ABC’s diversity train is not slowing down with the debut of Quantico, an FBI crime drama starring Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra as a steely female agent. It’s a feminist series led by an Indian actress, which is groundbreaking in itself. Let’s see whether the thriller does, or does not, make viewers tune in.
In June, I wrote about Quantico’s hyper-sexualized ads featuring a nude, handcuffed Priyanka, which left a bad taste in my mouth. But as the series inched closer to its premiere, the new Quantico ads were actually about the show.
In the pilot episode, Chopra plays Alex Parrish, a Indian American woman who spent half of her life in Mumbai and the other in Northern California. She’s athletic and too smart for her own good and the show begins with her coming to amid an explosion in New York City and being taken in for questioning by fellow agents. As she’s interrogated, she recalls everything she experienced at FBI training camp from the first day she arrived because one of her fellow recruits is the attack’s mastermind.
Along with Alex, other trainees are shown leaving their families, jobs and churches for training at Quantico. Straight away, a hijab-clad recruit faces Islamophobia in Middle America when a gas station attendant refuses to give her his establishment’s bathroom key. At first, you’re upset by the stranger’s suspicion of this woman who’s just trying to use the facilities, but then intrigued when she finds a secret key in the toilet and hops into a different car parked outside while an unknown person trails her in the vehicle she just exited. Elsewhere, a gay recruit meets a stranger for a coffee date that’s really just an opportunity to photograph himself kissing another man he can pass off as his boyfriend to the FBI.
Everyone is mysterious—including Alex. As the training continues, she reveals to a teacher that her real reason for joining up was to learn the truth about her father’s involvement in the FBI. In the interrogation room near the terrorist attack, Alex is arrested but her old FBI orientation leader Miranda Shaw, played by Aunjanue Ellis, frees her to figure out whodunnit before she’s pinned with a crime she didn’t commit.
As a fan of strong female leads, or so says my Netflix queue, Quantico is a cross between Showtime’s Homeland, ABC’s Scandal and even Grey’s Anatomy, with all the interplay and sexual tension between the FBI recruits. In the first episode alone, Alex and the other female students compete physically, mentally and as detectives alongside men. These actions are great for feminist television depictions, but are even bigger in a different arena.
In today’s climate, where anti-terrorism and Islamophobia often mix but are juxtaposed with the awareness that anti-terrorism should not mean racism, bigotry or hate, ABC is taking a step in the right direction with Quantico. Casting Chopra and supporting actresses like Yasmine Al Massri, who wears a hijab during nearly the entire pilot, may seem like a small thing, but it’s an important step in diversifying the television landscape.
Quantico is also pulling from the historical archives, like Homeland’s Carrie, played by a tear-stained Claire Danes, and Zero Dark Thirty’s Maya, played by a stone-faced Jessica Chastain, by depicting women in pivotal roles in the fight for America’s safety. Real people like Maya, whose real name was not revealed by the CIA, and others who were profiled in HBO’s Manhunt, a documentary about the women who tracked Osama bin Laden before 9/11, paved the way for Chopra’s Parrish with their work. It’s good to see them recognized and reflected in popular culture.
Ultimately, Quantico is a solid show with the right blend of mystery, action, hard-to-pin-down motives and realistic dialogue (corny scripts can really ruin a good thing)—let’s hope ABC can keep the party going.
Contact the author at Hillary@jezebel.com.
Image via Getty.