I thrive on mysteries. Give me a mystery novel or a crime saga, and I’ll probably grow an inch or two taller. As a kid, I would read everything from A to Z Mysteries to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. My taste became a bit more varied as a pre-teen: I watched David Fincher’s dark film Zodiac as well as the borderline mystery/fantasy film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Yet, after a couple of years, I came to the realization that television is the medium best suited for the intricacies of the crime mystery genre. In fact, the TV crime thriller has truly become its own form of art (check out Breaking Bad or Law and Order: SVU some time). Unlike books and movies, television shows can sustain an overarching mystery for longer stretches of time, allowing creators to drive the plot forward and simultaneously maintain the audience in suspense episode after episode. This successful formula is what the new crime drama series Blindspot attempts to replicate.
Blindspot stars Sullivan Stapleton as the rugged, predictably hard-boiled Agent Kurt Weller. Weller is recruited to solve the mystery of Jane Doe (Jaimie Alexander)—a woman covered in cryptic tattoos who emerges from a duffel bag in Times Square. Naturally, it just so happens that Weller’s name is the single, clear tattoo on her back. The conflict begins when Weller and the FBI confirm that Jane Doe is in a perpetual state of amnesia. She is an inked shell of a woman offering no clues to her unfortunate state. This compounds the fact that each of her tattoos appears to represent a crime, which in unison symbolize a web of crimes of cosmic proportions.
Ring a bell? If you’re thinking of Christopher Nolan’s Memento, you’re half-right. The central figure of a tattoo-covered amnesiac is there, but the ensemble of committed detectives and multiple crimes—all branching out of one mystery—seems like a fresh addition to the elements of Memento.
Blindspot’s fast pace sustains a sense of urgency throughout the pilot, as the FBI becomes more desperate, and certainly more impatient, to unravel the Jane Doe case. And yet it all feels too fast, outrunning even logic in its breathless pace. There are moments further into the pilot that are awfully convenient for the FBI’s heroic quest for discovery—a disappointing sign of lazy writing if ever there was one. When the villain-of-the-week uses a riddle in a confessional video, the FBI has absolutely no idea how to solve it. Then fifteen minutes later, eureka! Weller has a moment of genius—an idea for untangling the crime and thereby preventing it. I repeat: awfully convenient. A plot hole this big in a pilot episode, in which the protagonist suddenly seems to be omniscient, reeks of a blind spot all right, but on behalf of the writers.
And this blind spot grows even wider as the show’s lazy writing rushes to make Weller unrealistically powerful. He leaves every violent scene unscathed, his blazer perfectly immaculate, even when drastic events surely call for some sort of grisly injury. Maybe some viewers will find such invincibility, or rather immortality, compelling, but I found myself asking more questions about the production of the pilot than about the content itself. Stapleton seems like a good actor, he really does, so you can imagine how upsetting it is to see such promising talent wasted on this flashy and implausible character. Sorry, Weller: you are the weakest link. Goodbye!
Thankfully, skilled cinematography makes up for Blindspot’s sloppy writing, at least on a minute scale. Cinematographer Martin Ahlgren gives a dazzling cinematic edge to the show, which, unlike most television shows out there, actually uses expressionist tones in its visual look. With the right use of silhouettes, color, and innovative camerawork, Ahlgren and director Martin Gelo spiral you into a universe where the movement is so visually stimulating that you forget (at least momentarily) that Agent Weller is a seemingly immortal being and that the show’s evil mastermind’s scheme as predictable and transparent as running water.
I commend Blindspot’s attempt to revamp the dark hues of the mystery crime genre with its technical mastery, but it fails to meet the expectations that you may reasonably have for a show whose trailer sells it as riveting and tantalizingly enjoyable. Perhaps it’s too early to tell, based solely on a disappointing pilot, how dormant the show’s potential may stay. But when you’re watching it, ask yourself a simple question: “Would Agatha Christie even bother to watch this?”
You can watch Blindspot on Mondays at 10/9c on NBC. Or you can, you know, not.