Audrey Esparza, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Rob Brown, Michael Gaston

Blindspot always felt like it could click into place at any moment, and “Split The Law” is the episode in which it finally turns into a real show. Not a great show, and maybe not even a really good show, but a real one. “Split The Law” has a density and a completeness that was missing from the hollow first four foundation-building episodes. It’s the episode that provides the best gateway into the show, the one that would most make you want to watch the previous episodes were it the first one you saw. The episodic story is the strongest yet, and it hits the right emotional beats, and the episode deepens the Jane Doe mystery and establishes a tangible villain as opposed to the vaguely sinister, unknown entity responsible for wiping Jane’s memory and inking her entire body. With this episode, Blindspot becomes the show The Blacklist was in its first season. It isn’t great, but if someone says it’s really their thing, it doesn’t sound like the craziest thing in the world.

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In the case of the week, Weller and his team is ensnared in a hostage situation at the Municipal Workers Association, the address of which triggers a match in Patterson’s tattoo database. (Patterson can inflate it all she likes, the database is pretty much just a Google alert for the tattoos.) The hostage negotiation goes a little too smoothly for Weller’s liking—he’s even applauded by a gathering crowd of onlookers—so it comes as no surprise when the hostage takers, who claim to be disgruntled employees, open fire on the hostages. After storming the building and taking down the perpetrators, Weller and Jane Doe stumble into a basement that has been declared international soil by the CIA in order to use it as a black site for interrogating a suspect named Dodi from a terror organization called the Dabbur Zann. This triggers the reappearance of Tom Carter, the CIA deputy director last seen urging Mayfair to kill Jane Doe, thereby burying the shocking government secrets painstakingly etched on her body.

The confrontation becomes a full-blown jurisdictional war between the FBI and the CIA, with Weller and Mayfair none too pleased about the CIA operating on their Stateside turf. Besides the broadly contentious relationship between the rival agencies, Jane Doe and her snitching-ass tattoos have become a specific sticking point. “Awww, that’s so adorable,” says Carter to Jane’s suggestion that they were all after the same thing. Jane, who has become quite the adept agent in like seven minutes, figures out what happened at MWA without assistance. The hostage situation was simply a ruse to rescue Dodi from the black site, and the reckless perpetrators could afford to be reckless because they’d already been poisoned by the radioactive isotope they collected for use in a dirty bomb.

The team tracks Dodi to a cemetery, as good a place as any to have a gun fight with the self-sacrificing Dabbur Zann loyalists. After letting Weller’s team do all of the dirty work, Carter swoops in with his team to try to claim Dodi for themselves to conduct more of their illegal questioning. When Mayfair objects, all the agents from both agencies draw their guns on each other, creating a Mexican standoff between federal agents who want first crack at questioning a suspect. Carter makes a move for Jane Doe because he wants to question her about the tattoos and her past, but Mayfair has good reason to doubt that after barely preventing Carter from killing Jane himself. Mayfair acquiesces to Carter’s demand for Dodi rather than allowing him to cart Jane off to some illegal black site instead.

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Carter is a silly, mustache-twirling villain played with such goofy gusto by Michael Gaston, he brings to Blindspot an energy similar to what James Spader lends to The Blacklist. The high-concept fed procedural formula calls for a suave ham, and Carter is bringing the heat. Beyond that, the idea of a rivalry between the FBI and the CIA fierce enough to make two teams led by high-ranking officers draw on each other in broad daylight is the best kind of stupid. “Split The Law” makes the presumptuous, power-hungry Carter the villain, putting the aliens or whatever that put the tattoos on her body onto the back burner and giving Weller and Jane a foe with a face.

The episode also makes a case for Weller and Jane Doe’s emotional bond like no episode before it. The idea of Jane potentially being Taylor Shaw isn’t that interesting to me as story, but I like the idea of Weller and Jane having divergent reactions to the idea of it. Jane has no memory of who Taylor is, and feels too much pressure to be someone she isn’t, someone she has no real connection to. Meanwhile, Weller hopes Taylor’s return can finally help assuage his guilt over what happened to his childhood friend. Not that he’s any closer to wanting to reconcile with his father, who abruptly showed up at the house. I’m not super invested in Weller’s family stuff, but it adds another layer to a show that has felt a bit anemic so far.

Obviously Blindspot is still pretty wobbly, and is frequently laugh-out-loud funny for such a self-serious show. When Mayfair argued passionately for the importance of “isotopic evidence,” I completely lost it. That said, “Split The Law” is a good-looking, well-paced, usually smart episode. More like this, and it will have earned its full season pick-up.

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Stray observations:

  • Zapata is spying or something for Carter, because high-concept fed procedurals must also have a mole on the team.
  • I’m always happy to see Jordana Spiro, even when she doesn’t have that much to do.
  • This is the first time the show has really tried to sell a Weller-Jane Doe romantic relationship, and I’m not sure how I feel about it just yet.

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