Much ado has been made about the naked women sauntering around New York's Times Square this summer. With breasts adorned in varying patterns of the American flag and the letters N and Y inked upon haunches, the lacquered panhandlers' message held very little mystery for most New Yorkers. Obviously, sex sells.
It's a timely parallel for NBC's new Monday-night action drama, Blindspot, which, within a minute of opening, features an ornately tattooed nude woman shivering beneath the LED tickers of the Crossroads of the World. But in Blindspot'scase, sex is only the initial draw. It's the tattoos and the fast pace that drive the mystery. This is network television, after all, meaning no nipples, no cracks.
The opening scene is epic, meant to hook audiences immediately. Though lacking nipple shots, how can you look away?
A policeman stumbles upon an unattended duffel bag in the middle of Times Square with a luggage tag that reads, "CALL THE FBI." Cut to an iconic shot of the evacuated Square and a bomb specialist in a hazmat suit creeping toward the bag like a trepidatious astronaut. The bag moves. He stumbles backwards. The zipper peels open and gives birth to a lithe woman (Jaimie Alexander) quivering and dripping with tattoos. She is clearly not a threat; not in the ticking time-bomb sense, anyway.
It turns out that the woman has zero memory of who she is or where she came from. Even to herself, she is a Jane Doe.
Jane's memory has been wiped clean with a zeta interacting protein, a substance used on PTSD patients to induce partial amnesia and erase painful memories. Jane's body has been flooded with the stuff, wiping clean all narrative memory. However, she has maintained her procedural memory, meaning that she can walk, talk, and recognize the nuts and bolts of the world around her. How convenient.
Meanwhile, FBI agent Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton) is summoned to New York from rural Kentucky after serving an ass-kicking to a Winter's Bone–looking wackadoo. The dialogue is bad; the setup is beside the point. This oddly indirect scene is meant to establish that Weller is an archetypal badass. The stubble and the gravelly voice would have been enough.
Back in New York, Jane Doe is revealed to Weller, and it becomes clear why he was called onto the case: Weller's name is etched between her avian shoulder bones in banknote typography.
In an attempt to remember why that might be, she runs her hands over his arms and ever-so-gently brushes his flexing jawline. He pulls away. I sense a troubled past — a dead wife, perhaps? A life intertwined with violence and tragedy? Jane looks devastated. Her hair looks phenomenal. Certainly Jane can recall what sexual tension feels like. The chemistry is weird, sad, and overly heavy.
Weller drops her off at a safe house in some anonymous edge of an outer borough, the likes of which gentrification has not yet reached. Alone at last, Jane examines herself in the mirror and weeps into a dingy floor rug, presumably because her very lovely body was made to look like the sample page of some avant-garde tattoo shop in Brooklyn.
Alexander is a beautiful canvas, and yet she seems caged by the script's cheesy dialogue and lack of introspection; even in the action scenes to come, she appears a deer in headlights, green eyes wide at every turn. No doubt she'll adapt and harden, but for now, her demureness is boring.
In the morning, happily, Jane figures out she likes coffee. (Get ready for Stumptown and Dough doughnuts, girl.) She also figures out she can speak Chinese. Translating a set of characters hidden behind her left ear, Jane reveals an address in Chinatown and today's date.
The treasure hunt begins, and already, we can see the pattern of Weller and Jane's relationship play out: He gets ready to save the day; she insists on tagging along; he resists; she argues, wins, and triumphs. Thusly, we follow them to Chinatown, where they discover a bomb lab and a video from its maker in a murky apartment building. Quickly, they track the bomber, Chao, but not before Jane gets into a scuffle with a resident Chinatown dickhead whom she overhears slapping his wife around. In a Lara Croft–like burst, Jane's instincts flare, and she's karate-chopping and chokeholding two aggressive Asian men into submission.
Clearly, there will be dozens of hand-to-hand combat scenes to come. Between Weller and Jane, many asses will be kicked. According to a New York Times Q&A with Alexander, she trained with a Navy Seal for the role.
Disturbed by the heat she brought, Jane wilts a bit, and Weller pulls her in for a hug. Whether they realize it or not, the two are already in a comfortingly dysfunctional relationship. I can only hope that episode two will deliver on the make-out front.
As they leave Chinatown to pursue the bomber, we observe a handsome man with an ample beard and mane enough for a man-bun lurking in the shadows. No doubt he'll appear again very soon.
In a short-lived chase scene, Weller and his sidekick, Agent Ramirez, extract an explosive, save a train full of people in a stereotypical subway-tunnel blaze, and lose the assailant. Meanwhile, Jane's discovered the source of Chao's ire: His mother's been detained in a Chinese prison camp, and the American government has done little to help. Thanks to a clue in his video, Weller realizes he's headed to the Statue of Liberty.
It's no surprise that you know who is insistent upon joining Weller to Lady Liberty. And it's no surprise that Weller acquiesces and bestows upon Jane a bulletproof vest. Within moments, the pair — clearly poised to be the FBI's next dream team — identifies the bomber who shoots Jane in the arm. Weller follows him and is wrestled into a compromising position rather quickly for such a big-deal FBI agent.
No matter; you know who comes to the rescue. With only a bit of hesitation, Jane shoots and disables the bomber, triggering a flashback; in grainy sepia tones, we see a long-haired Jane shooting at a target in the woods. In steps a handsome, bearded man, angry as hell and ordering Jane to repeat the course.
Again, disturbed at what she's just wrought and baffled by her flashback, Jane crumples into Weller's arms.
All that borne from a tiny tattoo tucked behind Jane's ear.
After some intense, awkward hugging between Weller and Jane back at the safe house (SO MUCH HUGGING), we cut to the Statue of Liberty bomber lying chained to his hospital bed. Lurking over him is handsome bearded man, looking scary in scrubs. "You for your sister. That was the deal," he says. Flatline, bomber.
Suddenly, we're thrown into another flashback. Handsome bearded man wields an IV tube, but this time, his patient is Jane Doe. "Once I insert this, you will be permanently erased. Everything you have been will cease to exist," says beardo.
She looks at him, half-fierce, half-fearful. "I know, but it's my only choice."
- Thankfully, there are dozens of designs layered across Jane's milky-white skin. So if Blindspot gets picked up for six more seasons, there will be no shortage of inky fodder.
- Kurt Weller is drawn into the case thanks to a banner with his name on Jane's back.
- A set of Chinese characters behind Jane's left ear reveals an address and a date in Chinatown, leading to the capture of a Chinese terrorist.
- A Malevich-like black block was placed over Jane's bicep to cover an existing tattoo of an eagle holding a trident — the iconography of the Navy Seals. Likely she's Seals special ops.
- Bethany Mayfair, the head of Weller's unit, identifies a number series that corresponds to a case file stamped with her name and large swath of redactions. Was the FBI implicated in a sketchy case that Jane's tattooer wants to uncover?
- Though entertaining, Blindspot's constant upswing is a bit exhausting. Jumping from Times Square to Chinatown to Brooklyn to the Statue of Liberty all in one episode does little to distract from the bad dialogue stringing it all together (e.g., Weller to Jane: "You didn't learn that at a local dojo").
- Did NBC do a genre focus group and then attempt to cram the most popular categories into one show? All at once, Blindspot is an FBI crime drama, female action-hero show, tattoo voyeurism, forensic investigation, and dysfunctional romance featuring professional partners. Did I miss anything?
- A lot of information was stuffed into the pilot. Hopefully the next episode will slow its roll enough to allow for some actual character development. Why is Weller so gloomy? Will Jane become capable of an expression other than doe-eyed? I like the idea of a badass woman dominating a Monday-night network spot, but we need a woman with a personality that extends beyond reactive.
- As of now, the pilot feels like one big trailer. All is not lost if that trailer lives up to the epic budget this show appears to have, judging solely on location shoots, tattoo transfers, and Jane Doe's hairstylist.