What a conflicted episode of The Blacklist this was. I’m going to have some difficulty with “Madeline Pratt” so please stick with me as I try and organize my thoughts on the fly with this review. As usual, there will be some spoilers, so read on at your own risk if you haven’t watched tonight’s Blacklist just yet.
The title character this week is Madeline Pratt (guest star Jennifer Ehle), a flame of Red’s with an eye for art and artifacts. Less someone who needs to be stopped at all costs and more a criminal who needs to be manipulated into doing what the FBI thinks it wants (but, as usual, is really what Red wants), Madeline isn’t the most compelling villain of the week we’ve seen on The Blacklist, but at least Ehle and Spader have enough chemistry to make us believe that there were some sparks between them. As part of the multiple plates this episode has to keep spinning, Red convinces Agent Keen to pull of a heist at the Syrian embassy, while the FBI gets suspicious about Diane Fowler’s disappearance.
Really, this was just a seriously overcooked episode, with a winding plot, too many unsatisfactory subplots, and too much of a good thing in Red’s screen time. Nearly every week I cry out for more Red Reddington per episode, with the almost certain knowledge that James Spader’s screen presence should be enough to carry even the most half-baked episode to greatness. This one proved me wrong. Red is in nearly every scene, but ultimately doesn’t seem to do very much. He’s like a hollow imitation of the Red from “The Good Samaritan,” going through the motions with quips and a smirk. And honestly, that ridiculous “gay” act he put on while rescuing Liz was not only not particularly effective or funny, but may or may not have been vaguely offensive.
The whole “criminal double act” with Liz posing as a criminal while Red feeds her lines has been done before on the show, and not that long ago. It didn’t play nearly as well this time, with Liz’s phoney hard-boiled grifter persona and story. Honestly, if Madeline is such a savvy and well-connected master criminal, wouldn’t she see right through this? And for someone who has kept tabs on Red over time, might she not have done the tiniest bit of homework?
Alright, fair is fair: Red’s big double cross was not only masterfully played, but quite funny, as well. The potential is still there for some truly special backstabbing between Red and Harold Cooper if the show would only give them some more time together. Cooper’s pointed questions about Diane Fowler’s disappearance made for a promising few minutes, and I’d love to see the results if they really turned Spader and Lennix loose on each other at some point before season one wraps.
While it looks like maybe, just maybe, Liz and Tom’s home life will finally come to a head (and/or a close) with next week’s episode, I’m concerned that they’re still going to keep tormenting us. The adoption subplot passed the point of interminable several episodes back, I’ve lost all interest in whatever secrets Tom may or may not be harboring, and the two of them engaging in a passive aggressive pre-divorce folderol is about as interesting as a hangnail. You ever have two friends that you tolerate well enough, but who are absolutely insufferable as a couple? That’s the Keens! The more time these two spend on screen together, the less I like them. Ultimately, the show needs Liz more than Tom, so with any luck, he’ll either pull a full-on mustache-twirling gonzo heel turn and/or have his ticket punched before season 1 wraps up.
The final scene, however, shows promise. With the Fowler investigation taken out of Cooper’s hands, I imagine that the proverbial shit is going to hit the proverbial fan soon enough. Someone (lots of people, actually, but likely Alan Alda’s Fitch Crowley) know too much about what’s going on behind closed doors here, and this should get the ball rolling for the rest of the season’s intrigue. At least I hope it does. “Madeline Pratt” was too unfocused an episode to really get a fix on.