Last night was the season finale of one of NBC’s top-rated dramas of the 2013-14 season, The Blacklist. A crime drama with a focus on espionage and intelligence politics, the show was headlined by James Spader and Megan Boone, both of whom delivered handsomely throughout the entire season. As I keep saying in my reviews of the show, their performances are one of the many reasons why I like the show as much as I do. By this past weekend, I had finally caught up with the show, ready for the finale, and while some of the episodes along the way were less than good, all the good ones more than made up for them.
Episodes 21 and 22 form a single story that brings to conclusion the subplot that has been running throughout the entire show this debut season: the mystery of the connection that Liz and Red have, and just who the hell is targeting Red and his operations and consequently, why Red surrendered to the FBI in the first place back in the pilot. The finale does leave you with some more questions, but between these two episodes, we get enough answers that the big season cliffhanger rubs you just the right way.
We know by now that Liz’s husband Tom was a plant. He was meant to set himself up as her husband and create a homely life with her, all the while keeping tabs on her and her associates, especially once she joined the FBI, which gave him some great access to the mystery that is Raymond “Red” Reddington. We know from the very first episode that Red was somewhat aware of Tom’s duplicitous nature and even warned Liz about it, but without any hard evidence, none of it mattered. And all that changed in episode 17 when Liz finally found some evidence, and he world was shattered by the fact that Tom was not who he was and that she had been living with a murderer for more than two years, had married him.
All that emotional baggage, plus finding out that Red killed her adoptive father Sam, Liz carries into these two episodes, and we see how this knowledge affects her work with the FBI task force that is working with Red to bring down a number of high-profile terrorists and criminals all over the world. Each episode prior to Episode 21 dealt with one such case, but these last two episodes both deal with the case of “Berlin”, Red’s mysterious enemy who has been targeting his organisation for the last several episodes and is the power behind Tom.
And I say, it is about damn time. There are no secondary villains to get distracted by any more, no side plots that focus on anything other than what is happening with these characters right now and what has happened with them throughout the season. A lot of the stories come to a close in the finale, and it is almost heartbreaking to watch. Time and time again we have seen how the main cast of Liz, Red, Donald, Meera, Aram and Harold have put their lives in danger, and time and time again we’ve seen that they’ve just barely escaped from grievous injury. No longer. For one of these characters, the finale is the final stop. For another, things are dicey. The cost that the main cast pays to find who Berlin is, is a high cost, but they do get a lot out of it.
What I loved, absolutely loved about these two episodes was the high-octane action. We get lots of it. From Russian prisoner transport planes crashing into New York’s East River to shootouts in the city’s alleys and backwater places (and more!), the show goes beyond just being a crime drama. This one element of the show that I’ve appreciated since the very beginning and the showrunners and writers certainly did not disappoint in that regard. Plus, fact of the matter is that I can watch James Spader’s Raymond Reddington shoot down bad guys all day long and never get bored of it.
Which brings me to the most important point: the performances of the main cast. Megan Boone and James Spader get the lion’s share of screen-time for these two episodes, which is fine since they are the two primary leads from the main cast. Doubly justified because they are both excellent actors and their performances play off of each other’s. James Spader’s Red is a cold, ruthless killer and criminal who shows very little emotion, and when he does, you know that it costs him to expose that chink in his armour. Megan Boone’s Liz is an emotional woman who is juggling lots of things in her life: her job as an FBI profiler, her failing marriage, Red, her father’s death, and more. The writers have put both these characters through the wringer up until now and that the last two episodes are upon us, the pressure and tension certainly don’t let up in any way.
By the time we reach the post-climax scene of the finale, a lot of things are finally resolved for the characters, but just as many things are left open. With all the intelligence that Red has provided to the FBI for the last few months, they certainly can’t let him go, and he isn’t exactly looking for a way out either because he still has things that need doing, things for which he needs the kind of resources that only the FBI can provide him with. Plus, we still don’t know the whole story with regards to who killed his family and why, or what the connection really is between him and Liz and what is the identity of her real father. Sure, the show gives us a lot of clues in that regard, but I’ve learned to be wary of when the show reveals so much. There’s always just one more twist behind the curtains you see.
One thing that I’ll point out, with regards to Berlin’s identity is that it was easy to figure out who the bad guy is, visually speaking. The character who plays Berlin has been in a fair few movies over the years, almost always as a bad guy, and once he enters the scene you know it is him. So not much of a surprise there in the end when everything finally goes down, but it is a fun way to subvert the ongoing story. Misdirection has always been one of the hallmarks of the show, given everything that Red does, and it is doubly true here.
In closing, I just want to say that The Blacklist has been a fairly impressive show right from the start. The early episodes did kind of make the FBI agents look like idiots and you sometimes wondered how incompetent they could really be since Red basically spoonfeeds them everything and gives them the run-around all the damn time, but the show does start to improve dramatically right about episode seven or eight if I remember correctly. And it continues on a high.
Actors like James Spader, Megan Boone, Amir Arison, Parminder Nagra, Diego Klattenhoff, Ryan Eggold and Harry Lennix, they are all wonderful actors and they give their best in this show. For a serious show like The Blacklist, the performances of the actors, and their on-screen chemistry is always an important thing, and you could always see both of those in how these actors and characters interacted with each other. Even when you look beyond the high-profile relationship of Red and Liz, you see the other relationships develop between all the other characters. We see the relationship between Liz and Donald in the second half of the season. We see the relationship between Liz and Harold. Liz and Meera. Meera and Red. Donald and Red. Meera and Donald, and so on. I mean, it is all there, and it is all good.
The way that the writers and showrunners execute this 2-parter “Berlin” finale is how season finales should be executed. There are cliffhangers of course, but they shouldn’t be there just for the hell of it and the story should be the best of the entire season, all of which was the case here. With the show’s debut season now ended, we have to wait until mid-September at the earliest for the second season, and I can’t wait to see how everything is after the hiatus, because at the end of the debut season, the status quo has changed significantly. In particular, and this is a small point, I’m really interested to see who replaces Parminder Nagra and her character Meera Malik, and whether or not Harry Lennix’s Harold Cooper is replaced or not. The show has done a good job of giving a good amount of time to non-white characters, and I would hate to see that go in the second season.
That is all.
If you haven’t kept up with this show, then you’ve certainly missed out. And now you have the perfect opportunity since you can binge-watch the entire season!
Once again, a huge thanks to the entire cast and crew of the show for such a tremendous effort!