After going so long without watching The Blacklist, I finally caught up to episode 16 this past weekend, watching the episodes back to back without break on Saturday night. It was quite fun. The show has only gotten better as far as I am concerned. The previous episodes that I watched for the review last week, episodes 7-10, were quite intense episodes in part because James Spader’s character Raymond Reddington was directly threatened, as were the people closest to him, and one of them even died, sadly. When the tenth episode ended, Red pretty much said it flat out that he wasn’t going to come back until the FBI had cleaned house and he was certain of that.
These three episodes are focused on Red getting his revenge on all the people who have betrayed him and all the people who talk part in his capture by Anslo Garrick. He is a man on a mission and he isn’t going to rest until he has balanced the ledger. And what follows is a very bloody state of affairs that eventually draws the eye of the FBI as well, although peripherally. At the same time, we continue to get more bad guys in each episode and the mystery of who and what Tom Keen is continues to deepen, especially at a time when Liz’s marriage to him is on the rocks.
I’ve mentioned before that James Spader’s Red is quite a ruthless character, and that if he wants something and someone is between him and that thing, then he is going to take them out by whatever means necessary, even if it means killing them. That is essentially what happens in this episode. Whether we are talking about an ambulance driver who was threatened and coerced into being a part of his capture, or an actual bad guy, Red spares no one. He goes after them like an angel of vengeance. They are all guilty in his eyes, and for him it is right that they die as compensation. He is a cold-blooded killer and that became absolutely crystal-clear in these three episodes.
At the same time, it is so tough to reconcile this cold-blooded killer with the man who laughs at the smallest of jokes and is so affable around Liz and the others. Right conundrum he is and that is where James Spader’s acting skills really come to the fore. He switches between the different personas of his characters effortlessly and makes it all look so damn easy. He sets a high bar for the rest of the cast to follow and I have to say that the differences are quite obvious.
That doesn’t mean that the others are any slouches however, especially when we come to both Diego Klattenhoff’s Agent Donald Ressler and Megan Boone’s Elizabeth Keen. In these episodes, they both do some of their best work and it is around the point of these episodes that I’ve really started to take an interest in Ressler. He has finally become a character that I can genuinely root for.
Of course, we are in that kind of a place in the season where this should really have happened. Ressler started off as a kind of unlikable character because of his hostility to Liz and he has pretty much all mellowed out now. Having been shot defending Red in episode 9, he is now recuperating and his ex-girlfriend runs into him since she is still listed as his next of kin. Of course, the old romance blooms again and it is very gratifying to see Ressler as someone who isn’t uptight all the time. Seeing a soft side to Klattenhoff’s character does a lot to make him likable and gives the actor more to do as well, which is always great in itself.
With Boone and her character Liz, things keep getting better every step of the way. Starting off with confronting a villain from her past in episode 11, she goes on to track down a mob informant and his wife who have hired a professional to change their identities, and then she moves on to taking down a shady adoption agency. And all the while she is dealing with her decision and Tom’s to adopt a baby and go on from there. This has been building up since the start of the show and we finally begin to see this subplot become even more active. Of course, as long as she has fears that Ryan Eggold’s character Tom Keen is not who he is, she has doubts about whether the adoption will work for them as a couple. Red’s cryptic warnings about Tom certainly don’t help either.
These three episodes give Megan Boone a lot of material to play with and she definitely does a good job with all of it. Episode 12 wasn’t all that exciting an episode as far as the main story is concerned and in fact might be one of the least interesting of the entire season, but the background stuff was all good. And a huge part of all of that was Megan Boone herself. She just fits the role of Elizabeth Keen pitch-perfectly. Honestly, I wouldn’t see any other actor in that role. She nails it for me.
Episode 13 is perhaps one of the most intense and personal episodes of the show so far. An adoption agency that is far more and far less than it appears to be is a great narrative hook. Throughout the episode we see how Liz deals with her plans to adopt a baby and what kind of fears she has, especially once she comes into contact with other couples who’ve adopted babies in their past and what kind of experiences they’ve had. It is a lot to take in emotionally and informs her final decision in the end.
One thing that strikes me is that the show isn’t afraid to put its characters through the wringer. And the characters all deal with problems both immediate and personal in almost every single episode, especially Red and Liz. And that is what makes this show really good. It takes chances with the characters and it wins through because of that sheer bravura. The showrunners and the writers definitely don’t play things safe. I mean, I would have thought that getting me to like a character like Red would have been next to impossible. But happen it did, and I happen to not just like the character but love the character! For my money’s worth, he could well be the hero of the story instead of an anti-hero who leans towards the moral black. And a rookie like Liz who grows into a confident and yet conflicted character, that’s something as well, although she started out clearly as the hero and that is how the character is maintained. So no complaints there.
Of the three episodes, pretty much all of episode 11 and the final ten minutes of episode 13 are my favourite, with episode 12 being largely forgettable as far as the main story is concerned. The pacing in both episodes 11 and 13 is fast, and it never lets up. Various revelations, big and small are constantly thrown at the viewer and there was this moment towards the end of episode 12 where we got a pretty big reveal. Something entire unexpected but entirely fitting and thus the perfect kind of twist for a show like this.
Given how easily I’m breezing through this show, intending to catch up by the date of the season finale, I’ll say that I’m still enjoying The Blacklist a lot. The show has surpassed expectations, that’s for sure.