C’mon, Blacklist. Don’t do this. Don’t tell me you showed us all your cards in the pilot episode, because that would just be a shame. That pilot showed so much promise, yet here we are, three episodes into your first season, and it feels like your spinning your wheels with an episode like “Wujing (No. 84).” Why is this?
Well, maybe the stakes just weren’t high enough. Intercepting coded messages and selling them to the highest bidder is so very Cold War that it feels like we’ve seen this story a few times already. A surprisingly tension-free infiltration of the baddie’s subterranean lair never really gave any real indication of danger, and Elizabeth Keen just seemed, not only unconvincing in her undercover role as a rogue encryption expert, but neither competent enough to fool anybody or scared enough to worry us about her mistakes.
There were some bright spots. As usual, James Spader’s Red Reddington shows the potential to become one of TV’s more memorable characters, and now that he’s freed of that ridiculous Hannibal Lecter contraption from the early episodes we get to see him out in the world and having fun by irritating the good guys and interacting with shady folks. At the very least, I’m sure this won’t get old any time soon. The opening sequence showed promise, with a rather handy way to get around something like that new iPhone fingerprint-lock technology on gruesome display. A surprisingly physical and tense fight on an unfinished high-rise towards the end at least brought the adrenaline factor up for a few minutes, and when the show’s heart is in it, it certainly looks as good as any action/adventure show on TV right now.
The subplot of “is he/isn’t he secretly a master criminal” involving Elizabeth’s husband did take a bit of a turn for the interesting, thanks to an improvised home ballistics collection unit and some “classified” results. The same can’t be said of the nature of Elizabeth’s relationship with Red, the clues to which are really kinda tiresome. They can’t be telegraphing things this badly, can they?
I’ll say this for The Blacklist, there’s just enough talent involved to keep even a mediocre piece of TV like tonight’s episode from ever being boring. The fact that we’re always dealing with, not just the criminal element, but the extraordinary criminal element means that there’s always the potential for a real swerve. But if The Blacklist is ever going to fulfill the promise of that extraordinary first episode, it’s gonna have to try a little harder to subvert our expectations, and not just rely on a charismatic anti-hero.