The Blacklist: Ivan review

The Blacklist employs a teenage hacker as the villain of the week in one of the season's less distinguished efforts.

Where to begin with this week’s episode of The Blacklist? I’ll get two things out of the way right up front: there will be spoilers, and this episode wasn’t pretty. If you aren’t in the mood to read about either, now is your chance to head off to greener internet pastures. However, if you’re willing to endure my ramblings for yet another Blacklist review, there’s always a seat for you here at Den of Geek. Now, on to the multitude of sins that was “Ivan.”

I have railed against this before in various reviews of other television shows, and I will do so again here. It is time for TV writers to take a stand against what I call “magic hacking.” Magic hacking is practiced by any number of utterly forgettable villains of the week on an infinite number of network procedurals (and also, sadly, by the otherwise cool Felicity Smoak on a show that I’m sometimes guilty of being a bit of an apologist for, Arrow). For those who haven’t been so unfortunate as to read my rantings about this elsewhere, “Magic Hacking” (TM) involves folks simply doing whatever the hell they please under the guise of “hacking” (in what would otherwise be non futurist/sci-fi environments) in such reality bending fashion that it would be easier to accept (and less insulting to the intelligence) if the showrunners would simply give the characters in question a robe, a pointy wizard hat, a long beard, and a collection of hocus-pocus magic words. Such was the fate of “Ivan.”

If you can hack an automobile to deploy its airbag at an inopportune time? You might be a magic hacker. If your magic wand/maguffin tablet can control things that are generally accepted to be non-hackable (like the brakes of a subway car), you’re probably a magic hacker. If you, as a pimply-faced 16 year old, can shut down the power grid of a major American city? You aren’t just a magic hacker, you are the Chosen One. You are Hacky Potter.

I’d like to apologize to any magicians, hackers, or my few remaining readers for that last paragraph.

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I would try and get into the plot of “Ivan” and the title bad guy’s place on the Blacklist, but ultimately, Ivan’s presence is a secondary piece of misdirection. Red uses the FBI (surprise!) to get himself another chess piece…something which could have been accomplished in the background of any number of other Blacklist episodes. What we’re then left with for the second half of the episode (somewhat inexplicably) is a creepy teenage loner story…albeit a creepy teenage loner with a magic wand. Sorry…I mean, a “skeleton key” which is the computer equivalent of a magic wand, and this week’s technological doomsday device.

I’d like to take a moment to point out that at one point, the young techno-magician uses the skeleton key to accelerate a train to “hazardous speed.” I know this, because it said it right there on the tablet screen. Perhaps “ludicrous speed” was the next setting? I’d at least have enjoyed that, although perhaps Mel Brooks would sue.

The problem with even the much more interesting half of this episode, dealing with the recent revelations that Tom Keen is, indeed, every bit the monster that Red warned us he was, and perhaps moreso, is that all of this really makes Liz look bad. Extraordinarily bad, actually. Elizabeth Keen has to be the least observant, most dense FBI agent, if not in history, at least currently on TV. Her cat and mouse act at the site of Jolene’s murder was less tense than giggle-worthy, and her later “Thank God for Tom” outburst really just made me feel bad for her. What happened to this character?

Don’t worry. She puts it all together by episode’s end…thanks to a toy hippo. That isn’t a euphemism for anything more interesting, sadly. There is a funny moment (and I do hope it’s intentional humor) when Tom has a full-blown, “Hi honey, what’s up?” bit on the phone while he’s destroying evidence at a murder scene, though.

One particularly damning bit of proof that “Ivan” was never intended as anything other than a filler episode: remember all the Agent Ressler drama from the previous episode? The stuff that, were this a show limited to something like 13 episodes a season, would have foretold the start of an entirely new, potentially devastating story arc for that character? All of that was glossed over with a couple of lines of dialogue. Without ’em, “Ivan” could have fallen anywhere within this season. And while “Mako Tanida” wasn’t exactly my favorite episode, either, it at least offered major developments for Agent Ressler, and you can’t go from raising one character’s stakes like that to practically pretending nothing happened.

While not as altogether unwatchable as “The Cyprus Agency” this one doesn’t exactly do The Blacklist any favors. I do hope that now that its continued success seems assured that next year the writers can take a little more time to plan out the season, and give viewers more payoffs and fewer episodes like “Ivan.” 

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1.5 out of 5