In This Crime Thriller, a Woman's Entire Past Is a 'Blindspot'

NBC's ‘Blindspot’ combines a killer premise – mystery, amnesiac woman is found covered with tattoos – with a police procedural.

Jaimie Alexander plays Jane Doe in the thriller series 'Blindspot.'
Cellcom TV

As opening sequences go, “Blindspot” (on Cellcom TV, with two new episodes added to the menu every Sunday, allowing for moderate bingeing) is one of the most intriguing in a long time: A mysterious bag, with a tag saying only “Call the FBI,” materializes out of the blue in the middle of Times Square. As a bomb-squad explosives expert approaches it extremely warily, it gets unzipped from the inside and a naked female beauty steps out.

But the eye of a beholder is not distracted by the bare facts, since the mystery woman’s entire body is covered head to toe (behind the ears as well) with an array of tattoos. It turns out that perpetrators unknown injected her with a chemical substance, which has erased all personal data from her mind. With no consciousness of a particular identity, she seems to be a human “operating system” with a “tabula rasa” of memory data, so she’s christened Jane Doe. The first episode is entitled “Who Has Joined?” – an anagram for “Who is Jane Doe?” – and each episode title boasts an anagram to be deciphered based on plot points. The first season premiered in the United States last September with 11 million viewers, but fell to less than 6 million for the season finale in May; the second season airs Stateside this fall.

The inspiration for the series, created by Martin Gero for NBC, can be traced to a cult movie and a couple of TV series with a “hurt” and mysterious female as their heroine. First there was the 1997 Luc Besson futuristic movie “The Fifth Element,” where a beautiful female humanoid, Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), drops out of space onto the taxicab of Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis). Then there were TV series like “Nikita” (both its incarnations) and “Alias.” They all featured female operatives with amazing combat skills and the resilience to match, and expressions of deep-seated vulnerability, sadness and hurt on their beautiful faces,manipulated by mysterious powers-that-be while trying to get to grips with a confusing world of crisscrossing intelligence services.

In “Blindspot,” it turns out that Jane Doe (played by Jaimie Alexander) has the name of a particular FBI agent, Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton), tattooed on her back. As he’s the head of the FBI Critical Incident Response Group, and since a mysterious, naked, amnesiac woman covered in tattoos can be termed a “critical incident,” he would have been apprised of her arrival anyway. However, not only was he the “addressee” of the missive written on the body: it soon emerges that Jane could be his childhood friend Taylor Shaw. She disappeared many years before, possibly having been abducted by Weller’s own father.

Efficient killing machine

As Jane cannot furnish the FBI with a shred of evidence about who she is, or who erased her memory and etched a multilayered puzzle on her skin, it’s up to Special Agent Patterson (Ashley Johnson), the head of the FBI Forensic Science Unit, to try and decipher the various pieces of the tattoo mosaic: each deciphered clue sends Weller (and Doe) off to stop a crime in progress.

Although Doe’s body is a trove of information that needs to be closely guarded, it turns out her presence in the field is sometimes essential when pursuing the bad guys. Indeed, when the episode “cuts to the chase,” it’s soon apparent that she’s a very efficient killing machine (her hand combat skills and marksmanship are unparalleled). This triggers flashbacks in her, which she selectively communicates to Weller (although the viewer sees her flashback memories, she doesn’t divulge those that may possibly incriminate her with FBI handlers).

On one level, the premise of a human being as an “operating system,” whose identity is made up of memories acquired and stored in the mind, forged by choices made and roads not taken – and can be chemically manipulated, erased or planted – is mind-boggling. On another level, the notion of the body and the subconscious being, as it were, wiser than the conscious mind, is equally intriguing. On yet another level, the premise of a multilayered tattoo grants the series unlimited possibilities to invent plots and crimes to be fought and solved within yet another episode, with each episode another step toward solving the biggest mystery – who sent Jane Doe to Kurt Weller, and why? – or providing another clue that obfuscates the mystery still further, almost forcing the network and series creator to write yet another episode and yet another season.

As usual in crime and police procedurals, each character in any episode, apart from being a cog in a well-made plot, has their own story line and trove of secrets, all of them alluded to overtly (deciphered by Patterson) or covertly (understood only by a particular character) on Jane Doe’s body.

American TV reviewers liked the series on the whole, even if some of them oscillated between liking one episode and praising it for being original, and then finding the next one silly or cliché-ridden. The Australian Stapleton’s acting was roundly criticized (he seems to have one expression – determined despair), but Alexander seems to be generally liked.

The overriding mystery of “Blindspot” seems to be “Who did this to Jane Doe and why? And what is he trying to communicate through her to Weller, the FBI and the world at large?” It reminds me of a Hollywood anecdote: A producer is discussing a script with a writer and raises the objection that “the plot seems contrived.” To which the screenwriter retorts, “Of course it is, I just contrived it!”

In other words, the main perpetrators and culprits behind the story and clues on Jane Doe’s body are the series’ creator and writers. As long as their imagination – and the viewers’ attention – will hold, the tattoos will keep providing plausible and implausible plots. When both start to wane, a solution will be concocted, most probably involving some conspiracy by a foreign nation, or a syndicate of rich villains or aliens – and the resolution is bound to prove a big disappointment. Which, in turn, reminds me of a Johnny Mercer and Fred Astaire song: “I’m building up to an awful letdown.”