After last week’s exemplary premiere, NBC’s Blindspot has its own high standard to live up to. Could it continue to deliver after pulling in a major audience share and getting critically acclaimed for miles? In a word, yes. In more words, “A Stray Howl” is the perfect second building block to a series that is already climbing near the elite of television.
Why is somebody shooting up the Bureau SUV with Jane inside of it? We’ll have to get back to you on that, because Jane is in the middle of another session with Dr. Borden, which prompts her to revisit her shooting range memory from before. After Weller says good morning to his sister Sarah (the fabulous Jordana Spiro from My Boys) and her son, but ducks going to the memorial of someone named Taylor, he comes to the office to give Jane a little more weapons training. She really doesn’t need his help, and while she’s shooting she recovers another memory of killing someone in a church. Harsh.
Before she can tell Weller about this new flashback, Reed informs both of them that the suspect from last week is dead. It takes two seconds of looking at security footage to realize that someone killed him. In the middle of this, Patterson rushes in all adorable and says she’s decoded another of Jane’s tattoos. “Just pretend that we’re not you,” Weller tells her before she explains about a cipher that leads them to the name Major Arthur Gibson (Robert Eli), a decorated Air Force soldier now working out of Brooklyn.
This time, Weller insists on Jane coming along, because he can admit that he was wrong. When they go to Gibson’s house, he’s not happy to see them and says he hasn’t said anything. They’re barely off his front lawn before his house explodes. This show loves blowing stuff up, doesn’t it? But when the firefighters get there, they tell the FBI team that Gibson was not found inside; the blast was a distraction for him to immediately go on the run.
They question his commanding officer, who tells them that Gibson had PTSD that led to his eventual discharge, after which he got paranoid, his marriage fell apart and he generally lost the plot. Patterson contradicts that information by examining his file and finding a promotion plus a higher security clearance. Weller deduces that Gibson wasn’t discharged, just moved sideways to become a highly classified drone pilot.
Gibson has surfaced in someone else’s house, where he’s holding a former colleague’s daughter hostage at gunpoint, raving about how the country abandoned him and “you’re going to help me teach them a lesson.” Cue the colleague tinkering around so that Gibson now has control of a drone and can do whatever he wants with it – like blow up the aforementioned commanding officer.
While Weller wonders what Gibson’s next target is, Reed speculates that they might be on that list now that they paid him a house call, which prompts an argument between the two agents. Weller is immediately grabbed by Mayfair to question the next person up the food chain (hello, Cotter Smith from every show ever made), who admits that the Air Force has a secret drone program in New York and tells them about the kidnapping.
Already bristling from his conversation with Reed, Weller gets angrier in this meeting and gets ordered out of the room by his boss, who wants to give him a mental health check. “I know you don’t do too well with missing kids,” she says. “I need to know where your head is.”
He admits that he’s been thinking about Taylor Shaw – a childhood friend that disappeared when he was ten years old. That’s who his sister was mentioning earlier. Weller recounts a childhood fall that left a major scar on the back of Taylor’s neck, which he says is similar to the one he saw on Jane’s neck last week; he believes that his name is on Jane’s back because Jane is Taylor.
Mayfair repeats this assertion just to be sure she’s heard him right, then says “that’s impossible,” but they can’t argue over it because here’s Patterson with some more info. She’s found information about a bunch of drone attacks, some of which were by Gibson, and others involving a colleague named Ivon Musgrave. They go to his apartment, but he tries to run – at least until Jane once again steps in, brawling with Musgrave and nearly strangling him. They can’t take her anywhere.
Once Musgrave can speak again, he tells the FBI squad that Gibson hates him because “I’m the one that turned him in.” While Mystery Dude (Johnny Whitworth) lurks, another explosion goes off and our heroes just barely get back inside in time. Unfortunately, Reed takes a massive piece of glass in the arm. But he’s better off than the one innocent bystander dead in the street.
Weller interrogates Musgrave, who gives him further details on the drone attacks and their collateral damage. Gibson, unable to stomach the loss of American civilians, wanted to turn whistleblower and turned to Musgrave for help, but Musgrave turned him in instead. “We destroyed his life,” he admits. Jane wonders if Gibson is a good man; Zapata points out that Gibson’s killed ten people and counting.
With everyone convinced that his next target is them, the team has an hour to find him before that body count gets a lot bigger. They narrow down his location to two potential construction sites and break the squad up to search both. Jane uses this car ride to finally tell Weller about her recovered memory. “What if I was a terrible person before all this?” she wonders aloud. “Whoever you were then, that’s not who you are now,” he reassures her. “Your first instinct is to help people.”
That’s good, because he’s about to need her help. As soon as Weller begins searching the construction site, he comes upon Gibson, who pins him down with a very large gun. Weller is unable to stop Gibson from making his way down to the car and to Jane, and that brings us back to the opening scene, where he just unloads. But he missed her, so she ‘borrows’ the SUV and takes off in pursuit. “Do we even know if she can drive?” Reed asks, which is unintentionally hilarious.
Jane is able to spin Gibson out, but takes her eyes off the road in front of her to look back at him, and thus crashes her own vehicle. Weller, having found another ride, arrives at the crash scene and is able to help her out just moments after she adds one more piece to her new memory – recovering a numerical keypad from the person she shot.
But we’ve still got unfinished business. Weller gets the girl’s location from Gibson at gunpoint and finds her locked up at the construction site, so we get to see his adorable side while he consoles her and reunites her with her father. But who gets to explain the wrecked SUV to Mayfair, because that conversation is going to be terrible.
With the bad guy apprehended, the team has its end of day office meeting, after which Mayfair wants another word with Weller and it’s not about the car. She tells him that she’s pulled Taylor’s case file so that Patterson can do a DNA test between the two; Weller continues to insist that Jane is the girl from his past. Moments later, Jane asks why she got sent to him specifically; he tells her that he doesn’t know.
But that night, he shares his suspicion with his sister, who’s as freaked out as he is. Turns out their father was accused of kidnapping and killing Taylor, which led to the breakdown of their family. If Jane is Taylor, then their father is innocent after more than two decades of being accused. And he might want to know that, since he’s dying of lung cancer. Sarah begs her brother to go see him, hoping he can fix the situation before it’s too late. But can he really?
And somebody might want to check on Jane, since Mystery Dude has just broken into the not-so-safehouse and grabbed her from behind. Well, whoever was stationed at the front door just got fired.
There’s one aspect of “A Stray Howl” that everyone will be talking about, and that’s if Jane Doe is Taylor Shaw. Without speculating as to whether she is or isn’t – because all we have on that count is one similar scar and Weller’s assertion that she is – you have to admire Blindspot for at least putting out a theory immediately up front.
This is the show essentially telling you, the viewer, that it’s not screwing around with you. It’s not going to drag you through half a season before it starts addressing what you want to know. No one is saying that Weller has to be right, but the fact that he’s speculating – and that the show is having other people act on that speculation – is meaningful in and of itself.
Remember, all the show is giving us right now is a possibility. It’s not saying that Jane is Taylor; it’s saying that Weller thinks she is. He could be wrong and then the show is in the same place it started. Theoretically, we could go through a dozen theories of who Jane might be before Blindspot reveals the right one.
But let’s go full-on conspiracy theorist for a second, just to be fair: if you’re Martin Gero, do you pull the trigger on the season’s biggest reveal in the third episode, and essentially take away what was used to draw people into the show in the first place? Are you willing to give away that big prize right now and risk turning off anyone who may have tuned in just to find out who Jane is? (Although, if that’s the only reason you’re watching this show, you’re missing out on a lot.)
It all goes back to one aspect of the series that we discussed last week: structure in relation to longevity. Blindspot cannot afford to rely simply on the idea of “Who is Jane Doe?” There’s enough story in that for a miniseries, but not for a multi-season show. So the series has other concepts, namely the ongoing investigations dictated by Jane’s tattoos, and giving story points to other characters (we’re still looking at you sideways, Mayfair).
If we do for some reason get confirmation of Jane’s identity next week, that’s the show saying that it has enough faith in everything else it brings to the table to let that mystery go. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it absolutely can sustain itself without the identity question.
If Jane were Taylor, as Mayfair says, that opens up a whole ton of more questions about where she’s been, there’s emotional angst to deal with between her and Weller, and we still don’t know why she would consent to becoming an amnesiac treasure map. Maybe all of that is the real story of season one – not finding out who she is, but the journey for all of the characters once she does.
But the third episode is really early to make that leap. That’s saying that after just two episodes, you believe the audience cares enough already to not care about the mystery. It would seem like that’s the kind of thing you want to do at midseason, or maybe at the end of 13 episodes after NBC orders a back nine. But the third episode? That would be ballsy.
Is Jane Doe actually Taylor Shaw? Honestly, given the limited information displayed in the episode, you can make an entire list of pros and cons and still not deduce an answer. Weller has two pieces of evidence – the scar and that Jane is the right age to correspond with Taylor – but that’s just scratching the surface.
If you were looking at the situation clinically, you’d say that’s not enough to make a case, just like Mayfair does. Yet as audience members who care about him, from an emotional standpoint, you can understand how he’d jump to that conclusion. We’ll have to wait until next week, when we apparently will get the results of that DNA test, to find out.
Past that, “A Stray Howl” has a few other things to add into the Blindspot mix. Remember that all of the cases found through Jane’s tattoos are not random; clues for them were purposefully put on her body. So what does stopping Gibson have to do with stopping last week’s bomber? (Other than the mutual explosions.) Is it just going after some sort of list of terror suspects?
Probably not, because the people who put Jane in her predicament seem to also have a hand in the cases. We know that the Mystery Man who is responsible for inducing Jane’s amnesia also had a pre-existing agreement with the bomber, as evidenced by their conversation in the hospital at the end of the episode (about “the deal”). He’s also seen just before the car bomb that nearly blows up everyone, and in the trailer for next week, tells Jane that “you can’t trust them,” ostensibly the FBI.
So what exactly is this guy trying to do? He sends Jane to the FBI, and then tells her that she can’t trust them? He sends her after certain people, but then is also in contact with at least one of those people, and almost blows her up the next episode? His moves don’t make sense if his motives for Jane were purely altruistic.
It’s safe to assume that he, and/or whatever co-conspirators he may have, possess some goals of their own that they are using the present set-up to further. If you really want to go out on a limb, she could even be the ultimate “sleeper agent” for them to have on hand inside the FBI, since not even she knows what’s going on. Whatever he’s up to, we’re pretty sure it’s not saving an independent record store.
What’s nice about this episode is that while there’s still a ton of action going on, it’s not at the expense of the plot. There are just so many ways this could’ve gone completely overboard, whether it would’ve been having the military characters be the usual one-track types that impede the Bureau’s investigation ad nauseum (okay, they don’t help, but at least they admit some stuff), or wringing too much emotion out of having a child involved in the case of the week (as happens on a lot of crime shows), or letting Weller go off on a complete rampage to show us just how upset he is (ditto).
But the installment doesn’t dwell on anything too long, keeping a steady pace that gets the case of the week to an appropriate resolution while also finding time for moments of dynamic between the main cast. We have a moment of humor in Weller’s quip to Patterson, as well as some not so funny tension between Weller and Reed that’s worth exploring more in future, and also a separate situation between Weller and Mayfair as she has to call him out a little bit. There’s going to be things going on within the CIRG, regardless of the case of the week, and that’s what will reward ongoing viewers.
Then there’s the fact that the show isn’t afraid to hold its characters to an actual semblance of credibility. Namely, if you take your eyes off the road while driving, you will drive into something and crash. It would’ve been too easy to have Jane chase down Gibson, spin his car out, and then get out of her car and apprehend him like some one-woman wrecking team (especially given her precedent – we should stop leaving this woman unattended in hallways). But instead, Blindspot says, “Hey, she’s going to make a dumb mistake and crash the car and hurt herself.” Jane is falliable, and that’s a good thing.
What isn’t vulnerable is this show. With its second episode, Blindspot adds several more layers to its ongoing story, promptly and clearly showing the audience where it is going and why it is worth our continued attention. At the same time, it provides a case of the week that is packed full of entertaining action and is still enjoyable on an individual-episode level. This series is building itself as perfectly as one could ask for, and it should only get better from here.
Blindspot continues Monday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. You can preview next week’s episode now by using the suggested links underneath this article.