Campaign Coverage 2020

'The Enemy Within': NBC Thriller Off To a Solid Start

In the 1991 film Silence of the Lambs, FBI agent Clarice Starling famously visited the imprisoned cannibal Hannibal Lecter in an attempt to learn more about a criminal on the loose. The concept was that Lecter, a psychiatrist-turned-criminal, could help profile and help capture an elusive psychopath.

NBC’s new drama The Enemy Within relies on a similar concept.

In the program’s opening moments, an American traitor named Erica Shepherd (Jennifer Carpenter) is arrested for betraying her country. Shepherd, a CIA operative for sixteen years, had given confidential information to an elusive terrorist, who used that information to kill several officials.

One of the victims was the fiancé of FBI supervising special agent Will Keaton (Morris Chestnut). Keaton helps bring Shepherd to justice and she’s imprisoned for her crimes. Three years later, the terrorist she aided remains on the loose. When that terrorist strikes again in a multi-faceted attack on the United States, Keaton reluctantly enlists Shepherd’s support.

As a former high-ranking CIA official and a woman who aided this criminal, the logic is that Shepherd could help profile and capture the elusive terrorist.

Like The Blacklist, the program relies on a partnership between a known criminal and an agent who are targeting greater threats.

Fortunately, the partnership works well here with Carpenter and Chestnut delivering solid performances as the drama unfolds. Carpenter’s stoic performance though is limited by the fact that her character is separated from the main action. As a prisoner, she’s oftentimes limited to offering advice and watching events unfold from a closed-off space.

In the first few episodes, she enters the field a few times — once through an escape — and it’s here where the audience is left to wonder what he true motivations truly are. Is she helping the FBI for her own purposes or is she really trying to help the FBI? Does her explanation for her traitorous behavior really make sense? Part of the show’s excitement could come from examining the subtle clues her actions reveal about her.

Thus far, the show’s main focus has been one main terrorist target and his large network. Part of that network extends to active FBI officials who are working against the country. With that in mind, the show features elements familiar to fans of thrillers like 24 and Homeland.

As the drama unfolds, there are spies within the intelligence community that are working against Keaton. One of those spies is introduced in the premiere episode, where she plays the victim in order to secure a level of trust with Keaton and his associates.

Created by Ken Woodruff, The Enemy Within has formulaic elements but the action and the actors elevate the material. In the early episodes (I’ve screened the first three), the character development has been minimal though. Shepherd is portrayed as a redemption-hungry traitor while Keaton is a strong-willed agent, who longs for the love of his late fiancé. As the drama unfolds week to week, one hopes that the show will find more time to develop these characters.   

In the meantime, the program’s premise sets up a solid storyline pitting Keaton, Shepherd and the FBI against one major villain who knows how to manipulate people to suit his will.

“You can save this country but you cannot do it without me,” Shepherd tells Keaton in the pilot episode. That pairing could work long-term for this show if their alliance grows deeper and the characters get more developed in the episodes to come. 

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