Since the very beginning, Quantico has been plagued by what's possibly the weirdest tonal whiplash in all of television. The juxtaposition of the show's twin plotlines is simultaneously its strongest asset and biggest hindrance. Sometimes, this makes the show's twists and turns hit harder, but when it goes wrong, the whole affair seems unintentionally hilarious.
This mid-season finale isn't so much a showcase of the show's balancing act as it's a case study about what happens when Quantico loses its footing. Like many episodes before it, "Inside" crams a tense terrorism plot between incredibly soapy drama — only this time, everything is extra tense and extra soapy.
Let's start with the FBI High School bit, because it is so weird. Basically, everyone is gearing up to go home for the holidays, but before they do, Shaw introduces them to the FBI's version of cold cases, which they call "Pending Inactive." They're each given a Pending Inactive case that they're supposed to pore over and find a lead, so they can be haunted by the specter of bad guys that escaped whilst drinking egg nog with their loved ones or something.
Except not everyone goes home. Alex, Shelby, Nimah, and Nathalie decide to stick around because home sucks, and Alex is like OMG YOU KNOW WHAT WE SHOULD DO and everyone else is like WINE NETFLIX AND CHILL and then Alex goes LET'S DO SCHOOLWORK, because she is the worst.
Since her friends are good sports, they decide to drink dranks and study their Pending Inactive files with her, but only until they get tipsy enough to play fun sleepover games like calling Ryan's phone from a blocked number — and when they do, they hear another woman's voice.
Because she is a character on a TV show, Alex immediately assumes this means Ryan has already moved on, that minx. Shelby tries to bring her back down to Earth, suggesting that maybe it's Ryan's sister, and Alex says that it "did not sound like a sister." What does that even mean?
Anyway, Caleb crashes the sleepover in a tux, asking Shelby to come to his parents' very important government holiday party because he can't stand being there alone, and Shelby says yes — as long as the other ladies can come too. (Except Nimah, who left on a quest for more booze and ends up having a heart-to-heart with Shaw about how she was mistaken about Charlie. I like this subplot, but this is all territory we've been over.)
The Haas party is where the bulk of the drama takes place — mostly following dual plotlines involving Alex and the Haas family. Let's start with Alex. She quickly meets Hannah Wyland, a woman who has it all: dope job in the Joint Terrorism Task Force, a dreamy hunk of a man who gave her a bomb-ass engagement ring (even though he's late to this particular soiree), and pretty much has Alex's version of an ideal life. When her beau finally shows up, though, we find out that oh wow it's Ryan. Wasn't this guy supposed to be in LA?
When Alex confronts him, he says Hannah is actually his ex, but his current assignment involves them both working undercover as a married couple. Alex is upset about how quickly he left, and he points out that she didn't really ask him to stay, and then they make out, so take a drink or something.
Later at the party, Wyland approaches Alex and dresses her down, telling her how Ryan is obsessed with her and that she needs to give Ryan a chance to put himself back together after she broke his heart. It's super mean-spirited and weird but also genuine? I don't know.
Let's put a pin in that for now. It's time to catch up with the wildly dysfunctional Haas family! Caleb is surprised to see his father, Agent Clayton, at the party, but it turns out Clayton believes that Caleb's mom, Senator Claire Haas, might patch things up and get back together with him. This, tragically, isn't as great as it's cracked up to be — Caleb finds out his mother is on the shortlist of vice-presidential candidates, and a demonstration of "family values" would go a long way towards swaying voters. So, like a lot of things in Caleb's life, this is a sham.
Caleb reacts to this in a volatile way, dragging his parents into the kitchen (with Shelby there!), where he makes his mom fess up. Shelby is appalled at his decision, asking why he would do such a thing — and Caleb tells her how living in a house where everyone lies to each other is the worst and he can't stand it.
What a mess.
During all of this, in the Futuresex/Lovesounds time line, the hunt for the second bomb is on. Elias shows up at the FBI field office wounded, making up a sob story about how someone slipped his tail and tried pushing him into traffic — essentially pushing them to check up on Simon, the only person without an FBI agent keeping an eye on him. They find his apartment empty, but it seems like he was preparing to bomb another location: The hotel where the Democratic National Convention is about to go down. Wait, that's where Senator Claire Haas is going!
They find Simon tied to a couch with a dead man's trigger strapped to his hand. He's scared, knows he's being framed, and Elias is super aggressive about laying out all the reasons he looks like the Actual Bomber. Alex, however, believes Simon is being framed — but it almost doesn't matter. Simon is in such an emotionally fragile state, he goes on a crazy monologue about pressing one button and making all the pain going away. (Tate Ellington continues to kill it in this scene, selling the moment with a blend of anguish, exhaustion, and desperation.)
He looks like he's actually going to let go of the trigger and detonate the bomb — except Elias really doesn't want to die and confesses to framing Simon. A third party actually asked him to bring the detonator to the hotel. (Another thing: Maybe Elias is written as a coward and a creep and Rick Cosnett oversells it, but the character is just unbearable and makes me long for Cosnett's Eddie Thawne days on The Flash.)
Now that they know there's a bomb in the building, O'Connor and Shaw evacuate the hotel while Simon tries to help them figure out where a bomb could be hidden. In a hilarious display of just how committed Quantico is to its plot points, that copper wire bit that Alex has been dragging around all season leads Simon to deduce that the bomb is hidden in the building's boiler. At the same time, Elias decides he'd rather die than be taken in, so he throws himself out the window.
And then, everything starts to converge.
The bomb is successfully defused, while a number of the DNC evacuees arrive at the FBI field office, where Claire Haas confronts Shelby — not about Shelby's affair with Clayton, but about destroying her son, for which she will make it her business to "destroy her too." Damn.
Back in the past, a few loose ends are tied up: As Alex leaves the Haas party in tears, O'Connor offers her a ride home. He tells her why they assigned the trainees the Pending Inactive files (because you can have all the best and still lose) and she tells him how she's not ready to go back home, since that would be like admitting defeat. She asks him to take her somewhere, and he objects, reminding her that he's her teacher. She says "I know. Teach me something."
Dear Lord, I don't even know what to say about this one and we're not even going to see how it plays out until next year.
Meanwhile, Shelby and Caleb break up. She tells him that he's too willing to blow things up to show people what he perceives as the truth, when he really should be helping them find it for themselves. I like this particular character flaw — it's a very concrete problem that arises from what we know about Caleb's particular insecurities, and it believably informs his current actions, which very strongly suggest he's the bomber. The next time we see him, he's in his Mark Raymond alias, renting a safety-deposit box very close to Grand Central Station.
We pull away for a brief aside to Shaw, who finds Charlie barely conscious and bloody on her front porch. She apologizes to him, calling an ambulance.
Finally, in the present day once more, Simon gets the okay to let go of the trigger — and another bomb goes off. It was inside the FBI field office.
See you in 2016.