NBC’s “Blindspot” deserves your time

Jaimie Alexander stars as Jane Doe in NBCs new fall drama, Blindspot

Photo by www.nbc.com

Jaimie Alexander stars as Jane Doe in NBC’s new fall drama, “Blindspot”

Lily Stanicek

One of the biggest questions college students must answer is, “How do you decide how to spend your free time?” With classes, jobs, clubs, activities and friends, the time allotted to sit down and watch TV quickly dwindles away, culminating in a two-day binge watch event that is less than satisfying. The enormous amount of TV available doesn’t help. Instead of creating a sense of freedom, the endless choices seem overwhelming. Rather than sifting through the deluge of new cable and broadcast pilots, let’s start small, with one show and one recommendation. So far, “Blindspot,” NBC’s new fall drama, is a standout amongst the pack and definitely one to keep your eye on.

“Blindspot,” staring Jaimie Alexander (Thor) as Jane Doe, has been ramping up to premier for a while. There’s been a lot of talk and speculation about the unusual premise. As broadcast shows go, it certainly is out of the box, or, more appropriately, out of the duffle bag, than previous years.

The show begins as Jane Doe is found stuffed in a duffle bag in the center of Times Square. When she emerges, she is naked, with no memory of who she is and why she is covered from head to toe in mysterious tattoos. One tattoo connects her with FBI Agent Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton) and another is revealed to be a clue to a terrorist plot to blow up the Statue of Liberty, setting up the mystery for the rest of the season.

Along the way, Jane Doe, reeling from her ordeal, discovers she possesses heightened abilities, like advanced martial arts and the capacity to speak Chinese, that prove essential to stopping the terrorist threat.

The show has little concern with taking a time to set up its premise. By the end of the episode we have a good idea about how this show works and what to expect in the next episodes. “Blindspot” employs a common storytelling tactic, where a case-of-the-week will tie the show together, while the mystery of Jane Doe is the throughline that pushes the show forward. While not groundbreaking, “Blindspot” should take note of shows like “The Good Wife” and “How to Get Away with Murder” (also on broadcast networks) as examples of how high quality drama intertwines with procedural plots. It’s certainly not at that level yet, but the potential to move away from a melodramatic, overwrought crime procedural into a complex mystery thriller is there.

For the most part “Blindspot” is a highly stylized broadcast show that is on the verge of becoming a more gritty drama, but never completely gets there. There are moments when the show’s dark tone really shines through, when the emotion is intense and the Jane Doe’s trauma really connects to the viewer. Early in the episode there is a moment when Jane, looking at the tattoos covering her body, finally falls on the floor and breaks down, the consequences of her ordeal finally hitting her. Later in the episode, after we see Jane’s fighting abilities, the intense action and Jane’s clear competence is juxtaposed dramatically with her bewilderment at having these abilities. These moments come about mainly through Jaimie Alexander’s fantastic performance, and really highlight the potential the show has to delve deep into this premise, world and character.

FBI Agent Weller is the only other character in the pilot with much to do. Stapleton does well enough with the southern gentleman persona, but the show should be careful to keep the focus on Alexander, the clear standout here. The rest of the characters are simple sketches at the moment, although it’s important to note that they are a refreshingly diverse group of actors and actresses.

The show falls, a little more frequently than I would like, into some common broadcast pilot clichés and tropes. The show in general is sometimes ridiculously over dramatic. In pilot’s “case” with Jane Doe’s tattoo leads Weller and his team to what is ultimately a pretty uninteresting and standard terrorist threat. While the suspect is Chinese and not Middle Eastern, the trope of, “immigrant or minority is angry with America for some non-specific, watered-down reason and decides to blow something up” is a little (read: a lot) over done. While there is a twist at the end that may turn the “terrorist plot” on its head, it still seems like too clean of a wrap-up (and has no context at this point). Looking forward to future case-of-the-week stories, it would be nice to see those plot lines doing away with the tidy endings and pushing the boundaries a little more.

There is a slight fear of letting the mystery run away with the show, especially in the case of Alexander’s character. It could be very easy to fall into the trap of treating her character as a weapon, a puzzle, a science experiment, or a vehicle to information, instead of an actual person. The show does a good job of quelling that fear somewhat by focusing on the pain, suffering and confusion that Jane Doe is going through. It was troubling, at first, to watch another show that began with a woman as a victim. The flashbacks of her previous life display the agency that Jane Doe actually had in her life ending up this way. It’s a nice twist that brings the show to a slightly higher level of storytelling.

Like every year, it is a hit or miss with new fall pilots, and this year it seems there is an alarming amount of misses. Despite some flaws, “Blindspot,” has separated itself from the pack of mediocre and just-plain-bad, and is certainly one to keep near the top of your To-Watch list this fall.