It only makes sense: If your job is to save the world, you’re going to fail eventually. Entropy hurdles the world toward disaster. Evil will always exist. No matter how many touch screens or hidden microphones you have in your arsenal, it’s impossible to win every fight every single time. In this week’s episode, the tide begins to turn on our heroes.
For the second half of Quantico’s second season, the team has been on a mission to find all of the collaborators in a grand scheme to overturn the government and cause all kinds of chaos in pursuit of some goal that is still kind of unclear. After a windfall of information, the team now knows all eight of the collaborators, but they still aren’t exactly sure how to defeat the group. To beat this team, they need to turn at least one member so that they can stop their plan and bring them to legal justice.
“Mhorder” is a straightforward episode. The goal is to turn a single collaborator. There are no dueling missions and no complicated double agency. The good guys are our guys, and the bad guys are well-defined. This could have given Quantico a little bit of range to heighten the emotional ties between characters, but instead it somehow manages to strip the mission of suspense and heart.
To divide the collaborators, the team decides, they need them all in one spot. Caleb suggests an engagement party be thrown for Clay and Maxine. As the president’s son, the bad guys will have to come, and this will throw a wrench into the burgeoning relationship of sexy eyes being thrown back and forth between Shelby and Clay. Plus, as Caleb notes: “Everyone loves a party. Even racist, fascists, trying to overthrow the government.”
Before the party begins, Clay admits that he “think[s] the collaborators know about us,” but regardless, the mission moves forward. Maxine is asked to yet again to play the accommodating fiancée, and flower arrangements are built to hide microphones. “It’s just a party,” Caleb says, “and it just might change the free world.”
Like most party missions (and there are an unbelievable amount of them on this show), our heroes are dressed to the nines and each given a collaborator to target. Shelby leans on her stock experience and fails. The president has a conversation with the Speaker of the House. Alex Parrish dances with her target, who asks her to join his team of evil and be the hero they need to get the public on their side. Reina’s target realizes quickly that she’s not actually Nimah.
Basically, everyone is useless at the party. The only person whose tactic seems to work is Ryan Booth. He is presumably shaken up after watching his girlfriend/asset blown up in front of him, but Booth shows so remarkably little emotion in this episode. Instead of seeming quiet and beat up, he just continues to be stoic and a little boring. Anyway, Booth gets his asset to talk to him by presumably betraying his team.
The whole party is surface-level political. After a few insightful, smart episodes that wrestled with the complexity of the political arena and the gray zone of morality, Quantico gets a little too comfortable with itself this week. Instead of investigating the complicated nuance of good versus evil, “Mhorder” seems to define evil in stark terms, which leads to moments that are unnecessarily political for very little viewer gain. We get lines like, “Let’s not start another civil war,” and a rhyming toast by Caleb to roast the Speaker of the House. But we don’t get enough tension, fear, or passion behind any of it. Using the word fascist six times in 20 minutes doesn’t provide nuance so much as it shuts out an entire party of potential viewers.
The problem with this episode isn’t political, though — it’s pacing. “Mhorder” drags through its middle and throws in unnecessary stories to try to sustain a mission that should be interesting enough to sustain itself. One of these stories is a presumed love between Shelby and Clayton. Shelby has already had relationships with his brother and father. Now, despite very little build up, the show just throws her into an inappropriate crush on Clayton. This is noticed and called out by Caleb, but the tension is supposed to come from Clayton.
Presumably, Clay loves his fiancée and wants to be with her, but believes that Shelby is just some siren there to tempt him. This trope — that you marry the girl you’re with even when you are desperately attracted to someone else — isn’t just unrealistic. It’s boring. At least Maxine isn’t an idiot. And by the end of the episode, Clayton has asked Shelby to make him hate her again so they can continue working together, and he can (theoretically) remain faithful. She does this by faking a one-night stand with Caleb.
Meanwhile, Ryan is sent alone to meet up with his source (which is an insane thing to do). Soon enough, he’s caught on video by a Washington Post reporter who received a tip that the CIA are running a clandestine operation on American soil. This is the long-coming twist of the night: that Ryan’s success is actually a failure. The next morning, news broadcasts report that their group exists and that its existence could be grounds to impeach the president — which is exactly what the collaborators wanted all along.
The episode ends with what seems like another twist: Alex Parrish will join the collaborators as an undercover agent, presumably to take them down from the inside. We see her handing off a laptop with all of the files from Clay’s computer and agreeing to join her source at a meeting with all of the collaborators. “There’s nothing we can do,” Clay says as the episode comes to a close. “We lost.”
A true loss for the team and for Alex Parrish could have given the show some real tension and propelled “Mhorder” toward great, emotional territory. But here, Quantico is almost too hesitant with its loss. It gives Alex an out to fix everything, and the stakes just really don’t seem high enough. Maybe moving Alex to the dark side will give Quantico some new controversy, but after a string of good episodes, this week the show lost a lot of its momentum, and it might be hard to gain back.