I have always loved a good spy story. Something filled with great intrigue, great tech and simply something that makes you think. I've talked about some good ones on the podcast in the past. From Jack Ryan on Amazon to Blindspot on NBC, there are some examples of recent success. Trying to capitalize on that, and a trend that has been popular for decades, NBC rolls the dice again The Enemy Within. The question is, does this one manage to capture what made those shows so successful?
(WARNING! MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE PILOT EPISODE OF THE ENEMY WITHIN.)
Your first principal player here is Erica Shepherd, former Deputy Director of the CIA, now one of the most notorious traitors in American history. She is arrested for treason and responsible for the deaths of several agents. One of those agents just happens to be the fiance of our other key player in this story. FBI Special Agent Will Keaton, played by Morris Chesnut, is not charged with working with the very woman who was responsible for the death of his fiance. If you're thinking this sounds familiar, it's because it is, and that's the danger of doing a show like this. You don't even have to look beyond NBC's own network of shows to get these similarities.
You're going to feel a lot of similarities to The Blacklist when you watch this first episode. There is a little bit of Blindspot mixed in there too, but not nearly as much as the Blacklist connection. The thing that The Enemy Within failed to do with me was give me that character connection within this first episode. The Blacklist worked because of how amazing and attention grabbing James Spader was as Raymond Reddington. You could also feel an instant connection between his character and Megan Boone's Elizabeth Keen. While this is a different dynamic, and it is more adversarial, I just did not feel the tension that I felt like I should have between Keaton and Shepherd. We also aren't really given much backstory with Keaton, or even established the relationship that he had with his fiance prior to her death. We are told about it in bits and pieces, but we don't really get to see it with our own eyes. Beyond that, we don't really get much of anything when it comes to Keaton. He's smart, he has some skills, but that's kind of where it ends. It's hard for me to decide whether I'm not feeling it from Morris Chesnut or if it is the lines that he is being given. We get a bit more character from him in the last five minutes plus, but for me it's going to be much more of an uphill climb.
The star of this show is easily Jennifer Carpenter. Shepherd's instincts alone are very intriguing and attention grabbing. There are a couple of connections that she makes during this episode that very much establish why they pulled her out of Supermax prison and that they definitely need her there. Shepherd is very much one of those characters that thinks absolutely everything through, and has a very diabolical sense about her. At the same time, when we do see that veil drop a couple of times, it's not as shocking as I feel like it should have been. I know I said there would be spoilers, but I don't really want to give away one of these instances. Let's just say she goes from doing something brilliant to something very reckless, and instead of it being impactful, it just felt like a very out of place moment for the character that they had spent all of this time establishing over the last 30 plus minutes. Beyond that, every other moment she sells pretty well and will be the reason you come back to watch Episode 2, if you liked what you saw.
The other characters on the show are unfortunately very forgettable. Keaton has a team, but none of them really stands out to me. As I am writing this review, I just finished watching the show about 15 minutes ago and I cannot remember a single name. My memory might not be the best, but it's not THAT bad. Part of the reason for me is that, these characters are just continually thrown at us and we are not given the time or the reasons to become invested in them. This made the entire first episode lack a sense of urgency that many of the shows that I mentioned before were able to have in their pilot episodes. Even their big bad is a bit vanilla in the sense that, right now, he just seems like a very generic, super-evil terrorist guy. He's almost painted as the perfect foil for Shepherd, but that is not a connection that I would considered earned after this episode alone. I kept waiting for something to jump out and grab me in this pilot and it just didn't happen.
One thing that this show did accomplish is explaining how they could tell this story for the long haul. The chance to search for all of these different spies that could be embedded anywhere does have my attention. What I need to see is a bit more character development, and a lot more personality from pretty much everyone. I'm not saying humor, because that definitely would not play well with the tone of the show. To put it plainly, give me a reason to care. Give me someone or something to root for that doesn't feel generic or cookie cutter. That's one of the reason why I am not giving up on The Enemy Within. These seems like relatively easy fixes that can be made in the next couple of episodes. For me though, there is a lot of pressure on this second episode to deliver a lot more than second episodes usually have to. The Enemy Within is competing in my mind, and the minds of many viewers I'm sure, with a lot of similar shows that are already very good at doing exactly what they are attempting to do. After seeing what NBC brought to the table with Manifest, being so multi-dimensional and character driven beyond they mystery, it's hard to not feel a little disappointed after this Pilot.
Keep checking back for my updated review. What did you think of The Enemy Within?
Pictured: (l-r) Jennifer Carpenter as Erica Shepherd, Morris Chestnut as Will Keaton -- (Photo by: Will Hart/NBC)