On television, death can seem particularly meaningless. Characters get shot in the head in the middle of an episode, and the plot moves on without them. Trauma as a lingering emotion rarely exists, and death isn’t always taken particularly seriously. On Quantico, death is always a possibility. The job of any covert agent requires a suspension of self, the ability to push aside the fear of what could happen in order to get the job done.
But as Quantico begins to hit its stride — and truly it seems to be — the show is grappling more and more with the emotions that make us all human, not just the ones that drive the story forward. A great story in any format is one that’s relatable, one that is never just about one thing. Until very recently, Quantico confused complexity of emotion with complexity of plot. But in this episode, Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra) and her friends begin to really confront what death means.
This confrontation is happening because the show’s main story seems to be shifting. Last week’s episode closed with León’s death being framed as a suicide, and “MKTOPAZ” opens with another staging. Operatives wearing surgeon’s masks open a blueprint, dust a desk with powder, turn on a computer and see websites that appear to support extremist Islamic terrorism. This is all a setup for a growing danger, one that León warned about a few episodes back and that could have some real emotional heft to it: Alex and her friends are being hunted.
But almost immediately, that fear is put on the back burner and we return to our friends in the bunker who are trying to hunt down the eight people responsible for terrorist attacks. This week’s episode has two star players: the recently added teammate Harry and Clayton Haas.
“MKTOPAZ” spins around Clayton’s relationship with his fiancée Max, who doesn’t know about his new job, who he is now, or his lies to continue leading this covert task force. His first secret of the episode happens when (while having sexy time in bed) he gets a text from Nimah saying that the cache has been accessed again.
This time, though, they’re ahead of the terrorist attack. They know that Rebecca Sherman, a New York socialite, accessed the cache from her phone, and that she looked at vulnerabilities in U.S. passport control. For the first time, the team is working backward — the event hasn’t happened yet and they know the suspect. There’s some argument over whether or not Rebecca is truly a member of the eight suspects, but eventually the team decides to investigate her anyway, and they need Clayton to do this. He and his fiancée will get a consult from Rebecca about planning their wedding, and while he’s there, Clayton will access her computer to get something important that isn’t really ever clarified.
This, of course, is hardly seamless because Clayton is not a spy. He does a frankly terrible job of managing his fiancée, who ends up storming out. This mission, though, is shot in an interesting way, which really heightens the pressure on the team to get into Rebecca’s computer. The scene is shot in teams. Ryan is with Sasha, who is on the phone with Rebecca. Rebecca is in the room with Alex, who is texting her side of the conversation to Clayton. And Clayton is fighting with Max over his involvement in this whole thing, all while trying to hack Rebecca’s computer. By switching between conversations and viewpoints, the camera creates a ton of visual tension that serves the episode well … until it abruptly ends when the mission goes awry and Clayton gets caught by Rebecca. Since most things play in the team’s favor, she needs their help. She is in danger from the terrorists who she accidentally put into contact with each other.
This whole mission is a mess. They set up Rebecca to meet with a man named Rod in Central Park. They are standing in the middle of an open space, having a conversation, and though the team is scattered around her, there doesn’t seem to be much they can do to secure the area. Soon, the signal goes out on their audio. In those moments while they can’t talk to each other, Rod and Rebecca are both shot in the back. (Side note: There’s a slightly odd choice here, perhaps a plot hole if it isn’t foreshadowing. When they hear the screech from the audio going out, every character grabs at their ear. This would presumably reveal them to all be intelligence officers instead of just normal people, and then they all stand around calmly while civilians flee the area. All that from a team that is supposed to be completely unknown by anyone in the country?)
This whole mission was a mistake, and they can’t afford to make another. After a heartfelt good-bye to Rebecca as she dies, the team has to leave the park even though Harry hasn’t come back yet.
Harry’s return this episode is full of tension. First, he’s oppositional in the planning meeting. Then he threatens to leave, and as the mission wraps up, he’s on the jogging path looking for the shooter when he finds a shell casing and then sees a man carrying a guitar case walking slowly while everyone else runs. He follows him up a hill, turns him around and … it’s Sebastian, a return character from Harry’s days at the farm, and a character whose allegiance isn’t well-known.
As is becoming a trend, the episode ends with many heart-to-hearts. Nimah (correctly) accuses Ryan of leaking information to a journalist and advises him to get dirt on her. Ryan meets with the journalist, kisses her, and steals information off of her computer. Shelby first has a conversation with Clayton about his relationship with his fiancée and then, without his permission, goes to smooth things over with the fiancée. Meanwhile, Owen is preparing to have a confrontation with his daughter.
And then things get dark. Suddenly, we realize that the setup we saw at the beginning of the episode wasn’t more evidence on León — it was a setup to capture Nimah’s twin sister. In the final heart-to-heart of the episode, Harry calls Alex on the phone to tell her that he can’t join the team after all. “I don’t wanna die for this,” Harry says, but as the camera pans around, we see Sebastian with a gun pointed at Harry’s head. The emotion in his voice isn’t sadness. It’s fear.