This Blacklist review contains spoilers.
I’ll say this for tonight’s episode of The Blacklist, it wasn’t boring. I’ve probably beaten this point to death in various Blacklist reviews, but, man, this show would be positively dynamite if it was limited to a 13 episode season. I can’t accuse “Mako Tanida” of being a filler episode, that’s for sure. Plenty happened. Characters developed (in good and bad ways), new plot points were revealed, old ones were wrapped up…this one never stood still. But the pacing was goofy. It felt rickety. Like the wheels could come off. Really, it tried to do too much.
Did anyone get a really good feel for our title villain, Mako Tanida? Because I sure didn’t. Aside from the fact that Hoon Lee is a spectacular badass (let’s not forget, this is the same guy who voices Master Splinter on Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,so he automatically has a special place in my heart), Mako Tanida just doesn’t get enough screen time to really establish anything. He’s out for revenge. Sure. But on this show, who isn’t? He’s got a cool gimmick where he makes the targets of his vengeance “do the honorable thing,” in this case, commit suicide, ritual or otherwise.
But…so what, y’know? While it’s kind of horrifying having a guy hovering over you, telling you that if you don’t kill yourself, then he’s gonna kill you AND the people you care about, so you may as well just go ahead and do it, that has to pay off at some point. The logical payoff is probably to let him “do the honorable thing” himself later on, but we’re robbed of that. Mostly, I’m just surprised that so many people knew how to properly commit seppuku. Anyway, I digress…
After a week of building us up with the whole “Who is Tom Keen” thing, we do finally get to see ol’ Tom get down to some evil business. But it’s all so vague. And really, this guy is some master criminal and/or superspy? He can barely lie to his wife about the affair he almost had with the mysterious Lucy Brooks, but now we’re supposed to buy that he has maintained this elaborate cover story for four years? It also doesn’t help that his final battle with Lucy was kinda telegraphed, and edited in an awkward manner. Whether this was just a case of trying to make up for any potential difficulties that Ryan Eggold and Rachel Brosnahan may have had with a demanding fight scene, or just a question of the director’s preference, I don’t know…but it wasn’t the most memorable bit of the episode.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m intrigued, and now that “eeeeeevil” Tom is in full view, I’m less inclined to roll my eyes and snort at the domestic life of the Keens. But something about this whole thing still just doesn’t sit right with me. I do, however, desperately want to know who Tom and Lucy are working for. We’ll get there, I’m sure, and it does add some more weight to Red and Tom’s conversation at the hospital when Liz’s “dad” was croaking, but…I can’t put my finger on it. I can’t quite say I’d have preferred it if Tom was just another pawn in Red’s game, but doesn’t this all end up making Agent Keen look spectacularly incompetent? Here this guy is, literally washing blood off his hands in the shower, and in she steps, and, again, he is clearly surprised/flustered, with BLOOD GOING DOWN THE DRAIN, and then it’s off to the sexy races.
Mostly, though, this is Agent Ressler’s episode. At least, it’s supposed to be. Diego Klattenhoff delivers, as he usually does, but he’s a victim of the episode’s structure. If The Blacklist really wanted us to feel this one, they would have devoted more of “Mako Tanida” to it (and the title character). While the loss of his girlfriend is actually a quite powerful scene (and it’s immediately preceeded by one of those really great action sequences that the show busts out from time to time), it all feels more sudden than necessary, mostly because she’s barely been a recurring character at all. The revenge-driven quest he sets off on afterwards is plenty cool, but it all just felt so abbreviated.
This goes double for the big reveal at episode’s end, that Ressler’s best buddy is actually the mastermind behind a criminal empire, and is responsible for all this week’s misery, including the death of Ressler’s girlfriend. Think about how much more impact this might have had if we had seen that character in even ONE other episode? Ideally, more than one. Their final conflict is terrific, including the tense moments that led up to it, and Klattenhoff’s “I can tell you this, because you’re gonna die,” speech where he admits that he’s been working with Reddington is certainly worthy of a Blacklist season one highlight reel. The writers cheated you, Diego…it wasn’t your fault (and this one has the usually-awesome Joe Carnahan’s name attached to it!).
Notice I haven’t said much about Red Reddington? With an episode that had to eliminate an interesting minor character, a less interesting minor character, deepen a mystery about one major character, while sending another one off on a potential killing spree, there wasn’t a lot of room for much else. They lost me pretty badly in those last few minutes, though. Between proving once and for all that Liz Keen probably shouldn’t even be a secret shopper let alone an FBI agent, and then amping up the “heartbreak” with Ressler finding his girlfriend’s pregnancy test, all set to Red imagining his daughter performing Swan Lake…it was just too much. Mako Tanida was an afterthought, and on a show about the bad guys, and with an actor as talented as Hoon Lee, that’s almost inexcusable.
Remember what I said about there being too many Blacklist episodes in a season? I stand by that. But this is one case where we could have gotten two quality episodes out of these stories instead of one mediocre one. Next season, forget about disposable, maudlin crap like “The Cyprus Agency” and give episodes like “Mako Tanida” enough room to breathe, please.