You can mess with time. You can mess with space. But you can’t mess with both.
Oh, NBC. Your new series Blindspot had such potential for people intrigued by puzzles. And then you had to go and spoil it all by not understanding how time and distance work.
For those unfamiliar, Blindspot‘s premise is this: a woman covered in fresh tattoos is found naked in Times Square. She has no memory of who she is or how she got into the duffel bag she was found in, or why one of her tattoos is the name of an FBI Special Agent.
Following the structure of most big-4 TV network shows, each episode includes a episodic plot and an serial plot. In this instance, the serial plot – that Jane Doe’s tattoos will eventually reveal not only her identity but also why she was covered in them and delivered to the FBI – is fed by the episodic plot – that each tattoo is the clue to some urgent, criminal or national security situation.
The urgent, action driven nature of the episodic plots:
- a disgruntled ex-pat Chinese chemist makes a bomb that could kill thousands of people in New York City;
- a paranoid, ex-drone jockey seeks to expose a secret, domestic drone program based in New York City by hijacking a drone and bombing the building that houses not only the drone program but also the FBI field office in Manhattan;
- an international heist crew made up of ex-SEALs take over a New York City hospital in an attempt to rescue one of their own who was shot during a jewelry store robbery;
is supposed to support the more cerebral, nerdy lets learn about steganography while objectifying this beautiful woman serial plot. The episodic plots, however, strain credulity, something I was willing to overlook because 1) beautiful woman, 2) intriguing puzzle. I was willing, that is, until that strain snapped the fabric of the space/time continuum.
[WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS]
Episode 4, Bone May Rot, has our plucky band of FBI Special Agents and Jane Doe, who it turns out has Special Forces level combat skills and instincts, following tattoo of a bird logo, which the team geek identifies as the logo of the Centers for Disease Control buried in two leaves, an Oak and a Maple, coincidentally the intersection where the CDC’s offices are sited.
Once they arrive at the CDC they discover Jane has additional tattoos, ones that are only revealed after going through “ultraviolet decontamination.” These new tattoos correspond to the serial numbers for “vials of the world’s most virulent diseases, which have gone missing.”
After a two-hour lock down in a secret “bio hazard level 4 facility” at the CDC, the FBI team finds that the Director had triggered the lock down remotely from Brooklyn. They rush back to their office in Manhattan to analyze the data only to discover that 9 major epidemics, corresponding to 9 of the missing disease vials, correspond to the CDC Director’s travels over the past several years.
Our FBI team then tracks the CDC Director first to Cold Spring, NY then via a parking receipt to the Manhattan Cruise Terminal where she has left on a timer an aerosol canister containing “a rare strain of viral hemorrhagic fever set to go off just as several cruise ships are disembarking. The agents are able to save the day, and defeat her Assistant Director who reveals they were only attempting to rid the planet of its true, fatal infection – humanity – without anyone getting infected with this “rare strain of viral hemorrhagic fever.”
Just writing this plot synopsis my bullshit detector is going off so loudly the cat is giving me side-eye.
Let’s break this down from least sinnable to most sinnable.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are part of the Department of Health and Human services, which does have a bird in its logo, the CDC itself does not have a bird it its logo. So this tattoo should have led them to HHS proper not to the CDC.
Ultraviolet decontamination is totally a real thing. The National Institutes of Health tested it five years ago and found it to be 99% effective in eliminating antibiotic resistant strains of MRSA and several other diseases in about 15 minutes, but it took nearly 50 minutes to have the same effect on C. difficile spores. Bear in mind, this test was run in a room with furnishings, not on people, and even if they only stayed in decontamination for 15 minutes, that’s still 15 minutes not two or five.
The Director stole a “rare strain of viral hemorrhagic fever.” The CDC itself writes “In general, the term “viral hemorrhagic fever” is used to describe a severe multisystem syndrome (multisystem in that multiple organ systems in the body are affected).” Why not just say “Marberg,” colloquially known among my scientist friends as “Ebola’s more deadly cousin?” Why beat around the bush?
Sure, your makeshift tent looks spiffy but there’s no way you’re containing an aerosol dispersed virus with some random plastic sheeting, duct tape, and some brooms…on carpet…in a public place.
And last, but not least, the reason why I am done with this show: The CDC main research facility is in Atlanta. No ifs, ands, or buts.
While they do have a regional office in Manhattan, it is highly unlikely that it includes a biosafety level 4 lab where they are researching Special Pathogens. No, if you want the meaty, disease-y, guts of the CDC, you’re getting it in the Peachtree state.
It takes anywhere from one hour, 56 minutes (Airmiles calculator), to two hours, 25 minutes (Google Maps), to two hours, 39 minutes (Delta) to fly commercially from JFK to Atlanta, not to mention the additional time if you choose to leave from LaGuardia. There’s not much you can do about the 760 airmiles between the New York metro area and Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, which, by the way, is no where near CDC headquarters. So you’re spending a minimum of two hours each way on travel. That’s four hours on your mission clock just for travel by air, not to mention the time it takes to get to and from the two airports.
If our FBI team was locked down at CDC headquarters, which is where the Director’s office is…you know, at 1600 Clifton Rd. Atlanta, GA 30329-4027, USA, for two hours we’ve now got a mini of four and a half hours on our mission clock, not to mention the fact that there’s zero chance this rogue Director would have had the time to fly to her secret lab in Brooklyn from Atlanta, trigger a lock down remotely, and then get an hour and a half upstate to Cold Spring, NY after stopping to leave her virus bomb at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal.
It is just not physically possible to do all the traveling these people would have had to do to fit this event into a single day. If you try to get me to swallow implausibility on a level that requires bending the space time continuum, or siting a totally unrealistic lab in the middle of New York City, I’m going to shout bullshit in your face.
Sorry, NBC, you jumped the shark in episode 4 of this series.
Oh, and one more thing: the closest corner of a Maple and Oak in New York to Manhattan is in Yonkers, 25 minutes with no traffic from Midtown.