NBC’s Blindspot has a fantastic ensemble, but doesn’t always have time to service all seven of its main characters. Tasha Zapata, the tough as nails FBI agent played by Audrey Esparza, has remained mostly an enigma. That changed on Monday with “Rules in Defiance,” which put the character front and center and in so doing showcased why Esparza is just as valuable to this show as any of her colleagues.
The episode gets off to a bit of a cliche start, as the audience discovers that Weller (Sullivan Stapleton) drunkenly fell back into bed with his ex Allison (Trieste Kelly Dunn), despite the fact that she just tried to question his loyalty to Jane (Jaimie Alexander) the day before. Well, if she can be talking to her ex-fiancee perhaps the show thought Kurt deserved some face time with his ex, even if it’s predictable. And despite Weller’s orders, Reade (Rob Brown) and his sister Sarah (Jordana Spiro) have not called time on their relationship. But there will be no domestic bliss for anyone.
That’s because the U.S. Attorney is the latest entity to try and pressure Zapata for information on Jane. If she’s not willing to help them figure out what’s going on in the FBI, they’ll charge her and send her to prison, naturally. So Zapata goes to the office, where Weller is surprised to hear that Jane has called out sick but still gets to follow another tattoo clue anyway. Only this show can combine Spanish, Shakespeare and trigonometry. Patterson’s impetus of the week comes from an anonymous tip that points the team to Queens – where they ruin an NYPD drug operation in a hail of gunfire. Whoops.
Weller does his squinty-eyed look of disbelief when he spots a mural across the street from the now-major crime scene that partly matches one of Jane’s tattoos. The backstory involves a murdered singer named Paloma Diaz, purportedly killed by her abusive boyfriend, who’s now sitting on death row and about to be executed. Our heroes now focus their attention on proving or disproving Ronnie’s innocence in the 36 hours he’s still on this planet, even as he tells them point blank, “I did it. I killed her.” But Weller’s not buying it, nor is he totally okay when Jane gets bored and decides to stick her head into the office after all, mostly to express her doubt about the trust of her colleagues.
Connecting the dots, our team believes that Ronnie was forced to take the fall for his girlfriend’s murder by bigger, more sinister sources, especially when they uncover that an ICE agent could have proved his innocence. Stuffed into the interrogation room the agent admits that his boss also pushed him into keeping his mouth shut. But why is the federal government so interested in one girl? Maybe because the boss, Agent Stern, is running his own human trafficking ring on the side. And while they’re pondering that, is Jane really thinking about leaving the FBI?
Cue Zapata making a huge leap. She volunteers to take the place of the next girl scheduled to be abducted. This sounds crazy to the rest of the team but they have no choice but to go with it. (It’s also crazy that Reade thinks the trip in the surveillance van is a good time to tell Weller that A) he loves Sarah and B) it’s not any different than Weller’s own feelings for Jane. Timing, dude, timing.) In a restaurant bathroom, Zapata is drugged and loses her tracking device. She wakes up in a random basement because it’s always a random basement. There she meets another kidnapping victim who spells out the terrible facts of the kidnapping ring to her.
Reade and Weller have to play catch-up now and naturally, it’s Jane to the rescue. She suggests that the victims aren’t being trafficked out but kept somewhere in the New York area and that gives Patterson the exact address of a presumed unoccupied gated community. They’d better get there fast, because Zapata is geting into a fight with a thug that ends with her being exposed as an FBI agent. All the bad guys promptly flee with the intention of burning the building to the ground, with the kidnapped girls still inside. That means Zapata has to orchestrate an escape, breaking out a window through which she’s able to get out everyone but herself.
The guys literally rush into the burning building and rescue their colleague in the nick of time, as the house explodes behind them. Because if you’re going to set a house on fire, may as well throw in an explosion. Back at the FBI office the bad guys’ accomplice tells Zapata and Weller exactly what happened to Paloma Diaz and that gets poor Ronnie off the hook. Mayfair gives everyone a pat on the back but Zapata is going to need some time to recover. Her selflessness strikes a chord with Jane, who admits to Weller that she missed him and missed being part of the team. Unfortunately for her he’s now got someone else on his mind as he sets up another date with his ex-girlfriend.
Then there’s Reade getting cracked in the head, and Jane having another rooftop meeting with Oscar, who might’ve been the guy who cracked Reade in the head. But mostly just so she can tell him to shove it – at least until Oscar threatens Weller.
“Rules In Defiance” is a nice feather in the cap of Blindspot, because it’s important to see someone other than Jane be able to be the hero of the episode. The show has taken pains to show us that all of its characters are competent heroes but in the first part of the season it was all too likely that Jane would be the person to save Weller, save the victim, or just save the day. We’ve started to see more of the other characters stepping up and it’s particularly great that it’s Zapata, who has so far been best defined by almost turning tail. She was a character with a lot of untapped potential and now that potential just got set free.
Audrey Esparza is a fantastic actress as well and the episode finally lets us see the full extent of that. Mostly Blindspot has written her as a double act with Rob Brown, to crack wise and provide a counterpart to all the Weller-Jane scenes. There’s nothing wrong with that but we haven’t gotten to see as much of what either actor can do individually because of it. Even in the midseason episodes it was Esparza always in side scenes with Michael Gaston. “Rules In Defiance” puts her front and center and she delivers. You can get a real sense of why she’s a valued member of Weller’s team.
However, as great of a step forward as that is, the whole Weller and Allison subplot is a step back. It’s incredibly cliche to have the guy’s ex-girlfriend show up as a roadblock to the show’s inevitable romance. Adding to the problem is that Allison has done nothing to justify Weller’s renewed interest in her; in fact, it’s the exact opposite. Last week she showed up and threw shade on a woman he cares deeply about and that has apparently completely slipped his memory, which makes him look either stupid or suffering from his own case of amnesia. Mix in a total lack of chemistry between the characters and this is just hard to watch.
While pairing Weller and Jane romantically wasn’t a novel idea either, at least you could understand why Blindspot went that way. Yet if it is going to force us to sit through that process of a TV series making up forced roadblocks to keep them apart then it’s going to be more trouble than it’s worth.
An improvement over last week’s predictable “Erase Weary Youth,” “Rules In Defiance” does a big thing right and another not so much. One wonders if Blindspot is going to fall victim to the trap of a TV series starting to drag in the middle part of its season, as these last two episodes – 13 and 14 of a 23-episode campaign – have been its weakest of the run. Hopefully that won’t be the case, but if nothing else, this episode finally gave Audrey Esparza her due.
Blindspot airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC.