Stunt casting can be a great promotional tool for shows — especially those potentially on the bubble — but it only works within the episode(s) if the role is at least partially tailored to the performer.
When it was announced that UFC star Ronda Rousey would be joining Blindspotfor an outing, it gave me pause. It's not because I expected Blindspot to ask Rousey to channel Carrie Coon. As someone who saw the Entourage film in theatres, it's fair to say that Rousey has not proven herself to be a capable actress.
Thankfully, the Blindspot crew had the perfect role in mind for Rousey: a physical force who doesn't lean too heavily on her conversational skills. Better yet, Rousey's appearance in "In Words, Drown I" as an imprisoned link to Sandstorm and the ever-elusive Shepherd (Michelle Hurd) didn't overwhelm what was an already busy affair tasked with truly, finally setting up Season 2's endgame. Her character Devon got to beat a bunch of other female prisoners up, and look cool doing it. That's exactly what you want Rousey for when you hire her.
Rousey was the supporting player in a big Zapata (Audrey Esparza) spotlight episode, something the character needed and the actress certainly deserved. Last week's cliffhanger was a clever misdirection, suggesting that Zapata was being arrested for her corruption of evidence in Reade's case, only for this one to reveal a much more compelling plan to get ahead of Sandstorm as the clock is running out. As usual on Blindspot, that plan involved undercover work. But instead of a fancy party or last week's weird hacker Most Dangerous Game stuff, Zapata volunteered to go to a women's prison. They're so "in" right now.
The show has greatly improved in its ability to use the plot to tell stronger character-driven stories, and "In Words, Drown I" was no different. With big arcs for Reade (Rob Brown) and Borden (Ukweli Roach), Zapata is the lone original team member to not have a significant storyline of her own. This episode tried to rectify that issue, to solid results — if you ignore the context.
Within this episode, Zapata's no nonsense approach to handling Rousey's Devon and finally getting the drop on Sandstorm was a welcome change. She took control of the operation, ignored the well-intentioned advice of Weller (Sullivan Stapleton), and put life and limb on the line to earn Devon's trust. While the show has given us inklings of these traits, the episode demonstrated an agent simply fed up with everything related to Sandstorm. Conventional wisdom and protocol be damned, Zapata was going to break Devon out of prison, lead her to Parker (Jefferson White), the Sandstorm goon we've seen a few times, and make everybody talk.
This all ruled, and Audrey Esparza delivered one of her best performances in the show's run. Of course, it's far too late in the season to craft something exceptionally meaningful for Zapata, which meant that her actions came a bit out of the blue. One can understand the rage everyone on the team has toward Sandstorm and Shepherd, but Zapata's attitude switch felt a little sudden — because it was.
Nevertheless, the switch served the end of the season story well. It feels like Blindspot has been ready to blow the top off the Sandstorm/Shepherd stuff for a half dozen episodes, sometimes to its detriment. Save the last few weeks, the procedural elements of the spring run have been lacking, a reminder of what the show shouldn't be if it survives for a third season.
By padding out the 22 episodes, the show has also given other threads time to simmer. For instance, the decision to have Jane (Jaimie Alexander) stall on telling Weller the truth about Roman's (Luke Mitchell) role in the death of Taylor Shaw's mother seemed silly at the time and remains that way. Yet, the scene in which Jane finally spilled the truth to Weller was even more emotionally charged than I would have guessed, almost making the extended wait worthwhile.
The slow deterioration of Patterson's (Ashley Johnson) mental state has rolled out in fits and starts, but her blow up in this episode — complete with a near-choking of one of her tech wizard underlings — absolutely ruled. Sullivan Stapleton and Ashley Johnson were equally ready for those outbursts.
Finally, there's Roman. The season's most compelling character has been suddenly sidelined over the last few weeks, only to make a significant impact on this episode's events. Not only did he push Jane to reveal the truth to Weller, he also remembered one of the remaining secrets of the season: Jane — not Shepherd — wiped his memory. His outburst was a little more violent than those of Weller and Patterson, but no less emotionally charged.
When you stack all these moments up, it appears that Blindspot is primed for an explosive, tension-filled final two episodes. Jane's on the outs with Weller and Roman. Patterson is losing it. Zapata feels like she's finally found it. And Reade, the biggest mess of them all, seems the most put together. How they're going to face off with such an imposing force like Sandstorm is still TBD, but there's more reason than ever to care. If only the show managed to make us care about every character like this every week in the lead up to the finale.
Blindspot airs Wednesday at 8/7c on NBC.