“Milton Bobbit” began with some promise. While the premise of the villain who gets innocent, non-killer types to do his killing (often with a heartfelt, “forgive me” before they do the deed) seems to have come into vogue on network shows recently, I figured that if anybody could do it right, it would be The Blacklist. Alas, I was mistaken. While still a considerable step up from last week’s exercise in headache-y mumbo-jumbo, “Milton Bobbit” has more in common with “Mako Tanida” in that it’s an episode that just can’t seem to make up its mind about what it wants to be. I’ll be in spoiler territory for a chunk of this review, so, don’t say I didn’t warn you…
The opening was horrifying enough. Sure, the car chase was harrowing, and we got the expected pyrotechnics at its inevitable conclusion…but that wasn’t even the horrifying bit. No, that came with the introduction of Milton Bobbit himself, a man with sores all over his body, a taste for, shall we say, non-traditional medicine and health food…and no nose. For a few minutes, it seems as if we’re in full blown body horror bad guy territory, and I briefly hoped that this would be a bit of a callback to earlier Blacklist episodes like “The Stewmaker” which utilized funhouse mirror, almost Batman-worthy grotesqueries as the villains of the week. Milton Bobbit (or “The Undertaker”) seemed like he might have that going for him. It wasn’t quite to be, though.
The biggest issue with this episode is that, like a couple of others that we’ve seen during the second half of The Blacklist‘s first season, it just never commits to what kind of episode it should be. So, we have a potentially strong (if somewhat traditional…by Blacklist standards, at least) villain with a signature MO: he finds terminally ill people to act as his willing murder/suicide proxies, and he makes sure that their families will be compensated beyond their wildest dreams. Everyone wins, really. The terminally ill folks don’t have to suffer, they spare their families the horror of watching them die a slow, wasting, and potentially bankrupting death, the families get rich, and Milton Bobbit gets away with murder. What’s not to love? And I figured there just had to be something behind those sores and the lack of a nose.
The problem is that Milton Bobbit is never really the focus of the episode that bears his name. He’s a side-baddie. Tom Keen has become the primary target of the second half of The Blacklist season one. Which is fine…but if this is the way we’re gonna go, then let’s go there. Splitting the difference between a more traditional episode structure and the game of cat-and-also-cat (anyone? Bueller?) between Liz and Tom doesn’t do either plot any favors. This is part of the problem with the insistence on a 22 episode season for every network show, regardless of whether it actually benefits the storytelling. The Blacklist could be a dynamite 13 episode season…but given how it’s stretched out over 22, something’s gotta give. In this case, it’s nearly everything.
The other thing, which has bugged me all season long, is that neither Tom nor Lizzie particularly light up the screen together. Even before we knew just how dreadfully wrong things were between them, they were never the most electric couple. Now we’re left watching the two worst liars in the world lie to each other. Lizzie managing to gather up everyone they know overnight so that they could renew their vows (which was a beyond obnoxious and unnecessary little plot device), including Tom’s notoriously hard to pin down “brother” strained belief a bit more than usual, even if it did serve the purpose of getting us a little deeper into Tom’s cover. “I have a feeling this is going to be one hell of a ride,” Lizzie tells “the audience” (ho-ho-ho!). She had better be telling the truth.
But that just seems to make my point for me, doesn’t it? Tom’s “brother” could have very well been the focus of his own episode. We could have generated more tension with his whole “she knows, dude, and I know she knows” thing while Lizzie and Tom are smiling at each other through gritted teeth. It’s that kind of departure from the usual formula that would have allowed them to really advance that plot, instead of giving us a little of this and a little of that.
To be fair, Liz beating the ever-loving crap out of that guy was a blast to watch, as was Red entering the room…never has a “Do Not Disturb” sign been put on a hotel room door with more menace. But the whole “I’ll leap out this window and plummet to my death before I tell you ANYTHING” didn’t seem to fit with the tough guy they spent what precious few minutes of the episode they gave us with him. This may serve to make “Berlin” more mysterious…but really, it just feels a little lazy. I could do with some nuance.
You’ll note that I haven’t mentioned this week’s title character in several paragraphs. That’s because he turns out to be a thoroughly unremarkable villain of the week, with a few creepy boxes ticked off. The poor guy…after all this he was taking revenge on heartless big pharma. Nice to see Agent Ressler thinking on his feet again at the end, there. I could grow to love that character…if only they would commit to making him a real one. They gave us something a few episodes back…only to quickly sweep it under the rug. Is he still the driven man we saw at the end of “Mako Tanida?” Is there still the barest hint of sexual tension between he and Liz? Who the hell knows? It’s like this was all just written out of the series already.
So, I can’t really blast this episode, but I can’t really praise it, either. It’s somewhat essential for the now apparent lack of pretense between Liz and Tom (and that ending was about as creepy as creepy can be) about what’s actually going on…but can this really be stretched out for four more episodes? Especially if they’re going to insist on trying to split that with the usual Blacklist format? Take more chances, Blacklist. Your audience isn’t going anywhere. With the numbers this show pulls each week, you can afford to make your own rules.