Quantico may not be the best network pilot of the new season, but it's certainly the most exciting and most promising. And in its own way, it's the most culturally significant. The September 11th terror attacks have given rise to a lot of television storytelling, beginning with 24, which wasn't inspired by the attacks but arrived just in time to feel of the moment, through to directly influenced shows like Homeland and shows inspired by its success. Quantico is one of the shows born of Homeland's influence—creator Joshua Safran pitched it as “Grey's Anatomy meets Homeland”—but it's unlike any of its peers. The deliberate attempt to inject love, scandal, levity, and humour is not an approach that would have been accepted from a show about this subject matter a decade ago.
It's about as close to being a half-Homeland, half-Grey's hybrid as one can imagine, and the pilot is a rather deft execution of that concept.
The flashback format works wonders, jumping from Alex at ground zero to her very first days at the FBI Academy to increase the density of the story. There are so many shows following a similar format, but this pilot is a good example of why it works.
Naturally most of the responsibility falls to Priyanka Chopra, who is more than able to hold up her end of the show. Chopra is not just gorgeous, she's naturally charismatic. It's no wonder she's already such a huge star abroad, and casting her in Quantico was s stroke of genius. She'll probably excel at whatever the show throws at her, but in order to really flesh out Alex, Chopra will need to demonstrate combat skills and look comfortable doing MacGyver-type stunts to get out of jams.
Some element of the story is bound to get muddled, though, because Quantico is crammed so full of plot. “Run” throws out ridiculous plot elements left and right with no hesitation or apology. The new crop of FBI recruits arrives and is greeted by their instructors, Miranda Shaw and Liam O'Connor, who share a complicated romantic history. The recruits are given an assignment to investigate a classmate and find out what part of their story has been redacted from their file. In the process, which culminates in polygraph tests, Alex reveals the death of her father, Shelby admits she lost both parents in 9/11, and Simon admits having travelled to Gaza to live among Palestinians despite his conservative Jewish upbringing.
Then there's the sad, strange tale of Elder Eric, which would be enough to fuel most network pilots. Elder Eric has the worst secret. Caleb, the golden boy who can't shoot straight, needles Eric about knowing his secret out of desperation about how poorly he's doing at the academy. Thinking his darkest secret is about to be revealed, Eric shoots himself in front of his classmates, and Caleb is drummed out of the academy. It's a pretty sound story, so long as you can forgive the notion that a secret like Eric's would be easily concealed from the FBI. Hopefully that development continues to reverberate through the season rather than being contained to this episode.
But it would be shocking if “Run” was the last we heard about Eric, because Quantico has a lot on its plate. There's the fate of Ryan, not to mention the truth about Ryan's undercover arrangement with O'Connor, the presence of secret twins at Quantico, which is delightfully insane, the mystery of Alex's father, Miranda's relationship with O'Connor, and, of course, the investigation to figure out who's behind the New York City bombing near the site of the Democratic National Convention. Quantico is definitely overstuffed, but in a way that feels generous rather than out of control.