Crime thrillers are never in short supply in the world of network television, but NBC’s “The Enemy Within” is off to an engaging start. The show’s premiere is full of action and suspense, with high production value to back up its ambitious stakes.
The most compelling part of “The Enemy Within” is its protagonist, Erica Shepherd (Jennifer Carpenter), a former top CIA operative who is arrested for treason within the thrilling first two minutes of the premier. Erica becomes “the most hated woman in America” for assisting terrorist Mikhail Tal in killing four CIA operatives, including FBI Agent Will Keaton’s (Morris Chestnut) fiancee, Laine Heffron. Three years later, Tal is actively committing acts of terror once again. The renewed hunt for Tal forces Will to work with Erica to prevent more deaths. There is nothing ingenious about this premise: NBC’s own “The Blacklist” revolves around the same notion of working with the enemy, and tragic personal connections to the target are essentially cliché for the genre. Yet the premiere blazes through the set up to get into the action, and the confident execution of the premiere promises a riveting ride.
By the end of the first episode, Erica’s character is easily the most developed. A myriad of tight close-ups on Carpenter’s face and eyes captures every microexpression and nuance, and she delivers a detailed performance that rapidly humanizes the protagonist, a national traitor. Erica’s dual personas of a cold and calculating CIA operative and a loving mother ground her character while also leaving plenty of opportunities for deception — a definite asset for a show of this nature. Erica reveals the reasoning behind her treason by the end of the first episode, which writers may have mistakenly believed was necessary to win over viewer support for the character, as the mystery around the protagonist was one of the most compelling questions of the premise. That being said, every other character on the show is a constant reminder that Erica may be lying, so the possibility for another reveal is certainly still open.
Unfortunately, all the other characters fall short in the premiere. The only other character given a chance at development is Will, but he falls into the archetype of the driven and competent FBI agent. He only shines in his antagonistic interactions with Erica, since it is the layered power dynamics of their relationship that fuel the premiere’s stand-out scenes. Writer Ken Woodruff tries to develop empathy for Will as he continues to mourn his fiancee, but if anything, Will’s constant loss-fueled aggression and furniture-tossing make him appear one-dimensional. Furthermore, the fact that everyone working on this case seems to have conflicts of interest is slightly concerning. No one else on the team has enough personality to be memorable, but perhaps the ensemble will be fleshed out as the season continues.
The show shines in its cinematography and direction. To build suspense as the characters pursue Tal, short scenes and rapid cuts maintain a constant sense of pursuit that propels the narrative forward and demands the viewer’s attention. This also makes the slow-motion used in the premiere’s most emotional scene particularly effective. While it does build up intensity, the prevalence of close-ups on faces begins to feel a tad unnecessary after some time. The show pulls no punches with the action, featuring an explosion and several assassinations right after its opening sequence, and raw scenes of violence back up the premise’s high stakes. Suspense mounts throughout the episode and does not let up, which one can only hope will continue throughout the season’s 12 episodes. With a relatively unoriginal premise and longway to go for its characters’ development, the premiere of “The Enemy Within” is far from perfect, but it is a thrilling ride with a strong dynamic between the main characters and capable visual direction that reveals serious potential for the adventure about to unfold.
—Staff writer Jenna X. Bao can be reached at email@example.com