Quantico has done a lot of self-discovery this year. Thinking back on season one, when Alex Parrish was still a wannabe FBI agent with a troubled past facing terrorist accusations, the show feels like it has shredded through six season’s worth of plots in a mere season and a half. Like a teenager returning from summer break with a new haircut, two inches of height, and a sense of style, Quantico has finally figured out what it wants to be. But it is unclear whether that will be enough to save it.
“Kumonk” continues a string of episodes all pieced together to close out the second season. Our team, as they have been for weeks, continues in a bunker on a top-secret, presidentially endorsed mission to find and reveal the collaborators of a terrorist organization that’s trying to topple American democracy, by tracing the pings on a stolen piece of hardware. Got all that? It’s a lot. Usually, the team gets one ping and they investigate what (or who) it could be for. But this week, the lead is less clear. There are five different paths pointing in all different directions: Cleveland, Albany, El Paso, Fargo, and Detroit. The collaborators are planning a riot, but the team isn’t sure where it will happen.
Quantico, like many other ABC prime-time staples (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, etc.), has started adopting morals for its episodes. This week, the focus is a simple edict: Trust your instincts. It’s obvious from the opening scene, where Alex Parrish pushes her former teacher Owen into a pool with his hands zip-tied behind his back, and tells him to tread water for 20 minutes. The CIA values mind over body, she reminds him, but the FBI knows a strong body creates a strong mind.
By the time the collaborators are called to the bunker, Clayton has already given up hope. In a very outdated scene, Clayton wads up pieces of paper in his office, an old version of a creative process that doesn’t really hold up in the digital era. It’s purpose is to show that Clayton thinks he’s exhausted every option already. This is a confusing character flaw that the show keeps exploiting. Clayton is a smart politician (and the Harvard-trained son of a president), but he’s not a federal agent. He may think he’s explored every option, but he doesn’t actually know anything about that kind of investigation.
Rightfully, Alex checks him and says that she’ll give it a go on her own. As a team, they think of reasons a city could erupt into riots. Detroit is on edge because of a Black Lives Matter case. Fargo could reach a tipping point because of the Standing Rock protesters. But after following their instincts, the team decides Cleveland is the city that’s truly in the pressure cooker.
In Cleveland, a jury is deliberating a case. A homeless man broke into a house and sexually assaulted the woman who lived there. When her husband came home, the intruder shot him. But the gun he used is unregistered, and under some law that President Haas has endorsed, he can be convicted on criminal charges. The team believes that the collaborators are trying to pressure the jury to convict this man, so that riots will break out among pro-gun activists in the city. So Shelby, Alex, and Reina (pretending to be Nimah) head to Cleveland to investigate … only to come face to face with Miranda, who is none too happy to see them there.
They interview jurors, get nowhere, and eventually settle on the judge as the one who has been corrupted. As a team, they convince Miranda to give them a chance, and they interrogate the judge. He admits to being corrupted, to accepting a wire transfer of a large sum of money, and to being blackmailed. But they are too late. The jury has already made a decision: The man is guilty, just as the collaborators had hoped.
Meanwhile, Clayton is at the White House, talking to his mother about maybe shutting down this group, when Caleb appears wearing a sombrero. They have some good old-fashioned sibling rivalry that results in a few punches, and Clayton heading to the Hill to call in an old friend and get a meeting with the Speaker of the House, who tells him that America is a deeply divided country, and he believes this has happened because of the two-party system. Despite being a Republican, he espouses some pretty liberal ideas. “We have the same issues, we just call them different names now,” he says. We had slavery, now we have mass incarceration. We had robber barons. Now we have the one percent.
And then the Speaker reaches the pinnacle of his monologue. He doesn’t believe the people should have a say in everything, but that they should trust their elected officials to make decisions for them. He is nothing but a man in the second-highest seat of power trying to get a little bit more power for himself. In the episode’s biggest twist, Clayton uses this information to scoop the Speaker’s plan, and gets his mother to Cleveland to give a unifying speech before the riots begin. It’s pretty unrealistic to believe that a president giving a speech could stop a riot, but we’ll let this slide.
“Kumonk” has two other fairly important side plots working behind the scenes. The first is Sebastian’s return. He breaks into Clayton’s office in a black burka and is fought by Owen, who eventually wins, reveals his identity, and demands answers. Turns out, Sebastian is also working on the same case — but on his own because of his ex-wife. More importantly, he has the names of the rest of the collaborators that the team needs. How exactly did one man track down the same amount of collaborators as a team of six did in the same amount of time? I don’t know. The show ignores it.
Sebastian’s work is at least a little believable. What’s not believable is Ryan’s new sex-buddy source, the life and arts reporter Sasha, who behaves like she also has years of spy experience. She plants a bug on Ryan. She is investigating his case on her own, as if a party reporter with such a dynamite lead wouldn’t immediately be given help or reassigned. At one point, she calls a known collaborator moonlighting as a fact-checker, and asks him some fishing questions. He catches on, of course. The episode ends with her getting into her car and it going up in flames. Despite being kind of sad — it was cute to watch Ryan with a new girl, after all — this seems like the only believable portion of Sasha’s plot.
With Sasha gone and the collaborators all identified, it seems like Quantico may be preparing for a wrap up. There are still several episodes left, but ABC hasn’t announced whether the show will be returning for a third season, yet. Early in this second season, I would have understood the delay to pull the trigger, but lately, the show has noticeably improved. It is still messy? Sure, but it’s riveting, nonetheless.