May 15, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Quantico”


For anyone who doubts the challenges of sustaining a serialized narrative across 22 broadcast-network hours, there’s QUANTICO.  Joshua Safran’s series went from one of the brightest spots of ABC’s fall schedule to a show that may have been lucky to have an early Season 2 renewal in its pocket, unable to effectively navigate its full season order.

Safran started with a tasty premise:  Homeland meets Grey’s Anatomy, as the FBi investigation of a terrorist bombing at Grand Central Station was illuminated by flashbacks to the agents’ own training at the titular campus, romances and all.  With the fresh (to US eyes), charismatic and beautiful Priyanka Chopra, anointed as the season’s Next Big Thing, as lead trainee Alex Parrish, on the run after being framed by Persons Unknown for the bombing, Quantico seemed to have everything going for it.  But as fans of Homeland can testify, that show has often had trouble telling a story that makes sense even over 12 episodes, and Safran, who came from the less complex world of Gossip Girl and Smash, was in over his head.

Quantico constantly flashed forward and backward in time, and both the espionage elements and the romances were in constant motion, so that it eventually became more trouble than it was worth to remember whether Alex and Ryan (Jake McLaughlin) were a couple or in one of their many break-ups at any given time, or who did or didn’t know that Nimah and Raina (both played by Yasmine Al Masri) were twins who sometimes took on each others’  identities, or whether Shelby (Johanna Braddy) and Caleb (Graham Rogers) were hot for each other or out to destroy each others’ careers.  Worse, since we didn’t know where these elements were going to be at the end of the “past,” the flashbacks had little to tell us about what was happening in the “present.”  Safran and his fellow writer/producers also had to keep churning out intrigue, so suddenly Caleb was handed a background in a cult and a drug addiction (it wasn’t always clear which, if either, was real), everyone Shelby knew seemed to be conning her out of her fortune (don’t even ask about the twist that had her sleeping with Caleb’s father), and training officer Miranda (Aunjanue Ellis) had a son with his own terrorist connections.  By midseason, Safran seemed to throw up his hands altogether at the need for more fodder and, on the slightest of plot pretexts, threw another whole bunch of FBI trainees in with our gang, characters like Iris (Li Jun Li), Will (Jay Armstrong Johnson) and Drew (Lenny Platt), who all seemed to be as puzzled by what they were doing there as we were.

Although each individual episode was slickly produced and fast-paced, the emotional juice leaked out of the whole enterprise.  The shadow of suspicion passed over so many characters so many times that by last week’s revelation of we’re-not-kidding-this-time, this-is-really-and-truly-the-terrorist as supervisor Liam (Josh Hopkins), it was hard to care.

Tonight’s season finale, written by Safran and directed by Larry Teng, was one of the show’s most straightforward hours, since with so much to be resolved in the present timeframe, flashbacks had to be kept to a minimum.  Unfortunately, this exposed how banal much of the drama really was.  Since Quantico had no interest in being politically provocative in any way, once Liam had been revealed as the villain, his motive turned out to be as undernourished as that of any CBS procedural bad guy.  (He was really, really pissed off to find out that the Bureau indulged in bureaucratic cover-ups of its own fatal mistakes.)  Liam’s nuke was rendered relatively harmless by being driven into a conveniently nearby river by Simon (Tate Ellington), best remembered as the guy who at the beginning of the season was pretending to be gay, although not before one of the season’s most unintentionally hilarious scenes, as our other heroes stood around the ticking device dithering about what to do with it.  Since a show like Quantico requires a final twist, Caleb’s clearly untrustworthy mother Claire (Marcia Cross), Vice-President of the United States, was revealed as Liam’s accomplice, although Alex and Caleb couldn’t prove it.  (A digression:  what is it with ABC and unsympathetic female politicians?  Mellie on Scandal, Claire here, Joan Allen’s character on The Family… discuss among yourselves.)  And since Season 2 has already been ordered, there was a set-up in the final scene, as Alex was recruited for the CIA.

Quantico was never painful to watch, thanks to the rapid-fire structure, a strong lead and an appealing supporting cast.  It was, however, and to an increasing extent as the season went on, a mess.  Safran may need to attend a training academy for network showrunning himself before going to work on Season 2.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."