Blindspot: Season 1, Episode 10 - "Evil Handmade Instrument"
Martin Gero does one thing very well, a few things badly, and has one distasteful fixation.
BlindspotAirtime: Mondays, 10pm
Cast: Jamie Alexander, Sullivan Stapleton, François Arnaud, Michael Gaston, Ashley Johnson, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Ron Brown, Audrey Esparza
Subtitle: Season 1, Episode 10 - "Evil Handmade Instrument"
When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.
Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion
"Evil Handmade Instrument", last week’s installment of Blindspot’s, ends with a scene of evil "Smoking Man" clone CIA Deputy Director Thomas Carter (Michael Gaston) water-boarding the show’s protagonist Jane Doe (Jaimie Alexander). The mysterious man with the tree tattoo on his forearm (François Arnaud) comes in and kills Carter, then shows post-tattoo Jane a video of a pre-tattoo Jane telling her that the plan is working. It turns out that the puppet master who’s been pulling Jane’s strings all along was Jane. These last few minutes embody all that is right, wrong, and distastefully warped in this show.
What Blindspot gets right is that it absolutely nails the broad narrative arcs of the series. The conceit that the show is based on -- a woman with a map of clues tattooed to her body -- is fascinating. What the first half reveals, while not shocking, provokes a lot of interesting questions within the show. Throughout the series, it seemed pretty clear that Jane was somehow involved in the decision to erase her own memory. A flashback scene of Jane handing her ring back to the mysterious man with the tree tattoo (François Arnaud) implies she knew what she was going to do. So, it’s more of a clarification than a true reveal.
It does, however, allow several narrative elements to open up. Most interestingly, the device does provoke questions of free will and culpability. Now that Jane knows her current situation is her own choice, she has to let go of the idea of being victimized. Through the first half of the season, her character seemed to be motivated by a hunger for revenge and a determination to figure out who exactly did this to her. Now that she’s no longer a victim motivated by a quest for justice and revenge, who does Jane Doe become? That being said, the scene also reflects some of the bad elements of the series.
First, while writer and creator Martin Gero is great at imaginative devices, he’s bad at the minutia of pushing a plot forward. The season has relied on coincidence and events that truly test the viewer’s gullibility. In this case, the entire scene rests on the viewer buying that the man with the tree tattoo would be able to tail a CIA van without being spotted, never mind the implausibility that Carter would take Jane to a location with flimsy enough security that a single person could broach it. It almost makes the viewer want the man with the tree tattoo to be working with Carter, and have the capture and escape be choreographed as a way to gain Jane’s confidence.
Second, it seems like every character in the universe exists solely to define either Jane Doe or FBI Agent Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton). CIA Deputy Director Carter was a fascinating villain. He personified the button-down, paranoid middle-aged boogeyman, but ultimately, he served only one function within the series: to inform the audience that Jane ordered the erasure of her memory. The only way for this to happen would be for Jane to be put in serious danger. In order for Jane to be put in serious danger, there needed to be an evil antagonist. The writers needed to show that this person has a psychotic disdain for human life, thus they needed to have him order the killing of someone who was, at best, a tangential threat to him. Sal Guerrero (Lou Diamond Phillips) had to be written just to show how bad Carter is. Carter, however, ended up being just as disposable: immediately after serving his role in the romance of Doe and Weller, Carter too is murdered.
Once this logic stream appears, it’s hard not to apply it to every character and plot development in the series. Take Patterson’s (Ashley Johnson) main squeeze David (Joe Dinicol). David and Johnson have a nice quirky romance: nerds in love. Then Patterson has to break up with David. At the time, it seemed like a bit of an overreaction on her part, but what the hell. In "Persecute Envoys", David attempts to get back with Patterson, and then is killed. Isolated, the storyline was a bit hyperbolic and inconsistent, but then again, it did look like a developing rom-com plotline. Then David is offed for almost apparently no reason. This entire plotline allowed Patterson to make an anguish-riddled declaration to Jane: "David was right. We were, we were great together. I was just scared…I wasted so much energy on why it wouldn’t work. When I could have been… I loved him and, and I… he was right in front of me and I should have held onto him but I just pushed him away, and now he’s gone". Of course, no cathartic declaration of anguish can be meaningful on its own. But in Blindspot-land nothing important happens unless it affects Jane and Kurt.
The third consistently bad part of the show leads into what is distastefully warped about it. "Evil Handmade Instrument" continues the series obsession with and fixation on women being captured, threatened, and bound. This episode alone contains two scenes of women being tied up. At the beginning, there’s the wife of a Russian sleeper cell who is tied up to a chair as our group of good guys advance on the building, and the aforementioned final scene is fairly explicit in showing Jane being waterboarded. At one point, just in case the audience does not understand the physiological effect of the torture, Carter describes in detail what Jane’s feeling. As a dramatic device, the only purpose the scene can serve is to illustrate that Carter is sadistic as well as evil, but since he’s killed within a few minutes, it’s a revelation that serves no point.
The number of times a woman ends up being bound in the series is starting to become unsettling. At first, this just seemed to be lazy writing. What is the easiest way to show someone is bad? Have them abuse a woman. Through the first few episodes, it just seemed like a cheap way to get the audience against the bad guy. However, it’s quickly turning from a strange quirk of the series to a distasteful piece of salacious voyeurism.
"Evil Handmade Instrument", like all of Blindspot, illustrates Gero is quite good at two things. First, coming up with fantastic concepts, which if handled correctly, could address some pretty fundamental issues of the human condition. Second, writing highly manipulative dialogue that tries to use the viewer’s emotions to override their critical response to the show. Unfortunately, the former tends to undermine the latter.