This Blacklist review contains major spoilers.
What a strange and uneven season finale both parts of “Berlin” turned out to be. When you think about it, though, these two episodes are almost like the entire first season of The Blacklist in microcosm. There are moments of greatness interspersed with all manner of questionable storytelling and character decisions. Legitimate mysteries are made tedious by extension and obfuscation. And through it all, we’re really just waiting for the next great Red Reddington quip. Anyway, on with the review…
For the most part, the conclusion of “Berlin” is superior to the first part, mostly thanks to a few well-placed action sequences and a surprise or two throughout the episode. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help but feel that at least half of this episode felt more like the first part of a two-parter than last week’s actual part one.
Like last week’s episode, there was still entirely too much talking and not enough doing. Endless montages of guys with Russian accents saying they don’t know anything. Two Red/Lizzie conversations about the nature of their relationship, the death of her stepfather, and how everything is just “part of a much larger puzzle.” Haven’t we seen enough of this stuff throughout the season?
This doesn’t mean that there isn’t fun to be had, though. Donald kicking ass in the club, and later his calmly threatening (threats he makes good on) demeanor during the interrogations make me wish we had seen a little more of his evolution from “conventional badass” to “rule breaking badass.” It was something that was just sorta given to us and then forgotten about until it was convenient. I know some viewers find him a little square, but I think there’s a great character in there, somewhere, and I really hope the writers get at that in season two.
Meera’s death was a bit sudden. In these cases, a surprising, brutal death of a regular character is almost welcome, but Meera’s felt more like she was simply the expendable one. After her rather strange arc this season, I suppose I can see why, but I’m not really sure how satisfying or integral to the whole episode it ended up being (other than to indicate that Berlin and his guys mean business, which was already abundantly clear).
Thankfully, Cooper will survive, which means we get Harry Lennix back next season. I would feel even better about this if I was certain that the knowledge that the man who tried to kill him is still running around out there will get him to take a more active role in the proceedings. This show desperately needs more than Lizzie and Red every week, otherwise we’re going to be caught in an endless loop of trust issues, meltdowns, and misty eyed reconciliations set to assorted soft rock tunes.
There are some classic Red moments to be had. “I’m not a monster. I wouldn’t hurt a dog,” was the kind of line we tune in for each week. But…again…we’ve already seen Red making himself at home at a target’s dining room table at least one other time this season. The real standout is his standoff with the “fake” Berlin and Evil Tom. I love it when Red gets his hands dirty, and it’s good to be reminded that he’s a quite competent criminal and a hell of a shot. I’d say we should see more of that, but I admit, it would lessen the impact of scenes like this.
“I’m going to take that gun away from you,” he tells Tom. I had little doubt that he’d be able to do it, and really would have liked to see it. Lizzie beats him to it, though. But what of Tom, anyway? I read enough comic books to know that if there isn’t a body, he probably won’t stay dead. Did Lizzie help him/let him live out of guilt? Out of respect for the love she once felt for him? In exchange for more information that Tom has?
Now, the elephant in the room: Berlin himself. I was prepared to disbelieve his Keyser Soze style backstory as mere criminal hyperbole, until we see him with that pocketwatch at the end. So, this guy is the real deal, and he is Red’s opposite number, far more ruthless, and short a hand. All he needs is a hook and an eyepatch. It’s safe to say that we’ll be seeing more of him next season.
And then there’s that tease at the end. Red’s assurances that Lizzie’s real father died in that fire are meant to ring true. He looks her dead in the eyes and offers none of the usual indications that he’s gilding the lilly or playing games. Ah, but then we’re shown those mysterious burn scars on his back!
“Your father is still alive,” Tom told Lizzie with his dying breaths. Or DID he? He could just as easily have told her “Red is actually your Dad.” Which, when you think about it, is essentially the same thing as saying that her pop is still alive. If that’s the case, is Lizzie now testing Red to see how far he’s willing to go to deceive her? I would be very interested in this if the show had done more to convince me that Lizzie is capable of thinking so many moves ahead. As it stands, this is an FBI agent with situational awareness so poor that a guy with a gun just walked up to her car and jumped in the passenger seat tonight. Granted, he’s supposed to be a badass secret agent, but can we please put her on even footing with someone?
If there is one thing that The Blacklist absolutely MUST do in season two, it is make Agent Keen into a stronger, more competent, and formidable character.
Anyway, back on topic: Once again, is Red Lizzie’s father? That still seems too obvious, doesn’t it? Did Red also kill Lizzie’s biological father as he did her stepfather? While this would certainly pre-date Red’s known criminal career, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t engaged in shady dealings beforehand. Red was once a family man, and perhaps he couldn’t deal with the responsibility of leaving this girl as an orphan, and so delivered her into the arms of the man who would be her stepfather.
Look, The Blacklist certainly doesn’t need my help, approval, or suggestions. But it’s been a maddening season. If the show would just pick a lane and either be a straight villain-of-the-week procedural affair (and if the villains are colorful enough, that’s its own reward) or try and take a more economical, cable style approach (which would require an abbreviated 13 episode season), it might be less frustrating. I’m not sure that dragging out the mystery of Red and Lizzie’s relationship over the course of another season is the way to go, in either case. Still, much of this might just be solved by the simple matter of the fact that now The Blacklist knows what it’s getting into. The show has a full 22 episode season 2 order waiting for it, and they’ve got all summer to line the pieces up, something that often isn’t possible with the first season of a network drama.
Taken as a whole, both parts of “Berlin” all felt a bit muddled. Deploying Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe” in its entirety at the end there seemed a bit maudlin, right down to Liz taking a wistful last look around her former home. As a two-part episode of The Blacklist, the “Berlin” saga is acceptable, but as a season finale, it’s lacking…especially considering how the show came out of the gate guns blazing with its pilot. I look forward to next season, but I do hope it irons out the creases before it returns.