“Everything just feels so out of control. I don’t remember who I am. Who I was. Whatever life I had is gone. Shattered into a million tiny pieces. Sometimes it’s hard to breathe.”
I have to credit Blindspot’s creator Martin Gero with providing one of the more memorable moments on television with the opening minutes of the series. Unfortunately, by the time we saw the pilot that image was already ruined by the countless spots used to promote the show’s premiere. We see a police officer in Times Square approach a bag with a sign on it that asks the FBI be alerted. The cop approaches the bag a bit frightened it might be a bomb and blow up on him at any time. It could have been a nice iconic moment when he opens the bag to reveal a naked woman who is covered with tattoos. She is shivering as the camera pulls back to reveal the emptied Times Square. A wonderful moment that we already saw a thousand times before the pilot aired. NBC just couldn’t help themselves, and they denied us that experience in context of the series premiere.
Jaimie Alexander plays Jane Doe, the woman with all of those tattoos. She doesn’t remember who she is or anything about her life. The biggest tattoo on her body is the name of Kurt Weller with the FBI. Sullivan Stapleton plays the tough agent who has been tied to Jane Doe through one of her mysterious tattoos. He doesn’t know her and apparently has no clue why she has his name on her back. But it doesn’t take long to discover that one of the tattoos is a coded address that alerts them to a terrorist threat. It becomes obvious that these symbols contain hidden messages that can lead them to criminals and dangerous plots or organizations. So a task force is assembled to decode and act on the information the tattoos provide.
The team is led by Deputy Director Bethany Mayfair, played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste. She may not know who Jane is, but she does understand the significance of some of the information the body art leads to. She was involved in a project called Daylight. Along with a Deputy Director Carter (Gaston) of the CIA they made use of intelligence gathered by illegal NSA spying. The info was leaked by a guy named Winter (obvious reference to Snowden), and it was Mayfair’s job to find legitimate ways to launder the illegal information in order to get bad guys off the street without revealing the true nature of the evidence. It seems that whoever is behind Jane Doe knows about the program and is determined to bring it out into the… well… daylight. Jean Baptiste plays Mayfair very much like her FBI character from Without A Trace. She is pretty much the same person with a darker past.
The team’s requisite tech expert is known only as Patterson. She’s played by Ashley Johnson. Patterson is the one charged with most of the discovery and decoding of the various clues in the tattoos. She loves puzzles, as does her live-in boyfriend with whom she shares the artwork. It brings them closer together, but they’ll have to ultimately pay a price for her sharing classified information. It will harden the character, who is quite playful as the show begins but grows more dark and serious by the end of the season. Credit Johnson for doing a good job of playing a pretty wide arc on such a new character.
The team also consists of Agent Edgar Reede, played by Rob Brown. He been Kurt’s partner and teammate for a long time. They know each other well and have operated smoothly for years. He doesn’t trust Jane, and he thinks it is distracting Kurt to the point that the team no longer functions on a higher level. He also is the first to notice that there is tension within the team since Jane’s arrival. Not everyone has bought in to the extent that Kurt has, and it will cause dissension in the ranks. He’s also dating Kurt’s sister behind his back, and that smooth team really doesn’t exist anymore.
Add Tasha Zapata, played by Audrey Esarza. This is the weakest link on the team. Zapata isn’t a likable character at all. She isn’t very loyal, and she has a gambling problem that leaves her vulnerable to blackmail. The actress also seems too hesitant. She doesn’t appear so committed to the part and has terrible chemistry with the other members of the team. I get the impression from the show and a few behind-the-scenes extras that the actress is quite needy and lacks self-confidence. Whatever the reason, she’s literally wasted space on this show. Finally, there is the team psychologist Dr. Borden, played by Ukweli Roach. He’s providing sessions to Jane Doe to try to help her figure out who she really is. The sessions lead to flashbacks that slowly reveal parts of Jane’s past.
So who is Jane Doe? The first clues lead our team to believe she was once a neighbor to Kurt’s family. A five-year-old girl disappeared, and Kurt’s been estranged from his father because he always believed his father had killed the young girl. Now with DNA claiming Jane is Tyler, he begins to reconcile with his father, who has terminal cancer. Of course, there are clues that appear to conflict with the Tyler identity. Jane ends up finding Oscar (Arnaud), who does know who she is. Oscar’s story is that Jane herself was in charge of the project that put her in this situation. They were some kind of resistance movement. Oscar gives her little “missions” that end up creating real problems for the team. In the end don’t count on finding out who Jane really is this season. Jane also discovers she has various skills as they are required. While she’s apparently afraid of flying, she’s a crack helicopter and airliner pilot. All of this makes her an asset in the field, but she’s also a liability. That’s where her memory gets sparked the most, and it leaves her distracted in a sort of reverie as she “remembers” encounters from her past. We get these in black & white to distinguish them from the current story.
The show does deliver the goods with some rather sweet stunts and solid production values. Set pieces are often large, as are locations. But none of this makes the show what it is. It’s the casting of the two leads which gives makes this series above average. Jaimie Alexander is the perfect choice for Jane. She has the ability to convey a vulnerability that comes from her having her life torn from her memories yet still be a very strong female character. Alexander somehow delivers both, often at the same time. Of course, there wasn’t much doubt that she could pull off the action parts of the role. After all, she fought alongside Thor, right? It’s a compelling performance that manages to suck you into the drama of it all.
The same goes for Sullivan Stapleton as Kurt. Fresh from his four-year gig on Strike Back, he’s a tough, edgy warrior who can pull off the emotional stuff without bringing us down into some kind of soap-opera acting. He still has a little trouble keeping the Aussie accent at bay from time to time, but he’s a solid actor, and the two share some remarkable chemistry in just a short period of time. Credit Gero for keeping the relationship complicated. Just when it seems they’ve gotten beyond one hurdle, there’s another, and the relationship constantly shifts from one of trust to hostility. Stapleton goes on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster ride here, and he does a fine job of bringing us along for those ups and downs.
Finally, I have to offer some real kudos to the way the show was obviously thought out. I was looking carefully for a change in the tattoo designs to serve a new story idea or turn in the show’s direction. They stayed consistent throughout the entire season. That means that Gero and his team had to carefully figure out where they might want to go over the course of not just this first season but any number of future years. Certainly, they left enough material on Jane’s body to carry them forward, and I hope they don’t pull a cheat and sneak a new tattoo in there because of a new idea or direction. Gero was a producer on Stargate: Atlantis and that show new how to deal with an ongoing mythology of symbols and clues. It looks like he brought a lot of that experience to the fore for Blindspot.
Each episode is presented in its original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec. I do wish that Warner Brothers would start to go back to just four or five episodes per disc on their television shows instead of their standard six plus extras. This is a prime example of a rather nice production that suffers a little because of bit rate issues in the compression. That means there’s shimmering and video head-space issues that might not be enough to cancel out the nice production values but wastes some of that effort all the same. Colors are quite natural, and the image is nice and sharp. Where the bit rate causes issues is in the contrast and black levels that don’t allow those tats to come alive as much as they should. This is where better texture goes a long way. Most studios have adopted the five (max) episodes per disc. Warner needs to follow. The cost of one more disc would be well worth the investment on both sides here.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is often alive with explosions and gunfire. It all gets a nice boost from a pretty solid bass response. Dialog is pretty solid. When the show is out on location the surrounds provide a nice immersive experience with the most subtle of sounds. You really feel like you’re out on the street or a hidden ranch. Big thumbs up for this audio presentation.
There are deleted scenes on select episodes. In a rather nice addition Gero offers an intro to each and every one of them.
Casting The Team: (9:54) Cast and crew talk about each of the characters and how the actor was chosen.
Oscar – The Handler (5:15), Weller Takes Action (3:22) and Rich Dotcom (4:43)
Double Vision: (3:39) This feature looks at the stunts and Alexander’s stunt double.
Make It Go Boom: (4:45) Yeah, you know what this one is about. There’s some nice explosive work on this series and this feature takes a brief look at that work.
Tattooed Clues: (7:08) A look at the tats.
Bound And Gag Reel: (4:26)
2015 Comic Con Panel: (15:27) Since the show had not aired yet, this is a short preview with only some production folks on board.
As the season progresses, it became more and more clear to me that this was really The Blacklist with the added MacGuffin of Jane and her body art. If you think about it, the two shows are very similar. Both feature mysterious figures who come to the FBI seeking a specific agent to work with. Both offer a new item from a list that provides the story arc for that specific episode. Of course, there’s a larger mythology at play here, as there is in both shows. In the end Blindspot is pretty much a procedural with a weekly threat that needs to be put down, often with a ticking clock. Like The Blacklist, many of these cases involve corruption in the government or abuse of power and authority. There’s a hint of something like The Blacklist’s cabal at work here, to be sure. A lot happens in the first season, and I expect big changes from the very start of season 2. “Let’s just call this phase 1.”