NBC’s Blindspot chose a sensitive subject with “In the Comet of Us,” featuring a college campus shooting. It also decided to take a different approach to storytelling by jumping its narrative backwards and forwards in time. It’s the most different episode of the show to date, and it shows that the series is still taking chances – even if not all of them work.
We start in the obvious place: Sofia (Sarita Choudhury) tells Mayfair (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) that she faked her suicide, but she’s back now because someone else knows about Operation Daylight and she needs help. Because Mayfair can totally snap her fingers and make all of that happen.
At the office the next day, Zapata (Audrey Esparza) brings Patterson (Ashley Johnson) a sequence of numbers she found in the paper, which of course correspond with a set that Patterson’s been trying to sort out amongst Jane’s tattoos. They’re the scores of games for the Hudson University football team, which is about as random as you can get – and kind of amusing since Rob Brown, who plays Reade, starred as Ernie Davis in the football movie The Express. The FBI team visits campus but before they can get to the parking lot shots ring out and panic ensues.
But Blindspot makes the curious choice to drop that momentum and instead jump backwards. Four hours earlier, Zapata was at a support group meeting for her gambling problem, and that’s where she got the paper. After that brief insert the show returns to the present time as the FBI team tries to clear the building and Zapata gets the first glimpse at the shooter. He wounds the football coach and then returns to finish him off, which results in our heroine running out of ammunition (a rare enough occurrence on television).
Another flashback shows Oscar (Francois Arnaud) trying to end his professional relationship with Jane (Jaimie Alexander), before pushing forward to her and Weller in another part of the building. Jane is incorrectly identified as the shooter by a random rent-a-cop from campus security who apparently learned his approach from some other cop show; thankfully she’s able to quickly disarm him and explain all the things that are wrong with this situation. The two of them make their way to the cafeteria where they find the campus exec with a bullet in her gut. Jane performs an emergency cauterizing of the wound that causes cringes across America.
Finally we get back to Zapata as Jane comes to her rescue. But the shooter tells them both that “You have no idea what’s coming.”
Weller’s flashback gives us information about what happened to his father. Dad’s back at home but he’s still confined to a hospital bed, with Weller insisting that this can’t cramp his style any more than living with his sister and his ten-year-old nephew. His father still wants to keep apologizing for their terrible relationship. Our hero is totally not thinking about that in the current moment as he rescues another wounded victim who identifies the shooter as Levi, the player who just got busted in the football scandal. And apparently also had time to wire a door with explosives.
We get a real Strike Back moment from Sullivan Stapleton as Weller climbs out a window and back through another one so that he can access the bomb without opening the door. This also brings him face to face with Levi, at least until the explosives go and create a large hole in the hallway. If you’re counting that means there are actually two shooters in this episode – the one that Jane shot and now this guy. When Weller is finally able to communicate with the office he has to tell Mayfair that they can’t find Reade. That distracts Mayfair from pulling money out of her bank account for Sofia, which is a good thing.
So where is Reade? After splitting off from Zapata for no specific reason, he tried to rescue a handful of students and accidentally tripped the bomb that Weller was looking at. He tries to keep his hand on the door handle in order to stop the bomb from actually detonating, not having any idea what his team leader is up to except for the mini-fridge that just crashed to the ground outside. But after making use of one girl’s earring he lets go of the handle and winds up faceplanting the floor not far enough away. When he comes to, Levi has a gun pressed to the back of his head and is demanding the location of the coach, not knowing the guy has already been shot.
This allows for the usual “Why are you doing this?” scene. Levi explains that Jones “ruined my life” by abusing him at football camp, and that now everyone involved is going down. But as soon as the two step outside, Weller puts a perfectly placed bullet into Levi’s skull, saving Reade but ending any chance of proving his allegations. This does not sit well with Reade. He goes to confront Jones, vowing to put him away if there is any truth to the charges.
And it seems that there might be, since the first shooter corroborates Levi’s story and Mayfair explains that they’ve now uncovered a huge conspiracy between the athletic department, university and some “very wealthy donors.” This show loves its secret cabals of rich people – they were also behind the human trafficking ring in “Rules In Defiance” and there was some money going around to cover up the serial killer in “Mans Telepathic Loyal Lookouts” as well.
The near-death experience drives Jane back into the arms of Oscar before audiences see that Oscar has his own mission, while Weller has a drink with an understandably broody Reade, and Zapata returns to her support group to discuss how the shooting of her police partner started her addiction. And stupidly, Mayfair hands all of her money to Sofia, despite saying that she can “never forgive you for what you did.” Sofia then walks out of her life again.
“In the Comet of Us” gets Blindspot back to form by shifting the attention off the show’s myriad of romantic relationships and back onto actual solving of crimes. That alone makes it worth watching, as audiences get to see these heroes being heroes and not just caught up in who wants to be with whom. Despite the messy personal lives of the FBI team this show is supposed to be about solving tattoos and it feels like this episode puts that idea front and center once again.
The idea of having the narrative jump back and forth through time is less successful. Mass shootings, particularly school shootings, are very hard for audiences to watch because of how close to home they hit. At the same time that can make for great television because it’s a universal subject that we are all scared and intimidated by. “In the Comet of Us” kills its own momentum because of its desire for a splintered narrative. We don’t need to see the moments that got each of the main characters to where they are on that day – they don’t add anything to our understanding of what is going on.
Instead, the flashbacks slow everything down. For example, the first commercial break comes as Zapata is pinned down and out of ammunition to defend herself. What the audience wants to see when we come back is how she’s going to get herself out of that situation. Instead, we’re given a scene between Jane and Oscar. That’s like having a speeding train and then just slamming on the brakes and going another direction. It doesn’t work. The back and forth, and moving from one character to another, keeps any particular part of the show from gaining impact.
Having more than one point of view in a TV episode can be done – another NBC series called Boomtown made an entire show out of it, but it did so by carefully choosing where it was going to break, and every time the show switched points of view it taught the audience something that gave a better understanding of the bigger picture. Blindspot certainly comes off as more creative in doing this episode differently, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the right approach. It would have been more interesting to tell the entire day through Reade’s point of view, especially since the episode winds up centering on him.
On the plus side there are some nice beats for several of the main characters. Rob Brown is the obvious MVP, having to do the heavy emotional lifting of the episode, but Strike Back fans will get a good smile out of Sullivan Stapleton doing another big action scene reminiscent of the stuff he used to do on the Cinemax show. And Audrey Esparza finally gets to spell out what turned Zapata into a gambling addict in the first place; we knew this tidbit about her backstory but it’s nice to hear how it connects to her vice.
There is some room for improvement. Overall, the big reveal – the coach having taken advantage of students – has been done before on other shows. It doesn’t really qualify as a surprise for anyone who’s a savvy TV viewer, especially when it’s clear early on that the shooters are aiming for very specific people.
And while it’s a good thing that Blindspot addresses the Mayfair cliffhanger that it left last week, she’s made to look a little bit foolish here. Mayfair is a very smart woman and makes it clear that she knows Sofia is only there to get something from her – yet at the same time, she’s still willing to give her money? And not just money, but literally everything that’s in her bank account? It doesn’t make sense that she’d go that far out on a limb unless her judgment was severely clouded and from her dialogue in this episode it seems like she’s very aware of what’s really going on. We probably haven’t seen the last of Sofia, but Mayfair shouldn’t have been so much of a pushover.
That said, if fans get more episodes like this that continue pushing the plot forward and start tying up some of these conspiracy threads, the final four episodes of Blindspot should be as great as the first four. This show might be about to launch itself back into the stratosphere, so don’t take your eyes off it yet.
Blindspot airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC.