Blindspot s3 ep 2

*SPOILERS*

After last week’s euphoria of reunion, it’s time to get down to the business of re-integration as a team, which proves more of a challenge for the members of the Joint Task Force Mark II than any of them – except Mary Stuart Masterson – had anticipated. Reade and Weller’s “What do you got?” in stereo is hilarious, perfect shorthand for everyone’s problem: the people who left the team think they can just slot back into their old roles again, but the people who stayed – and Stuart, Poor Stuart – have already filled them. What to do?

Season two of Blindspot would have made an endless angstapalooza out of this, but the new, improved, season three somehow makes it a comedy instead, and a wildly entertaining one at that. Sure, Kurt’s a bit sulky when he finds out that Jane’s life on the run didn’t entirely revolve around missing him, but they solve it by actually talking to each other instead of just moping like they usually do, which is REVOLUTIONARY for this pair; Zapata and Reade struggle a bit but they work it out too (I wouldn’t bet on hanging around for too long, Divya), and Patterson is pretty awful to Poor Stuart but, just as it starts to feel really uncomfortable, she remembers she’s fundamentally lovely and decides to go make it up to him. Aw. Shame it’s too late. Poor, POOR Stuart.

No Rich Dotcom this week – I’m guessing three experts fighting over who gets first dibs on the techno-triumphs might have been a bit much – but his influence lingers throughout this gleeful, witty ep. The Tat of the Week story is both genuinely exciting – mercenaries, a crashing satellite, and the possibility of nuclear war? WHOA – and very, very funny, with the people from the DOD proving great comedy value, and Jane getting to dropkick the last baddie full on the chest in supremely cool fashion. You GO, GIRL. Of course, brother Roman has to let the side down somewhat by reverting to whining mode for a while: as he shares his feelings at a meeting of Supervillains Anonymous (possibly not its official title), I share my feelings by yelling insults at my television. But it all turns out to be a trap, which, while not making it ok for the well-meaning, formerly-living, now not-so-much fellow with a passing resemblance to Roman and boatloads of cash, does make it a whole lot better story-wise than any more moaning. Two for two for the new season so far, then. Long may it continue.

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Blindspot s3 ep 1

*SPOILERS*

Flowers. Sunshine. Happiness? Hang about….is this really Blindspot?

I can’t be the only one who wondered if the beginning of the season three premiere was some sort of dream. I mean, Kurt Weller smiling? Kurt Weller getting married! Jane Doe heading down the aisle to join him! Patterson officiating! Zapata hugging people instead of scowling at them! WHAT THE…? And then Kurt and Jane moving to Colorado to coo and co-parent Bethany and her little fat face? Who are these blissfully content people and what is happening?

Oh, wait… there’s a bunch of black-clad ninja-types storming Casa Good Cheer and a big old hand-to-knife fight. Heh. It is Blindspot after all!

But what a Blindspot it is. Skipping back to the future and the magic mirror/under-18 disco light tattoos, Mr and Mrs Weller are reunited after eighteen months of off-screen, old-style Blindspot loneliness and self-sacrifice, but there’s still the small matter of getting rid of the bounty on Jane’s head before they can go rescue their friends and get the band back together again. This means some cheerful nonsense in gorgeous, sunny Venice involving a green syringe and a red one, and I am so down for the scene when Kurt Weller plunges a hypodermic needle into a black zip-up hold-all, and Ms Jane Doe, in a joyous call-back to the very first time we met her, unzips it, and unwinds herself out, but, unlike that first time, emerges fully-clothed, fully in control and fully fabulous. YEAH! The smiles on both their faces when they stride out, having despatched the Duke of Death (HEE) and everyone stupid enough to try and get in their way, match the giant beaming one on my face for most of the episode, because this is a different type of Blindspot and all the better for it.

Let’s be honest, much as I love the show, it’s had a tendency to lean too much on the miserable side too often, but there is nothing miserable about “Back to the Grind,” because every single moment is a delight. The Venice scenes. The Venezuela reunion. The TANK. Even Roman is used properly, as a mwah-ha-ha villain instead of a whining albatross weighing the rest of the show down, but why waste time talking about Roman when I could talk about Patterson cracking the safe and making a flash grenade out of Mexican-style chicken stew? Or Reade invoking the magic words: “Joint Task Force”? Or Jane’s secret passports? Or what happened in Berlin? Or PAT DOTCOM? You guys. We’ve said before that Rich Dotcom makes everything better and yet again, this episode proves it. He’s not even in that many scenes, but this Blindspot still seems lighter, cheerier and downright hilarious. “Six best friends and Stuart” is my new favourite show. “Backstreet’s back, ALL RIGHT!”

Designated Survivor s2 ep 6

*SPOILERS*

Let’s just skip past the fact that The West Wing previously invented an awfully similar-sounding country beginning with Ku, and get to this week’s main points, because a) there are a lot of them and b) OMG WTF Emily and Seth?!

Dealing with a) first, then, the political crisis of the week has a US navy ship colliding with a sanitation barge and getting stuck just off the coast of “rogue state Kunami” which cannot believe its luck, although it turns out luck may not have had all that much to do with it since the ship was sort-of-spying and the collision was not-exactly-an-accident. Relations between the US and Kunami are already murky, so the usual “send Aaron to try and talk the Ambassador down and, when that doesn’t cut it, bring out the Bauer Glower” two-step doesn’t work. As nobody really wants to try and write a war with a fictional state of indeterminate geographical location, though, a deal is reached whereby the American sailors can be rescued but they have to leave the ship behind. All of this would be fine, but it’s elevated beyond that by some genuinely sweet, moving scenes between PJB and the young sailor who has to take charge of the ship and eventually makes what seems to both POTUS and me to be a noble but tragically unnecessary sacrifice. Poor Captain Griffin. We barely knew ye.

Back on dry land, meanwhile, Agent Q and Mr MI6 have had to press pause on all snogging and all talking about snogging, because not only have they not solved the murder of Charlotte Thorn, but they now need to solve the kidnapping of Charlotte Thorn’s aide. Yes, while they’re busy getting nowhere with Smug Mrs Arms Dealer and her even Smugger Lawyer, the somewhat improbably named and even more improbably self-possessed Peyton Lane is snatched off the street. Happily, however, the kidnappers have reckoned without her counter-kidnapping skills and she’s able to lead Q and co right to her. Hurrah for Peyton Lane! And what do you know? Smug Mrs Arms Dealer doesn’t know anything about the Charlotte Thorn murder after all, but that’s ok, because Cornelius Moss has suddenly re-appeared with a big neon sign over his head saying “Way too invested in this storyline to be up to any good” and lo! Somebody’s got some ‘splainin’ to do.

Somebody’s not the only one. With the offscreen Reed Diamond steadfastly refusing to talk to the White House about the FMILOTUS investigation because that would be profoundly inappropriate (FFS do these people not know anything?), Kendra goes back to FMILOTUS to get her to sign some sort of “I swear I don’t know anything about anything, I promise, honest, trufax” declaration. No-brainer, right? Nuh-uh. At first, FMILOTUS tries to deflect a bit with the frankly astonishing suggestion that her precious time is somehow being wasted with the investigation of her own admitted felony corruption. (“This notion I have to keep addressing it and re-addressing it” – lady, you’ve done everything but address it, wind your neck in and be grateful you’re not in jail. Yet.) But Kendra isn’t fooled any more than we are; she immediately works out FMILOTUS is not telling the truth. And lo again! Here’s another big neon sign, only this one says “met the Eric dude again, once, six months ago, by ‘chance’ and ‘forgot’ about it? If you believe that, I have a timeshare on Venus to sell you, weather’s lovely this time of year.”

FMILOTUS isn’t the only shifty parent pottering round 1600 Penn this week, however. Since it’s “making up some new things about Emily” week, we learn that her dad walked out on her and her mum decades ago, and he’s not really changed all that much. Daddy Issues being a fundamental element of every US tv drama ever made, I suppose it was naive of me to expect Designated Survivor to ignore them, but there we go. In other Emily news, she has apparently given up both coffee and speaking to Aaron at all – they share a number of scenes together, and even sit next to each other, but somehow seem only to speak to other people, with the writing continuing to freeze Adan Canto’s Aaron out in the most blatant and bizarre way. What on earth is going on?

The weirdness of the whole business is encapsulated in the penultimate scene of the episode when Aaron sticks his head through Emily’s office door and, for a moment, I’m BEYOND excited – finally! They’re going to TALK. He’ll notice she’s upset. He’ll come in. He’ll comfort her. And it will be ON. Oh, YES.

At least, that’s what would have happened last season. And actually, that is what happens. Except not with Aaron. Oh, NO. Aaron manages one syllable (not even a whole word!) – “Em” – and a salute before he takes his head back out of the door and disappears. A salute! Even Johnny-Come-Lately Lyor brings his whole body into the room, and a bottle of that Kombucha stuff as a peace offering. Before clearing out to let Seth come in, notice Emily’s upset, comfort her and… Yup. So, last week when I said Lyor’s got Aaron’s season one getting-to-know-PJB storyline now? Looks like Seth’s got Aaron’s season one getting-to-kiss-Emily one. Albeit without any of the careful build-up, sparky chemistry or clarity as to WHAT THE BLAZES IS HAPPENING. Was that prosaic lip-lock the start or the middle of the Semily relationship? Can Aaron be pushed any further to the side without actually falling off the edge of the show? FFS. What a waste of a good character, and a ship that had heaps of chemistry and plenty of places to go, if only it hadn’t been so inexplicably, deliberately scuttled.

Public Service Announcement 47 of 2017: Alias Grace, Blindspot, The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds, The Vietnam War

Since real life means I won’t get near my tv this week, it’s raining things I want to watch. First up and now streaming on Netflix UK is Alias Grace, based on from Margaret Atwood’s novel about real-life maid Grace Marks, convicted of two murders in Canada in 1843 and sentenced to life imprisonment as a result. Adapted by Sarah Polley, with a cast including Sarah Gadon, Anna Paquin and Zachary Levi, and coming hot on the heels of the astonishing Handmaid’s Tale, this looks pretty special in its own right. If I ever get time to watch it, I’ll report back forthwith.

If you need cheering up after Alias Grace, meantime, you could do far worse than dip into the return of Channel 4’s documentary series The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds (Tuesday, 8pm), which is the type of thing I wouldn’t normally bother with, but I caught a couple of episodes by chance last year and it is just adorable.

Also on the documentary front, albeit featuring considerably fewer dimples and nap breaks, BBC4 is repeating Ken Burns’s ten-part The Vietnam War around 11.30 on Saturday nights. (I’ve given up trying to understand scheduling practices.) Episode 1 was on this weekend, but you can catch up on iplayer if you’re so minded. I have to confess that 17 hours of war documentary is probably not something I’m going to be able to make time for, but word – from Jed, in particular – is that it’s excellent so if you can fit it in, it sounds like it’s more than worth the investment.

The big news as far as unpopcult is concerned though, is the return of our beloved, demented Blindspot. Season 3 kicks off tonight (Monday) at 10pm on Sky Living and the even bigger news is that Ennis Esmer’s magnificent RICH DOTCOM – RICH DOTCOM! – is joining the cast on a recurring basis. We’ve been promised he’ll appear in at least ten episodes; Jed and I have been so excited since we heard, we’ve been close to combusting. RICH DOTCOM, you guys! I’ll be doing weekly – very possibly slightly hysterical – reviews as usual, and let me just say this now: if PAT DOTCOM were to happen, it would make my year.

Designated Survivor s2 ep 5

*SPOILERS*

We’ve seen a lot of rules and ethical principles flouted in the real world, recently, so perhaps Designated Survivor is just taking its lead from that, but the First Lady, acting on behalf of the First-Mother-in-Law, instructing the White House Counsel, to resist a subpoena issued by the FBI, relating to corruption uncovered by the President’s special White House FBI agent…. Really?

Not only does that seem like a gordian conflict of interest to me, but it’s also an unholy mess. And an unholy, off-brand mess to boot, since, as we’re reminded this week, PJB’s USP is that he’s honest and decent and open, but his staff working to help his wife and the felonious FMILOTUS frustrate a federal subpoena in an investigation of potential government corruption doesn’t seem too honest and decent and open to me, and when it comes out, as it definitely will, it’s not going to be a good look for anyone. Except possibly Reed Diamond who will at least be able to shrug and say “Hey, I tried.”

While the propriety and advisability of the First Family and the WH staff entangling themselves in said unholy, off-brand mess may be dubious, however, the purpose is clear. This is another chance for FLOTUS to indulge in her favourite sport: making a nuisance of herself in the name of “protecting my family.” Yes, buoyed by the success (in that nobody told her to get knotted) of her appalling attitude to Agent Q last week, Mrs Bauer turns on Kendra Daynes this time around, jumping in to act as second chair – because the FMILOTUS court team needed to get even more incestuous – and almost derailing the entire train in the process. Good work, FLOTUS. Better work Kendra, though, for telling her where to go.

Blurring of lines and job descriptions is something of a theme in all the storylines this week, though. I mean, I don’t know, maybe the Director of the FBI arguing his subpoena case himself in court is normal if he’s a lawyer too, but does he not have other people to do that? No? Well, what about the multi-millionaire arms dealer from England who, despite apparently having a hugely successful business and lots of people working for him, gets his hands dirty by moving all his illegal arms himself? Does he not have other people to do that? And even if his wife is the evil brains behind the operation, is she really going to carry out her hits on British MPs by herself as well? Do none of these folk understand the concept of DELEGATION?

Maybe they should ask the aristocrats at the Designated Survivor British Embassy, where nobody is allowed to work unless they sound like the Seventh Earl of Superposh, just passing through on his way back to Downton Abbey, about it. Although the Brits seem to be short-staffed as well, given that, instead of the squad of officers you would expect to investigate the murder of a British MP in Washington, they send just the one guy. And what do you know? That one guy is Mr MI6, back again to work with the similarly short-staffed FBI and their one go-to-gal Agent Q. Chuck and I thought/hoped we’d seen the back of him, but apparently we were wrong. Chuck and I also had other (admittedly divergent) hopes for Agent Q’s love life, mind you, and we were both wrong about them too. I guess this means my Qiamond dream is finally dead. Sob!

As, it would seem, is my dream of Aaron and Emily. Sigh. This week’s White House political pratfall/ test of the President’s moral fibre involves PJB saying something very stupid, refusing to defend himself – not wanting to lie and not wanting to sling mud is fine, but why does it take the entire episode for him to agree just to explain himself? – and then finally turning it around with one of his usual stirring speeches. *shrugs* It’s fine, I guess. Kiefer Sutherland is always good value in these scenes and, in this episode, just for a change, he gets to solve things peaceably and without breaking out the usual Bauer Glower. Fair enough.

Back on the subject of blurred job descriptions and staffing shortages though, Emily getting Seth to take a policy meeting “because we’re short-handed” made me laugh because, as I keep saying, Team PJB is now absolutely teeming with superfluous players. But then – did I imagine this? – Emily telling Seth to “come by any time, I’ll leave a saucer of milk out” startled the smile right off my face. Wh..what? I know it’s in the context of a Halloween chat, and there have been hints of a possible Seth and Emily situation for a couple of weeks now, but… does that count as a come-on? Are we at that stage already? Poor, poor Aaron. Emily has forgotten he exists entirely. And so, it would seem, have the scriptwriters, since not only has he nothing to do this week, but Lyor has essentially taken his job, most of his screentime and even his season 1 storyline (of initial despair at PJB’s refusal to do anything nasty, turning gradually into ride-or-die membership of the man’s fanclub).

Sigh. I know this post is one long nit-pick, I’m in a mood and the episode probably isn’t that bad for what it is. But I just can’t get on board with the show’s new direction. All I want is for them to bring back the Emily/Aaron/Seth dynamic, give Q something involving big explosions to investigate and give the show back its season 1 vibe. Please?

Designated Survivor s2 ep 4

As Designated Survivor continues to cast around (unsuccessfully) for a new identity of its own, this is its most deliberately “West Wing”-like week yet, as the bulk of the episode focuses on – gulp – tricky US/Mexico trade negotiations rendered even trickier by a trucker blockade.

Once you start using phrases like “import tariffs” in a show I’m watching for the action fun, you’re going to lose my attention, but it’s a well-meaning story at least, trying as it does to inject empathy and reality into a topic too often hijacked in real life by racist, bigoted asshats you already know about so I’ll not waste any more words on them today.

If the mechanics of the trade deal leave me cold and it mostly comes down to PJB solving the problem by yelling at a guest star, yet again, at least it also gives Adan Canto’s Aaron a chance to speak Spanish, which I enjoyed, and reconnect with his family, which I’m less excited about. The family thing surprises me somewhat since I thought all of them, except his pushy cousin – yes, Aaron calling out her boss for using his cousin to get to him was obnoxious, but so was his cousin volunteering herself to be used in that manner, get over yourself Nadia – lived in Texas, and it did not look like dude had been on a plane. Perhaps I missed a line about them coming to visit. Anyway, reconnecting with family is nice, Aaron, and they looked very pleased to see you. Awww. You know who else you could reconnect with while we’re at it, though? Emily. Just a thought!

Meanwhile, secretly investigating possible corruption in the First Family means that Agent Q has found herself at “the epicentre of every crime in Reston” and increasingly under pressure from that one detective whose job is to investigate any crime with a Qonnection, so she decides to do a little reconnecting herself. Hello again Reed Diamond! “You and I go way back, John,” Q says, for all the world as if she hasn’t seen him in two decades as opposed to two episodes. “I didn’t know who else to turn to.”

At this point, I’m torn between the urge to shout “you could turn to the President!” and the hope, flickering briefly into life once again, that these two crazy, mixed-up, highly upstanding FBI agents might make a go of it together. Sigh. But Reed Diamond helps me re-focus on the matter at hand, suggesting that Q could and indeed should turn to PJB. “If it’s cancer, you tell the patient,” he points out, which is entirely helpful advice, I think. Even if Q doesn’t want to take it, presumably because PJB insists on defying stereotypes and seventies comedy routines by actually getting on quite well with his mother-in-law.

Thankfully, however, Reed Diamond’s helpfulness doesn’t end there, as he follows up with the suggestion of going to the White House Counsel instead, and what do you know? They just hired a nice, smiley one a couple of weeks ago! Handy, huh?

So more screentime for Kendra Daynes, then, as she and Q go and see FLOTUS together. That was never going to be fun, but becomes even less so when Mrs Bauer not only treats Q like she wasn’t almost wholly responsible for uncovering and bringing down a massive conspiracy which almost destroyed American democracy about five minutes ago – saving PJB’s life and Presidency in the process, let’s not forget – and therefore might just know what she’s talking about, but also has the audacity to be snippy about it. Why didn’t Q come to you with the real allegation at the start, Alex? Because a) nobody wants to tell the First Lady the First-Mother-in-Law might be a felon and b) this is always how you were going to react. You can get over yourself, too.

And perhaps apologise to Q since, obviously, it turns out she’s right. PJB can spin it as “a 30 year-old transgression your mum made in order to save her husband” all he likes, but let’s call a federal crime a federal crime, you guys. And now Reed Diamond is going all federal subpoena on the FMIL’s ass, both she and her daughter might find they actually miss Q’s more under-the-radar style.

Not that Q is happy about it, either. “You’re such a bastard, John,” she says, dashing my hopes of a happy Qending once again. She gets a “one-time pass” because she’s Q, but Reed Diamond sternly reminds her he is the Director of the FBI (is this a recent promotion? I thought he was head of their Internal Affairs section?) and one time is all she’s going to get, because some apparently highly significant evidence he can’t ignore – I know Reed Diamond says he doesn’t need to tell Q what it looks like, but it would really help me out if he did – has now popped into his lap too. After all, Agent Q isn’t the only person who has an obligation to investigate, is she? And I don’t mean the woman at the OMB and her stupid broken vase. Nor do I see anyone sorting this one out with dinner.

Designated Survivor s2 ep 3

I spent a fair bit of time defending Designated Survivor from unfavourable comparison with The West Wing last season, arguing that it’s a different type of show entirely and should be judged on that basis instead. Designated Survivor is making it increasingly difficult to maintain that position this season, however, since it’s becoming increasingly clear the show doesn’t seem to have any idea what type of programme it actually is any more, and has taken to borrowing liberally from all sorts of others, just to see what might fit.

Last week was all about 24, but this week the show shifted into Containment mode, with a hyper-fast, hyper-deadly virus suddenly felling the population of South Carroll Parish, Louisiana, and PJB’s heroic pal from the CDC flying out there to try and fix it. Hazmat suits and viral apocalypse trope checklists at the ready then: we have 1. a poor child crying for his mother; 2. the mother being only the first of the many victims to come; 3. lots of bleeding from the eyes and mouth; 4. an experimental treatment yet to be FDA-approved being everyone’s only hope; and 5. Big Pharma wanting to squeeze every last dollar out of the entire scenario. All this would be fair enough, but, since this is a thriller about politics rather than pandemics, instead of taking its time and going the full Armageddon like Contagion or Containment did, we have virus, cure, court battle, defeat of capitalism, and heated discussion of the racial politics of it, all in one episode. And the CDC lady makes it out alive, no problem.

Not that that’s all, either. Q and Mr MI6’s investigation of Lloyd’s visit to the First Mother-in-Law’s house – for no reason other than with one conspiracy finished, we need another to fill the gap – continues, as they uncover what seems (for the moment, although it has to get bigger, right?) to be an exceptionally dull, small and convoluted instance of corruption, which I only care about because if the FMIL turns out to be a bad’un, maybe my season one wish’ll come true and FLOTUS will too. In the meantime, though, Chuck’s raging jealousy is the only fun part of this sub-plot. Well, that and Mr MI6, a thoroughly unnecessary character given that Chuck, Mike and Reed Diamond can and have investigated all sorts with Q in the past, getting deported for the most unnecessary B&E in the world. Bye, Mr MI6.

The weakest aspects of the episode are the political ones, though, and the ones that, much as I don’t want to, I do have to compare with The West Wing, because, let’s face it, they’re practically lifted right from it. In another example of the show introducing new, unnecessary characters, simply to take tasks and screentime away from the ones we already have, the spotlight falls on the perfectly-nice-but-we-already-had Ainsley-Hayes new White House Counsel Kendra Daynes who has lots to do, what with sorting out the sensitive, topical question of what should be done with a Confederate statue, while also starring in her very own episode of Law and Order: DC. Because what a show struggling to establish its identity after the end of its main storyline really needs is to throw in some regular courtroom drama and extra civics lessons (last week Posse Comitatus, this week public defence) to the mish-mash of styles it’s already trying to meld, and see what happens. (Clue: Papa Bauer eventually has to yell at the evil guest character again, that’s what happens. Although, just for a change, it doesn’t work first time out, so he has to shake him down, then yell at him again. Potay-to, Potah-to.)

Anyway, the statue debate is well-meaning and it would be important, except that it doesn’t get the depth or time it needs, what with everything else going on, and instead is treated as an opportunity for the President to patronise the living daylights out of Mike, and yet another opportunity for the most unnecessary character in the history of characters, Lyor, to say something infuriatingly glib to save the day. Or something. That guy is loathsome. And yet, inexplicably, getting a vast amount of screentime, be it relating to statues, the failings of his new colleagues, or some cutesy nonsense about hermaphrodite frogs.

Let me be clear, then. I usually like Designated Survivor a lot, and I didn’t hate this episode, but it really laid bare the main faults of this “difficult” second season. The show has definitely shed its early, joyous craziness and moved on to trying to do too many different, earnest things in each episode, all of which have been done better elsewhere. It has brought in too many characters, with the result being that the ones I already know and like (and ship!) are completely sidelined. And Lyor really, really sucks.