The only thing hotter right now than political commentary is a good dystopia, but Quantico is struggling to decide which it wants to be. At times, the show has almost felt like a document of American anxiety amid a troubling political moment. The show then shifted into a dystopian parallel universe, where the worst things do happen and the bad guys always win. This week, “Rainbow” opens with something closer to realism.
In the previous episode, President Haas resigned, leaving Quantico with former Speaker of the House Henry Roark in the Oval Office. In the opening scene, we watch Roark sign executive orders. “More executive orders than any other president in history,” the voice-over of a journalist tells us before revealing that Roark’s first executive order is the so-called “Muslim registry.”
“What we need to do is clear out a corrupt government,” Roark says, using words that sound an awful lot like “drain the swamp” rhetoric. The scene is a heavy-handed allusion to our actual president’s stances, as keywords like “border security” and “Muslim ban” ring in viewer’s ears. Unlike reality, however, the dystopian world of Quantico is plotted by a highly dangerous team of Collaborators set on destroying America so they can achieve their goal of … well, that part hasn’t really been explained. The Collaborators have no depth. They are evil, point blank. This is an obvious weakness, and one that does not serve the show well as Alex Parrish transitions to the Collaborators’ side as an undercover agent. And with that, we reach the twist to Roark’s interview at the beginning of the episode: Alex is there, standing off-camera, ready to greet him when he’s done.
He promises her that things will change, and that she’s not to leave town. Meanwhile, back at the Farm, everyone is having a hissy fit. Ryan, Shelby, and Reina are all stuck there because they’re wanted by the FBI, and Owen is upset because the cache has disappeared. Alex, still the only person capable of doing anything on this show, has to be called off of her undercover mission to help everyone else do their jobs. She shows up at the Farm in a hat and a trench coat, then calls in her backup: Miranda Shaw, the head of the FBI. It seems like an unnecessary risk for them to talk face-to-face, so our team changes once again. We add Miranda and Will, a nerdy coder/special agent from earlier in the season. Together, they all work in the bunker until Reina and Ryan can get past their grudges and join them.
Once everyone is moving forward, the pieces of the puzzle start to click together. Will finds that the avionics technology will be used to override plane technology, potentially causing another terrorist attack. To use the technology, though, someone would have to be aboard the plane with a very specific line of code. Once Shelby notices that one of the collaborator’s apps has been recently updated, we’re well on our way to an answer.
The Collaborators, our team realizes, are planning to use remote phones to access the app, gain control of flights in the air, and create a terrorist attack while framing Muslims already on the registry who are flying on these planes. This is a good premise for the episode, and one with a tight timeline: The team has to find the right planes, passengers, and phones, then hijack the Collaborators’ mission before they can cause a mass attack.
Somehow, though, the drama of a potential plane hijacking takes up very little time in the episode. As soon as the team discovers the plan, wheels begin to spin at a dizzying rate. Reina sacrifices herself to the FBI, allowing Shelby to visit a very drunk and recently dumped Clay and convince him to get a code that will ground the planes. Alex goes back to her collaborator Alice Winter to try to scam her into revealing more information. This somehow works flawlessly, and so she turns on Alice, knocks her out, and sends pictures of the flights and passengers to Will.
There’s one little hiccup in the plan, of course: Will notices they aren’t talking to the pilots directly, but through some middle man. Miranda and Owen have to go find them, but in less than five minutes, the planes are grounded and the passenger’s phones destroyed. That makes for a riveting 10 minutes of television, breathless and addictive and fun — but it also presents a nice, neat conclusion at the 30-minute mark. That kind of emotional drop-off makes the heart-to-heart conversations that follow seem boring and dry. Sure, Alex and Ryan start to bond again, Shelby and Clay have some sexual tension, and Owen and Miranda are becoming friends. But there doesn’t seem to be any point to it all. Maybe it just feels meaningless in the shadow of a narrowly avoided national tragedy.
True to form, even this triumph isn’t a true win for Alex and her team. The episode ends with President Roark giving a speech about how incredible it is that the special agents stopped the attacks, using them as a ploy to destroy the CIA and FBI and rally the country into a display of national unity, which will allow Roark to overthrow the Constitution.
“We’re heroes, we’re villains, he still wins,” Alex says as Quantico sets itself up for a hopefully epic season finale. “So,” she asks the team. “Who wants to be a terrorist?” It would be an enticing offer if the show hadn’t already shown us that when Alex Parrish joins the dark side, nothing really changes. Her heroism is so deeply ingrained that it weighs her down, dragging the show along for the ride.