[This is a review of Blindspot season 1, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
Despite the convolutedness of how it unfolds, the premise behind Blindspot is actually fairly straightforward. A woman with no memory of who she is, her body covered in cryptic tattoos, emerges from a duffle bag in the middle of Times Square. From there, the mystery of Jaimie Alexander‘s Jane Doe and Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton), the FBI agent whose name is featured prominently among the aforementioned body art, is ostensibly off to the races. It’s a strong if outlandish premise that offers casual viewers enough of a hook to at least get their eyeballs on the first episode. The mystery that the show leaves viewers with after the pilot episode, however, is: What does this series have to offer beyond that initial, somewhat prurient hook?
Blindspot is, if nothing else, a series that understands the idea of attracting an audience. Advertisements have sold the show on the idea of Jaimie Alexander’s au naturel Times Square shoot almost as much as they have the notion of the complex mystery supposedly propelling the narrative from week to week. The problem with the pilot, then, seems to be the effort put into creating an appealing product left little time to implement a plan to make that product viable beyond its high-concept premise.
That means there is a potentially gigantic story driving the narrative, one that includes the aforementioned amnesiac Jane Doe, the esoteric ink covering most of her body, an FBI agent dragged into a potentially volatile situation he (or anyone else) has no real concept of, and a mysterious fellow known simply as “Ruggedly Handsome Man” (played by Johnny Whitworth) who is possibly pulling the strings. Everyone has a clear role to play – there’re even a handful of FBI agents, like Ashley Johnson’s Patterson character, whose sole purpose seems to be to provide answers to questions of logic pertaining to the Jane Doe case – but so far, no character exists outside of his or her service to the plot.
Yes, this is the pilot to a series reliant on a remarkably high-concept, but the one-dimensionality of the characters is troublesome, even for an introductory episode. It’s one thing for Jane Doe to be a surface-level character – the very premise of the show hinges on the fact that she has no identity and the most important thing about her is literally drawn on the surface of her body. It is another thing altogether for there to be similarly one-dimensional characters surrounding Jane. The result is a cast that feels remarkably flat, even though it is comprised of dynamic performers.
Aside from an outstanding and frightening performance in David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom, Sullivan Stapleton is most well known for his role in Cinemax’s Strike Back and, maybe to the same degree, as the guy who wasn’t Leonidas in the 300 sequel. They were both action-oriented roles, but it was Strike Back that tapped into Stapleton’s innate appeal as a scruffy everyman tasked with doing the impossible. He excels at the sort of working-class action hero in the vein of, say, Bruce Willis in the first Die Hard or Mel Gibson in the first Lethal Weapon; a guy who could be stopping bad guys all day, but would probably love to crack open a cold beer afterwards and just watch a game. That kind of personality is present in Stapleton’s performance, but it doesn’t register as having been written into the script. Kudos to Stapleton for imbuing Weller with some sense of, well, not identity, necessarily, but humanness; but it’s indicative of some of the show’s problems on a character level that all the audience has to go on is a vague sense of a main character’s personality.
A lot of that has to do with how the characters interact with one another – or, more to the point, don’t interact with one another. More than once, Weller and Jane Doe are seen alone, contemplatively staring out windows or at themselves. And while that beats the use of exposition for the sake of exposition, it also works against the show in an inadvertent way. All that staring creates a weird sense of what the show is about – which is the idea of looking and watching and, yes, staring, in an attempt to gain information. It makes sense, given the show’s basic premise of a national security treasure map being tattooed on a young woman’s body. But it’s also oddly unsettling in a somewhat bawdy way, the intentionality of which isn’t made entirely clear.
Despite the appeal of seeing Jaimie Alexander in a leading role as an action hero that – much to the approval of the marketing department and writers who put a high value on pull quotes, I’m sure – bears more than a striking resemblance to Jason Bourne, the pilot episode doesn’t necessarily play the character up as a strong female presence. Instead, it places the audience in the awkward role of voyeur. Time and time again, the viewer is not only asked to gaze upon Jane Doe’s unclothed body, but they, and the rest of the cast, are required to do so by virtue of the series’ central conceit. It puts the viewer in the odd position of wanting to see the character as something other than an object and the series deliberately positioning her as just that.
There are a few glimpses of Jane Doe as action hero, as she pummels an abusive husband and his friend in the hallway of an apartment building. She also saves the day by shooting the suspect at the center of the episode’s procedural plot. From those two encounters Blindspot is best able to demonstrate what kind of show it is, and how it’s going to work. It’s a lot like how The Blacklist puts the word “list” right in the title, so the viewer knows there’s going to be some use made of a list on a week-to-week basis. Here, the pilot makes it clear every week a new tattoo on Jane Doe’s body is going to uncover some plot that has to be undone before the end of the episode, while also adding another piece to the overall puzzle of who Jane is, why she seemingly opted to have her memory wiped, and how Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s Bethany Mayfair fits into the whole thing.
In all, Blindspot has a wild, admittedly intriguing premise to continually fall back as it works out the many kinks on display in its pilot. And that’s a good thing, since, by the time the second episode rolls around, Jane Doe won’t be the only one of the show’s characters with practically no identity. There is an entertaining, if not necessarily wholly engaging program buried deep within the mysteries at the heart of this show. With any luck, where the more enjoyable aspects of the series are being hidden will be among the first of those mysteries to be solved.
Blindspot continues next Monday with ‘A Stray Howl’ @10pm on NBC.
Photos: Virginia Sherwood/NBC