If television’s elite storytellers are to be believed, Blindspot is the type of show that probably shouldn’t still exist, and is almost certainly one of the last few of its kind. It’s reminiscent of the dozens of heavily serialized genre shows that came in the wake of ABC’s 2004 resurgence, which was fueled by the success of Desperate Housewives and Lost. Most of the people who made those shows have said, at one time or another, that because of the way television is dissected and metabolized by the social media-connected audience, it’s no longer possible to tell stories that hinge on a central mystery or an elaborate mythology. But Blindspot is to the genre-tinged procedural as Scream was to the slasher film. Yes, that’s much, much higher praise than Blindspot probably deserves. But while the show hasn’t built much good will in its first three episodes, “Eight Slim Grins” establishes that the storytellers are making a conscious effort to subvert the audience’s expectations. That’s no minor feat, especially given how bumpy the episode starts out.
“A Stray Howl” ended with an appearance from the mysterious figure—formally credited as “Ruggedly Handsome Man”—from Jane Doe’s target practice flashbacks, and “Grins” picks up right from that cliffhanger. Jane immediately goes into survival mode and launches into battle with RHM, who is considerably less sinister than he looked when he was ensuring Chao’s death or stalking Jane from the shadows. “You can’t trust them,” he says, and only seconds later, he’s picked off by a sniper. It’s the kind of maddening moment I never see coming because some tropes are so hoary, I take for granted that television writers will avoid them out of respect for the basic rules of narrative fairplay. Just when it seems there’s some real movement on Jane’s case, the only solid link to her past is removed from the picture, taking with him the notion that the writers intend to deal with the show’s deeper questions sooner than later.
The opening of the episode is generally frustrating because, as is usually the case, the dialogue is clunky and the performances spotty. As far as the dialogue goes, certain limitations have to be have recognized. Shows like this need to impart information as clearly and economically as possible, and it isn’t always possible to do that in an artful way. But it’s hard not to groan when Kurt and Edgar tangle over the bureau’s inability to figure out RHM’s identity. “The guy’s a ghost,” says Edgar. “I don’t believe in ghosts,” says Kurt, as if the exchange were written by robots. Sullivan Stapleton’s performance isn’t exactly helping matters. Weller is on edge after becoming convinced Jane is the long-lost Taylor Shaw and is growing increasingly anxious about keeping her safe following the attack at her safe house. But Stapleton is mannered and wooden. And he’s billed above Jaimie Alexander, which seems inappropriate because she’s interesting even when the show is not. Blindspot is a two-hander in which one hand ends up doing the majority of the work.
The case of the week is a dud too, though it at least takes a slightly different approach to using Jane’s tattoos as the impetus for a new investigation. A member of a squad of jewel thieves is apprehended after being shot during a heist, and he turns out to have a Navy SEAL tattoo identical to one on Jane’s body. It would get boring week after week to watch one of Jane’s tattoos lead to another clue and another investigation with clockwork precision, so it’s nice to see the tattoos incorporated in another way. At the same time, too much of the plot had to do with trying to discover more information about who Jane is. The rest was pure filler. If the ex-military crew was into something a bit more urgent than theft, there would have been higher stakes, but jewel thieves just aren’t all that intriguing in this type of show. Considering how RHM was picked off moments before he gave up any useful details, it’s hard to invest in the latest lead that is bound to dead end given this is only the third episode of the show. Sure enough, Casey, the SEAL with the matching tattoo, whispers the next one-word clue, “Orion,” but can’t elaborate before he dies. Oy vey.
Just when it seems Blindspot has careened off the rails completely, “Grins” seems to course correct in the last act of the episode. For one thing, Jane is made an official member of the team, thus sparing the audience more squabbles over whether or not she should have to stay in the car during investigation stops. More dramatically, Patterson discovers two pieces of fascinating information. She runs a DNA test on Jane and confirms that, just as Kurt suspected, she is the Taylor Shaw that went missing years before and threw his family into a state of chaos. Patterson also notices the tattoo that corresponds with an FBI case number, leading to the heavily redacted folder Mayfair is fretting over in the pilot. Mayfair has a mysterious contact of her own, who urges her to kill Jane to keep hidden the details of an operation called Daylight that would apparently have catastrophic results were it revealed.
Though the Mayfair folder was a minor element in the pilot, it was one of the show’s more intriguing plot elements, and the final scene only made it more attractive. There’s also something to be said for the choice to have Jane Doe actually be Taylor Shaw rather than a bad, guilt-driven hunch on Kurt’s part. Obviously revealing the name of someone who has been missing for a quarter-century isn’t the end of the mystery, but even doing that much this soon is a pleasant surprise in this type of show. It remains to be seen whether Blindspot’s makers will figure out the best way to make it, but they seem to be having a great time figuring it out.
- Apparently the title is an anagram for “The missing girl.” Looks like the title format is anagrams, which is very Lost.