If you read about TV, you've surely heard someone describe an episode as something like "moving the pieces on the chessboard." It's a handy phrase, one that speaks to a show's need to position characters and -- more importantly -- the plot in the proper spots before bigger episodes around the corner. Maybe most critics wouldn't admit it, but it's also a way to throw low-key shade at an episode you don't hate and yet don't particularly like either.
Blindspot's "Solos" is a total moving-pieces-around-on-the-chessboard episode. More essential things occurred last week -- when I inaccurately predicted the capture of Jane (Jaimie Alexander) and Oliver (Jonathan Patrick Moore) was part of the larger Sandstorm arc -- and more essential things will occur next week. But what made this hour a little more engaging than your run-of-the-mill chessboard affair was the interest in putting the characters (psychologically and emotionally) in compelling places for the stretch run, not just the plot.
To be frank, the spotlight plot didn't exactly inspire much engagement. Contrary to my dumb prediction, last week's cliffhanger was all about Oliver, not Jane. More directly, it was about Oliver's MIA father, who, along with a colleague swindled family after family out of their money in a Madoff-esque Ponzi scheme. Ever the milquetoast boy scout, Oliver failed to convince his father to submit to the authorities and thus did the next best thing: change his last name to Kind (get it?!) and start a charity.
Unfortunately, Oliver's past came back to bite him (and Jane) in this one when a goon squad of relatives of those swindled hatched a revenge and ransom plot involving a live prisoner's dilemma and....well, that was about it. Mix in the typical Blindspot action -- finely staged action sequence where the team does good, Patterson (Ashley Johnson) decoding and decrypting messages -- and references to "family baggage" and you have a standard procedural cocktail. Well, and The Good Fight's Zach Grenier was here -- with a mean goatee.
Despite a weaker framework, "Solos" succeeded by pushing Jane and Oliver to realize that their relationship just isn't going to work. I can't imagine that would disappoint too many of the show's fans, if only because Blindspot never worked hard enough to make Oliver or the pairing intriguing to begin with. It was too stop-and-start from the beginning, complete with Jane's yo-yoing about whether or not she could trust anyone. Though this wasn't exactly a story well told, it was one that probably needed to be told so that the show could further normalize Jane's experiences, and keep her away from Weller (Sullivan Stapleton) for as long as possible.
Jane's middling break-up scored the most play, but other characters had more effective and significant moments that should impact the remainder of the season. Reade's (Rob Brown) dumb journey into addiction somehow got even dumber, as his former party buddy shamed him and Weller's pitch for him to take some time off to get right fell on deaf ears. After angrily and stupidly deciding to turn in his badge -- perfect form in smashing it onto the table, too -- Reade got drunk, tried to buy more drugs, and then got beat up in an alley when the dealers recognized him from a prior bust. Smooth.
Patterson didn't fare much better. Equally in denial, she brushed off her therapy sessions in the office and claimed that Borden's (Ukweli Roach) death was enough to help her move on from the betrayal. Nah. One of the episode's best moments saw Patterson, seemingly safe at home playing Xbox, rediscovering gifts from her former lover and immediately assuming that everything she owns is bugged and therefore must be destroyed. She cut open her couch; that's some serious trauma, and rightfully so.
Finally, Roman (Luke Mitchell). Oh, sweet, recovering murderer Roman. The show has lost him a bit in recent weeks, perhaps to underline the frustration he's been feeling in captivity. Nonetheless, "Solos" continued the smoldering thread of Weller slowly warming up to his latest amnesiac asset. Credit to the show for not revealing Shepherd's (Michelle Hurd) grand plan for Weller quite yet, as it's made the character more eager to connect with anyone else who has been affected by her criminal mastermind work.
Here, it finally manifested in Weller realizing that it was time to let Roman out of confinement and into the house arrest path formerly walked by his sister. That sequence where Weller explained the new normal to Jane was one of the season's best without going too showy. Alexander, Mitchell, and Stapleton are all better actors when they go low-wattage and each portrayed the combination of understanding and relief very well.
There's only so many things a show like Blindspot can do with 22 episodes and a global terrorist plot. "Solos" wasn't as busy or compelling as last week's explosive effort, but handled some necessary business and delivered a couple of really strong moments. Though the throwdown with Shepherd might still be a few weeks off, the show keeps generating new obstacles tangentially related to Sandstorm. The cliffhanger -- that the entire team is under investigation for aiding and abetting a terrorist organization -- should be yet another example of that.
Blindspot airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on NBC.