I’m going to do my best to not be too hard on this week’s episode of The Blacklist. It doesn’t seem fair. After all, it’s a two-parter, so it makes sense that there has to be a certain amount of set-up in order for maximum payoff in the actual finale. The problem is, too much of the set-up here felt convenient, stilted, and more reliant than usual on characters explaining the situation in excruciating detail. Anyway, before I get all finger-pointy, I should warn you that this review will contain spoilers throughout.
The first and most obvious problem is with the half-assed villain of the week, a guy who acts as a kind of herald for the mysterious “Berlin.” His plan? Infect innocent people with a particularly nasty strain of…something horrible, and tell them that if they don’t do as he says, they can forget about their antidote. Fair enough, but haven’t we already seen episodes like this earlier in the season? Perhaps on other shows as well? There’s only so many times you can play the “innocent dupes as foot soldiers” card…
I’m just glad it wasn’t anthrax. I’ve already reached my “anthrax as plot device” quota this year thanks to an earlier episode of Elementary.
Then again, the fact that each of these individuals works in various fields that allow them to perform certain tasks that, when done in concert, add up to one really big important task is kind of a nice touch. It also nicely mirrors the revelation that all of Red’s “gifts” to the FBI this season were part of a grand scheme of his own. Look, we knew Red wasn’t doing this out of the goodness of his heart, and certainly he was getting something out of nearly everyone they ended up taking down, and when looked at like that, the fact that he delivered each entry on the Blacklist in particular order so he could accomplish his goals should make perfect sense. And it does. But then why does it all feel so hollow?
This isn’t to say that the first part of “Berlin” is completely without merit. John Glover showing up as a literal mad scientist is a delight. Watching Glover and Spader trade nonsensical quips and memories that may or may not be true was just lovely, and yet another fine example of what this show can do when it has more than one actor with a measure of charisma on screen at any given time. Still…did this feel a little out of sync with the tone of the rest of the episode to anyone else? It just became another excuse for Liz to bark icily at Red (not that I blame her) and for Red to remain cooly impassive.
Lizzie had two great moments tonight, though. Often, I’m not her biggest booster, but her unspooling of her life with Tom to the FBI was handled well. “If you would refrain from referring to him as my husband, I would appreciate that.” Well done. That and her rather, ummmm…”enhanced” interrogation technique. Far be it from me to applaud something like that, but it’s nice to see her step out of that squeaky clean role. Perhaps a little Red has rubbed off on her, whether she likes it or not.
Ryan Eggold’s Tom is much more convincing as a villain, isn’t he? He was always too mannered for my liking as a good husband, and he’s certainly ruthless enough, now. That neck tattoo thing…oof. The speculation that Tom inserted himself into Liz’s life specifically in anticipation of Red contacting her adds a layer of urgency to the Red/Liz relationship mystery, something which it has been lacking recently.
But even these positive elements weren’t enough to really save this episode from mediocrity. It was a needlessly convoluted, overly talky (that standoff with Red and Lizzie was interminably dull) episode, and what felt like a higher body count than the episode really demanded (or deserved). This can all quite easily be salvaged with a dynamite season finale. If The Blacklist can finish with an episode as strong as its pilot was, then it’s going to feel like a long wait for season two.