‘Blindspot’ bosses talk fan theory accuracy and knowing what all of Jane’s tattoos mean
Not even halfway through the season of NBC’s new thriller “Blindspot,” the questions and fan theories practically outnumber the tattoos on the show’s amnesiac protagonist, Jane Doe.
The curiosity and mystery has worked in the show’s favor, with “Blindspot” securing the first full order of the season. It shares the title of No. 1 new series among adults ages 18-49 with CBS’ “Supergirl,” (Both have Greg Berlanti as an executive producer.)
The seventh episode of the drama, which airs Monday, is another tent-pole installment in the season and the “biggest mythology episode,” according to creator/showrunner Martin Gero.
We spoke to Berlanti and Gero about what’s in store, audience expectations and why the heck so many addresses on Jane’s body lead to Brooklyn.
(The following has been edited and condensed.)
First, obviously, there needs to be a hat tip to you, Greg. You have the two top-rated shows of the season among adults 18-49.
Berlanti: I’m just really proud of everybody associated with all the shows. We’re really proud of the episode. You always want people to watch. Honestly, the overwhelming feeling is one of happiness that people watched. And that people will keep checking out the shows. And hopefully as they watch more episodes, we’ll continue to grow our fan base and people can see all the hard work everyone has been doing.
Does it feel like you can breathe a little now? Or does it feel like more eyes are on you?
Berlanti: I don’t know that -- I’ve had so many different seasons where you go up and down, I try not to focus so much on that. There’s so much else to focus on in terms of stories and scripts and cuts and trying to make everything the best it can be. And ratings also are week to week. So I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about the next week and the week after that. The only thing you can really do, I think, to help control that outcome is to actually focus more on the quality of the episodes.
In terms of “Blindspot,” what are some of the questions you hope viewers have at this point in the story?
Gero: We hope that they are deeply involved in the characters, obviously. That they are really curious about Jane and Weller, and how they’re relationship is going to progress. Also, where Jane came from and who did this to her. All of those core series questions are still very much alive. But, hopefully, they have a bigger part of the picture. We want viewers to feel satiated and that we’re not just giving them bread crumbs every couple of episodes or so. I think what’s so fun is seeing how engaged people are with this show. It’s not a show people watch passively. They are very actively trying to figure it out. Down to what’s going down in the show -- all the first 10 episode titles are anagrams and they figured that out immediately. All of Reddit is ablaze with what they think are hidden messages of the show, and stuff like that -- some of which are true, and some of which aren’t. It’s great to see an audience that isn’t just watching the show week-to-week, but is really thinking and trying to decode the show even when it’s not on.
How does that challenge -- how sophisticated viewers are in their analyzing -- play itself out in the writers room. You’ve seen the fan theories, tweets -- everyone is trying to solve a puzzle about this show. Does that force you to be more vigilant, knowing someone is sort of keeping score of all the plot decisions you make.
Gero: Yeah, but I think that’s the fun of the show and it’s definitely a challenge. We’re real big on not breaking any rules. Once something is set, it’s set in stone. It just makes for better storytelling. It’s a challenge to tell a good story, but those are rules everyone should hold themselves to even if the fans aren’t obsessively going over every frame of the show.
I think the perfect example of this entire thing -- I think at the end of Episode 4, we gave away that there was some isotopic evidence in her tooth that made it seem like maybe she wasn’t born in America, which would go against her being Taylor Shaw or at least Weller’s version of who he thought Taylor Shaw was. There’s a form on Reddit where there are eight increasingly outlandish theories as to what the implications of the tooth are. One of them is pretty close. Yeah, one of them is near close. There are seven totally insane ones. Or let’s say, three totally insane ones. That’s the fun of the show, and one of the reasons we did something like that. We want people to feel satiated, we want people to feel like, “Oh, I got something.” But we also don’t want them to feel like, “Well, I think I solved it, now I don’t need to watch the show anymore.”
With that in mind, do you know who Jane is and could that change if needed?
Gero: Oh, yes, we know who she is. That’s so important to us. Greg and I sat down and spent a lot of time with that. We know exactly who she is, we know who did this to her. We know why they did it to her; we know what their end game is. That’s not stuff we could do on the fly. For us, too, the early weeks in the writers room were more about Episode 22 than they were about Episodes 2 and 3. It was really important for us to know what all the tent poles were going to be for us this season and write backwards, as opposed to try to figure it out as we went along -- which, to be honest, I just don’t know how to do. So, yeah, it’s pretty solidly set. And it’s why were able to give away what seems to be like so much -- because we know what’s coming and we know there’s so much more to come.
We know what a lot of the tattoos are. The real bummer of this show is if it didn’t get picked up to series, we had done so much work before on the pilot because a) we needed to know a lot of these answers just in the pitching of it and b) we’re imprinting a treasure map on the body that even a casual viewer will start to detect if there’s a new tattoo on her back. So a lot of story had to be imprinted on her body beforehand.
There’s a handful of tattoos in there to give us outs if we run into trouble. They’re on the generic side. But it’s a lot of fun trying to stick to some sort of game plan.
How do you think the show would be different had it had a shorter episode order and ran on cable?
Gero: Who knows where ideas come from, but you kind of have a sense of where they belong once they come out. And this just never felt like a cable show. One of the things that got me excited about it was, “Oh my gosh, this is a big network-type show.” I never have ideas for giant network TV shows. This felt like the one. The fun of it was, I had been watching a lot of “The Good Wife,” to be honest, and I was so blown away. I mean, I was so late to the game on “The Good Wife,” but now I’m their No. 1 fan. I was so blown away because they were able to take a legal procedural and imbue it with so much amazing character work. ‘Cause I could really take or leave a legal procedural at this point in my life. But I was so invested in the characters. And yet, I could get really into the legal procedural aspect. And then I realized how much I missed law shows.
And so, for me, that’s kind of what this show is all about. It’s a procedural for people who didn’t like procedurals. And it is a character drama for people who maybe didn’t love character dramas. And on top of that, I was a huge “Law & Order” fan, obviously, and my favorite episodes were always the ones where it was like, “Oh my God, Lennie’s daughter is in trouble.” What’s great about this show is every episode is an “Oh no, Lennie’s daughter is in trouble.” So the procedural aspects have deep personal stakes for our two lead characters and potentially all of our characters. It just made it feel more in my wheelhouse than a straight-on procedural. The idea of doing a lot and having it be like one of those shows where you can scratch that itch once a week for a long time, those are the shows I love. So the chance of doing one was really appealing.
You’ve said previously that there are a few pivotal episodes this season, with No. 7, which airs Monday, among them. What can you tell us about it?
Gero: “Goonies” and “The Da Vinci Code,” those great kind of scavenger-hunt kind of stories, were a real touchstone for us as we were making the show as a whole. Episode 7 is an actual treasure-hunty type of episode. It’s our most tattooed-heavy episode. It’s one of our biggest mythology episode on a lot of cases. A lot of groundwork was laid for that episode to be as exciting as it is and it feels like a whole episode of payoff. And I think it’s one of our best ones.
In talking about payoff, I’m sure you saw the initial reaction to what “The Walking Dead” did with the Glenn character. As a show that’s rooted in being a thrill ride, talk about serving the story versus serving the fans. Not tricking them or not having them feel cheated.
Gero: Well, I think it’s incredibly important not to cheat. You can’t have lots of people come back from the dead, for instance. When you kill somebody, you want -- I mean, because part of the fun of killing somebody for the sake of a TV storyline is you want to show there are real stakes in play. And I think undoing some of that occasionally lessens the blow. We’re all just avid television watchers. When you’re sitting there in the room, you have these kinds of conversations. Someone will ... say, “I would be really pissed off as a viewer if something like that happened.” You have to really pay attention to the viewer inside of you when making these shows because it’s a really good compass for what everyone else is going to feel. You want huge payoffs and you want huge cliffhangers, but they have to have real stakes in them, otherwise -- we talk about schmuckbait, which is like,”Oh, no! Something bad is going to happen. Just kidding. It’s fine!” You can’t do that too many times, or really, ideally, at all, without having the audience be like, “You know what? This is not the show I thought it was going to be.”
Berlanti: The caveat I would put on that is every show has its own DNA and its own rules. Certainly, the comic book shows that we do, we’ve brought plenty of people back from the dead. But again, there are different kind of stakes depending on the show. It’s whatever are the laws of the universe you established within the body of your show. If you got something like Martin and the writers are doing with “Blindspot” -- I mean, as Martin has said, at the end of the day, it’s a naked woman with tattoos who wakes up with amnesia in Times Square in a bag. There’s already a heightened element to it, but there are real stakes and real drama and they want to hue as close to reality as possible.
For some of our other action shows and superhero shows, the stakes are a different kind of emotional stake. I do think one thing that is important for us, if we’re not enjoying the ride as writers, or if we’re not surprising ourselves and if we’re not painting ourselves into corners that we’re not quite sure how we’re going to get out of them, then the audience is never going to experience that either. I think any writer sometimes probably says, “Oh, I got those three right and I got a couple of those wrong.” That’s just part of the nature of doing television. And the value of great actors and one’s characters is an audience can love a show in spite of some of those choices. But sometimes the stuff they are most frustrated by is just a sign of their engagement. Like with “Sex and the City,” when Carrie would get together with Big, I’d be so frustrated and I’d be so mad at her, but it was like she was my friend. And there were choices that she was making that I disagreed with, but it just showed my love and affection for her.
Speaking of boyfriends, is Patterson’s boyfriend someone we should be suspicious of?
Berlanti: He’s Martin’s friend in real life.
Gero: He was one of the leads on “L.A. Complex.” Keep watching. I think you’ll really like Monday’s episode.
And what are you trying to tell us about Brooklyn? Should we be ambivalent about going there. So many of these addresses on her body turn up in Brooklyn.
Gero: Ha! It’s a dangerous place. It’s been gentrified way too quickly! You have no idea what’s under the pavement there. Lots of terrible things going on in Brooklyn. Brooklyn has been painted in too nice a light. We’re trying to balance it out.
And what about Tree Man. Will we get resolution about him soon?
Gero: You’ll get a little bit in the next episode. The great thing about the internal pace of the show is you’re not going to have to wait until the end of the season to know who Treeman is. The Treeman is a big part of the season ... or not a big part of the season. You’ll know real quick.
Is he going to get his own spinoff? I’m joking, but are you already trying to think of spinoffs?
Gero: I kind of just want to do a half-hour comedy with Patterson and David, where it’s just them dealing with their stuff at home. Like a Web series of how he figures out each of the clues and it’s just the two of them moving into different places around the city.
And Greg, with “Blindspot” and “Supergirl,” there are two strong female protagonists at the helm -- is that initially what drew you in? Being able to show that women can be just as kickass as men?
Berlanti: I’m aware of the gender of the character as we all talk about it, but it’s not where I personally create story from -- because maybe it doesn’t matter to me whether it’s a woman or a man? I initially was excited about “Supergirl” because I really felt it could be a show for everyone. And it was such a valuable commodity in the DC library that we were really honored that they asked us to participate in that. In this, Martin brought in an incredible story that had me at the edge of my seat in the pitch of it -- I don’t even know if that’s happened to me in a pitch before. Both those things -- it was always about the story. That being said, ... hopefully the initial success at the launch of the shows shows other people in the business that female-led action films and shows are possible and they should be making more of them. It really does go across gender now.
Gero: One of the early tests we did was 100 people -- 50 guys and 50 girls. They asked the guys, “Hey what was your favorite part of the show?” and they said the action. They went and asked the women what they’re favorite part of the show was, and they also said action. Everyone was like, “Wow, can you believe it?” And it’s like “Yeah, of course I can believe it.” It’s not that women don’t like action, it’s just that women are probably sick of just watching dudes have all the fun.
I tweet about TV (and other things) here: @villarrealy
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