The debut of ABC's new FBI series "Quantico" had a lot of Mormons wary as it was purported to contain material likely to offend members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with regard to how a key character, who was LDS, was going to be portrayed. Turns out the Mormon didn't make it to the second episode, which, given that "Quantico" is a trashy and stupid TV show, is probably a good thing.
I didn't watch the second episode, but I did watch the first just to see for myself what the fuss was about. I knew something was wrong when they introduced this Mormon guy, nicknamed "Elder Eric," by showing his family throwing him a party inside the Salt Lake Temple, which the producers mistakenly seem to think is some kind of wedding reception hall. So it was clear from the outset that they weren't going to get anything right when it came to how my faith was going to be represented.
Beware: Serious spoilers for the debut episode follow.
The advance word on "Quantico" was that they were going to show a Mormon character wearing only his temple garments, which are sacred to Latter-day Saints and are often mocked in popular culture. While there was some debate as to whether such a scene would make it, it did, indeed, make the final cut, but just barely. That is to say, if you blinked, you probably missed it. In addition, the temple garments were never identified as such, and I would think casual viewers had no reason to recognize them as anything unusual. In any case, they were used as the catalyst for conversation about the Mormon character's high moral standards, which were depicted as admirable and praiseworthy. So, all things considered, it could have been a whole lot worse, right?
Right. Because just a few minutes later, it definitely got a whole a lot worse.
The plot focused on several FBI recruits beginning their training. The newbies are given the unlikely assignment to dig up dirt on their fellow trainees, which seemed a pretty poor way to develop camaraderie within the ranks. The guy assigned to find the skeletons in the Mormon's closet is kind of incompetent, so, to make himself look good, he bluffs and starts bragging that what he's uncovered is really earth-shattering, scandalous stuff. Unfortunately, the Mormon really does have a deep, dark secret that involves pedophilia, abortion and possibly murder that took place while he was serving as an LDS missionary, which, again, makes little or no sense to me given that missionaries don't have the kind of unmonitored alone time necessary to engage in such atrocities. But regardless, Elder Eric then ends up killing another trainee and then himself to prevent it from being discovered.
So, yes, the Mormon turns out to be pretty much the most despicable human being who has ever lived. Yippee.
What's remarkable, however, is that, dramatically speaking, the net effect isn't necessarily an indictment of his faith but rather is an affirmation of its virtues. The question everyone asked was, "How could someone who seemed so decent and upright — a Mormon, no less — turn out to be such a monster?" The character's religion was used to create a stark contrast between a righteous appearance and a sordid reality. The only reason the comparison worked is that they expected the audience to instinctively identify Mormons as good people. Had this character been introduced as something despicable, like a drug dealer or a presidential candidate, his fall from grace wouldn't have been nearly as compelling. That's something, I guess.
But, really, it's not much. "Quantico" is awful for any number of non-Mormon reasons — it's a sleazy, by-the-numbers procedural/soap opera teeming with impossibly beautiful millennials. The best thing about it is that they're unlikely to ever have a Mormon on this thing again.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.