Shows We Love: Summer Rewind Roundtable: Quantico Season 1
Summer is a good time for going outside and enjoying all the outdoor activities the weather prevents you from enjoying in winter. It’s also, depending on where you live, a good time to stay inside and watch some TV, maybe catch up on a show you started but couldn’t stay current on, or even start on a show you meant to watch, but couldn’t afford to emotionally invest in with everything else you were watching at the time.
Quantico, which aired on ABC in the US this past year, garnered critical acclaim and commercial success on Sunday nights, which is no easy task. Named after the location of the FBI training academy and centered on an ensemble cast of virtual unknowns (to US audiences at least) there was the potential for the show to be lost in a sea of autumn TV. Another show about FBI agents, without any big names to hook viewers? How could it possibly succeed? And yet it did.
WWAC recruited a few good women from within our ranks, but also invited Quantico-recapper Lakshmi Gandhi from Reappropriate (find her on twitter here!) to join us in reminiscing, post-season finale, pre-summer rewatch, about how we got drawn into this show, its strengths and weaknesses in terms of diversity and representation, and other burning questions, like how can we make #GiveAlexAGirlfriend happen?
There are dozens of shows that follow FBI agents on network television. Why this one? Is it Priyanka’s hair? Booth’s beard? Shelby and Alex’s relationship (otherwise known as Alby)?
Draven Katayama: It’s been a while since we’ve seen a friendship on the level of Rory and Paris, but Alex and Shelby come close. They work as best friends, a ship, rivals, enemies, and teammates. Their relationship, and Shelby and Caleb’s relationship, made for addicting watching with endless plot twists. The show’s entire hook—who’s behind all of the bad things happening—worked. You can’t help but suspect everyone at some point.
Kate Tanski: I was also drawn in by the characters, and while I was initially turned off by the way they seemed to take a Game of Thrones attitude towards killing off characters—because I so easily get attached and my heart can’t take the strain of knowing that my favorites could be killed off at any time—I also enjoy that they regularly introduce new characters. Some of my favorite characters are ones we didn’t meet until the second half of the series!
Kat Overland: Priyanka Chopra was definitely the initial draw, but what kept me around was how they let her be a real asshole. Alex is the focal character of the show, but the show lets her make bad decisions that hurt her friends, rather than just heaping woe unto her alone. Everyone gets to be sympathetic and mean in equal measures.
Lakshmi Gandhi: If I could sum up what drew me to Quantico in three words they would be “Priyanka, Priyanka, Priyanka.” Considering that Priyanka Chopra has been trying to break into the American market for a while, I was immediately intrigued when Quantico was announced and had tons of questions. Would people watch? (Yes.) Would Priyanka change her accent? (Yes.) Would her character’s depiction of her ethnicity be problematic? (Yes.)
I was also instantly intrigued by the fact that one of the NATs was a devout Muslim who wore a hijab. Back before we knew Nimah was actually twins, I think there was a lot of buzz about how the writers’ room would handle a major character who was a religious Muslim. Watching both Nimah and Raina grow turned out to be the highlight of the season for me.
So, Quantico: What Genre Is It Anyway? Drama? Procedural? Mystery? Political thriller? Does the show even know?
Kate: This is one of the problems that I face when trying to rec this show to friends. The show’s about FBI agents, and there are already half a dozen shows that feature FBI agents on network TV, and they’re all procedurals. But the narrative structure of the show, where each week you get a flashback to their training at Quantico and a lesson that was learned, which is then context for the ongoing narrative mystery, is something new and different that I haven’t seen before. You are simultaneously always getting new context for things you have already seen, in addition to having the narrative move forward.
Draven: Definitely not procedural. Maybe thriller/relationship-driven mystery with dramedy thrown in. There are so many lighthearted moments and comedic touches; you aren’t utterly worn down by the serious plot.
Kat: I went into it thinking it would be a procedural, and I think it was trying to do a mash-up with the student drama along with the suspect-of-the-week tone of the post-Quantico plotline. I thought it worked surprisingly well, and the character build-up was more intense than in a typical first season procedural because of that.
Lakshmi Gandhi: I agree with Draven that this show was never a procedural, yet the writers seemed to really want to make it one in many ways. That was probably the main reason the show was so confusing for viewers. Hopefully next season the plot will focus more on Alex and her relationships, both romantic and otherwise. I also loved Anna Khaja’s portrayal of Sita, Alex’s mom. Let’s all cross our fingers that we’ll get to see more of her in the future.
Time to talk about the important stuff—diversity, representation, and the show’s take on social issues. Let’s conceptualize this as wins/losses/draws. What do you love? What do you wish it was better about? And what did they fail utterly on?
Draven: Huge wins are seeing actors of color in both prominent roles and non-prominent roles that are constantly on screen. Alex, Nimah, Raina, Miranda, Natalie, Iris, Brandon, Charlie, and others are all acted by people of color. There is no way to overstate the massive talent of Priyanka Chopra, Yasmine Al Massri, Aunjanue Ellis, and Li Jun Li. Every time the NATs were in the briefing room, several other NATs and FBI agents were comprised of actors of color. The show attempted to incorporate what being Jewish and Muslim meant to Simon and to Nimah and Raina.
It’s a loss that the show skirted around Alex’s ethnic identity. South Asian writers have written about this, as well as larger issues of desi representation on TV, and thoughts on Priyanka Chopra’s ever-increasing visibility. The show’s portrayal of Muslim women is also worth critique.
The show’s queer representation is extremely disappointing. Elias is often unlikable and even predatory. Simon’s identity as a gay man is undone. And there are no queer women on the entire show, despite most of the major characters being women. The show’s decision to omit any queer women—not Natalie, not Shelby, not even much more minor character Iris—is inexcusable.
Kate: There’s not enough women on TV, and there’s not enough actors of color headlining shows on TV, so I love that this show gives me so many incredible men and women. Some are likeable. Some aren’t likeable. Some I didn’t like initially and then grew to like. But I love the breadth of their representation even though, as Draven links to above, it’s not perfect.
Also, like Draven points out—the queer rep is really disappointing. But if I waited to watch a show that had awesome queer rep, I would never watch any television. It’s not a problem unique to Quantico, and I’m hopeful that they’ll rectify this in season two. The good news is that they look like they’re aware of it and have already added one of my favorite actors, Russell Tovey, as a new gay character.
Kat: Draven hit a lot of the critique I was going to bring up—I really felt let down by the queer representation in the show. I latched onto Simon in the beginning because he had so much going on along with being queer, but then it became weirdly and ambiguously written. I guess one benefit to not having a QWOC on the show is that it didn’t have a chance to kill her off in season one, too?
On the flip side, the show did a damn good job casting some fantastic actors of color and giving them interesting storylines that did and didn’t incorporate ethnicity and race. Not every woman of color had a race-focused storyline, but the show didn’t attempt to erase the twins’ cultural background, either. I also really enjoyed the complexity of female friendships in the show; there were some romantic tensions, but also professional ones, rivalries, and deep affection for each other. I hope season two finds more for Li Jun Li’s Iris to do, since I was thrilled to see her show up after hearing that Minority Report would be canceled.
Lakshmi: I’ve said from the beginning that Quantico always seemed to want to be a Grey’s Anatomy-style show set within the FBI. I loved the frenemy relationship between Alex and Shelby, the sibling rivalry between the twins, and Simon and Raina’s quietly lovely relationship. I really wish we could have seen more of all three of those things rather than constantly flipping between the past and present while trying to figure out who was at the bottom of the terrorism plot. (To be perfectly honest, I found the terrorism plot so confusing and violent that I wish I could have skipped over it entirely.)
I think we also need to talk about the fact that the show totally wasted Li Jun Li’s talent. She seemed to always just be the Asian sidekick. When Iris was first introduced, her character was presented to fans as a brilliant, beautiful third-culture kid who had already founded a bunch of startups. Despite this, we only seemed to see her do goofy, nosy things that put her in the middle of everyone else’s business. She was never given a storyline that allowed her to shine, and that’s a shame. I really think that both Iris and Li Jun Li deserved much more than that.
All right, now let’s talk about the show’s overarching plot this season, the question of who was behind the bombing in New York City that Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra) is framed for, which was revealed and resolved in the final two episodes. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT WAS?
Draven: For most of the show, Liam was always the most shady character. Viewers had to constantly wonder if he was just the longest-running red herring. Ryan’s mysterious past and his refusal to believe Alex also pointed towards him being a culprit. I was surprised that Ryan wasn’t in some way a villain.
Kate: It’s so funny that Draven thinks that people would see Liam as a red herring, because I never suspected Liam to be anything more than just another douchey white dude with a drinking problem. It reminded me of the reveal at the end of season one of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., because I’d never liked Grant Ward, but I’d also never suspected him of being anything other than a boring white guy. If this is a new trope, I’m totally down for it.
Kat: Liam was the WORST, the whole season. I felt like his plotline was the most tedious; I didn’t care about his strange dalliance with Alex, his alcoholism, or his professional problems at the FBI. He was shady at best, uncompelling at worst, so when he was revealed as the ultimate culprit it felt like the show was finally explaining to me why he was necessary all along.
Lakshmi: I’m on Kat’s side here. Liam was super creepy throughout the season, and his relationship with Alex was downright disturbing well before the big reveal. He always seemed to encourage Alex’s self-destructive tendencies and was downright obnoxious when he realized that his one-night stand with Alex didn’t mean much to her personally. As you can probably guess, I can go on and on about Liam’s general awfulness. His treatment of Miranda was also pretty appalling and confusing. (I clearly remember the double take I did when I discovered he and Miranda were formerly lovers.) He was always an erratic, disturbing character, so it made a lot of sense when he turned out to be the center of the terror plot.
And now, looking towards season two, which starts filming in New York this July, which characters do you want to see in the new season? And, perhaps more important, who do you want gone?
Draven: I wouldn’t mind if Ryan was written off the show. Even Drew was more human than him. I really hope Natalie returns. Can we start a #GiveAlexAGirlfriend campaign? I hope Iris continues to be a consistent presence, and I want Shelby and Caleb to be together until the end of time.
Kate: I totally second a #GiveAlexAGirlfriend campaign! Even if I can’t get Shelex/Alby to become canon, I support bisexual Alex Parrish. I started off hating Caleb and Shelby and really loving them both, so I hope they come back. I want to know what the fallout for Miranda will be, both professionally and personally. I also want Ryan to come back if only to shave his beard. Ryan is so much more boring now that he has a beard. It’s the opposite of what happened to Will Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and it’s so disappointing.
Also, the Haases are like the Underwoods on House of Cards—an evil political power couple, and I hope they come back. The show ended hinting that Marcia Cross’s character, Claire Haas, was the woman behind the curtain in terms of the bombing and pulling Liam’s strings and that just made me! She’s an incredible actress, and I hope that season two we get to see her at her villainous best.
Kat: I’m terrible, and I love how terrible Caleb is—I need to know about his fake Scientology problems. Ryan is pretty ho-hum and as bad at being in a relationship as Alex is, so if he took a season on the sidelines I wouldn’t be mad. I hope Iris comes back, and I’m interested in where Raina and Nimah might be now. Mostly, while I love the Haases and Shelby, that the show doesn’t only keep on the white friends + Alex for the next season.
Lakshmi: I feel like I’m never going to get over the loss of Simon. Tate Ellington was a fantastic actor, and Simon was in many ways the moral center of the show. I hope the writers streamline a bit next season. I can’t possibly have been the only one who kept confusing Elias and Caleb in the beginning, right? One of the hardest parts about recapping this show was keeping track of all of the characters and their (inevitably confusing) back stories.
That being said, given that we lost Charlie last season and barely saw Brandon (who was played by Jacob Artist), it’s clear that Quantico needs more African American characters. It’s ridiculous that there aren’t more young black FBI agents and their inclusion would round out the cast nicely.