Quantico's Tate Ellington as Simon Ashby
Quantico's Tate Ellington as Simon Ashby

ABC’s Quantico and the Gay Storyline That Almost Wasn’t

UPDATE: What on earth?! Episode 7 updates below.

ABC’s FBI drama Quantico will air its seventh episode tonight, and those of us that have been following the show’s is-he-or-isn’t-he-gay story about FBI recruit Simon Asher are hoping that there will be some answers that aren’t totally lame. If you haven’t been watching the show, it’s a lot more fun than it sounds on paper, a genre-hopping stew of all-over-the-place storylines devised by Joshua Safran, the gay creator of both Gossip Girl and Smash. This recap of the show so far contains some spoilers, but don’t fret. Spoiler alerts don’t matter.

In the premiere of ABC’s Quantico, we’re introduced to Simon Asher, the man poised to become the FBI’s first-ever openly gay agent. He is Jewish and nerdy and has big glasses and a passion for coffee. While the FBI has had plenty of gay analysts, the show tells us, they’ve never had a gay field agent. In the premiere, Simon kisses a random stranger on a New York street and then passes the guy off as a boyfriend. We learn early on that Simon’s a virgin. Five episodes in, we discover that his homosexuality is just as fake as his love for java and his need for prescription glasses. Pretty fake, in other words!

Simon Ashby (Tate Ellington) on ABC's Quantico
Simon undergoing a polygraph test in the Quantico pilot

Here’s a super brief primer on the show, if you haven’t seen it yet: FBI agent Alex Parrish finds herself in the rubble after seven bombs simultaneously detonate in Grand Central Station. Parrish is taken in by fellow agents, who tell her that they’d received a tip: the bomber was someone from her own class at Quantico, the FBI’s elite Virginia training academy. The show then bops back and forth between the present day, where Alex quickly becomes a fugitive from justice, and Quantico, where we meet her fellow recruits, each of whom is harboring their own secrets. One has been hired to follow Alex from the get-go. Another is an heiress to a bomb manufacturing fortune. A third is actually a pair of identical twins! And so on. The FBI is not very good at vetting its recruits, apparently.

Alex is played by former Miss World Priyanka Chopra, and she’s really the glue that holds the show together. By this point in the season, all the characters are either pro-Alex or anti-Alex, although everyone’s got ulterior motives behind which team they’re on. The show is a mix of cop drama, soap opera, and reality show. I’m hoping they’ll do a musical episode, because Chopra’s got some singing experience.

But back to Simon, the gay one who’s not really gay. In the Quantico segments he’s training to be an FBI agent, but in the New York segments we know that he was kicked out prematurely for unknown reasons. Simon’s spent time in Gaza, allegedly to contextualize his strict conservative Jewish upbringing but more likely because he was killing people on behalf of the Israeli Defense Force. (Some super right-wing TV reporters are having a field day with this storyline.) Simon’s probably not gay, not because gay virgins don’t exist but more because he has the hots for “Minah,” the pair of identical twins that are pretending to be one hijab-wearing recruit.

Simon is outed as straight by Elias, a gay analyst who either has good gaydar or, more realistically, who actually just did some background research. In the Quantico flashback of the show, Simon is definitely the creepiest recruit, but in the New York present he’s Alex’s biggest ally. For the moment, anyway.

Each Quantico flashback is structured like a competitive reality show, where the contestants – er, recruits – are pitted against one another to perform some sort of training task. The show is kind of like Homeland and kind of like Project Runway. There is sometimes even talk of agents being cut from the program if they don’t win the challenge, as if that makes any sense. In week five, everyone’s job is to assume a new identity and infiltrate a corporate party. This is one of the easier challenges, since most of the characters are already pretending to be someone they’re not, anyway.

To get meddling Elias off his back, Simon invites his boyfriend – er, “boyfriend” – to the party. Elias knows better and corners the clueless date, getting him to confess that Simon isn’t really his boyfriend. Then Elias and Max probably have off-camera sex! Once he’s sent on his way, Simon comes in, confesses that he’s not gay, and then Elias gives a speech that sounds like it was written by someone who has only read newspaper articles about gay people.

“It’s not just you lying about being gay. Don’t get me wrong, that deeply offends me a gay man. A man who was actually bullied, a man for fought for marriage equality. A man who has done things to another man. And recently, too.”

Well okay then.

Tate Ellington, the (straight, married) actor who plays Simon, spoke to TV Guide about the episode, and promises that there will be lots more drama between Simon and Elias in the next two episodes. “There are things that happen in [Episode] 6 that just twists it a little bit more. … There is stuff that comes up in 6 that still makes it like, “Well, did he give an answer or not?” That’s what I want.”

Episode 6 was not really like that at all, though! For one thing Elias didn’t come back. For another thing the episode ends rather creepily, with Simon locked against his will by one of his fellow recruits. Admittedly, the show has A LOT of storylines running simultaneously, so maybe tonight’s seventh episode will feature the twists and stuff that Ellington was describing.

Elias is a little creepy himself, although it’s unclear whether he has the hots for Simon or whether he just needed to apply maximum pressure in order to get a confession. Elias knows that Simon is a faker and probably mentally unsound, but he doesn’t exactly run back to the office with the answers, either. “I loved the speech Rick gave,” says actor Tate Ellington about Elias’ gay speech, which accuses Simon of co-opting the gay rights struggle for personal gain. “It’s one of my favorite moments so far.”

And for those who have been wondering what gets Simon kicked out of Quantico, we still don’t know.

“I thought it was gonna be the “Is he gay? Is he not?” thing. Now I’m not sure that’s gonna be part of it. I think there’s other stuff coming that’s gonna be heavier than that. … When we find out more about his past, there’s some stuff there that really, really had a bad psychological effect on him. Things in Gaza, things he participated in inadvertently that he may not have wanted to that have heavily weighed on him. He’s done whatever he could to escape that person and I don’t think he’s realized he can’t.”

Quantico‘s ratings have been soaring, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens when Elias comes back, and if any more will be made of Simon’s homo-or-more-probably-bi sexuality. And if it doesn’t, that might be okay, too. In any case, it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen a fictional gay FBI agent turn out to be straight:

UPDATE: Episode 7 threw us some curveballs. Elias kissed Simon, which was painfully awkward but also totally in keeping with their relationship. Elias also got kicked out of Quantico! Apparently the FBI doesn’t like analysts who try to flee from ticking explosives. IMDb has actor Rick Cosnett down for six more episodes, though, so we haven’t seen the last of the show’s only confirmed queer character.

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