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Blindspot 2.2 Review – ‘Heave Fiery Knot’

September 22, 2016 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
8
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Blindspot 2.2 Review – ‘Heave Fiery Knot’  

[Warning: spoilers abound for those who have not seen Wednesday’s episode of Blindspot.]

Blindspot got off to a very solid start last week but as anyone knows, when it comes to serial dramas it’s all about following up that promise with some real substance soon after. It’s far too easy to come up with an enticing hook for a season but have no idea what to do with it, as many failed dramas can attest to. (Hello, Heroes Reborn.) It’s trickier to have a greater plan and to let it unfold compellingly across the whole of twenty-two episodes, but the key to making it work is to have a good, strong immediate follow-up to the season premiere’s introduction to the arc.

Seen in that context, “Heave Fiery Knot” is an odd sort of bird because it is less concerned with following up on the plot details of the big bombshells from last week than it is with how the characters react to those big reveals. From a business aspect, that can be a bit of a risk. One of Blindspot’s key marketing appeals is its big twists and the mysteries that keep people wanting more; the anagram titles are a great example of that, as they encourage fans to try and work out the clues, which gets people actively involved and thus passionate. So taking a breath in the season’s second week so the characters can process runs the risk of boring viewers who tune in for the big surprises, especially in a week when all the new shows are arriving and there’s direct action competition over at FOX in Lethal Weapon. But it’s also a strong decision creatively that does the show’s characters good, as episode writer Brendan Gall’s script trusts the audience to care about the characters that the first season spent so much time building up.

The crux of the early season two arc appears to be built around the idea of torn loyalties. Where the first season had a lot of mystery to it, the show never seriously entertained the notion that Jane wasn’t to be trusted until the midseason break, when her complicity in her own mind-wiping was revealed by Oscar. Thus, after the initial skepticism (give or take a bit of belly-aching by Reade), everyone was on the exact same page about the CIRG’s mission to uncover the truth about Jane while solving her tattoos and while there were some brief spikes of secrets and other concerns, there was never really an issue of trust among the team — a crucial element that allowed the ensemble cast to bond so strongly into a well-oiled (and well-acted) team.

That’s been rather elegantly and rapidly blown up by showrunner Martin Gero this season, and the early conflict comes from within on many levels. The most obvious, of course, is that of Jane with the rest of the team. It’s a very understandable source of tension; Jane was working against them, albeit not entirely willingly or wittingly, and it got Mayfair killed among many other issues. Meanwhile, the team “allowed” Jane to be taken by the CIA to the Black Ops site in Oregon, where she was tortured for three months straight. On the surface, it’s easy to say that Kurt, Reade, Zapata and Patterson have the much stronger case for feeling like a wronged party considering they had nothing to do with (and strongly objected when they found out about) where Jane was taken. There’s also no denying that while Jane was acting under the duress of threat on the part of Oscar (and, by extension, all of what we now call Sandstorm), she wasn’t entirely unaware that what she was doing could cause harm even if Oscar suggested otherwise.

But that belies the fact that Jane has been given no reason at all to trust the government, and every reason not to. Look at it from Jane’s perspective: all she knows for sure about herself is that she was, at one point, convinced enough of Shepherd’s mission to allow herself to be full-body tattooed, wiped of her memory and delivered naked into the middle of Times Square in a duffle bag. There are a lot of things we as viewers can point to for extenuating circumstances: Jane was trained to be an operative since she was young, and Shepherd is her mother figure so manipulation would be easy. But Jane as a person is too obviously close to rationally look at those things, and she didn’t know that last season. Meanwhile, her entire experience with the government, outside of the CIRG team, has been that of someone watching shadowy operatives violate the law — usually in abusive ways to her, whether Carter’s abduction or Jonas Fischer’s amoral double dealings. It makes sense that she would be in a place to trust Sandstorm more than the FBI, even if she has developed close friendships (and more) with the CIRG team.

Having those torn feelings played upon is only getting worse for Jane thus far, as Shepherd and Nas both work to manipulate her in separate ways. We can argue the fact that Nas’ are potentially being portrayed as for the greater good while Shepherd’s are more terrorist-like in nature, but that depends on perspective and Jane has no reason to believe one over the other right now. The betrayal and destruction of her Orion team, which nearly killed her as well, only serves to exacerbate the issue. Jane isn’t at the point where she’s thinking of being seditious again, but it’s clear that the questions she’s asking so far are only going to get worse since neither Nas nor Shepherd seem too willing to come clean to her. And whether she remembers it or not, there is clearly a filial connection between her and her terrorist family, which counterbalances against her currently-strained love of Weller, Patterson, Zapata and Reade.

What I love about the portrayal of Sandstorm is its ambiguity. Jane has a point when she brings up the amount of good that her tattoos have done in stopping monsters from enacting their various plans, which is reflected this week in how they stop a group of Juarez cartel hitters from shooting a plan full of Mexican politicians and law enforcement officials out of the sky in the middle of New York City. It’s easy to spin that in a positive light for obvious reasons, although Nas makes a salient point about the fact that their actions caused ripples in various parts of the globalized economy, law enforcement world, not to mention political alliances. It helps reinforce the idea that Jane really doesn’t know who to trust here when for all the good the FBI is doing and all the potential problems Sandstorm could be causing, Weller and company’s best information has come directly from the supposed “bad guys.”

Now obviously, Jane doesn’t see what we as the audience see, which is that Shepherd is clearly much more ruthless than she’s letting on and Roman — well, he has issues. As I mentioned last week, Luke Mitchell is doing some strong work already in his two episodes as Roman; he is playing the character of as sensitive but emotionally damaged to the point of being psychotic. We know that Sandstorm has big plans with what appeared to be a large rocket or missile, and combined with Shepherd’s rhetoric about saving America from itself that paints a pretty bleak picture about their plans. But Jane also doesn’t know that immediately after saying the exact words “You can trust me,” Nas went back to listening to Jane’s private conversation with Dr. Borden. There’s no way that’s for entirely selfless reasons and the way everyone’s morality is liberally being splashed with a palette of grey creates a strong dynamic for conflict.

Ultimately, while he is probably the most conflicted about the whole situation it’s Weller that lays down the law and tells everyone to get past their crap for the greater good. I don’t feel like Sullivan Stapleton gets enough credit for his work as Weller on this show, because the character fits into the stoic, serious action hero archetype. That’s not really fair though, and Stapleton has really run with the ball over the end of last season and the first couple episodes of this season thus far.

The scene in Weller’s office between him and Jane is a prime example of that. While he’s the one who is telling everyone that they need to get past their feelings, he obviously hasn’t and there’s a moment — just a brief one — where he nearly breaks while talking to Jane. Everyone’s dealing with a ton of issues right now, but with the exception of perhaps Jane no one has had their world broken quite as much as Kurt. His image of his father was destroyed right after it had been restored and everything he hoped about Jane was destroyed — all this on top of Mayfair’s death and everything else. The moment where he tells Jane that he doesn’t hate her but doesn’t know who she is is wonderfully acted and an example of how character depth allows this show to shine above just the plotting work.

Unfortunately, not every subplot is working right now, and by that I mean Reade’s investigation into his former coach. This is an odd plot thread for Gero and his writers to follow up on, having been just a one-shot episode in the back half of the first season. It’s admirable that Reade is getting more background work done, as he’s arguably the most surface of the core characters. But his scenes with his old pal Freddy seem oddly shoehorned in here, and the reveal by Freddy that Reade was also abused and has forgotten is very tropey. Blindspot has done a lot of good work with its supporting characters so far, and thus I’m giving this storyline some faith. But network television has traditionally not done a particularly good job with stories of this nature and I’m concerned that even this show may stumble on it, particularly since it’s not compelling so far.

That’s just a relatively small gripe in the larger scheme of the episode though, and certainly not a deal-breaker. As I’ve said, “Heave Fiery Knot’s” primary concern isn’t about the specific storylines that come into play here. The DEA agent and Juarez cartel stuff is kind of filler-esque compared to most of the other tattoos, not much happens with Sandstorm and Reade’s whole deal is a side story at best. Once again, the characters are the key selling point and while I’m looking forward to some bigger plot points in the coming week or two, this made for a solid table-setting and character exploration episode.

Some Final Thoughts:

• This week’s anagram, according to what I’ve found, is “They Invoke Fear.” Which makes sense, all things considering.

• Apologies for the lateness this week; technical issues last night prevented it getting in earlier.

• I had an instinctual reaction to Borden asking Patterson out because I loved the Patterson/David relationship so much, but these two are adorable together and I’m all for more Patterson scenes. Something has to counteract all the tension, after all.

• While I’m not sure where Nas stands, I really loved her shutting down Jane’s short-sighted “You have no idea what it’s like” complaint by pointing out she is a Pakistani-born woman who has climbed to the top of the NSA and thus has seen her share of hatred and suspicion.

• “Can’t you just use your magic phone?” Sure, it was petty but I love it when Patterson drops shade so I’ll allow it.

• Zapata to Jane at the end of the episode: “I’m sorry I shot you.” I mean, it’s not the start of a beautiful friendship or anything but I’ll take it.

• Weller’s going to be a dad and has lots of feelings about that, though in typical Weller form he doesn’t express those feelings.

8
The final score: review Very Good
The 411
After last week's big reveals, Blindspot dials it back this week with "Heave Fiery Knot" to allow for some much-needed character reaction and table-setting. While that means it's not as exciting or memorable as the premiere, it is still a strong episode that allows for good performances and keeps the momentum going pretty strongly.
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