I have said this before, but this has not been a good pilot season for network television, for numerous reasons. One of the main reasons? Nothing was particularly that exciting. Way too many shows seemed like retreads of existing ideas with only the vaguest amount of tweaking, such as Rosewood, adaptations of beloved properties that share almost nothing with their source material, such as Lucifer, or the result of the networks just throwing everything against the wall and hoping something stuck, such as The Frankenstein Code… I mean Lookinglass… I mean Second Chance being the biggest culprit. (I know it looks like I am picking on Fox because, well, I am, but I’ll stop making fun of them when they stop making dumb decisions.)
While it has been nice to see that the networks at least used this season as a platform to do a much better job in terms of casting diversity for its shows (I must emphasize this was a real low bar to pass) with shows like Quantico, Rosewood, and Minority Report (see, Fox does some things right), it has been hard to take this season seriously on any other level. In a lot of ways it feels like the networks would rather have just skipped this season. One notable exception, though, has been this week’s TV Roulette pick, NBC’s Blindspot, which brought the combination of a somewhat intriguing concept with room to grow and a network committing to making the show work, with NBC giving it the coveted post-The Voice time slot. So far this combo has paid off, with Blindspot becoming one of the few new hits of the season. Whether the quality of the show has warranted this attention is questionable, but that doesn’t change the fact that this has been one of the only pilots to truly succeed. I checked in on the episode penultimate to the fall finale. How did it do? Find out right after the rundown, and please note, Spoilers most definitely Ahead.
TV Roulette Week 6
Blindspot; ‘Authentic Flirt’ Season 1, Episode 9
November 16th, 2015
Have I Seen This Show Before?
If So, How Much?
I watched the first four episodes, and then fell behind on the show, because I had other things to watch and do. With that said, I used this as an excuse to catch up with the other episodes, because why not?
Character death is tricky, especially for shows that put their characters in danger on a week-to-week basis. For these shows, there is a constant need to balance the danger level. A show that kills characters all the time (unless that show is Game of Thrones which is pretty much the exception to all normal rules of television) risks losing the impact of those deaths and making it hard to be invested in any character (a sure way to alienate your fan base). But at the same time, a show that never lets anything bad happen to its characters risks people tuning out, because no supposed danger will ever feel like a real threat. In theory, character death is supposed to balance these things by eliminating a character the audience has become invested in order to keep an edge to the show. Usually it is rather difficult for that character to be one of the main cast (unless an actor forces his/her way out of the show, or the show is The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones), at least in the beginning. Shows need to establish characters for the audience to identify with in order to keep people watching, so it falls upon the show to introduce peripheral supporting characters who are just important enough for their deaths to feel impactful, but not quite important enough to affect the dynamic of the show.
The problem is, oftentimes this backfires because the peripheral character never feels important enough to justify the amount of emotion the show wants you to feel over said character’s death. Which is why the death of David (Joe Dinicol) in this episode of Blindspot just doesn’t work. I mean, his character was nice and all, and Dinicol had great chemistry with Ashley Johnson’s Patterson, but David always felt forced. His first appearance screamed of an excuse to give Patterson more screen time after rounds of network notes (which, to be fair, is a totally valid note, and one that the show has benefited from after either following the note or figuring it out on its own), and this always made him a weird fit in the show. It also didn’t help that he was only in four of the nine episodes so far. It’s possible that if he had been introduced in episode 2, and felt more like a part of the story as a whole instead of just a bit player in Patterson’s character development, I might have actually formed an attachment. Instead, his death simply leaves me shaking my head. Why I am really supposed to care?
It doesn’t help that his death is so, so unbelievably dumb. I can buy that he would continue investigating the tattoo that he and Patterson had discovered, because he was hoping that solving the mystery would allow him to win Patterson back. But once he discovered the red-haired woman using the books to send secret messages that should have been it because he had all the information he needed. There just isn’t enough to that character to justify why he would follow this woman for the rest of the day–or at all, really. What on earth did he think he would accomplish? This might have been defensible if he had followed her just long enough to see where she was going, but once a mysterious woman turns into a dark alley, your sleuthing is done. Call Patterson, and be glad this endeavor didn’t backfire on you. Better yet, don’t follow the woman at all! Just investigate the messages she left and then call Patterson, or at worst, try to decipher the meaning of the messages–and then call Patterson. Nothing about David’s death made sense. It felt very much like the show wanting to kill a character off, even if to do so that character had to start making the dumbest decisions possible. Some people might say that David’s desire to prove his love to Patterson blinded him to the danger, but the show pushed that way past any believable level. Now, I will acknowledge that at this point in my life I may just be too desensitized to character deaths, but I don’t think that fully accounts for the fact that my reaction to a hyped-up major character demise was to shrug and shake my head in confusion over the logic of this death.
What makes this death even more annoying is that it mars what was otherwise a solid and fun episode of television. The idea of having Jane (Jaimie Alexander) and Weller (Sullivan Stapleton) poise as married assassins was a great way to put the main characters right in the center of the action and their sexual tension on full display. The episode also wisely separated them from the rest of the cast, allowing the secondary characters to shine out of the shadow of the leads while also giving the main characters space to progress their relationship.
Furthermore, this episode really benefited from solid visuals and direction that really opened up the show’s look. Part of that is the simple act of changing up the costumes so that everyone gets a chance to wear more formal attire, but a lot of it is the superb fight choreography on display. This is especially true with the fight between an assassin and Jane and Weller at the party. The fight is shot dynamically and showcases the different fighting styles between all three participants (in formal attire!). Weller and Jane prove to have great fight chemistry, and the sequence ends up the visceral highlight of the episode.
Speaking of chemistry as a fan of Banshee, it was nice to see Trieste Dunn’s Kelly make an appearance, especially because of the way she lightened up Stapleton’s Weller. The chemistry between the two was quite good, and a sharp contrast to Weller and Jane, whose non-fighting chemistry isn’t bad but is still a work in progress. Of course, a lot of these issues may stem from the role Stapleton is shackled with. Weller is simply not allowed to emote that much, which makes it difficult for him to really relate to anyone. It is also possible that these chemistry issues between Alexander and Stapleton could be due to the fact that there are reports that Alexander is not a fan of Stapleton and tried to have him replaced. If true, that will probably make it difficult for the characters to work on screen as intended. Furthermore, these same reports discuss how Alexander is convinced that the massive amount of make-up she needs each week so that her whole body can be tattooed is hazardous to her health.This is also unconfirmed as of now, but it was pretty noticeable that she spends half the episode in a disguise that requires her tattoos to be covered up, which means she certainly had fewer days shooting with all the make-up on. If this trend continues, or if it becomes more and more clear that they’re using her body double, it’ll be likely that this report is true. All of this makes me wonder if any of these conflicts could affect the show going forward. Obviously NBC doesn’t want to risk this show imploding, so it makes you wonder–if the networks view Alexander as increasingly difficult to work with, they may have to decide how important she is to the show’s success, and then make changes to the show based on that evaluation.
Getting back to the episode itself: Rich Dotcom’s (Ennis Esmer) party adds a jolt of silly energy to what has mostly been a serious and straight-laced show. One of Blindspot’s biggest weaknesses is how stiff the show feels at times. This is not something that is unique to Blindspot; a lot of modern dramas suffer from the same problem, and would benefit immensely from lightening things up every now and then. This is especially true for a show like Blindspot, which is an inherently ridiculous concept. Season 4 of Arrow is an example of a show that has really benefited from lightening the tone of the show to match its inherent silliness, and ‘Authentic Flirting’ proved that Blindspot would really benefit from the same treatment.
Rich Dotcom is also a memorable guest star because of the weird energetic sociopathy he exhibits throughout the episode. This energy serves as sharp contrast to Alexander and Stapleton’s respective doe-eyed and dour stoicness, and also allows for some comedic beats that really help elevate the episode. Figuring out how to bring him back again would be a wise decision, as he really adds something to the world of the show.
Overall, this episode does a lot more right then it does wrong. It had a great formula that might have made this a great episode of television, using a lighter storyline to try and make the death at the end a stronger emotional punch. Unfortunately, the episode drops the ball by not handing the death properly, picking the wrong character to kill off and failing to make it feel earned. But I have to hope that Blindspot takes the lessons of the earlier, successful parts of the episode to heart, and is willing to continue embracing the absurdity of its premise so that the show can continue to grow into something worthy of all of the attention it has gotten so far this season.
Notes and Observations:
- My amusement continues that this pilot season took the two stars of Strikeback, Stapleton and Phillip Winchester, and cast them in roles that are the opposites of their Strikeback characters. Clearly both wanted to prove their acting range, but while Winchester’s performance in The Player has been quite good (he is definitely not the problem with that show), Stapleton has really struggled to play a character that doesn’t take advantage of his natural charisma.
- Zapata’s (Audrey Esparza) gambling issues leading her to being involved with the CIA’s effort to spy on Jane has been a nice subplot this season. Though her decision to disobey the order to bug Jane’s safe house will not end well for the agent.
Episode Grade: B-: I really want to give this episode a higher grade, but seriously, the end of episode death just really ruins things for me.
Would I Watch More?
Well, I will definitely watch next week’s episode because it is the winter finale. Whether I come back to the show when it returns is debatable. There just may not be enough there to keep watching.
That’s it for this edition of TV Roulette. This week gave us a nice chance to look at how a new show this season has progressed since its premiere. What new challenge will next week bring? Find out in the next edition. Until then, I am going to go work on my fighting skills in a suit, because you never know when such a thing will come in handy.