Jaimie Alexander, Audrey Esparza, Rob Brown, Sullivan Stapleton

Jane Doe is more than meets the eye. In the figurative sense, what with the hidden array of combat, weapon, and language skills at her disposal, the dense tapestry of inked riddles on her body, and the dearth of information about her true identity. But also because, you guys, some of Jane Doe’s tattoos are in invisible freaking ink. “Bone May Rot” feels like a turning point in the arduous process of figuring out how I feel about Blindspot. Whatever good will the show had built up in its first few episodes—and that isn’t much—it frittered away in this episode, which is as goofy as it is frustrating.

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Blindspot is based on an insane premise, but if executed correctly, an insane premise for a television show can be like a cold lake on a hot summer day. It’s briefly unpleasant and takes getting used to, but once you jump in and wade around for a while, you’re glad you did. Nothing necessarily precludes the creative success of a show about a woman tattooed with criminal leads, but Blindspot isn’t well-executed, and Jane Doe’s face tattoos are a great example of the problem with this show. This is the type of show that makes you feel like a moron when you try to explain it to someone who doesn’t watch it, and a show like that has a small margin for error. If the audience is willing to accept the idea of an FBI team investigating a 1950s sideshow attraction, it deserves a show that plays fair within those parameters. “Bone May Rot” doesn’t play fair.

For one thing, the way the team discovers their leads on Jane’s body is so random and haphazard, Kurt Weller and his team seem to be succeeding in preventing these crimes based more on luck than on intuition or shoe-leather investigative work. “A Stray Howl” suggested each clue would lead the team to the next clue, like an actual treasure map, a comparison every character in the show has used at least once. That would make sense, but it would apparently be too predictable. So instead, the FBI deals with the tattoos and the leads they provide in a fairly haphazard manner. In “Bone May Rot,” Weller and Company catch a break when Patterson and her puzzle-savant boyfriend pause their hipster Brooklyn brunch long enough to decode a tattoo of overlapping maple leaves, leading the team to the CDC after the tattoo reveals the health agency’s logo hidden inside it.

Edgar, usually the only reasonable person in the room, still isn’t crazy about Jane’s presence on the team and urges Weller to leave her behind. But after weeks of chastising her for refusing to stay in the car when instructed, Weller is finally ready to welcome Jane as an equity partner on his team. They arrive at the CDC building indicated by the tattoo, and when they’re bathed in ultraviolet light to cook the contaminants off their bodies, a series of number sequences are revealed on Jane’s face. Ultraviolet tattoos, man. That’s too much. That’s too far. And yes, “too much” is a totally arbitrary boundary that is different for me than it will be for the many viewers who have contributed to earning Blindspot the fall’s first full-season pick-up. But the ultraviolet tattoos are especially stupid, even for those who have already bought into the already kind of stupid premise. It’s an uncomfortably random development, and it colors outside the lines in a way the show simply shouldn’t be doing this early on.

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The other thing Blindspot shouldn’t be doing, at this very early stage of its existence, is playing this fast and loose with the question of Jane’s identity. Of the show’s multi-layered mystery, Jane’s identity is the layer the writers probably have the most time to develop without losing the audience’s interest. The character can be fleshed out without providing her background, something the show has somewhat succeeded in doing, with lots of help from Jaimie Alexander, even before the Taylor Shaw stuff was ever revealed. All the audience needs is to invest in Jane is some rudimentary idea of who she is, and to see that her desire to learn more about who she is outstrips that of the audience. But instead of letting that question linger in the background while they work out the cases of the week, Blindspot is toying with the truth of Jane’s identity far earlier than anyone could have guessed.

This seemed like a brave choice in “Eight Slim Grins,” but just one episode later, it’s clear the Taylor Shaw reveal isn’t part of a wise storytelling strategy. “Bone May Rot” is an anagram for “or maybe not,” and sure enough, by the end of the episode, it’s revealed that while DNA evidence proves Jane Doe and Taylor Shaw are one and the same, substrates from Jane’s lost tooth reveal she had to have been born in Africa. According to Patterson, both results are conclusive, but only one of them can be true. Why tease out the answer to the question the audience would have been most patient about only to back right over it? The worst part is that while Weller cares about Taylor Shaw and her connection to his disgraced father, I don’t care about that story at all. Actually, I’d be much more interested in finding out about Jane’s African origins, so if only one of those things can be true, I want it to be one that invalidates most of the story that’s been told so far.

The misstep could be forgiven if Blindspot had really compelling cases of the week, but this show hasn’t told an interesting episodic story yet. This week it’s the hunt for a viral disease stolen from the CDC and weaponized, leading to the first hazmat suit fight scene I can remember seeing. That lent “Bone May Rot” some unintentional comedy, but if that’s not what this show is going for, it’s in a bit of trouble.

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Stray observations:

  • Ukweli Roach is apparently playing one of those doctor characters who exists purely as an exposition device, then disappears.
  • Patterson’s boyfriend is definitely dead soon, yes?
  • Tasha is in debt to some tough looking bookies, so…yeah.
  • It’s a minor thing, but why did Tasha lick her finger before doing the thumb-swipe gesture to mock Edgar’s Tinder use? It’s a phone, not a phone book, you don’t have to lick your finger to get the pages to turn.

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