to take a positive turn. Ryan sticks up for both Natalie and Simon, but that might all be for naught — it comes out that Simon assaulted Ryan. Shaw tells him he's being cut loose. An unreported assault on a fellow trainee is grounds for immediate dismissal.
Meanwhile, Caleb video-chats with Shelby's sister, accusing her of some sort of racket before blackmailing her. He wants a cut, or else he'll tell Shelby what she's doing. She agrees. Caleb has Shelby listening in on the call, though. She heard the whole thing. Heartbroken, she cries.
Alex talks to Simon as he packs up, and they have a sad conversation about how he felt unseen and doesn't want to fade away. "You are not invisible," she tells him. "And yet, watch me disappear," he replies. It's a wonderfully heartbreaking scene, and it makes me think Simon might be a huge My Chemical Romance fan.
The two of them also share the episode's final moment in the present day, as Alex waits for Simon in front of his home. When he arrives, she asks him to believe in her the way she believed in him. He tells her to go away, and says they can "never go back to Quantico."
He never sets foot in the house. Instead, he gets kidnapped … by someone who looks a lot like Elias.