‘Quantico’ 3×01 Review: ‘The Conscience Code’

I’m a latecomer to Quantico. Somehow, I managed to miss the first two seasons when they were on the air, and started bingeing them back in December. But if you haven’t seen those first two seasons yourself, you don’t have to do what I did. (Unless you want to enjoy the glory of Priyanka Chopra’s hair and makeup.) Season 3 is a reset, with a new showrunner, a slimmer cast and no overarching theme established in the premiere. That is, unless you want to count Alex’s relationship troubles. Those kick off early and from the season preview, appear to carry throughout. Otherwise, “The Conscience Code” seems to set up a “case of the week” spy procedural, and for me, that worked.

The non-linear flashback storytelling is a thing of the past, aside from a few brief glimpses of how we’d last seen the two main characters. The slate is wiped clean for new adventures.

La bella vita

The show opens in an Italian vineyard, three years after the events of the Season 2 finale. Alex Parrish (Chopra) is the most fashionable grape picker I’ve ever seen – and I live in Southern California wine country!

The setting is as far as Alex can get from the grit and danger of her previous life with the FBI and then the CIA. She’s living under an assumed name, in a new relationship with an Italian man and his daughter Bella. There are some lovely scenes of the three of them together, made all the more poignant because you know it’s all about to fall apart.

“Quantico” Episode 3×01 “The Conscience Code.” Source: ABC

Alex’s beautiful life is disrupted by some bad guys who try to kidnap her. In the process of fighting them off, she bewilders her boyfriend, who suddenly realizes he doesn’t really know who Alex is. Nor will he get a chance to learn, because she packs him and his daughter off to safety right away, before jetting off to Zurich to reclaim a few things locked away in a Swiss bank.

Getting the band back together

Alex isn’t the only one headed to Zurich. So is her ex, Ryan Booth (Jake McLaughlin). He quickly fills Alex in on her would-be kidnappers, who have already succeeded in taking her best friend, Shelby Wyatt (Johanna Braddy) — who is also now Ryan’s wife.

(Triangle ahead, folks. But it remains to be seen whether this will be a well-played triangle or not.)

Shelby’s being held by an arms dealer known as “The Widow,” who wants something called “the Conscience Code,” a super-secret code that can control weapons like missiles and drones. Somehow Alex and Ryan had it with them when they fled the U.S. three years before, and stuck it in that Swiss bank.

Except that Alex removed it, memorized it and destroyed it. That was a bit tough to swallow; I don’t recall that Alex had an eidetic memory, and why bother memorizing it when you’re going to destroy it? But it might work as leverage in case you’re accused (again) of betraying your country.

In any event, the Widow wants the code so she can auction it off. She’s set a deadline for them to produce the code, or Shelby dies. Ryan’s ready to hand it over, but Alex insists on finding another way – which takes them back to New York and to a meeting with their onetime trainer Owen Hall (Blair Underwood). Owen is able to get some assistance for them in the form of Quantico trainer Jocelyn Turner (Marlee Matlin).

“Quantico” Episode 3×01 “The Conscience Code” Source: ABC

Really, Ryan?

Ryan makes a cringeworthy objection to bringing Jocelyn onto the team. His problem? Jocelyn, like the actress who plays her, is deaf, although not from early childhood as in Matlin’s case. Jocelyn lost her hearing in an FBI operation. Ryan’s complaint about her deafness is especially strange because he says she had trained him.

This attitude doesn’t sit well at all, and Jocelyn herself proves Ryan’s worries are unfounded when she takes out one of the bad guys. Perhaps it was Ryan’s worry over his wife talking; we all say stupid things when something’s not right with the ones we love. (Or, at least I think he loves her. He claims to… though he didn’t argue with the Widow’s accusation that Shelby is just the woman he married while Alex is still the woman he loves.)

I also raised an eyebrow at everyone’s ease with American Sign Language; it’s mentioned that the CIA had a full immersion course but I don’t recall these folks getting the opportunity to ever take it.

I’m probably being a little too exacting.

But another plot niggle: I don’t know much about black market arms dealing, but it strikes me that you don’t tell people you’re going to auction off something you don’t yet have. So why has the  Widow already set up her auction with a minimum bid?

Well, it does give the team a reason to bring one more recruit into the fold: Former MI-6 agent Harry Doyle (Russell Tovey), now working private security for a very spoiled poor little rich boy… one who can buy in to the arms auction. Our Heroes believe if the code does go up for sale, that they can control things if Harry’s boss gets it.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense when I write it down here. But, like a James Bond movie, it probably doesn’t bear too much critical thinking. Just enjoy the ride.

The procedural part

One of the things I enjoyed about the first two seasons of Quantico was the look at FBI and CIA techniques and procedures. We see it in the Season 3 premiere, too, as the team analyzes, frame by painful frame, a four-second video of Shelby being tortured. They’re looking for the miniscule clues that can tell them where she is – and they eventually find what they need.

Another thing I loved in the first two seasons was the friendship between Alex and Shelby. Things are awkward now because of Ryan, and I’m a little nervous about how that might play out. It’s too easy to make a cat fight out of something like this, but it must be remembered that Alex is the one who walked out on Ryan and then disappeared.

“Quantico” Episode 3×01 “The Conscience Code”

Back in Season 2, I also enjoyed Harry’s ability to manipulate people into doing what he wanted. Three years later, he’s still got it, and is able to talk his boss into joining the auction – before killing him. (Bastard had it coming, though.)

As in the previous seasons, there’s plenty of chasing after the bad guys and a nick-of-time rescue. I’m not going to get too deep into that except to say that it felt very reminiscent of old Bond films or the old spy shows of the 60s and 70s. Even the new opening title sequence had that kind of vibe, with a cartoon woman running up flights of stairs. It was a bit nostalgic for me.

Even The Widow had that kind of feel for me. She does a lot of speech making, like a Bond villain. And even though her evil plot is foiled, you wonder if she’ll turn up again.

If she does, the team will be ready for her. The episode ends with Owen announcing the formation of a new black ops group, which will include Ryan, Shelby, Harry, Jocelyn, and – after a trip back to Italy in which she decides not to talk to her boyfriend again – Alex.

The verdict

The reset works for me, even if some of the logic of this adventure didn’t hold up. I enjoy these characters, and I really like the addition of Matlin’s Jocelyn to the team.  I’m looking forward to what’s ahead in the next 12 episodes.

Quantico airs Thursday nights at 10/9 Central on ABC.

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