Blindspot: Season 1, Episode 7 - "Sent on Tour"
Trying to find character among caricature; with so much time spent on the two leads, does the supporting cast matter?
BlindspotAirtime: Mondays, 10pm
Cast: Jaimie Alexander, Sullivan Stapleton, Ashley Johnson
Subtitle: Season 1, Episode 7 - "Sent on Tour"
Air Date: 2015-11-02
Early on in this week’s episode of Blindspot, "Sent on Tour" there was a bit of witty repartee between federal agent Edgar Reade (Rob Brown) and agent Tasha Zapata (Audrey Esparza). It involved his holding a record for receptions during his football-playing days at Michigan. The exchange stood out because it was one of the few moments where either Reade or Zapata did anything that did not either advance the plot or comment on one of the two leads: Jane Doe/Taylor Shaw (Jaimie Alexander) and Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton). Despite being based on a wild conceit (Jane Doe having clues to top-secret government crimes and cover-ups tattooed on her body), Blindspot is a fairly traditional espionage soap opera.
The series fits into another genre of television. The adventure series features a charismatic lead and a few subjects of varying degrees of loyalty. It's a cast structure that can pop up in a variety of different genres. It was the structure of other espionage soaps like M.I. 5 and 24. It was the set up for science fiction shows like the Star Trek franchise and Firefly. Indeed, Firefly’s creator, Joss Whedon, used it for both the supernatural drama Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and its spin-off, Angel. It’s frequently used in crime dramas like Criminal Minds and C.S.I.; it’s even popped up in a few comedies like Taxi and M.A.S.H.. There are a whole series of characters that can be plugged into the formula. This includes but is not limited to: the loyal and far more intelligent lieutenant, the subordinate/romantic interest, the badass loose cannon, the wise-cracking clown, and the geeky chair pilot nerd.
The problem with Blindspot is that it has yet to establish which one of these characters Jane Doe/ Taylor Shaw is going to be. At times she acts like the love interest, and other times she’s the super badass. This creates two major problems. It muddies her character, and it sucks up all of the oxygen for the other characters. After seven weeks, everyone except Jane and Agent Weller are underdeveloped. The first ramification is the more obvious.
It’s a flaw that's encoded into the DNA of the show. Consider that the character has two names: Jane Doe and Taylor Shaw. In addition, her intellect is split at the very beginning. While all of her memories have been stripped away, all of her functional memory remains. So she does not remember her parents’ names, but she can write code and fly a helicopter. While this fits the internal logic of the show, it’s still frustrating.
Added to this, there are inconsistencies in how she is written. There are times where she is immediately proficient. One example occurs in the first episode, in which she translates an obscure Chinese dialect. In the latest episode, "Sent on Tour" there’s a moment where she’s required to pilot a helicopter. At that point, she wonders if she even knows how to operate a helicopter. Every other time in the series, she’s able to access her skills immediately and confidently. In this episode, she’s tentative, for seemingly no other reason except to increase narrative tension. It smacks of lazy writing; even a character with her memory erased should have some consistency.
Additionally, so much of the show is focused on Jane Doe that the other characters have remained pretty two-dimensional. Both Reade and Zapata act as Weller’s personal foot soldiers. Most of their dialogue is dedicated to defining the two lead characters. Zapata is given a backstory of being a compulsive gambler, but this seems like it was written in for the sole purpose of giving her a reason to betray her team. Seven episodes in, the audience is still waiting for the supporting cast to stop being caricatures and start becoming characters.
The one character that has developed outside of Weller or Doe is Patterson (Ashley Johnson). Patterson plays the quirky science nerd desk jockey who loyally serves her agents out in the field. It's the same character as Criminal Mind’s Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness), and N.C.I.S.’s Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette). Patterson is slightly less quirky than either of them. Considering that Criminal Minds is entering its eleventh season and N.C.I.S. its thirteenth, you can hardly blame Martin Gero for stealing from them; it’s clearly a formula that works. You can, however, blame him for not developing his own show’s other characters.