The Enemy Within premiere review: Jennifer Carpenter’s intense espionage drama

The Enemy WithinTonight following The VoiceNBC premiered a brand-new show featuring a criminal who finds themselves working with federal law enforcement in order to make the world a better, safer place.

Now, we’re not talking about The Blacklist … and we promise that this is the last joke that we’re going to make about it. The Enemy Within is its own show, but it does have some superficial similarities to the James Spader series.

Where it’s different is that Jennifer Carpenter’s main character of Erica Shepherd is not some criminal mastermind with a network of cronies who are also masterful in the dark arts. She’s a person with power and knowledge who was forced into an impossible place: One where her daughter’s life was in jeopardy and because of that, she allowed a terrorist to kill four other people. She’s been labeled a pariah, a traitor, and someone who is one of the most hated people in this country — as of the pilot, she also kept the reason behind her decision a secret. She’s a flawed person, but in some ways, sympathetic. Raymond Reddington is gleeful at times within his crime sprees. That’s not Erica Shepherd.

Erica, following years behind bars, was brought back to the forefront in the pilot because her knowledge and former CIA skills were of use. She’s a code-breaker, an asset, but also a wild card. Her primary point of contact seems to be Will Keaton (Morris Chestnut), someone who is also skilled at his job. He doesn’t trust Erica — would anyone, given that they don’t know the truth about the attack? — and it’s even worse since one of the people she ended up killing was his fiancee.

This is going to be a tough, tenuous nut of a relationship to crack. He has no real reason to ever enjoy working with her, but at the pilot proved, she’s effective in stopping attacks. She can see this job as a way in which to earn redemption and show that there is a light amidst some of her darkness. She may also be able to eventually earn some degree of relationship again … though that’s not going to be easy. Jump remember that when Erica escaped and went to her school, she was arrested in front of her (and her classmates) before she could even get a few sentences or an embrace in. Probably the saddest moment of the premiere, but also complicated — we didn’t know the truth behind Erica being behind bars until the end of the episode, long after that scene at the school.

CarterMatt Verdict

Much of this episode laid the groundwork for what could come — we’ve got the main characters, we understand who Erica is, and now the real question is how much more can the show develop them and how high can the writers make the stakes.

Was this a solid premiere? Certainly. There’s a great, tested premise at the heart of it and Carpenter’s long been an outstanding actress — someone who’s been in need of a big hit since Dexter. This gives her some real meat to sink her teeth into. It’s also nice to see Chestnut back as Rosewood was down before its time.

The challenge moving forward here is simple — making the supporting characters stand out, and also define both Emily and Keaton beyond just before this central incident from years ago that defined them. It’s the setup for the show but it’s not all of who they are. We want to see more of them in happy times, and also some different degrees of their relationship that form. This is a dark show and that’s probably not going to change, but there are degrees of darkness and also chances to offer something new every week to throw viewers off.

In general, The Enemy Within has a real opportunity here to show the intersection of spycraft and technology in a way that we don’t typically see on network television — it’s about skill, research, and understanding of how criminals and terrorists think more than it is techno-jargon. Given that there may very well be an enemy within (not named Erica) judging from the twist in the closing seconds, Emily’s got her work cut out for her trying to win these people over. Hopefully, the show’s going to have an easier time with his viewers.

What did you think about The Enemy Within premiere on NBC? Share some of your thoughts right now in the comments. (Photo: NBC.)

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