After this past Sunday’s episode of ABC’s fall drama Quantico—recently picked up for an additional six episodes—ABC did what a network always does: they showed a quick preview of the next week’s episode, just as they had done the previous two weeks.
And yet there are two particular scenes in this trailer that stood out to me. In one scene, we see the characters of Alex and Ryan in the midst of a steamy encounter; in another, we see what appears to be Shelby and Caleb in a similar sexual rendezvous.
These scenes did not stand out because they are unexpected or atypical: as an ABC drama, there is an expectation of a certain degree of steaminess, and we saw a similar scene between Alex and Ryan in the show’s pilot. The reason they stood out is that I’d seen them before; in fact, I’d seen them every week he show had aired, because they were part of every preview ABC had produced up to that point.
Here’s the one from the week before.
And here’s the one from after the series’ pilot.
While the latter very explicitly frames this as a “This Season on Quantico trailer,” alerting the viewer that these scenes could come from the entire season, the others have offered no such distinction. And yet, because the show is not delivering the weekly sexy times that ABC believes viewers are looking for, they’re selling them on two scenes over and over again. Although the show itself is built around using flashforwards to hint at events that will transpire at Quantico—often with leaden exposition where characters manage to say things both more direct and more vague than any normal person would—these previews are doing much the same: Shelby and Caleb seem quite some distance from a hookup, although the early stages are there, while Alex and Ryan’s relationship remains complicated. But ABC’s promos have determined that whatever tension there might be in those dynamics, it’s more important that we know they’re eventually going to get it on.
Quantico‘s trickery is not necessarily unprecedented (although an example this recurring does not spring to mind), but I noticed it more acutely this season because they’re not the only ones doing it. Heroes Reborn has been doing the same thing with arguably its trump card: the return of Masi Oka’s Hiro, who was the show’s breakout character and earned the series its only major acting nominations. And so it was no surprise that Hiro featured prominently in the initial preview of the remainder of the limited series’ run when it debuted in September (which doesn’t appear to exist online, but trust me that he was there).
But the show then kept “crying Hiro” in its previews, but never delivering. Here’s the promo for the fourth episode, which features Hiro prominently in a scene that never materializes in the episode in question.
And here’s the promo for the fifth episode, which aired this week, which has a quick action shot of Hiro in an action scene that does not appear in this episode.
And now finally, the preview for next week’s episode, which IMDB suggests actually demarks Hiro’s appearance, thus ensuring that NBC will have only actively misled audiences for a little under half the season.
In both cases, we see an example of a marketing team knowing they have to focus on a particular element within the previews, while also knowing that they’re not going to deliver on that element within the episode in question. They know it will happen eventually, and certainly one could argue that seeding these details but not delivering has no down side provided that the need is eventually satiated. However, there’s a limit to how far this can stretch before it starts becoming sleazy, and I would argue NBC pushed that limit with Heroes Reborn. Quantico is still earlier in its season, but I’m starting to wonder just how deep in the season those scenes are coming from—one would presume it would have to be from fairly early (given that they would only be so far into production), but one never knows.
If it’s eventually revealed that ABC shot them explicitly for promo purposes and has no intention of putting them in the show, I take back all my cynicism and will acknowledge them as the evil geniuses they are.