Quantico Recap: Kobayashi Maru Redux


Season 1 Episode 16
Editor’s Rating *****
Marcia Cross as Senator Haas. Photo: Philippe Bosse/ABC

Watching Quantico is all about having fun. That’s a weird thing to say about a show that concerns itself with terrorism set partially in a city that’s haunted by memories of an actual terror attack, but the utter absurdity of Quantico’s plotting does a lot to offset the potential discomfort of its subject matter. It isn’t really our New York City, just one like it where the FBI is full of hot, horny young people who would be really bad at catching terrorists if it weren’t for Priyanka Chopra, whom they stubbornly insist on never trusting for anything at all.

Quantico isn’t really concerned with being “realistic,” but in making interesting choices that result in steamier, more complicated relationships. For the most part, this is fine; every show has its own internal logic. But there are times when this is really frustrating, because one of Quantico’s rules seems to be “Alex is always right and the best at everything, and no one ever comes to close to being as right and good as she is.”

For the first half of season one, this was okay. Maybe a little annoying in the parts set in Quantico, but in the present, she was on the run and had to prove she was still the on-point agent she had established herself as being.

But now that Quantico’s present-day story line has Alex back in the FBI fold, the show finds itself making excuses for her. Everyone agrees to do things her way even though it makes no sense for a reasonable person to do what she wants them to do. Like, I’m really having a hard time with the fact that Hannah Wyland, this by-the-book, effective, high-ranking FBI agent — even a Quantico FBI agent, which is another thing entirely — would essentially agree with Alex and capitulate to a terrorist’s demands.

The entire freaking FBI is built for crap like sussing out anonymous terrorists. (And yeah, I know there’s an inside man, but come on.) Alex does not deserve the breaks she’s getting, especially from someone like Hannah, who also talks to the Voice and agrees to let Alex plant an envelope in a Columbia University auditorium where Senator Haas is going to speak. An envelope that just so happens to hold a chip that someone uses to take out the power — ostensibly for an assassination attempt.

Not only does Wyland agree to keep the fact that Alex is actively working for a terrorist (even under duress) a secret, but she even takes a fall for her, firing her weapon in the air to incite panic and spur the security detail to get the senator to safety before an actual assassin could get her. This strikes me as very dumb — wouldn’t they just get Haas to safety right away if every device just blacked out? — but it’s consistent with Quantico’s need to have everyone do inane things for Alex’s sake. Anyway, this gets Hannah arrested and removed from command, so now Alex is in charge of things.

Thankfully, in an interesting twist that’s been slowly spooling out over these last few episodes, Ryan is wildly suspicious of Alex. He sees her plant the envelope, knows she’s up to something, and swears to catch her. That right there? Alex’s former lover turning into her most dogged pursuer? That is delicious.

Ironically, though, this week’s flashback story is all about challenging Alex’s prowess and taking her to task for it. Following the hostage crisis, Liam knows that the NATs need to confront and process their current emotional state, so he has them run an exercise in which they pursue and apprehend a suspect rather easily. And then he has them do the same sort of thing, but on a set designed to look like an airplane, two at a time. And it’s much, much harder. Impossible, even.

Part of the reason why is the myriad issues the NATs are dealing with: Shelby insists she’s totally fine with discovering her parents faked their deaths and are still alive, throwing herself at Caleb for sex whenever possible and aggressively cheerleading her fellow NATs; Alex is awfully pushy toward Drew, stressing that he hasn’t properly dealt with the fact that he killed a dude; and Raina and Nimah are worried about being investigated for going undercover off-book with Charlie’s terrorist friends for Miranda.

The other part of the reason the NATs are having such a hard time is that Liam’s exercise is a Kobayashi Maru, a no-win scenario that they’re supposed to crack. And crack they do.

Other Notes:

  • Yeah, you’ve heard this before. “Clue” isn’t the first time Quantico has had the NATs take on a no-win scenario. They did something similar way back in episode two, which I called a Kobayashi Maru in my recap. You’ll notice that today’s exercise is actually referred to as a Kobayashi Maru by two separate characters, and while it’s a famous enough Star Trek reference for Quantico’s writers to come up with on their own, I’m still taking credit. I have all this damn nerd trivia in my head, and I want to believe I can use it to, like, make a difference, man.
  • Caleb and Will, cult bros. So, Will’s creepy interest in Caleb? Totally genuine and not sinister. He thinks Caleb infiltrating a cult is really cool and wants to help, since the new church leader is someone who knows and would recognize Caleb. We also find out why Caleb is doing this: He wants to rescue his friend who wanted out but has since disappeared. (Also, his dad is in on it?) Oh, and Will’s creepy photos in his sock drawer? He just studies his classmates and their mannerisms because he’s really bad at social interactions. That’s a totally chill way to understand your peers instead of … maybe, I don’t know, emailing them?
  • From whence will our closing monologues come now? Miranda, deciding to entirely own up to the op she ran with Raina, is forced to take some time away from Quantico. To be honest, this is probably the healthy thing for her to do, seeing as she shot her own son. This also brings up a fun new wrinkle: To fill the vacancy they have in counselors, Liam reaches out to someone who’s already familiar with this set of NATs. And it’s Ryan. OH BOY.
  • One last task. In the episode’s final moments, the Voice tells Alex that she only has one more job to do, which perplexes her and Simon because they thought Hannah foiled the assassination attempt. But Simon surmises that the whole point was to make them think there would be an assassination attempt, so they could do something like, say, lift something from the labs under the auditorium? So, that’s a lead. (And the episode’s titular clue.)
  • Conspiracy corner. I don’t know if Quantico is playing a game where we’re all supposed to know the Voice is Caleb and just enjoy the ride as everyone figures it out, or if that’s just another red herring. Anyway, the idea that the assassination attempt was naught but a smokescreen kind of supports the Caleb theory, since he would never actually kill his own mom. Either way, I’m not actually all that invested in figuring out the mastermind’s identity. I’d much rather just go along for the ride.

Quantico Recap: Kobayashi Maru Redux