There are two things we need to discuss right up front before getting into this week’s Blacklist review. First of all, my apologies for abandoning my post last week for “The Pavlovich Brothers.” A perfect storm of irritating nonsense including technical difficulties and a murderous bout with spring allergies kept me from actually watching the episode until today. I may refer to that one periodically during this week’s review. The other thing is that, as usual, this review will contain spoilers scattered throughout, often without warning. Beware if these kinds of things matter to you.
The Kingmaker (played by Linus Roach, you may know him as Doctor Thomas Wayne from Batman Begins) is a proper Blacklist villain, if a bit mustache-twirly at times. He’s got a distinctive look, a very particular M.O., and some typically villainous personality quirks (he’s a germophobe with a seemingly hyperactive olfactory sense). He’s the guy you bring in when you have a political career to kickstart. While generally, anything involving the backroom wheelings and dealings of political spin is evil enough, the Kingmaker takes it to that very special next level. He doesn’t just build you up (by any means necessary), he also tears your opponent down…often in rather permanent fashion. Forget about political assassinations. Those are for suckers. This guy gives new meaning to the term “character assassination.”
Is it a little much? Perhaps. I’m not quite sure I totally bought the skeevy New York State politician sacrificing his wife (literally) to his career. Perhaps I would have had they spent more time on him or given us a better idea of why this guy is so important and just how much damage he can do if he continues his political rise. For that matter, considering how important this guy is to Red’s plans, the Kingmaker might have been played better as a recurring, shadowy threat seeded and hinted at for several episodes rather than someone we have to meet, accept, and dismiss in the space of an hour.
“The Kingmaker” features less in the way of pyrotechnics than “The Pavlovich Brothers” and also doesn’t move the overall story forward quite as dramatically. Which isn’t to say that nothing happens. Plenty happens. But like many episodes we’ve seen in the second half of this season, this is one that never fully commits to either half of its obligation. The Kingmaker himself would be perfectly at home during those earlier, purely villain-centric Blacklist episodes, and I wish we had more time with him. On the other hand, the larger plots, including the pressure that Red is under and Lizzie’s entire life falling apart both feel like they’re secondary. The problem is, they’re secondary to a villain who already feels like he’s taking a back seat.
For a little comparison, last week’s episode, “The Pavlovich Brothers” was a much more balanced, focused piece of work. The Brothers themselves were both the threat/objective AND they ended up serving the larger story in a more meaningful way than the Kingmaker did this week. If The Blacklist is going to remain true to its villain of the week format (and I hope they do, it’s what drew me to the show in the first place), then they’re going to need to find more elegant ways to blend the fun, visceral, procedural aspects with its more cable drama-esque pretensions. Despite my misgivings about the necessity of a 22 episode season, I do believe it can be done.
It’s too bad, really. This isn’t a bad episode, but there just hasn’t really been that sense of white-knuckled “shit, anything can happen” since “The Good Samaritan Killer.” I wonder how much of this can be chalked up to the fact that this wasn’t ordered for 22 episodes right out of the gate (although it did get that back end order fairly quickly), and we can expect all of these little hiccups to be taken care of now that the showrunners will have had nearly a full year to prep a proper full-length second season.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand…
There were some fun, subtle ways to illustrate that Red is quietly losing his cool as the pressure on him builds. His exchange with the fella in the pool early on where, for the first time I can remember in the show’s history, one of Red’s marks actually calls bullshit his harmless, garrulous lies. There were other little clues. I initially wondered why his initial meeting with Fitch (Alan Alda) lacked that crackle and intensity of their earlier meetings. Then I realized…Red doesn’t hold the cards anymore. This is the first time all year where he has not only been negotiating from a position of weakness, but isn’t even sure enough of his position to bluff his way through it. I don’t feel like we were particularly bludgeoned with this fact by the dialogue, so I have to give credit to the writers.
We’re still hampered by the show’s overall schizophrenia, though. For an episode that takes place close enough in time to the events of “The Pavlovich Brothers” where Lizzie still hasn’t even cleaned her house after her battle with Tom, there just wasn’t enough of a sense that those events even happened beyond a couple of throwaway lines of dialogue. Tom’s reveal (and now the hunt for him) has become such a major focus of the show, but that only works if you’re gonna commit to it. Having Lizzie ask Red “Where’s Tom?” to be responded to with an offhanded “Oh, he’s in New York” will not cut it.
BUT…the last few minutes definitely made up for it. This is as close as we’ve ever seen Red to cracking. His reaction to the news that the Kingmaker is dead and that he won’t be able to use him for his own purposes was great, as was the way his face fell when Lizzie finally confronts him about her father. The most unexpected moment of all is when Red, in what is perhaps the most entirely honest moment we’ve ever seen from him, tells her the entire truth about what happened that day in the hospital. The audience knows this to be true, but Liz has no more reason to believe him. Still, we’ve seen her tell him that “we’re through” before…