I may be alone in my opinion, but I think ABC’s Quantico does a lot right. It found a way to
take a genre of television that had gotten super formulaic and flipped it on its head. How? By playing with timelines. The show’s structure works perfectly to create high-stake plot points and complex characters that you’re invested in. Why? Because of the way the timelines are structured; they mimic each other in every single episode. If an episode from the past is about learning to vet evidence, the future storyline shows them putting what they learned into play IRL. It’s a tactic that works well, and helps drive the storyline forward. It also keeps you invested in the characters. It makes you want to know why Alex, Caleb, Miranda, etc. ended up how they did. You wonder, “What could have unfolded between from then ’til now that made them change?” But with all that this technique allows, there’s one place where it fails: it eliminates the sense of urgency for the viewer. Let me explain.
With a show that’s about terrorism and crime, it should come as no shock that the show has its fair share of explosions, attacks, and violence. Simply put: it has a lot of action that should make viewers be anxiously waiting to see what happens next. The problem is that with two parallel timelines, we often know the outcome in the present before it’s revealed in the past. Here’s an example. If a character runs outdoors juuust as a terrorist cell is pulling up, on any other show (Looking at you, Grey’s Anatomy) I’d be concerned. But when I’ve seen the character kicking ass and taking names in the present, it’s kinda hard to be concerned. You miss out on that feeling of, “OMG. I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN.”
Now don’t get me wrong. I’d say the huge majority of the time the parallel timeline thing works. Like I said, to me, it’s what sets Quantico apart. But I think the key is for the writers to keep the majority of these big action plot points happening in the present. It just doesn’t hold as much weight in the past. Blowing up Grand Central when we know the team of agents are in it? That will make my heart race. Bringing an agent into an abandoned building after a bomb was just strapped onto her? That will have me at the edge of my seat. Sending a team of armed intruders into Quantico when I already know these characters are alive and well in the present? That just doesn’t.
I guess what I’m trying to say is while the writers of Quantico have found an innovative way to structure a narrative, it only works if the outcome is unknown. I’m not gonna be questioning something I already know the answer to. So writers of Quantico, please keep me guessing when it comes to everyone’s true intentions. I invite you to keep me questioning where this show is gonna go next. But above all, I beg of you to keep me questioning who the ACTUAL terrorist is.