Blair Underwood and Priyanka Chopra.
Photo: Giovanni Rufino/ABC
Since the beginning, Quantico has existed in a strange reality where terror attacks are as common as thunderstorms. Because of that, the series has largely avoided engaging the real-world poltical events of the past two years. While other shows ran presidential debates between their characters, Quantico just chopped off the president’s head and put a woman in charge. The show’s whole deal is so far from realism that there wasn’t any reason to even try to compare the world of Alex Parrish and her friends to the one we actually live in.
But in the past few weeks, that approach has changed. In this week’s episode, there’s no denying that Quantico is trying to speak directly today’s political environment. Tonight’s episode takes a step back from the imminent threat our heroes seem to be under to focus on one specific issue: a Muslim registry being considered in Congress.
Last week’s episode opened with the staging of an apartment that we found out belonged to Nimah’s twin sister, Raina. This week, we find out that Raina is being framed for a bombing that happened at a shopping mall in Ohio, a small-scale terror attack that has inspired a bill creating a Muslim registry, while Clayton mobilizes the team to try and stop the bill from passing. Does this cross an ethical line? Almost definitely. Not only is this supposedly covert-operations team now interfering with the democratic process, we are also supposed to believe that their leader, who is also the son of the president, doesn’t have a dog in this fight. This is glossed over with one line from Ryan (“9/11, Iraq: It’s hard to fight against fear when fear is fresh.”), and we move forward.
The team is divided. On one side, Alex and Owen go to find the man who set Raina up to be framed. They find him at a weird shack, strap him to a chair, and are just starting to ask him questions when they’re bombarded by gunfire. All they learn before their man is shot right between the eyes is that he was supposed to make sure Raina’s body was found at the bombing site, and he failed. This is the only physical action we get the whole episode, and it’s brief. During the gunfight, Owen freezes up and has to be saved by Alex. Their story kind of sputters out after that, and it just ends with them playing pool in a bar.
The meat of the episode takes place inside the Capitol building, where our second team is trying to convince some swing voters to vote against the bill. They confirm their targets with one of Clayton’s friends, Felix, who works for the Speaker of the House.
Clayton looked like an idiot last week, but now he’s in his zone. He prepares the opposition research, sends the team into the Capitol, and gets them as riled up about politics as he can. “The fate of three-and-a-half million Americans rests on us.” he says. “The only people who can keep them from losing their civil liberties are standing in this room right now.”
The ten minutes we spend in the Capitol are littered with buzzy lines meant to prompt connections to today’s political debates. “Elites like you don’t understand the concerns of everyday Americans,” Felix says. “What Black Mirror episode did we wake up in?” Caleb asks. “How could any American support the Muslim registry?” “Those people are a part of this country,” Shelby says. The kicker is great: The real America, Nimah scoffs while watching Shelby and Caleb fight, is “two blonde people arguing the merits of my freedom instead of letting me have it.”
Despite all the quips, though, the team loses. Felix sent them to the wrong congressmen, so Clayton is escorted from the building. And Shelby and Nimah watch the vote pass.
There’s a side plot about Ryan confronting Sasha about the possibility of her maybe being a Russian spy. Turns out, she’s not, and by the end of the episode they are having sex, even though Ryan is still using her as an asset and stealing information from her computer.
What Shelby and Clayton realize simultaneously is that this is all setup to get to Clayton’s mother, the president of the United States. When she vetoes the bill, she’ll get blamed for any terrorist attack the AIC pulls off in the future. And, Caleb reminds us, the Senate hasn’t confirmed the president’s vice-president pick, which means if the prez is ousted, the new president would be the Speaker of the House, a man they’ve already identified as a member of the terrorist organization they’re fighting against.
The episode ends with some self-reflection. Clayton admits he tried to convince his mother to let the bill stand, despite his moral opposition to it. Shelby calls Caleb, Felix calls Clayton, and Nimah bravely volunteers to go into custody in Raina’s place until they sort out the terrorism event. At the end of the episode, everything except Nimah’s position is exactly as we left it. In a way, the episode seems a world apart from from the rest of the series, but it’s the most relevant that Quantico’s ever been.