On the NBC series Blindspot, Jane (Jaimie Alexander) is still reeling from a series of massive revelations about what was done to her and questioning whether to trust Oscar (Francois Arnaud), and she’s also begun to doubt how much she can take the FBI team that she’s grown fond of at their word. And with a mole now discovered within the FBI’s New York Office, the team must hunt for the operative while facing extreme scrutiny from Inspector Fischer (John Hodgman), who threatens to expose their deepest secrets.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, showrunner Martin Gero talked about moving full speed ahead for the rest of the season, why they approached the mid-season premiere like it was another pilot, not deviating from their original mythology, and that he’s known who Jane is and what her real story would be. Also, Gero talks about how suspicious we should be of Oscar, the bond between Jane and Weller (Sullivan Stapleton), providing some satisfying answers by the end of the season, finding the balance between the procedural and the mythology, and how being a showrunner is about being as decisive as possible, all the time. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: When you returned with new episodes, the show really picked up fast and has been moving full speed ahead ever since.
MARTIN GERO: We don’t fuck around!
Did you plan out the season this way, so that you would hit the ground running, once the show returned after the holidays, or was this just the direction the show led you in?
GERO: For a show like this that’s so serialized, the reason we’re able to burn through the plot so quickly is that the first two or three weeks of the writers’ room, we essentially work backwards. We talk out the season and we figure out what Episode 22 or 23 is going to be, and then we’re like, “Okay, what does that make the mid-season finale, and therefore, what’s the mid-season premiere?” The way that NBC is airing it, which I think is actually fantastic, is that it’s almost like two half-seasons. It’s cable-ish, so it allows us to keep that cable pace on a network show. We had an inkling that we’d probably stay with The Voice, so we’d be off the air for three months and we needed to start with a bang. A lot of people, over Christmas, even if there wasn’t a break, tend to get turned on to shows half-way through the year. I also know that people maybe don’t have 10 hours to catch up on the first 10 episodes, so Episode 11 was like another pilot for us. We wanted to grab you, if this was the first episode of Blindspot you’d watched.
How close is the season sticking to your original plan?
GERO: As far as the mythology goes, we haven’t deviated, at all. Certainly, some of the cases are different than we thought they would maybe be. That’s the stuff that morphs and changes. One of the things that we are all really proud of is that we just finished breaking Episode 23 and it was amazing that it happened really quickly because it was what we talked about back in May. It’s exactly what we were hoping to do, and it’s so exciting to actually be able to do it.
Jaimie Alexander seems so deeply intertwined with this character now that it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing this role, but Jane Doe existed, as a character, before anyone knew who would be bringing her to life. How different has the character become, as a result of her being cast and watching her playing the role?
GERO: First of all, every character evolves when you attach a face and personality to it. You can’t help but subconsciously write toward the strengths and avoid the weaknesses of every person. I wrote this thing and we were all really excited about it, and I still remember Peter Roth, who is the President of Warner Bros. Television, calling me when NBC picked up the pilot and was he was like, “Congratulations! Now, we’ve gotta find this girl.” And my stomach just sunk. I was like, “Oh, my god, now a real person has to play this totally crazy character. This is going to be a nightmare!” Finding someone I like is hard enough, but the network and the studio have to like them, too. This should have been a nightmare. They gave me a list of available actresses and I saw that Jaimie was on there, and it just had to be her. For whatever reason, I had really been keeping an eye on Jaimie. I thought Jaimie was Canadian. I’m Canadian, so I always keep track of Canadians, in the back of my head. So, I was so familiar with her entire career and catalogue. I thought she was so great and such a physical actress, and I was like, “We should meet her first.” And literally, the second she walked in, all of us were like, “Oh, it’s done. We’ve gotta do it.” And I think she felt the same way. She’d been looking for a TV project for a couple of years and just hadn’t found anything that clicked. One of the most exciting things was that, with her and Sullivan [Stapleton], the second we met them, we knew there could never be anyone else. We only met them for those roles, and they both said yes. It’s pretty crazy.
Did you know, from the beginning, that Jane Doe would turn out to be Taylor Shaw, or did you have other possibilities in mind?
GERO: We’ve been pretty solid on who she is since we pitched the show. Nowadays, networks have gotten real wise to a high-concept pilot that maybe doesn’t have anywhere to go. So, we really developed into the second and third season, in the pitch. When you do a pitch like this, if you just pitch them the pilot, they’re immediately like, “Who is she for real, though?” And if you don’t have an answer, you’re in trouble. So, I’ve known who she is and what her real story is for a long time. In the original pitch, I pitched what the mid-season finale was going to be and what the finale was going to be, and a general idea for what Season 2 is. We’ve stuck to that game plan. I’m anxious when I don’t know things about our own show because we do burn through plot so quickly. I just don’t ever want to be in the situation where we’ve made a choice because we think it’s cool, and then it paints us into a corner that’s so hard to get out of. It’s so much easier to just know where you’re going. I’ve worked on shows where you make it up as you go, and you’re just like, “If I had just written one sentence about this in a previous episode, we could all go home right now.” It allows you to problem solve and you can lay things in so that the turns feel organic, as opposed to, “Wait, what?!”
Oscar is an interesting character because he showed up and told Jane not to trust anyone else but him, which just inherently makes him suspicious. Is that a feeling that the viewers should be having, and should Jane be having it, as well?
GERO: I think she does have that feeling. Certainly, in the next few episodes, that relationship is challenged. Her life is in such crazy flux, and Oscar represents some stability. She does remember him. She remembers being engaged to him. So, at least her past self trusted this guy, a little bit. She’s drawn to Weller because she feels like they have this connection. It’s something tactile in her life, where she doesn’t have anything permanent. And Oscar is an even grander version of that because she remembers him. The last time Weller talked to her, she was five. Oscar seems to know what’s going on right now, and so she can’t help but be intoxicated by the idea of trying to pull that out of Oscar. But, she certainly doesn’t trust him all the way.
You’ve said that the big questions of this show are, where has this woman been? Who took her and what happened? And why has she chosen to do this? Are you going to be answering any or all of those questions this season, or will you pull some of those questions over into Season 2?
GERO: Some of them will be pulled into next season and some of them will be resolved in this season. It’s very difficult to answer that question and not give away where the show is going. Every season of television should be like a novel in a series of books that you like. This season has a beginning, middle and end, and then it tees up next season. Next season will have a beginning, middle and end. The trouble with these ongoing mystery shows is that it’s very easy for them to become all middle. I think we’ve shown, even in these first 12 episodes, that’s not going to be the case with this show. We’re happy to end things and start new things. That’s my vague answer. You’ll have some satisfying answers towards the end of the season.
With the revelation that all of this has happened to Jane Doe because it’s something that she did to herself, she’s gone from an innocent character to someone who’s morally ambiguous. Will that start to affect her and her relationships with everyone?
GERO: I think it already has. Her and Weller were in. They kissed and that was going to go somewhere, but she immediately, in Episode 11, put him at arm’s length. And it’s not because she’s not interested in Weller. It’s because she’s afraid of herself. She’s afraid of compromising them, and she’s afraid of what that might mean for the rest of the team. She also can’t help but put a seed of doubt in their relationship now because obviously the past her really had a problem with them. So, the next couple of episodes really get into how the team feels about her and how she feels about the team. There’s some good stuff in there.
This is a show that has interwoven the procedural element with the overall mythology of the story. Has it been hard to find the right balance with that?
GERO: For me, and no one else makes this comparison except for me, but a lot of the reason why I’m able to write this show is because of how great The Good Wife is. The Good Wife fired all cylinders in my brain where it was like, “Oh, you can do 23 episodes of a show and still have it be amazing character work, and the procedural part is a part of that.” What’s amazing about The Good Wife is that the size of the case is malleable. There are some episodes of The Good Wife where there’s a 10-minute case with 30 minutes of character work. And then, there are some episodes of The Good Wife where there is four minutes of character work and 40 minutes of case stuff because it’s a Death Row case. The last show I did was this show called The L.A. Complex, which was a straight soap, and we were burning through story so fast. It’s a shame that we didn’t get a third season, but I don’t know what we would have done, if the show kept going. I was in love with Felicity, but by Season 4 or 5, suddenly real magic existed and there was time travel. At a certain point, you just run out of steam with a 22 episode order of character shows. So, the procedural part actually plays an important part for us, in allowing us to meter some of the character and story stuff. Episode 17, coming up, has almost no case in that story, but there’s tons of character stuff. Same with Episode 13. We start to get into episodes in the back half that are so mythology-based that you can take away some of the procedural part. But to be fair, the procedural part of the show also plays a giant part of the mythology. These cases do have a theme to them.
We know that Jane is going to become increasingly suspicious of the people at the FBI, but will anyone at the FBI begin to suspect that something is going on with her?
GERO: Yep. Watch Episode 13. Not to give it a lot of weight, but the next episode is a mole hunt episode, starring the great John Hodgman. The fun thing is that we know, as the audience, that none of them are the mole that he’s looking for, or at least we don’t think they are, but they all have secrets that are going to come out in a mole hunt. It’s a really fun episode, and the fallout from it is really huge.
Without giving anything away, do you think that Jane really wants to tell Weller about what she’s learned about what she’s done to herself, and how would he react to learning that she’s the one responsible?
GERO: I think yes, absolutely, she wants to tell him. She has an indelible bond with Weller, so of course, she wants to tell him everything. But she’s smart enough to realize that the Jane in the past might not have been such a great person and might have done a bunch of very illegal things. She knows that Weller’s compass is true and if she says, “Hey, this is what I know,” Weller will arrest her. I think she’s walking a dangerous line of trying to figure it out on her own, before she brings it to Weller. It’s a tricky game that she’s playing, but I think it’s the right one. That’s what I would do. She should to try to get as much information about Oscar as possible, and then make a decision about whether to tell Weller. It’s premature to tell Weller now. Obviously, she is Weller’s blindspot. From Episode 2 on, he has slowly lost the ability to think objectively about her, which is what you rely on, as an investigator. He’s leaning into the narrative that he believes, as opposed to trying to think clearly about the case. Jane is so amazing and kind and magnetic that a lot of the team has leaned into that narrative because she’s saved their lives, again and again. But starting with Episode 13, that’s something that some of them are going to start to have great pause about.
When you are running a TV series, you’re responsible for everyone and everything, and you’re ultimately the one who gets the credit or the blame for the finished product.
GERO: I like to say that we share the credit, but not the blame.
What do you most enjoy about being in that position, and what do you most dread about being the one responsible?
GERO: Making a TV show is one of the greatest experiences, ever. As far as the creative arts, or just art, in general, it is the most collaborative thing you can ever do. It’s more collaborative than a film, and it’s more collaborative than being in a band. We’re relying on 400 artisans to really all be marching in the same direction to deliver a show, every week. It’s an incredibly powerful and amazing thing to work with so many extraordinarily talented people. We can’t even fit them all in the end credits. That’s how many people work on this show. At the same time, I feel a great responsibility to make sure everyone stays employed. I’ve always seen the showrunner position as less of a dictator position and more of a curator position. Somebody has gotta have the final say on where all the art gets hung and how the flow of the thing goes. But at the end of the day, you feel the responsibility that the quality of the show stays consistent.
What do you remember about the first time you stepped onto the set as a showrunner? Was it anything like you imagined it would be?
GERO: It wasn’t necessarily stepping onto the set because by the time you get to the set, you’re pretty pregnant, at that point. It’s been ordained, how it’s going to go from that point on. I was number two on a lot of shows before this, and you vehemently fight for the ideas that you believe in, but at the end of the day, if the showrunner is like, “Nah,” then you go home and rest easy because it’s not your show. Being in the showrunner position for the first time, with people suddenly vehemently arguing with you, it was suddenly like, “Oh, man, they seem really passionate about this.” It took me a second to get my hyper-decisiveness back. You’re suddenly the last word and are not just throwing out your opinion to somebody who’s gotta make the decision. That gave me pause in a way that I didn’t expect, but I got over that pretty quick. This whole job is just about being as decisive as possible, all the time.
Blindspot airs on Monday nights on NBC.