The Blacklist pulled out all the stops for the two-part midseason finale, and we’re going to do our level best to hit the high points (and one or two lows) of “Anslo Garrick Part One” and “Anslo Garrick Part Two” for you. Over the course of ten episodes of The Blacklist I can safely say that, for the most part, the good has far outweighed the bad. But I’ve come to realize that there are three components that will always add up to an exceptional episode of The Blacklist, and “Anslo Garrick” (parts one and two) nail all three: a ton of action (preferrably when directed by Joe Carnahan), a really solid villain (preferrably with a strong visual), and plenty of James Spader as Red Reddington (bonus points if he gets his hands dirty). There WILL BE SPOILERS in this review, so beware if you haven’t watched yet.
Let’s start with the obvious. The first part of “Anslo Garrick” was handily the most action-packed episode of the entire series thus far. Directed masterfully by Joe Carnahan, The Blacklist turned into a Hollywood action film for a solid hour, with more gunfights, explosions, and gruesome gunshot wounds than we’ve seen in the previous episodes combined. As headquarters were infiltrated by Anslo Garrick and his gang, we were treated to the entire team really acting as a unit in close quarters for the first time all season, with Harry Lennix’s Harold Cooper keeping his cool the entire time…even with a gun pointed at his head. It was glorious.
As for the “solid villain” part of the equation, Ritchie Coster’s Anslo Garrick may not be the very best villain we’ve seen on the show so far (I think my money is still on either “The Courier” or “The Stewmaker” for that one, but I can be convinced otherwise), he’s damn close. Garrick is, essentially, the anti-Reddington. Just as evil, nearly as resourceful, perhaps not quite as intelligent, and certainly less-refined. Where Reddington is handsome and urbane, Garrick is deeply scarred (thanks to a point-blank gunshot wound inflicted on him by Red in their distant past) and ill-mannered. Where Reddington cultivates deep levels of trust with his associates (something which is soon used against him), Garrick is rather offhanded about the way that his own men are dispatched in the service of their duty. The one poor bastard who caught the wrong end of a ricochet was both hilarious and telling.
We got to see a deepening of the relationship between Agent Ressler and Reddington in a most unexpected way. As Ressler is bleeding out thanks to one of the more painful looking gunshot wounds I’ve seen on network TV in recent years, we get to understand a little more of why he’s so driven to bring Reddington down. And at one point, Red, always knowing exactly what to say, even seems to get through to him a little as he discusses what he wants out of life one last time as they both face certain death. It’s a fun moment that showcases Spader nicely, and the background music (which is rarely all that consequential on The Blacklist) subtly shifts from choir-like voices to a much more sinister tone as Red’s “true” nature once again shines through. Oh, and the improvised tourniquet and cauterization of the wound were…uncomfortable to watch.
These moments, as Red saves the life of a man who has a professional reason to bring him down while a man with quite personal reasons for wanting to torture Red to death stands just outside the door, are almost what this show is all about. It’s almost enough to make me wish that The Blacklist was only a 10-13 episode season, so that these moments could be maximized, without having to wade through clunkers like “Gina Zanetakos” or “Frederick Barnes.”
Of course, this isn’t the end for either of them, and Red ends up in the clutches of Garrick. At the same time, Agent Keen realizes just how deeply her home life has been compromised. When she goes to investigate, well…for a “profiler” Lizzie sure did rack herself up quite a body count in these two episodes. Unfortunately, after practically going the full-on Die Hard barefoot infiltrator route in the first part of “Anslo Garrick” we’re suddenly back to “helpless, confused Lizzie” in the second part, where she’s at the mercy of Red’s network, and listening to her irritating husband moan about how her job isn’t worth the danger it puts her in and they should move off to Nebraska. After ten episodes, I can safely say…I don’t buy their relationship, and I’m not sure how convinced I am that this guy is the lurking threat that Red makes him out to be. On the other hand, “Mr. Kaplan” is a fun character and I hope we see more of her (not a typo).
As Red is held captive by Garrick, there are more revelations to be had, though. Clearly, he could only have been tracked if there were a mole in the organization, and whoever it is, is watching everyone, all the way to the top. But the fact that Red is being held at a former black ops site, well…it raises eyebrows. And you know what really raised my eyebrows? Alan Alda showing up as the guy pulling the strings.
There is apparently one secret (or set of secrets) that Red is beholden to never reveal, but at the same time, his death at the hands of his enemies might just reveal it. What could it be? Whoever Alda’s shadowy character is, one can only assume that his connections run deep into the US Government as well, and it’s all but certain that whoever the mole is must be on his payroll. There are far more questions than answers here, but if that means we’re going to see more of this character in future episodes, that’s a fine thing.
And then there’s the big question, which Lizzie finally asks Red at the episode’s conclusion. Is Reddington really her Dad? After a moment’s hesitation, the answer is “no.” But then it’s back to the same rehearsed line about keeping her safe that we’ve had since things kicked off. Honestly…this little mystery has run its course. The two questions that hang over this show, the question of Red’s relationship to Agent Keen and the true nature of her husband, still feel a bit forced and are both considerably less interesting than simply letting the rest of the cast develop as they should. Other than Agent Ressler, the rest of the team is really due for some quality fleshing-out (although we nearly get that with Aram in this one…it just isn’t quite enough).
So, it’s tough to rate this mid-season finale, really. The first episode was virtually flawless, putting these characters in some hot water we’ve yet to see them in. The second episode, while still quite good, felt like a bit of a step backwards, both in terms of storytelling and characterization. Still, the unveiling of Alan Alda’s high-ranking badass as a potential ultimate counterpoint to Red for future episodes of the series is way too promising to not feel like the bar has been raised a little bit.
I’m not sure how long The Blacklist‘s (temporary?) new mission statement of “find Red Reddington” will carry over into the second half of the season. But if it means a shift away from the strict “villain of the week” format into something more insidious that threatens the whole team, that might work in the show’s favor. If, in the process, we get to spend more time with characters like Harold Cooper, Meera Malik, Aram Mojtabi, and new favorite, Jane Alexander’s Diane Fowler…not to mention Alan Alda as a villainous mastermind, that’s a huge bonus.
The Blacklist returns on January 13th, and I’ll see you then!