So I have an idea.
My regular columns for the Deseret News have cut into my blogging time. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. I’ve thought about simply reposting my columns over here, but that’s kind of pointless, given that they’re already online over at the D News website.
Producing these columns is a process that understandably has tighter boundaries than blogging, and sometimes stuff that I write for the paper, for whatever reason, doesn’t make it into print. So what if I were to reproduce a sort of “director’s cut” of these columns here on this blog? Not all of the columns will merit such treatment, but there are several that I think would benefit from an expanded and revised presentation.
So I hereby present the first of what I’m calling my “enhanced columns.” (You can read the original here.)
So there I was, minding my own business watching the season premiere of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on ABC – which was quite good, by the way – when a stern looking fellow comes on to frighten everyone preparing to watch the upcoming episode of the new FBI drama “Quantico” with the news that it may contain material Mormons will find offensive. Apparently, the local station had pleaded with ABC to show more respect for members of The Church of Jesus Chrost of Latter-day Saints, but to no avail. The tone seemed to suggest that what was about to follow would have Mormons running screaming into the night as they watched something so horrific that it might melt their eyeballs right out of their sockets.
That was the best ad they could have possibly run. I had no intention of watching “Quantico” prior to that, but after such a dire warning, I had to see what all the fuss was about.
(Warning: serious spoilers for the debut episode follow that may or may not melt your eyeballs.)
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.
The advance word on this show 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 or not such a scene would make it tour, it did, indeed, make the final cut, but just barely. That is to say, if you blinked, you probably missed it. (He also was removing them in order to get dressed, which defeats their purpose and, once again, demonstrates that these people know nothing about Mormons.) 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 struck as 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(!). This, again, makes no sense, since Mormon missionaries spend 24 hours a day with a companion who makes sure they don’t get mixed up in these kinds of shenanigans. In any case, he 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 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” isn’t really worth your time – 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 ever again.