Red entertained us with zinger lines as always. New relationships and character bonding were warm moments of this episode.
Highly convenient clues the result of incredible luck or out of this world detective work seemed over the top and a bit of a stale plot that's been tried many times made this a 'Lister that lacked depth.
A deadly plague released by a devout cult to bring about the apocalypse and destroy all of mankind? We think we heard Buffy’s Scoobies exclaim in unison—again?
The Blacklist — Yes, all the Whedonites are right now high-fiving the inside funny and everyone else is scratching their heads wondering if they are reading the wrong article. Yes. This is The Blacklist. But for the first time we can think of, this show slipped a bit more than we’d like and felt a bit retread, but without the campy fun. In this week’s episode, Red (James Spader) sends Keen (Megan Boone), Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) and the team into a race against time to catch a deadly environmental cult called The Front, and it’s enigmatic leader, Maddox Beck (Michael Laurence). The Front is hell-bent on releasing a deadly plague upon humanity in order to “cure” the world of it’s most deadly killer—mankind. While the FBI is busy saving the planet, Red works tirelessly to track down a young woman he believes is vital in his war against Berlin and Liz escalates her cat and mouse game to evade Red’s Associate (Hal Ozsan).
We’re huge fans of The Blacklist, so it pains us to admit that this episode had more flaws and nits than we’re accustomed to from a group of writers and producers that have consistently brought their best to television in this series. But when we reach our third or fourth eye-roll moment in an episode and seriously consider tossing a shoe at the television out of frustration, we begin to lose a little faith. That’s not to say this episode didn’t also have good moments. It certainly did. Red was, well—Red. And Spader makes this show entertaining even when nothing else does. The last few minutes certainly had redeeming emotional bonding we felt this cast had been needing for a while, but even those things weren’t quite enough to leave us satisfied. With lots to dissect and discuss, let’s skip right to the meat and potatoes and find out what vegetables we refused this week!
This episode of The Blacklist may be a victim of the show’s own success.
This week’s ‘Lister was painted by Red as one with a penchant for destruction. Red describes The Front as an environmental activist group, with a reputation for devout members and increasingly violent methods of getting heard. He suggests the near death of Carrie Anne Beck (Katrina Lenk) is the work of her husband and leader of The Front, Maddox Beck. Recognizing the name, Liz questions his existence, recounting that he was believed dead. Red insists Beck is very much alive and since moving The Front underground, their appetite for violence has only increased.
“Since going underground, they’ve been too radical for my blood. Advocates for a level of destruction that I find chilling.” ~ Red
Anyone that Red finds chilling does make us cringe a bit. As Red lays out The Front’s manifesto and more specifically the ideology of Maddox himself, the groundwork is set.
“Beck … views himself as a chosen one, a messianic figure who sees humanity as a virus that needs to be eradicated in order to save the planet.” ~ Red
The team begins their search with Carrie Anne, who it turns out is brain-dead, but very pregnant. Her unborn child prompted her to try to stop Beck from destroying the world. The ensuing investigation involves a series of highly specific and very convenient clues that each lead to the next successive step. Each clue is introduced in a blur and warps the team straight into a combination of Da Vinci Code meets National Treasure. The puzzles are solved with such speed that both Robert Langdon and Ben Gates would have been impressed.
700 year old Clay under Carrie’s fingernails is linked to a very specific period of art. It so happens an exhibit of that art was recently on display and the least valuable “by far” painting was curiously stolen. A map, only visible in certain spectrums of light, was hidden in that painting which leads the team to a burial ground. We didn’t know spectral analysis existed 700 years ago, but it made for a cool visual. A marker at the burial site sends them straight to the basement of the oldest church in New York City in search of the remains of a priest said to have ingested a plague so deadly it killed 200 million people in it’s day. Beck intends to use that plague to wipe out modern man and rid the world of humanity’s destructive presence. That’s a fun thought.
It’s not that the clues weren’t fun to follow or that Beck wasn’t believable. What was most irksome about the Blacklister this week was that Beck was painted as a one-dimensional figure and never given any depth. Beck was scary because of his ideological devotion to his cause, but outside of that didn’t have any real meaning to us as an audience. We’ve seen the same type of plot many times over in many other places and therein lies the rub. He felt stale. And the chase to reach him was marked by such highly improbable deductions that we barely had time to digest one before we were on to the next.
We get it. Not every episode of The Blacklist can absolutely blow our socks off but it should at least tug at our stockings a bit. They’ve done such a fantastic job of consistently amazing us that when they fall short, we feel it. We’ve simply come to expect so much more from this show.
A less mysterious Red is one that’s less fun to watch.
Red makes this show. There are no two bones to pick about it, he simply does. What’s made him so much fun to watch is not only his zinging one-liners that are so memorable, but the mystery and aura around everything he does. The formula that worked so well in the first season was one where we were introduced to snippets of Red’s world and everything he did was a juicy mystery we were eager to solve. We rarely knew what he was really up to and we didn’t mind. He played the part of a puppeteer pulling the strings from behind the scenes. We watched as Liz and the Task Force worked his cases and simultaneously tried to connect the dots to learn his true end game. We were teased with clues, but never felt like Red was overtly dangling them in our faces over and over again without showing us his hand.
This season, the formula has been flipped and we’re not sure we are enjoying it as much. Liz is the one with the secrets and Red seems to be the one jumping through hoops. We love Red. As much fun as it is seeing him more directly involved, it takes some of the mystery out seeing him sitting at the DMV waiting for his number to be called in order to talk to his tracker—who is hot on the trail of a girl we assume is Naomi’s hidden daughter. Yes, it’s fun to see the juxtaposition of a small child offering Red a piece of candy, but isn’t Red too powerful and in too much constant danger to be waiting at the DMV for information?
The interaction between Red and Glen (Clark Middleton) did have it’s moments. Glen has been searching for the girl on Red’s behalf, but the search is taking too long for Red’s liking. Excuses mount and some of the aura of Red is lost as we see him getting desperate. We loved the more mysterious meetings and seedy underworld that Red introduced us to so often, but the DMV front, although clever, seems more like a gag to put Red in a humorous situation than anything else. As Red’s frustration builds, Glen insists he’s done with Red’s demands, but Red does put him in his place with a golden one-liner.
“You’re the most gifted tracker I know Glen, but your mouth runs like a scalded dog.” ~ Red
But Red should be more than one-liners. We’ve come to expect more from him. Spader has brilliantly constructed this character as one that has incredible depth and mystery. Seeing him at the DMV, not once, but twice, is a humorous gag, but this show is smarter than that. We’ve come to expect better. The one-liners are stellar writing, but they work because everything else is so smartly done. That’s why when Aram slips to Liz that Red asked him to find the girl who Glen could not, we almost couldn’t believe our ears. Did this show just use a horribly blatant mental slip of the tongue to move the plot forward? Not only was Aram’s praise of Liz in that moment awkward and forced, but we realized that the only reason the two were talking was to “allow” for the slip and give Liz reason to push back hard on Red.
This week’s episode felt very much like a show that has lost some steam and is lean on ideas. Case in point, when Liz hires a double to fool the tail that Red assigned to protect her, and more likely to help Red figure out what Liz is up to, we loved the idea that the double works. What we didn’t need was that double doing a shadowy strip tease to Red’s Associate in order to entertain us and keep his attention. This has consistently been one of the smartest shows on television and resorting to sexualizing Liz (even though it was in fact her double) isn’t needed to keep us interested. What we enjoy is the plot and the juicy Blacklisters. Both of those seem to be getting thinner each week.
The last 15 minutes “almost” made up for the first 45.
As we said in the opening, this episode wasn’t without it’s good moments. The ending certainly felt much more like The Blacklist we’ve come to know and love. As the team closes in on The Front and their plan to infect millions, we do get some good character moments we’ve been waiting to see. Having learned the self-infected members of The Front plan to fly to numerous cities at once to infect the world, the team races after the last member of the group that hasn’t yet boarded a flight. We’ll not go into what we thought of the ginormous red blinking road sign of a clue left in the lab identifying the entire plan of infecting the world. But rather, we’ll focus on the good moments that followed.
Samar and Liz track down the last infected follower and in the scramble he both shoots Samar and infects her. Trying to isolate herself and protect the others, Samar closes herself behind a glass door and insists Liz not enter or risk being infected as well. Liz, as stubborn as she is, realizes that Samar will bleed out without help, and despite protests, pushes her way in to the room to help keep Samar alive long enough for help to arrive.
In what was one of the best moments of the week, tensions between Samar and Liz that had been brewing seemed to be eased as the two women faced the possibility of death together. Samar confides that everyone talks about Liz behind her back and about who Red is to her and what this all means. As a newcomer, she can get away with that statement. Liz in return laments the turns her life has taken since Red and Tom threw it into chaos. Realizing that stopping Beck would never have been possible without Carrie trying to get out to save her baby brings things full circle for Liz and Samar. One woman’s desperate attempt to save her child may have in fact, saved entire the world.
Needing the cure to save Liz and Samar, Red is pushed into action to find Beck. As it turns out, Beck is perfectly willing to send his disciples to kill the world, but he’s saved the cure for himself and has no intention of dying for his own cause. His plan is to restart the human race, and along with Pepper (Amber Skye Noyes), become the Adam and Eve of a new world. Red finds both and confronts them at the commune where they are awaiting the apocalypse they’ve started.
“You two out here, playing grab-ass in the woods, just smacks of something biblical!” ~ Red
“Who the hell are you?” ~ Beck
“I’m the snake in the grass.” ~ Red
Red’s plan all along it seems was to find Pepper. As the scene unfolds and the cure is obtained, it’s apparent that it’s Pepper he’s been interested in from the beginning. This is the kind of mystery we don’t mind. He turns to her and tells her she knows what he’s going to ask. She points to the bottles hanging from the tree and Red drops a skeleton key on the ground. His business is done and the authorities are closing in with sirens wailing as he leaves.
The purpose of the key or the relationship between Red and Pepper isn’t explained but it’s that kind of small mystery we don’t mind at all. Red has something brewing and that’s what has made this show work. Liz on the other hand, teasing us for a second week in a row with a mystery door without walking in and showing us, just doesn’t sit well with us as an audience. What did sit well was the tender moments near the end. Clearly Red cares about Liz as seen by his beside manner with her in the hospital. What relation there is between Liz, the key and the little girl in the reel of film that brought tearful joy to Red are left for us to wonder.
FINAL VERDICT: The Blacklist is too smart a show to include strip teases and stale plots. Red was good as always. Bonding at the end was as well. But we expect more from a show that’s set the bar too high to rest on it’s laurels.
We know it’s not any one person’s fault when an episode doesn’t work. It takes a village to make a television show. But we were left wondering a few times if the village had their holidays mixed up and were severely shorthanded. The clues in tracking Beck down were so incredibly specific that no room for mystery or detective work was needed. And Aram’s slip was far too big a blunder for this writing team to fall back on as a device to move things forward.
The writing credits might provide a clue to why this episode didn’t feel as much like a “Blacklist” story as some. The Teleplay credit given to Jim Campolongo and Adam Sussman and the Story credit given to Sussman alone suggests that a source story was written and then adapted to a television script. While not at all uncommon, this might suggest why this story felt a little less like The Blacklist than others. Granted, this is just a theory, and solely the opinion of this author, but it very well could be the source of some disjointed things that simply didn’t feel right.
The formula of Red keeping secrets and everyone else trying to figure those out worked extraordinarily well in season one, but flipping the script and having Liz keep one big secret, a.k.a. what’s behind the door, over multiple weeks seems more gimmicky than mysterious. The formula simply doesn’t work as well in reverse. Red’s secrets were always more subtle. Liz sitting outside the door on a number of occasions simply feels like a writing team gleeing at teasing us with what they know and we don’t.
We did enjoy Liz and Samar finally finding common ground. This show instantly became better when these two had a moment to become closer and trust each other more. As an audience, we still don’t trust Samar completely, but her moment with Liz and her taking the hand of Aram in the hospital humanizes her in a way that we’ve not seen. We need more of those moments ahead for us to care. We also need to see more of Cooper (Harry Lennix) and Ressler. In recent weeks they’ve simply become background material and the interesting twists of their characters we were introduced to early in the season have been largely forgotten.
The writing team for The Blacklist has earned much deserved praise. They’ve created something truly unique in this show, and have earned the trust that one or two episodes of slide can be forgiven as long as things return to the standard we’ve come to expect. With much of the season still ahead, that’s certainly possible and in the end the dip from this episode may long be forgotten after much better ones supplant it in our minds. We do give credit that even a less than stellar episode of The Blacklist is better than a lot of television shows ever reach. That said, in our minds this episode felt very average, but we aren’t deterred from watching and seeing better things ahead.
Questions, Comments, Concerns and My Reaction on Twitter…
- Anyone need a cab? No? We didn’t think so either after that bone crushing moment.
- “Humanity is a virus that needs to be eradicated to save the planet.” ~ Red. Well that’s a warm fuzzy feeling. NOT!
- You’re the most gifted tracker I know. But your mouth runs like a scalded dog. #ThingsRedSays
- “What? I was good at math.” ~ Aram to Samar. There is something brewing between those two.
- If Red gave me that look Aram, the cup would have been shaking violently when the camera panned down. lol
- I’m getting a serious Biblical feel to this episode. And a dash of National Treasure.
- Oops. Loose lips, sink FBI ships Aram. Did he really just slip that badly? How did he get an FBI job?
- Well, that strip tease was a hell of a diversion tactic. I hope that girl got paid really well. Is it just me or that feel very unlike #TheBlacklist?
- WTH is behind the door Liz!!?? Between the window scene & the lack of entry to the door, I’m feeling teased.
- Samar is impressed w/Aram every time he finds the unfindable. Watch her eyes. I’m calling it #HookUp
- Anyone here think our kingpin didn’t inhale? He’s too egotistical not to watch his plan happen.
- “He lives off the grid.” ~ Aram “There you have it.” ~ Red. Aram, search all the communes who’ve rejected the world!
- “You two playing ass-grab in the woods just smacks of something biblical. I’m the snake in the grass.” ~ Red #ThingsRedSays
- Possessive of him. Jealous of the girl he’s trying to protect. That’s a powerful girl bonding moment Liz and Samar.
- I called it! lol RT @NBCBlacklist: Saram forever. #TheBlacklist
- Annnd of course. We don’t “see” Lizzy’s secret tonight. They teased us. Will they do it again next week? We’ll see but I’m irked. #TheBlacklist
The Blacklist Review: 2×05 – “The Front”