Blindspot 1.02 & 1.03 – “A Stray Howl” & “Eight Slim Grins”

by T.J. Logan

I wanted to give Blindspot a couple episodes after the pilot to find their footing.  See where the writers and showrunners seem to be headed.  Will the show live up to the promise of the pilot?

castMost people don’t realize that pilots are made in a sort of vacuum.  Yes, every show has a plan in place to move forward should it get picked up to series.  But, a lot can happen in the months between when the pilot is shot, it gets picked up to series, and production begins on the first season.  A lot of back and forth occurs between the showrunners, the studio, and the network as far as what worked in the pilot, what/who audiences and focus groups responded to, and what kind of show it should be — should it be more of a procedural or keep the focus on the serialized storylines and relationships?

Blindspot seems to be walking on both sides of that line.  Episode 2 was much more procedural, focusing heavily on the Case of the Week (CoW), while Episode 3 targeted Jane Doe’s identity and search for answers, using the CoW mostly as filler and a means to an end.

SPOILER ALERT: The following contains some spoilers for episodes 2 & 3 of Blindspot.

First, let’s address the episode titles.  “A Stray Howl” and “Eight Slim Grins” seem to make little sense, until you realize they’re anagrams for Taylor Shaw and The Missing Girl, respectively.  Taylor Shaw was a girl Agent Weller (Sullivan Stapleton) knew as a little boy.  She vanished when she was 10 and, as it turns out, Weller’s father was suspected in her disappearance.  Weller believes Jane (Jaimie Alexander) is Taylor Shaw based on a scar on the back of her neck and the fact that she has “the same eyes.”  So both titles are direct references to Jane Doe.

BLINDSPOT -- "Eight Slim Grins" Episode 103 -- Pictured: (l-r) Audrey Esparza as Tasha Zapata, Sullivan Stapleton as Kurt Weller, Jaimie Alexander as Jane Doe -- (Photo by: JoJo Whilden/NBC)
BLINDSPOT — “Eight Slim Grins” Episode 103

Unfortunately, that clever writing hasn’t translated to the show’s dialogue.  A couple things are holding me back from really liking Blindspot: one is Sullivan Stapleton’s almost robotic performance, another is the awful dialogue.  It’s so canned and full of tropes (“The guy’s a ghost,” “I don’t believe in ghosts.” or “We have to find him, he’s the only one who might know who I am.”) I’m having a hard time believing there’s an actual writers’ room.  Maybe they all just spend their time on the stories and outlines then ship them off to a single 80’s TV writer or network executive to fill in the dialogue.  It really is that bad.

Again, I’m not going to synopsize the episodes… watch ’em if you haven’t already.  Episode 2 revolved around a secret domestic drone program blowing up civilians on U.S. soil, Episode 3 involved a jewelry heist that was more a way to further the Jane Doe investigation than a fleshed out story unto itself.

A little more lazy writing there.  The robbers could have been more complete characters and the case more than another connection to Jane’s tattoos.  Why are they jewel thieves after early careers as super-secret Navy Seals?  Why do they just happen to show up right after Jane Doe crawls out of her bag?  Because… Reasons.  They seem to exist only because one of them has an identical Seal tattoo to the one that was covered up on Jane.  Thus our team’s pursuit and Jane getting a one-word, enigmatic clue from the man, “Orion”, before he dies.

chokeAnd therein lies what may be the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back.  Every time a clue surfaces to Jane’s past, the source of the clue is immediately killed off.  In this case, two in one episode.  At the beginning of “Eight Slim Grins” we pick up from the cliffhanger of the previous episode: the Mysterious Bearded Man (MBM) from Jane’s memory flashes, someone she trained with, broke into her apartment and grabbed her from behind.  Cut to black.  Ep 3 opens at that same moment.  Jane fights back, holding her own against MBM, and just as he seems about to tell her something about herself, he’s shot by a sniper (who of course disappears without a trace).  You can only use the exact same trope a couple times before it gets tired.  They’ve used this one three times in three episodes.  (Ahem, The Following)

There’s still lots to love about Blindspot.  The Jane Doe mystery is compelling and Jaimie Alexander does an excellent job selling the wide-eyed innocence of someone with no memory, without dropping into damsel-in-distress territory.  Big conspiracies are always fun, and whatever all this is leading up to appears to be a doozy.  And after a clunky start, Episode 3 finished strong: a firefight in a hospital, the “Orion” clue, DNA confirms Jane Doe is, in fact, Taylor Shaw, and Weller’s FBI boss, Mayfair, meets with a mysterious conspirator who suggests killing Jane because one of her tattoos references a redacted FBI file concerning an operation called “Daylight” that obviously involved a major cover-up.  Oh, and Jane is made a sort-of official part of the team with approval to carry a gun (how could that possibly go wrong?)… That’s all pretty much in the last 5 minutes of the episode.

ashley_johnsonAlso, I’m loving Ashley Johnson’s work as the head FBI tech, Patterson.  Then again, I have a thing for geek girls.

Last week NBC announced a “back nine” order for Blindspot–meaning they’ll get a full 22 episode season.  That kind of quick pickup signals a strong belief in the sustainability of the series, so Blindspot is the earliest contender for a Season 2 among the network’s new shows.

So, what do you think?  Does the central story’s compelling factor overcome the chinks in the first few episodes’ armor?  I’m going to give them a few more episodes to win me over… or not.  How about you?

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