Blindspot is the most interesting new broadcast show of the fall, but unfortunately, most of what makes it interesting is frittered away within the first five minutes of the pilot. Even those generally skeptical towards Blindspot’s premise—and that’s a reasonable position to take—must admit the cold open is more visually arresting and narratively intriguing than anything else the networks have put forth this fall. If your job is to cut together a trailer for a new show, Blindspot is a dream come true.
It’s hard to create a mesmerizing, honest-to-goodness WTF moment on television these days, and Blindspot commands attention in its first few seconds. The sequence with a nude, tattooed Jane Doe slowly climbing out of a duffel bag in a deserted Times Square deserves all the attention it’s gotten. The problem with creating an amazing opening for a television show is that you have to figure out how to follow up those first few minutes with thousands more. The higher the bar is initially set, the less faith the audience has in your ability to deliver on the promise of the first few minutes.
The vague feeling of disappointment comes early and lingers throughout the Blindspot pilot, which sinks its hooks into the audience only to immediately cut bait. Jane Doe, the mysterious, tattooed amnesiac is taken to the FBI, where she is paired with Kurt Weller, the agent whose name is inked on her back in cash currency fonts. Weller mobilizes his team upon the discovery of a tattoo behind Jane’s ear including an address and the current date, which is quickly translated from Mandarin thanks to Jane’s apparent multilingualism. The investigation goes like clockwork, undercovering a plot to blow up the Statue Of Liberty. Weller and Jane solve their first case and have their first emotional moment together as Jane saves Weller’s life with sharp shooting skills that betray her advanced training.
It says a lot about an episode of television when any effort to describe the plot sounds like you’re reading a Wikipedia summary, and “Pilot” has that dryness about it. The story doesn’t unravel in a dynamic way, it just kind of clunks along and hits the necessary beats with precision. The episode isn’t awful, but it feels sort of perfunctory and lacking in vigor. NBC has made no excuses for its blatant efforts to replicate the success of The Blacklist, one of its few self-starting dramas, and Blindspot suggests a desperation that possibly overrides good judgment.
That said, it’s far too early to give up on Blindspot, which could conceivably grow into something fantastic. The pilot strikes me as a necessary albatross, as Blindspot may be one of those shows that has to teach you how it wants to be watched. The worst moments of the pilot were the debuts of elements that might look better once you’ve acclimated to how the show does business. For example, the scene with the discovery of the Mandarin tattoo and Jane’s instant translation feels awfully goofy in practice. It’s one thing to know on an intellectual level that this is going to be a show in which someone discovers a new tattoo that will help solve a crime, and another to actually watch that process step by step.
“Pilot” isn’t a fair representation of how Blindspot will execute its missions of the week. It’s a high-concept premise, which necessitates so much exposition and foundation work, not much time was left for the Statue Of Liberty plot. The episode is half over before anyone starts trying to figure out what the tattoos mean. With the foundational stuff out of the way, there would be a lot more real estate in the average episode to build a story from one of the tattoos that doesn’t feel quite this clunky.
The cast is pretty fantastic, even though they are clearly hemmed in by the material. But the show was created by Martin Gero, creator of The L.A. Complex, and Greg Berlanti, creator of everything else, both of whom excel at building compelling character dynamics. Jane Doe is a cipher now, but Jaimie Alexander is making enough out of what little she has to suggest tremendous potential as the character is built out. The supporting cast is strong, despite thin characterization, but the writing could fix that soon enough. It’s reassuring to see the writers already laying the foundation for some cool stuff with the always-welcome Marianne Jean-Baptiste.
This one could come together yet.
- Every time Ashley Johnson is on screen, the Growing Pains theme starts playing in my head.
- The premise is so weird and silly, I find myself not terribly interested in the broader mystery of who Jane is or why she has the tattoos or whatever. It would almost be cooler if they never explained that at all.
- Mark Pellington’s directing is pretty flashy, but I’m not sure that’s a compliment. That VFX shot of Weller running up the spiral staircase was insanity.