One episode was provided prior to broadcast.
**Trigger warning- episode contains a relatively graphic scene of suicide by gun.**
A sudsy, snappy mash-up of How to Get Away with Murder and Homeland, ABC’s Quantico boasts one of the most breathless major network premieres in recent memory, a brisk and batty hour packed with dramatic confrontations, steamy car sex, deadly standoffs, off-the-wall twists and just about every other trick in the soap-opera sandbox. Here is a series that, similar to NBC’s Blindspot aping The Blacklist, would have looked drastically different in a pre-Shondaland world, and that works diligently to align itself with the Scandal creator’s ethos of diversity and duplicity.
Does it work? The energy of Quantico‘s first installment is such that it’s hard to tell – should the series sustain its momentum, viewers might be in for a deliriously fun season of conspiracy-thriller craziness, but if Quantico loses steam, the show’s overly familiar aspects might begin to wear thin. Luckily, the core – lead actress Priyanka Chopra, crossing over from Bollywood in one of the more exciting, culturally diverse casting coups of the season – seems solid.
Chopra plays Alex, a whip-smart, confident FBI trainee who enters Quantico, Virginia, alongside a diverse crop of recruits, determined to prove that she has what it takes to serve her country as a federal agent. The training is intense, pushing Alex and the others to their breaking points physically and psychologically (there’s an And Then Were None vibe to the scenes set at Quantico, with agents being slowly weeded out by various tests) – but viewers already know that Alex will be among the graduates, because the show tells us as much.
The real action of Quantico picks up nine months after she enters those training grounds, when the new agent finds herself at the center of a deadly terrorist attack on New York City’s Grand Central Station. Inexplicably unharmed by the blast, she crawls out of the rubble, only to discover that she’s suspected by her overseers of carrying out the attack herself. Knowing that if she surrenders, she’ll never see the light of day again, Alex must rely on her memory of the other recruits to figure out which one of them was responsible.
Setting up that intricate, two-pronged narrative takes a lot of busy work on the part of the writers (indeed, we just about get it all by the very end of the first hour), and it’s no small part thanks to Chopra’s performance that the exposition goes down as smoothly as it does. Sexy, sharp and terrifically self-possessed, her Alex is a veritable badass with plenty of skeletons in the closet, and every revelatory line out of her mouth is delivered with enough conviction to sell it.
A supporting cast packed with mysterious hotties, from charming ex-Marine Ryan Booth (Jake McLaughlin) to former beauty queen Shelby Wyatt (Johanna Braddy) wrap Quantico up in an ABC-friendly bow. Though they all, sometimes distractingly, look like they walked off a Calvin Klein photo shoot, the backstories teased out so far are surprisingly fresh and interesting. Understanding that one of them is harboring a catastrophic secret adds to the suspense.
Could it be the petulant golden boy (Graham Rogers)? The nerdy gay guy (Tate Ellington) who wants to be everyone’s best friend? The devout Muslim (Yasmine Al Massri) who seems like way too obvious a pick? Alex herself? Let the betting pool commence. And of course, there’s also the obligatory, all-knowing director Miranda Shaw (Aunjanue Ellis) and Special Agent Liam O’Connor (Josh Hopkins), who crack down hard on the new recruits while guarding secrets of their own.
Chopra is a mightily compelling lead, and her chemistry with the other actors (particularly McLaughlin’s Booth, with whom she has a past I won’t spoil here) is above average for a major network series of this kind. Moreover, the incipient cat-and-mouse angle has the potential to make Quantico appointment television, especially when compared to the more proceduralized setups of ABC’s other newcomers.
There’s nothing particularly newfangled about Quantico, and it certainly checks all of the boxes for what ABC would consider to be a homegrown hit. But as much as it adheres to formula, from its photogenic cast to its overly dramatic musical cues and insistence on flashback as a legitimate narrative device, the series is also a great deal of fun, at least in this early stage, blending its ingredients together with commendable gusto. And for as long as it can continue to juggle its myriad moving parts with the same degree of devil-may-care energy, Quantico arrives as a more-than-worthy companion piece to the high-stakes, high-drama world of Scandals and How to Get Away with Murder on which ABC has already banked its future.
A sudsy yet sharp-witted mash-up of How to Get Away with Murder and Homeland, ABC's Quantico boasts one of the most breathless major network premieres in recent memory.