ABC was not kidding when it dubbed Quantico as Homeland meets Grey’s Anatomy while promoting its newest drama. Within the first five minutes of its premiere episode, the show manages to squeeze in hat tips to its references. FBI rookie Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra) wakes up on ground zero of what is dubbed as the “biggest attack on US soil since 9/11” (Hello Homeland!). The story soon goes into flashback as we see Alex as part of new recruits being initiated into FBI’s training academy at Quantico, in a scene closely mirroring the tough talk that the interns of Seattle Grace first got.
Episode 1 of Quantico is about setting up the premise that we are all now familiar with, thanks to the show’s aggressive publicity. Newly trained FBI agent Alex Parrish is the prime suspect in a terrorist attack. The story alternates between two timelines: From Alex training at the academy with a bunch of new recruits, to Alex on the run to find the real culprits and clear her name.
The show wears its myriad influences on its sleeve. This can often come off as jarring, giving its tone a lack of uniformity. In trying to juxtapose the emotional drama of Grey’s Anatomy with the grit and intensity of Homeland, the show often veers toward being over the top. The next few episodes will tell if Quantico will manage to find its individual voice within this chaos of references.
One of the unlikeliest, and perhaps unintentional, influences of the show is Bollywood. No, there is no song and dance. Priyanka Chopra has simply managed to tone down and adapt Bollywood’s school of acting and transpose it to suit the American show. You’ll see it in her come-hither looks to Ryan Booth (Jake McLaughlin), her shock when arrested by the FBI for the attack and her logic-defying escape from FBI. You’ve seen every expression before, just not in these contexts. This moment of recognition is amusing, heartening and disconcerting at the same time and when you allow yourself to look at it through this lens, it’s easier to buy into the world of this show. Successful as it may be, no one said this transition would be seamless and why should it be?
One of the best things about the show is getting to watch Chopra do things that female protagonists still don’t in our mainstream films. As Alex Parrish, she gets to be the person the entire story revolves around. She gets to be unapologetically in control of her life and do whatever the hell she wants. (Cue sex in the car with a stranger who later turns out to be a fellow recruit). She gets to be strong, messy and vulnerable at the same time. In short, she gets to be the kick ass action heroine Bollywood never gave us.
With that, let’s get down to answering the all-important question- Will Chopra fulfil our expectations to successfully represent a billion Indians on American TV and should she?
Priyanka’s successful transition from Bollywood to an American TV star is as much her achievement as her undoing. We, the Indian audience and media, are bent on scrutinising her, waiting to pounce when she falters as seen in our intense obsession with her accent. For every episode of Grey’s Anatomy you were willing to watch that hospital survive through apocalyptic disasters (there are at least two every season), for every time you were willing to go beyond what meets the eye and say ‘Yes, Jon Snow is alive!’, for every idiosyncrasy you put with on Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory or the times you sat through films where Salman Khan or Rajinikanth sent men flying through the sky, it is possible to use an ounce of that same willingness, to believe Priyanka Chopra/Alex Parrish has a mixed accent because of her mixed cultural influences. (She’s half American on the show, for crying out loud!)
We will say this though. Alex’s escape from the FBI after she’s accused of orchestrating the attack only works if the bureau is so stunningly incompetent that it literally can’t catch a woman a block away from where she was arrested. Similar narrative conveniences–such as characters stumbling upon important clues just lying around waiting to be discovered–litter this first episode, which wouldn’t be so egregious if these agents and recruits weren’t supposed to be the best of the best.
An actress, singer and former Miss World, Chopra has a poise and sexual spark as Alex that suggests a formidable potential FBI agent whose mind and beauty are equally stunning. But Quantico doesn’t give her much opportunity to show off her brains. Like her attractive costars, Chopra captivates on a superficial level, alongside the showy plot machinations and skin-deep intrigue as Alex goes into hiding to clear her name. The chase is on in Quantico, but at this early stage, smarts are trailing far, far behind. We hope they catch up soon!