My Immense Frustration With ‘Quantico’

I genuinely enjoyed season one of Quantico. As I said in this post, for all its silly soap operatic drama, it mattered. Season two was iffier. But season three got to the point where I actually wrote a post about my relief at the show being cancelled. Now that it’s over, I can say with certainty: season three was a huge waste.

The way they handled their renewal was by essentially using the same characters in a new show with a new setting. They disregarded the events of the previous seasons. I wrote about how season three was disregarding the show’s roots earlier, which does still bother me, but I think one of the primary reasons that it didn’t work for me was simpler than that – what would work as a way of starting a new story in the middle doesn’t really work when you’re talking the third season in an existing show.

What I mean by that is this: A show about a group of FBI agents with long, complicated histories with each other, including a woman, her best friend, and her best friend’s husband that happens to be the first woman’s ex-fiancé, could have solid procedural. But season three isn’t the first season of anything. We saw that history. And having it shift just feels like a slap in the face, especially when it didn’t shift for a clear purpose. It’s not that I was ever invested in Alex/Ryan – or, for that matter, Ryan in general. But I was still kind of rooting for that happy ending. Because as irritating as Ryan was throughout the season, as much as he had the personality of wet cardboard, the bookends of the pilot and second season finale had an air of finality. It had an air of Alex and Ryan are finally going to be together. It felt to me like a moment of, ah, yes. This is how this is supposed to end.

Two years ago, I would have been devastated that Quantico got cancelled. Or maybe not – the plot had been wrapped up while also leaving a vibe of the adventure continuing. I can’t be sure. But either way, I wouldn’t have been relieved. It would have been satisfying, but sad. Now, I’m just glad. Season three? What even was that?

It was an episodic finish to something that was once a heavily serialized story, and it felt so clumsily written. No one got anything that could be defined as a character arc. There were good moments that were promptly negated by the lack of follow through. Andrea and Isabella were plot devices that it never seemed like Alex actually cared about. The finale wasn’t really anything to me. It was the show going out with a whimper, not a bang. Nothing about it felt satisfying to me, much less like an ending for a series that lasted three seasons. Nimah and Raina didn’t get so much a mention, despite being regulars in both seasons one and two. None of the other characters got brought up, even when Shelby started talking about how much had changed since they were at Quantico.

Shelby ended the show crying over Ryan (after the entire season treated their relationship as something we should just go with, rather than ever making an effort to convince us of it) and telling Alex how true love is everything. Alex had a dumb plot featuring abandoning Ryan in the middle of the night, settling down in Italy with some random other guy and his daughter, and deciding she wants children after having a miscarriage, culminating in the aforementioned random other guy dying and her raising his daughter like some kind of weird Replacement Goldfish situation. Owen, McQuigg, and Jocelyn were all somewhere there not really doing anything meaningful.

If you strip away the muss and fuss of season one and two, they actually meant something. You had Alex learning in season one what being an FBI agent means and how to deal with the fact that people were so quick to believe she would blow up Grand Central, and in season two, coming to terms with the fact that she’s just not cut out for the CIA. You had Simon’s story about bravery, about trying to find what the right thing was. Raina’s about having to live her life for herself and not her sister as well as the two of them together learning to work as a team. What can you say about season three? That Jocelyn felt guilty about her role in Celine’s death for about a minute? That Deep left the team because of his disgust at how easily they could all move on, except he showed up again with no worries two episodes later? The writing was worse and it took away pretty much everything I enjoyed about the first two seasons.

Joshua Safran, the creator and showrunner for the first two seasons, Tweeted that he had the word “Quantico” muted and would always consider the real end to be the end of season two. I completely understand that. Season three might have had the same characters, but disrespected everything the first two represented. It lacked the meaningful diversity and backtracked on the character development and established dynamics for no reason. Season two wasn’t great. But season three was just bad.

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‘Quantico’ and a Sense of Relief

It only really hit me that I was just watching Quantico out of habit rather than enjoyment when it got cancelled and I felt kind of relieved rather than sad. I started to think about why that is, and I ended up considering just how much the show as changed since its first episode.

The show has been bleeding actors from the get-go. Most of the original ones are gone, which is disappointing, seeing as some of those characters and topics actually pushed serious boundaries in television. Take Nimah and Raina – we’re talking about two of the most multifaceted Muslim women in Western media ever. Nimah is an atheist with cultural ties to Islam. She’ll pray on occasion, but that’s it. Raina is a much more seriously religious person, while not letting anyone else dictate the terms of how she lives her life, however contradictory it may seem to others. Alex displayed casual Hinduism, from her om bracelet to the statuette on her dresser. But she eats beef and doesn’t pray. Simon is from a conservative Jewish family, and his religious background informs much of his opinions on the politics of the Middle East.

These approaches to the characters were met with a lot of criticism. People disliked Priyanka Chopra’s accent being Americanized to play Alex and called it erasure, as if the show was pretending she’s not Indian. Raina taking off her hijab and kissing Simon was met by significant backlash. Simon’s criticism of the IDF resulted in the show being attacked by the Zionists of America and the Jewish showrunner facing rampant accusations of antisemitism. There is a discussion to be had about many of the criticized aspects of the show. But I think the fact that these character choices were so controversial demonstrate both a need for their existence and a need for wider representation and discussion of current issues in media, which is why I find it so sad that Simon, Nimah, and Raina are no longer in the show.

Beyond the characters, I think the theme has shifted. The first season was essentially about how the FBI is a fundamentally flawed organization, but the way to change that isn’t by tearing the whole thing down, it’s by fighting to make it better. As Liam said when he was taunting Alex, it’s not something to be proud of. It’s the organization that tried to blackmail MLK, put the Japanese in internment camps, and let flawed DNA put innocent people in prison. Throughout the show itself, the FBI covered up multiple failures on their part, multiple tragedies that occurred because of them. Shelby tried to break the law as a trainee to get revenge on her parents. A large number of trainees were okay with doctoring evidence. Hannah was uncomfortable coming out, possibly partially because of her job as an agent. There are good people there that sincerely want to do good, but the organization has a very negative history. They portrayed the IDF in a similar fashion. Simon is a good guy, but the organization itself is deeply flawed.

I will always be grateful for season one of Quantico. It mattered. It took a very much nondiverse organization and not only made the fictionalized version diverse, it presented that diversity as the key to doing better. Things won’t get better through a white guy getting mad and trying to tear everything down. It’ll get better with an increasingly diverse workforce and people within the organization saying, we have to be better than this.

The first season had a point. Even at its most soapy, there was a focus that season two just didn’t have. From the first episode to the last, there was a central idea and running themes. Did they occasionally discard points, or have weird threads that got dropped partway through, like the super uncomfortable love triangle between Simon, Nimah, and Raina, or the year Alex’s family didn’t know where she was? Sure. But on the whole, it was plotted much better. Season two was messier. The present timeline was compressed into the span of about a day. The dual timelines were dropped in the second half of the season, which was about a totally different thing. Characters from the first half were gone. It felt clumsy and haphazard. And season three? I don’t even know what’s going on there. I wrote a post about how Designated Survivor got more cynical in season two, and that’s pretty close to what Quantico has been doing. Maybe not more cynical, exactly, but it’s certainly been less critical.

Season two still had some of that same point, except the focus moved to criticizing the CIA and its tactics, rather than the FBI. It was clumsier and felt more like the writers were making it up as they went along. I didn’t like the fact that Claire’s collaborating with Liam never came up. We were told that the point was supposed to be that sometimes, people get away with things, but that would have rung a lot more true if it were even mentioned from time to time that they didn’t like or trust her. Instead, the other guy collaborating with terrorists was made out to be a huge deal, totally unprecedented, and Claire was hailed as a hero. It felt far more white feminist than I’d grown accustomed to seeing. Nor did I like the fact that the diversity in season two wasn’t as elegantly handled and woven into who the characters are as it was in season one. But despite  all of that, I was mostly okay with it because it still felt recognizable. It still had a diverse cast, notably adding Sebastian, a deeply Christian Asian man whose religious faith left him struggling with his sexuality to the point of sending himself to conversion camp. It was still critical about the world we  live in. It actually felt like it was about something.

I think Joshua Safran departing as showrunner changed things for the worse. Of course the show wasn’t perfect during his tenure – he set the precedent for the overplayed romantic drama, after all. But he clearly cares about the issues in today’s world. He didn’t present it like he had the answers, but like he saw the problems and cared about the solutions. The show he created had a soul. It had a heart. It had good characters and meaningful ideas, not just throw in whatever adds romantic drama and action.

The show started to lose my attention somewhere in season two, and I think I’m only watching season three because I want something to watch. Quantico season one was very enjoyable. I loved watching it. And, like with Designated Survivor, I’ll look back fondly on it. But this season, and to a lesser extent, the preceding one, dropped too much of what I originally fell in love with. Now I’m just relieved that it’s going to be over soon.

‘Quantico’ and the Disappointment of a Show Forgetting Its Roots

The first episode of season three of Quantico aired Thursday night, and you know what? Had that been the pilot of a new show, I’d have probably loved it. It would have given the impression of starting in the middle, with characters that have a history which each other and backstories that we’ll learn more about as the show progresses. Plus, there’s a WoC as the main character, a deaf woman as an experienced older agent, a black man as the team leader – it would have been so refreshing to see, had it been a new show. But it’s not. It’s the third season of an existing one, and put into context, it bothers me.

Romantic drama had always been a problem with Quantico. It’s always existed as an unnecessary drag on the story that did nothing to further the plot or develop. The plot itself managed to be pretty contrived. But despite that, I could enjoy it, because at its best, it also had well written and interesting characters. Sadly, though, a lot of them, despite starting off well, were increasingly mishandled as the show went on.

Quantico has been steadily leaking characters throughout the two seasons. Simon. Natalie. Drew. Nimah and Raina. Dayana. Leon. Sebastian. Miranda. Whether because they’re dead or put on a bus, none of them – all with either a lot of potential or interestingly developed – are appearing in season three. And aside from Simon and maybe – maybe – Drew, I think it’s a waste.

I still think Simon’s character arc was excellent. His death was gorgeously done, and I think he had both the best acting and the best writing behind him. His relationships with Alex, Raina, and Nimah were all different and interesting. And you know a death is handled well when even when you miss the character, you don’t want him back, because it would cheapen it. On the other hand, Dayana was just put on a bus with no satisfactory conclusion to her story. Miranda could have plenty more to offer. There’s been no explanation of where Nimah and Raina are, despite the fact they’ve been key characters from the get go. It bothers me that none of them are here when the writers are bending over backwards to make Shelby fit.

Unlike many, I don’t care about Caleb. I’m okay with him not being there. That feels like trimming the fat from the story. For me, he never added any actual value or substance. Maybe a few times, there was a hint of something more – the scenes of him with Raina or Claire or even Alex were all far more meaningful than those with Shelby or her parents – but nothing real, nothing that actually mattered, so I don’t mind that he’s not in season three. I don’t really mind the absence of characters like Lydia, Claire, or Clay either. The one I’ll really miss is Raina.

Raina is amazing. I found her season one arc fascinating. It was well acted. Her relationship with Simon was layered and well done, especially because the conflict there didn’t feel contrived. She was competent and also kind of absurdly impulsive in a way that provided an interesting contrast to Nimah. She was a genuinely great character. There were even traces of that in season two. But for the most part, she was sidelined for Nimah, especially after Simon’s death. When that happened, a lot of her interesting relationships – all platonic – were left unused. Now that she’s  not coming back, it’ll be the end of all of those.

Season two had certain aspects that were better than season one. Reduced focus on relationship drama. More diversity in the male cast and continued diversity in the female. It also had things that were worse, like more dumb subplots and less character development. Season three? It’s a weird, semi-reboot in that you can jump in anywhere, and there are good things about it, but it’s weird. Maybe it’s too early to really tell whether the differences are good or bad, but my instincts to say that I don’t like it.

It doesn’t have the two timelines that the previous two seasons did, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s missing great characters. It’s added even more relationship drama that’s just irritating. For whatever reason, Ryan and Shelby, characters with minimal interaction at best before now, are married. It’s as if the writers got the memo that people didn’t like Ryan and Alex together, but instead of having that end in any kind of reasonable, adult, not weird way, they did this, which was basically, “two pretty white people who are mainly connected through Alex and are two of the characters with the least direct interaction? They should get together! Let’s assassinate everyone’s characters to make it happen.” I’d have bought it had they put Ryan and Nimah – or even Raina! – together. It would have served the same purpose in the plot, and they had way better build up.

I’d get Alex and Ryan breaking up. It’d be kind of annoying for it to happen again, sure, I’d prefer them to either stay together or permanently split up. But this? To have her just ghost him then him marry her best friend? To have Shelby marry her best friend’s ex-fiancé, then get weirdly prickly and defensive about it? It’s gross. It’s bad writing and characterization. The goal seems to be have Shelby sleep with every guy on the show. Caleb, Clayton, Leon, Ryan. I can’t remember if she did sleep with Clay but she had that whole thing going on with  him. In order to get her and Ryan to work, the writers had to turn their back on two seasons worth of characterization and growth for her, him, and Alex.

Season one was genuinely good. Yes, there was a lot of soap opera style drama, and some of the plots were pretty dumb and seemingly only there to give everyone something to do but aside from that, the character work was strong, the cast was diverse, and everyone had interesting dynamics. I can’t decide if season two was better or worse, it was just different. Maybe a decent plot and a couple new characters with substance, but several more without it, and flimsy motivations. I wasn’t much of a fan, but that’s okay. Season three, though? We’re talking less diverse, more soapy, and ignoring a well written friendship between two women in favour of adding contrived tension because of some guy.

As the writer of this post put it, Quantico was about women supporting each other and breaking through the glass ceiling, not tearing each other down.  And while season three hasn’t had Alex and Shelby at odds over Ryan yet, there is a newfound tension in their relationship because of him that I just don’t like. That’s not something I think I’ll ever be able to grow to appreciate. For all Quantico‘s flaws as a show, for all the inconsistency in quality, Alex and Shelby’s friendship was always a strong point because their disagreements were never about a man or romantic relationship. If that changes, I probably won’t be able to continue watching.

ABC’s Quantico And Why It Matters

I’ve had my share of issues with Quantico in the past – the constant soap opera drama sometimes overshadowing the plot, lots of plot threads that never went anywhere, unsatisfying conclusions to some subplots, excessive focus on certain characters and relationships at the expense of the story. But despite all of those issues, Quantico still mattered to me.

This is a story where the main character is an Indian American woman that’s a non devout Hindu, and the first season was about her being used as a scapegoat for a domestic terror attack. Because it was easy to frame the brown girl. Alex Parrish is an incredibly important character. She’s smart, she’s tough, she’s beautiful. People are attracted to her throughout the series, but her ethnicity is never fetishized or even brought up in that aspect of the show. She’s a beautiful brown woman. But people aren’t attracted to her because she’s brown or despite it.

I stopped being excited about the season three renewal when I learned that Nimah and Raina won’t be in it, because aside from Alex, the Amin sisters were the other main reason why the show mattered to me. These were two Lebanese immigrants from a Muslim family. They were twins. And as Simon put it, they may look alike, but they were very different people.

This show mattered because their minority characters were never tokens. Nimah and Raina were allowed to be vastly different. Nimah was the more outwardly rebellious one, but Raina was just impulsive and would do whatever she thought was right without wasting time arguing about it with anyone. Raina was religious, Nimah wasn’t. In the first season, Nimah spent most of her time with Alex, Shelby, and Natalie, while Raina was closer to Simon and the other male trainees.

Quantico mattered because despite how often the white characters – Shelby, Caleb, Clay, even Harry, a little – got excessive focus and irrelevant sideplots, the women of colour still got to be characters and not stereotypes or racist caricatures. This was a show about terrorism where the terrorists weren’t the Muslim characters or the brown characters. Where Raina was probably the most moral character on the show while still allowed to be flawed and human and real.

Simon and Raina’s relationship was one of the most poignant ones written in recent shows, and certainly the most important in Quantico itself, despite how little screentime it got as compared to Shelby and Caleb, or Alex and Ryan, or even Alex and Drew. These were two people from different backgrounds, different races, different faiths. But their story never tried to be an “accepting others” Aesop. It was just a story about two people that loved each other, and as such, it was a step towards normalizing interracial relationships in fiction, to getting a romantic relationship featuring a person of colour that’s more than just the token minority couple. There wasn’t drama for the sake of drama. They got to be characters, not cheap storytelling props. They were the characters through which both sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict were criticized, but their relationship was never about that.

The representation in the first two seasons was far from flawless. But it was a product of people that tried. It was a result of people wanting to make a show about people, not stereotypes. It clearly came from people that cared about not being racist or subscribing to hurtful cliches. It was unapologetically liberal, and it pointed out clearly, and often through actions and not words, that the statistically most dangerous demographic in the United States is the white male. The writers and the showrunner proved themselves to me in the first season, proved that they were doing their best and that I should be forgiving of missteps because they were trying. It let me be much less wary while watching season two.

am nervous about season three. Two of the main characters are going to be gone. There’ll be a new showrunner. I have no way of knowing whether or not the season while remain true to the spirit of the first two seasons. I’m not asking for perfect – the first two seasons weren’t perfect, but they still good, still clearly trying. So until I see an episode and see that it’s not the show I enjoyed, the one that treated its female minority characters with as much respect as they would any white male one, I’m going to say that Quantico still matters.