Let's take a moment to talk about Quantico's music choices. Usually, they're hilarious. A typical episode is bookended by scenes set in the future timeline — that's the carrot on the stick, where the stakes are highest and relationships between characters are wonderfully murky. Quantico's past timeline, however, is where the show's soapy heart lies. That's where it earns the "Grey's Anatomy, but for feds" reputation, and the "Sexy FBI High School" jokes I'm so fond of making.
These two halves rarely come together in an elegant way, but that lack of elegance is part of the show's charm. It's just how Quantico works. However, the whiplash between the two is never more egregious than it is in that first sudden transition from Future Doom and Gloom to Quantico Sexytimes, usually because the shift is accompanied by the poppiest of pop songs.
"Clear" is bookended by two Death Cab for Cutie songs off the record Kintsugi, which was released one year ago this month. The first, "The Ghosts of Beverly Drive," is bright and poppy as any other transitional song used in the beginning of a Quantico episode. It's played after the cold open, which picks up immediately after last week's cliffhanger: with Natalie Vasquez wired to blow, in front of Alex, who just got off the phone with the voice of the mastermind behind this season's terrorist attacks.
Then the Death Cab song plays and we're taken back to Sexy FBI High. It's very disconcerting.
But unlike a lot of the show's musical choices, which are distractingly strange, Death Cab for Cutie kind of works here. "Ghosts of Beverly Drive" is an examination of a relationship that doesn't adhere to fuzzy notions of early romance because the people wrapped in it aren't starry-eyed teens, they're adults with few firsts left to offer each other.
It's a good metaphor for Quantico: holding the ridiculousness of its training-camp plots up on a pedestal, while reluctantly admitting they don't pair so well with its future timeline.
This week's training exercise is the first that will be undertaken with the newly integrated class of slightly more experienced NATs, and it's all about secrets. Although these secrets were previously considered a liability, now it's time to examine their value: Secrets are currency, and getting them out of people requires careful reads and exploited weaknesses.
After a dry run profiling their new classmates and writing up thorough reports, the NATs take it to the field: A bar frequented by the cronies of corrupt politicians, whom the FBI would actively like to cultivate as sources. They're all given one business card with a number on it; their goal is to turn one person and get them to call the number that night, while Shaw and O'Connor watch them over dinner. (The same dinner where Shaw will also intuit that she might know something is up between O'Connor and Alex.)
The NATs have varying success: Drew, the New Attractive Guy Who Might Make Out With Alex One Day, think his fame as a former football player will help him with one bar patron, but it turns out the guy hates him, giving Alex a window to swoop in and throw him under the bus. The target takes the bait, then offers to buy her a drink.
Iris, meanwhile, flirts with a busboy who quickly reveals he knows she's a fed, but things work out for her in the end since he might need help with customs in the future. Shelby and Caleb can't seem to agree on an effective approach (and Iris enjoys screwing with their relationship). Will — whom I have dubbed Numbers, because he can't utter a sentence that doesn't have a statistic — totally misses the fact that a bartender is gay.
But it's all for naught: The two successful NATs, Alex and Iris, have actually been made. Their targets were also agents, and it was their job to turn them and get their cards.
You might recognize this sort of twist from just about every previous episode of Quantico. It's a portion I'm going to call the Miranda, as in HERE COMES THE MIRANDA, because you can pretty much set your watch by it. See, the actual lesson Shaw is teaching the NATs isn't about the currency of secrets. It's about the fact that everyone they approach is also working out a way to approach them; these cat-and-mouse games are fluid in the world of secret government spook work.
Also fluid: Alex's willingness to play by the rules in the future. Now that Natalie's life is danger, they've both chosen to play along. They lift the security details of every presidential candidate from a secure server at the FBI's New York headquarters and send it to the Mastermind, only with a worm attached that will lead them to wherever the Mastermind is calling.
They trace the call back to what looks like a train yard, and find the computer where the Mastermind opened their file, except when Alex steps outside of the structure to take a call from the Mastermind, the whole thing blows up, killing Natalie. (And it looks like this is really good-bye for Ms. Vasquez for the time being, as it's revealed that her ex-husband is suing her for custody of their daughter and Shaw grants her a leave of absence.)
Panicked, distraught, and completely beside herself, Alex runs straight for Ryan's apartment, asking for help, to be committed somewhere — only she doesn't let him make the call, because the Mastermind can see her, and is sending photos of them to her phone. So instead, she does what she's been doing since the very first episode: She runs.
- Shelby and Caleb's weird Nancy Drew subplot. It turns out that Shelby's fake half-sister was also fake kidnapped. At Caleb's suggestion, Shelby pays her captors a $5 million ransom so they can employ someone to follow the money, only to find out they've been had yet again. Now, Shelby wants revenge, and I kind of want to see what that looks like? Also, here's a good place to note that Caleb has not shown up in the future timeline yet. I think that's because he's presumed dead, but come on. We know he's out there.
- I miss Simon. He wasn't around this week and that's lame. Next week's promo promises to fix that, though!
- More Death Cab. I mentioned "Clear" was bookended by Death Cab songs; the one that plays over the episode's closing montage is "Black Sun," which is very much a breakup song and apropos for Natalie's farewell, Alex's breakdown, Shaw's lecture about vulnerability, and the brief conversation between Alex and O'Connor about New Year's, which they agree was a mistake never to be brought up again.
- Socks. Will has pictures of every NAT taped to the bottom of his dresser, hidden under his socks. He crosses Nimah's photo out with a marker at the end of the episode. I probably don't need to make a joke here.
- Not-So-Secret Twins update. Nimah discovers Raina's communications with what looks like the terrorist cell they'll get involved with in the future. She's not very happy about it.