Realism is boring. Regardless of genre, television exists on a continuum of unreality. One pole represents shows that attempt to be as realistic as possible, perhaps epitomized by Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash’s The Royal Family. Shot with a single camera and without a live audience or laugh track, the series explored the lives of a Manchester family. There were few plots to follow or intriguing situations to contemplate; just several working class people fighting and watching television. John Rogers’s The Librarians, in which four spunky genius fight the supernatural evil with the help of John Larroquette, epitomizes the opposite pole. There is no golden mean, no exact point where reality and fantasy is completely balanced. Any television show can engage its audience anywhere on this continuum.
That being said, there are two things that a television show shouldn’t do. First, be inconsistent. It has to primarily occupy one point in the continuum. It needs to remain on whatever degree of reality it exists. As per example, it would be quite disconcerting (and confusing) to see Helen Mirren’s DCI Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect, interrogate any of the Doctors in Sydney Newman’s Doctor Who. Second, no matter how far the show divorces itself from reality, its use of cliché must be opaque; that is, it can include as many clichés as it wants, as long as it doesn’t appear to be cliché. The second episode of Blindspot fails on both planks.
During its second 60 minutes, Blindspot seems equal parts espionage drama, soap opera, crime drama, and psychological thriller. A few shows have been able to juggle all of these elements; 24 and MI-5 (Spooks is the original UK title). The difference is, both of those shows had a kind of internal consistency. Each show existed in a narrow band of fanciful realism. At their best, this level of unreality was consistent across all of elements of each show. The scenes of domestic melodrama were relatively as contrived and exaggerated as the espionage plots. Unfortunately, the second episode of Blindspot danced over this continuum like Tom Hanks on the floor piano in Big. This creates two interrelated problems: the realism undermines the fantasy elements of the show, and the fantasy elements undermine the realism.
Pure fantasy requires the suspension of disbelief; the intellectual equivalent to a full balloon. Once it is violated (pops), it is impossible to gather up all the pieces and still have a working balloon. An obvious cliché is the equivalent of a massively sharp needle. Late in the episode, after a car chase where Jane Doe (Jaimie Alexander) forces the episode’s bad guy Major Arthur Gibson, (Robert Eli) into a dumpster, she drives onto a ramp that causes her SUV to flip over and slide on its side. Nothing kills a drama like an “of course” moment; the moment when a cliché becomes so obvious it pulls the viewer right out of the fictional world. Why is there is a ramp in a parking lot set up perfectly for the SUV to flip? Because “of course” there is; otherwise, the SUV can’t flip. One of the reasons this cliché was so obvious was because it was so unnecessary: the only reason to have the SUV turn on its side was because it looked cool.
On a more serious level, the producers are still relying too heavily on the “damsel in distress” trope. Both of the series’ episodes have shown women being abused. In the first episode, we are introduced to FBI agent Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton) as he raids a villain’s house. The bad guy is upstairs, holding a gun on three chained up women, two of whom are either pregnant or with holding a baby, yelling: “I told you, I want you to behave.” In the same episode, we find out that Jane Doe is a bad-ass fighter when she walks into a room where a man is beating his spouse. In the second episode, the main villain, Major Arthur Gibson kidnaps a young girl and holds her hostage. Two things link all of these details. First, they involve women as victims. Second, they are almost completely unrelated to the plot of the show. Each could be extracted from the series with little effect on Blindspot’s plot or themes. Writer creator Martin Gero’s addiction to using abused and endangered women as a manipulative device has transcended from being lazy to becoming unseemly and offensive.
There are still a few reasons to stay engaged with the series. Both Stapleton and Alexander have enough charisma to stand up to the spotlight. Stapleton plays the familiar type of decent, caring, yet still macho detective with aplomb. Alexander is able to simultaneously play the confused, questioning lost person and the kick-ass action women with confidence. The central premise of the series also has a great deal of potential. The idea of taking a person and wiping their memory clean provokes a lot of questions. Most notably: if people do bad things they don’t remember, are they still bad? Hopefully, the creators will settle down, smooth the show’s rough edges, and get into a better groove.