“Blindspot” was a bright spot for NBC through much of the fall, while “Gotham” – after a successful first season – has looked shakier on Fox. So both return from their midseason breaks on Feb. 29 with something to prove, as the former picks up on its cliffhanger, while the latter hopes to heat up its ratings with a new arc featuring the villains Mr. Freeze and Hugo Strange.
Frankly, the big twist that capped “Blindspot’s” fall run (and SPOILER ALERT if you’re not caught up) had a pretty blatant “Total Recall” vibe, with the anonymous super-soldier Jane (Jaimie Alexander) being shown a taped message from herself. If that video is to be believed, the reason the FBI discovered her naked and tattooed in Times Square (a title that Discovery is probably developing at this moment) is all part of a plot that she hatched, the details of which remain vague, even throughout this return.
In that regard, “Blindspot” has clearly studied the blueprint of its thematic sire and near-Hangman twin, “The Blacklist,” mixing in dollops of a larger mythology while devoting the brunt of each episode to a procedural action yarn – in this case thwarting terrorist plots, as opposed to hunting down individual blacklist-ers. And while this new episode boasts something of a doozy as threats go, with a missing plane and an attempt to crash the military’s communications system, the reliance on sneering Middle Eastern heavies feels like a rather lazy device.
While “Blindspot” has gradually developed its supporting players, the show also still largely hinges on the central duo of Jane and FBI agent Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton), whose longing stares are already creating the challenge of how long the producers can plausibly keep them apart, or take the romantic plunge that has bedeviled such tandems dating back to “Moonlighting.”
Although the ratings marked the show as the first to cash in on “The Voice’s” lead-in since NBC moved “The Blacklist” to Thursdays, questions also linger about how long the producers can spoon out Jane’s backstory before some viewers (among them yours truly) get itchy to know more. For now, the formula seems to be working, but as we’ve seen in the past, viewers can be less patient these days when it comes to turning a blind eye to a program’s shortcomings.
“Gotham,” meanwhile, faces a different conundrum, having mostly surpassed expectations its first season, but found the sledding tougher in year two, which has been built around a serialized “Rise of the Villains” thread. With Theo Galavan (James Frain), the baddie who powered that plot, ostensibly neutralized, the show embarks on a new course – under the subheading “Wrath of the Villains” – one involving the aforementioned master of the freeze ray (Nathan Darrow) and Strange (BD Wong), the creepy gatekeeper at Arkham Asylum.
While this before-he-was-Batman prequel is certainly awash in atmosphere and pulpy violence, its present course has created a rather thorny problem. Because while the villains are indeed rising and wrathful – and gaining powers that come dangerously close to super, from fantastic weapons to animating corpses – there’s the little matter of maintaining DC Comics continuity, and the fact that young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) is still many years away from donning cape and cowl.
In the interim, producer Bruno Heller and his team have loaded up on subplots, foremost among them testing poor Det. Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), and just how much he’ll stain his white hat in order to get the job done. That not only threatens his career as a cop but his relationship with his pregnant girlfriend (Morena Baccarin, also straddling the DC-Marvel chasm with her role in “Deadpool”).
Elsewhere, Bruce seeks his parents’ killer, with reluctant help from his butler Alfred (the splendid, scene-stealing Sean Pertwee); while the future Riddler (Cory Michael Smith), a.k.a. Edward Nygma, continues to come into his psychotic own.
Fox previewed the first four episodes, and there are some terrific moments along the way, including third and fourth-episode guest shots, respectively, by Michael Bowen and Paul Reubens – the latter playing the Penguin’s long-lost dad, in a sly callback to director Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns.”
Still, the show’s gritty realism feels somewhat at odds with some of the more outlandish elements, an arena perhaps better suited to its DC sibling “The Flash,” which has wholeheartedly embraced its superhero origins over on The CW. “Gotham,” by contrast, has offered a more subtle mix of dark crime drama and knowing winks at the Dark Knight faithful who will recognize these sometimes-arcane nods to the character’s rogues gallery.
As has been noted here in the past, that’s a delicate balancing act, and the series remains a noble effort, which makes its messier aspects easier to swallow. Yet the longer the show runs and the more layers its villains unfold, the more it feels like a conspicuously Batman-free version of Batman.