Midseason premieres are the hardest episodes to make. Fall or winter finales are inherently good for TV in that they require shows to move quicker, answer questions, and reveal important moments. But because of those reasons, the follow up episode — the one that must deal with all the fallout from those answered questions and revealed moments — faces significant challenges. These episodes are usually eventful, but not necessarily good.
Blindspot's first episode of 2017, "Nor I, Nigel, AKA Leg in Iron," is a great example of the precariousness of midseason premieres. The hour featured a number of big moments, both in dealing with the consequences of actions from the last episode of 2016 and in pivoting to new wrinkles and mysteries. Yet in getting to and through those big moments, the show was forced to twist itself into some awkwardness and silly character decisions. So it goes as a midseason premiere.
When we last left Jane (Jaimie Alexander) and the Task Force To Stop All Storm-Related Activity, Sand and Otherwise, things were decidedly not good. Jane's botched attempt as a double agent led Kurt (Sullivan Stapleton), Nas (Archie Panjabi) and the rest of the team into a trap set by Shepherd (Michelle Hurd). Meanwhile, Jane's frayed relationship with her brother Roman (Luke Mitchell) came entirely undone, forcing the former to stick the latter with the magical memory-erasing drug compound that was used on Jane to kickstart this entire story. And Borden's (Ukweli Roach) status as a Sandstorm sleeper agent was finally revealed — not before the show tacked on a sympathetic backstory — leading to a violent confrontation with Patterson (Ashley Johnson).
That's a lot for a midseason finale, and Blindspot turned in a strong run of episodes to build to those moments (save the late unveiling of Borden's past, namely his killed-by-the-government wife). While we at home have had nearly two months to sit on these revelations, the story essentially picked up right where it left off, which made "Nor I, Nigel" a bit of a mess in spots.
Amid all the hysteria, each of those above storylines got some necessary burn. Thankfully, the bold choices from the fall finale — Jane's harried decision to "zip" Roman's memory and the Borden-Patterson altercation — took precedence here. Everyone's mileage may vary, but for me, Jane, Roman, and Patterson are the characters I care about the most, or at least the ones the show has done the best job exploring in Season 2.
As such, when the spine of this episode concentrated on Jane's complex feelings toward Roman now that she's on the other side of memory loss, it was easy to remember how that sibling relationship made those fall episodes so good. Likewise, when the episode quickly and smartly showed that it was Patterson who was shot (and not Borden as some goofball critics may have guessed), Blindspot was able to immediately raise the stakes of yet another "someone from the team is missing and/or injured storyline."
In both cases, the performances really carried the sequences. Jaimie Alexander has brought new depth to Jane as the character has been confronted with emotions beyond confusion, distrust, and romantic pining. Just as Luke Mitchell made Roman seem like a dysfunctional threat in the prior episodes, he turned the character's fear and paranoia into strong work, particularly once the team acquired Roman and debated what information to share with him in hopes of finding the captured Patterson. And of course, Ashley Johnson continues to be Blindspot's best asset. Her ability to toggle between defensive quippery and grave seriousness helped a less-than-stellar series of scenes featuring Patterson's torture at the hands of Shepherd and a conflicted Borden.
Separate the performances from the episode's stories and you'll encounter a bumpier hour. "Nor I, Nigel" demonstrated the problem with wiping a character's memory on the fly, particularly when a character that holds information needed to save another character.
Though the allure of an amnesiac serving as informant might offer some dramatic irony and forced Kurt, Nas, and Tasha (Audrey Esparza) to consider how to use Roman, getting there required a lot of work on the part of the episode. It couldn't be that Jane just zipped Roman's brain; he also had to escape and encounter dangers in the field. Jane couldn't just experience the other side of amnesia with someone for which she cares; it had to be Patterson's life on the line in the midst of an internal crisis period.
That degree of drama ultimately required characters like Kurt and Nas to make odd strategic decisions related to Roman's knowledge of Shepherd's plan. While you could argue that their insistence on using an amnesiac as their key source of intel in of itself illustrated that they should be removed from command — as Nas was mid-way through the episode — it's unlikely the show wanted us to think too much about the qualifications of its core characters. This quick turnaround also pushed Blindspot to do an expedited version of Jane's experience in the first few episodes, further fudging the particulars of how these people remember stuff once they've been injected with a super drug that blanks their mind in an instant.
Meanwhile, Ashley Johnson can only do so much. Sure, Shepherd torturing Patterson enabled the show to prove once and for all that Jane's adopted mother is very bad. Borden's uneasy assistance also confirmed his allegiance to the Sandstorm cause — and his comic mastery of physical combat (his takedown of Weller late in the episode was just silly). HOWEVER: torture is beyond played out as a storytelling device on shows like this. It's not compelling. There was no way the show would kill off Patterson at this juncture. That Patterson was used in this scenario after all she's already been through made it in even worse. No thanks.
Again, it's not surprising to see Blindspot stumble a bit in this episode. It was still an action-packed hour, which is what most people probably watch this show for anyway. All the excitement and violence functioned as the flashy stuff needed for the show to pivot to its new-ish mysteries. I say new-ish because the significant reveals here were 1) that Shepherd won't kill Kurt because there's a bigger plan for him (confirmed to in this episode, and alluded to in the fall finale when Kurt received the fake phone call) and 2) Nas' Sandstorm agent had previously found footage of a dry run with Jane and the tattoos, including one tattoo that didn't eventually make it to her body.
Those pieces of information are sure to be central to the show's ongoing plotlines in the second half of the season, but they're tethered to things we've seen on Blindspot before. Kurt's role in Sandstorm's grand plan has always been crucial but unclear; likewise, after a half season on the backburner, suddenly there's a brand-new mystery involving the ink on Jane's body (in this case the "missing" neck tattoo). Maybe those turns are a smidge repetitive, but they recenter the show around Jane and Kurt, which is probably for the best for the show's long-term health.
More to the point, those reveals give the audience more questions to ask and more avenues to pursue. The team's attempts to combat Shepherd and Sandstorm is still the driving force of the season. How that happens with an amnesiac Roman, an exiled Nas, or awkward office romances (Edgar [Rob Brown] kissed Tasha, whoops) obviously remains to be seen. So while this midseason premiere fell victim to problems that many like it do, the episode did its job and Blindspot is moving forward, hopefully to recapture some of the highs from the fall run.
Blindspot airs Wednesday nights at 8/7c on NBC.