Blindspot episode 1 review: Pilot

Greg Berlanti's latest has Jaimie Alexander as an amnesiac special agent, but the pilot is less memory mystery, more generic procedural...

This review contains spoilers.

1.1 Pilot

With Thor and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Jaimie Alexander as its protagonist and Arrow/The Flash/Supergirl executive producer Greg Berlanti involved behind the scenes, NBC’s new thriller Blindspot certainly has a lot going for it. Judging by the pilot, they’ve managed to come up with something decent, if a little constrained by the demands of network telly.

Essentially Bourne meets Memento, Blindspot wastes no time putting its constituent parts together. Within minutes, Alexander’s Jane Doe is found in a holdall in Times Square without memories, clothes or a discernable purpose, clad in mysterious tattoos – one of which is the name of Sullivan Stapleton’s character, Kurt Waller, of the FBI.

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The FBI bring her in, and Waller and his colleagues get to work trying to decode the inky clues all over her body. Before long, Jane and Kurt are following a lead from behind her ear. This brings them to a Chinese terrorist’s apartment, just in time to chase him through town and stop him from blowing up the Statue of Liberty in honour of his martyred mother.

It’s a fairly breakneck pilot, and it rankles a little that Blindspot feels the need to cover so much ground within its first hour. You can’t help but feel that, if this was a Netflix series, they’d let the intrigue and characters develop for longer before racing into police procedural territory.

This being network telly, though, Blindspot seems duty-bound to introduce a threat and see them off within the space of the first episode. Yes, there’s a wider arc teased, but it feels like a network mandate that there must be a mini mission for the team to solve within the first hour of storytelling. As much as what we get is solid procedural stuff, it’s not quite what we were hoping for from an amnesia thriller.

Indeed, by the time the credits roll, we feel like we’ve already learned quite a lot about Jane Doe – she’s ex-Navy, with special ops training, and she made a shady agreement with a bearded man to voluntarily lose her memories. Said bearded man (played by Johnny Whitworth) is clearly the architect of the scheme and a big bad to be reckoned with. For a mystery-based show with a central conceit of amnesia, that’s certainly a lot to reveal within 45 minutes.

Perhaps this is just symptomatic of pilot episode craftsmanship, though – to sell the idea to NBC, Berlanti and co. may have needed this level of plot foreshadowing and action to get their season-long plans across. Maybe things will slow down a little in episode 2 and let us revel in the mystery a bit more.

Despite these questionable script decisions, there’s very little not to like in Blindspot – at the centre, Jaimie Alexander has magnetic charisma as Jane. She sells the amnesia well with her constantly confused eyes, and she’s immediately likeable as a protagonist. Even after you learn that she has a dark past, you’re still drawn towards her. Alexander proves herself a dominating screen presence here.

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As the straight man to Jane’s memory-less bemusement, Sullivan Stapleton does well as Kurt. Yes, he’s a jawline in an FBI outfit, but he’s also an engaging co-lead who shepherds us through the action without spoon-feeding exposition to us. His introduction – where he blew a hole in that building – was a neat little scene to get us on board with him as an everyman hero.

The rest of the cast isn’t too remarkable, but they’ll all have time to grow into their roles. We have especially high hopes for Ashley Johnson (remembered fondly as the waitress from The Avengers) and Marianne Jean Baptiste (recently seen as barrister Sharon Bishop in Broadchurch).

There’s undoubtedly plenty to like to here, with stylish direction complimenting the impressive cast and winning premise. Let’s just hope that Blindspot can remember to be a tense thriller, not just another network procedural show. 

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