Last week, Blindspot delivered an eventful, if hurried midseason premiere that had the unfortunate task of following up on big cliffhangers and unveiling new mysteries to drive the back half of Season 2. This week's episode, "Droll Autumn, Unmutual Lord," wasn't quite as busy (read: messy), but still struggled in melding the show's old and new plot threads with the first case of 2017. The transition has been a bit bumpy.
Most weeks, shows like Blindspot have to concoct plot reasons why the duration of an episode isn't spent on a solving the latest big mystery — and some weeks are better than others. Here, Blindspot introduced a new crime to prevent, but there was already enough going on interpersonally to sufficiently drive the action. As a result, though individual scenes or stories worked pretty well in "Droll Autumn," the whole didn't quite flow together as well as some of the fall's stronger episodes.
To the show's credit, there was an attempt to connect the standalone case to both prior events and some of the ongoing drama between characters. Amid everyone's call for Patterson (Ashley Johnson) to take some time off, the technical wizard got a hit on one of Jane's tattoos, introducing international terrorist Anton Stepulov (Mark Ivanir), his sick son and yet another round of FBI-CIA spook squabbling (which, by the way, is far too real given recent world events). Stepulov's checkered past apparently didn't prevent him from being a good dad, so he cut a deal with Jane's former torturer, CIA Deputy Director Keaton (Chad Donella), to exchange a new heart for serious intel on yet another planned attack on New York.
On the surface, this makes for a solid story. Stepulov's conflicted Dad of the Year performance dovetailed with Kurt (Sullivan Stapleton) still struggling to find his place as a dad-to-be facing a strained relationship with the mom-to-be. Similarly, Keaton's reappearance in Jane's life catalyzed some traumatic memories of their recent past together, which made Jane feel even worse about her role in the team's ongoing treatment of the mind-wiped Roman. (Keaton also delivered some surprisingly potent lines about the realities of black-ops work, particularly his "we're just blacked-out lines on a government report" line.)
Despite some sturdy acting from everyone involved — Stapleton was especially good this week — the normal contours of a mystery procedural required the show to run through everything pretty quickly. Stepulov got to be complex and a little sympathetic in one scene, only to turn into a howling stock villain once it was time for the normal action procedures. It wasn't a great story to begin with, but the turn toward the intensely dramatic stakes of a terrorist attack at a kid's basketball tournament didn't produce the best conclusion, as a standalone story or in connection to the ongoing character experiences.
In between the mess of the case, Blindspot tried to move its bigger plots forward. The biggest of those involves Roman's lack of memory, and as this episode revealed, his lack of empathy for any other living thing. The kind of discombobulated combination of amnesia and childhood trauma isn't easy to portray, but the writers and Luke Mitchell are making it work. Repetitive flashbacks to Roman's childhood were used purposefully to demonstrate how the character is "stuck" on the same memory loop as he tries to recollect fragments of his past. The less said about the episode's sudden employment of a "criminal profiler" to "prove" that Roman is psychologically broken the better, but that's one of those things shows like this have to do to get to the next point in the story.
That next part remains intriguing, per developments in this episode. Jane's difficult choice to lie to Roman about their upbringing continues to produce strong moments of tension between them, and nice examples of Jaimie Alexander's range as a performer.
Likewise, we know the kind of conversations other characters had about Jane's status early in Season 1, but her current involvement in intra-office debates about how to handle Roman are effective. They link back to Blindspot's sometimes-flimsy-but-still-there interest in nature/nurture and inherent good versus true evil. We "know" Jane is "good" because we didn't see as much of her evil past, but now that it's been confirmed that childhood traumas essentially ruined Roman, what does that mean for Jane? That's a big question to guide the rest of the season.
Meanwhile: that tricky leopard tattoo. The jury's still out on that. It felt like a bit of a retread "twist" when introduced last week, and felt even more wonky here, when Patterson "solved" the mystery of the tattoo by realizing that a) Roman kept playing mancala with his sugar cubes, b) mancala is a big game in South Africa, and c) the design of the leopard was based on the mancala board and revealed a social security number of some evil biker lady.
Just re-read that paragraph. That tattoo and those reveals are, in many ways, the key to Blindspot's last dozen episodes this season. Patterson is smart and cool and all that, but sometimes, it'd be okay if the show didn't rely so much on her to have realizations that require astonishingly big leaps in thinking, however correct they end up. My reaction to that entire sequence was just an increasingly confused utterances of "Okay?" There's still story to be told no doubt, particularly as Roman appears to have worked with the lady in question, but the first couple pulls at this new thread have left something to be desired.
It's an opportunity cost thing right now. Blindspot did a good job of making me care about most of these people last season, but especially in last fall's run. During those episodes, the focus wasn't so much on the tattoo-related mysteries that are, frankly, pretty goofy. Returning to that approach, while simultaneously rushing through some more engaging character moments, make for a less compelling version of the show.
Blindspot airs Wednesday nights at 8/7c on NBC.