It can never be emphasized enough: doing 22 episodes of TV is unbearably difficult. Doing 22 episodes of a show primarily defined by conspiracy and mystery is somehow even more difficult. These truths are why The X-Files remains one of TV's most influential shows; Chris Carter and company realized that the only way to tell a sprawling conspiracy story was to regularly ignore it, often for weeks at a time and/or directly after revealing big pieces of information. The standalone palette cleanser episode, where characters get caught up in a random side mission, can extend the shelf life of whatever grand arcs a show has in mind.
Blindspot showrunner Martin Gero and his team have realized that there's only one way to do a successful palette cleanser episode on Blindspot: Rich Dotcom (Ennis Esmer). Not every episode featuring the infamous hacker/goofball has been a home run, but Rich brings a great energy to what is typically a stuffy, serious enterprise. His return in "Borrow or Rob" came on the heels of last week's big Shepherd (Michelle Hurd) episode, ushering any of those lingering questions to the background for the season's most purely fun hour.
Last week, Blindspot spotlighted the torture of an old man with a broken mind. This week's affair centered on Rich, Weller (Sullivan Stapleton), Patterson (Ashley Johnson), and Rich's ex-boyfriend Boston (Josh Dean) going undercover, as couples, at an elitist yuppie secret society party. Last week, characters were trying to decode ramblings messages. This week, half the episode was a joke about Rich hiring Weller, an obvious prostitute, to be his beefy date and impress some old college buddies.
That's a stark contrast, but one that the show should try to strike more often. If it requires Rich to be around more often, then so be it; Blindspot is an entirely different show with him in the mix.
The plot particulars of "Borrow or Rob" included typical procedural noise -- a tattoo led the team to investigate a dramatic increase in the sale of lithium -- but it only functioned so Ennis Esmer could do his thing and the show could poke fun at espionage thriller conventions, and at itself. The episode's standout moment featured Rich and Weller, dressed to the nines, out on the dance floor trying to examine the hostile situation. It's a setup you've seen dozens of times on TV and film, with beautiful people barely containing their attraction to one another while completing the job.
Here, however, those conventions were inverted a bit. Not just because it was two men together, but in how antagonistic Rich and Weller were to one another. Rich is a perfect foil for the straight-laced Weller and the show smartly makes it clear that the characters know this. Rich's needling of Weller throughout the night -- playing up the prostitute angle, generally objectifying him -- was on purpose, both because Rich wants to get back at Weller for arresting him and because he's a supreme goof who can't help himself.
Before and after those moments on the dance floor, "Borrow or Rob" offered an origin story of sorts for Rich, but never pressed too hard to reveal a past tragedy that would recontextualize our appreciation for the character. Unsurprisingly, Rich was a rabble rouser in college, even among his powerful friends, while his pride (and a devotion to a risk analysis algorithm) prevented him from moving to Silicon Valley with Elon Musk stand-in Zach Riley. You could read that as a sad tale, but it's mostly just a compelling nod toward the Rich we've seen in the past. He can't help himself. He must be the smartest, and everyone must know it.
Better yet, this plot demonstrated an oddly sizable amount of self-awareness on the part of the show. At one point, Rich began to explain a piece of his past to Weller, before admitting that no one cares about origin stories. Many of the rich goobers at the party had ridiculous names that are only the result of having so much money that you know no one will make fun of you. Late in the episode, when the toothless plan involving one of the dudes buying lithium from Riley's company is revealed, a character points a gun and screams "NOW HACK" at Rich.
Even the supplemental mission scenes worked toward the episode's lighter tone. Patterson and Houston were stuck together in what began as a silly cover and ended up serving as a solid reminder for Patterson that her willingness to fall in love is not a bad thing, no matter if those partners end up dead or part of a global terror plot involving decades of planning.
In the grand scheme of things, "Borrow or Rob" won't be as "important" as last week's episode. Nonetheless, it's likely that this episode will be remembered more fondly expressly because it stopped to have some fun while simultaneously offering characters like Weller or Patterson a reprieve from all the hell surrounding them.
In fact, anytime that this one cut away to Jane (Jaimie Alexander)'s attempts to help Roman (Luke Mitchell) remember his past or Reade's (Rob Brown) sudden battle with cocaine or even the final moments' assertion that Riley was indeed working with Borden (Ukweli Roach) and Sandstorm, it didn't work as effectively. Those moments were a reminder of all the traumas weighing these people down.
I wouldn't necessarily say that Blindspot has a big problem. People, including me, like the puzzle-solving experience the show provides. But Rich Dotcom is an obvious solution, even if he's only deployed a half-dozen times each season, in situations just like this.
Blindspot airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on NBC.