[This is a review of The Blacklist season 2, episode 10. There will be SPOILERS.]
Under normal circumstances, having two episodes of The Blacklist occur within the same week might be considered a questionable test of audience endurance. But considering the post-Super Bowl episode was the mostly successful start to a two-part storyline (and the series was recently given the green light for season 3), this double dose of Raymond “Red” Reddington and the recursive narrative he is more or less at the center of makes a decent case for itself.
Then again, it’s also worth noting that The Blacklist‘s move to Thursday was partly so that it could be used as a lead-in for NBC’s newest drama, Not The Americans, a.k.a. Allegiance. If nothing else, this demonstrates what a strong series The Blacklist has become ratings-wise, since it has now become a tool to help launch new, similarly themed (albeit incredibly bland) programming.
At any rate, ‘Luther Braxton: Conclusion’ begins in the moments following the missile strike that ended last week’s episode. Most of the introduction consists of the usual headcount that occurs in the wake of explosive events, so the series can assure the audience everyone made it out safely. Unsurprisingly, Ressler, Navabi, and Red all survived the attack – which apparently was designed to cripple and sink the floating prison, giving them time to organize an escape plan and ruin Kat Goodson’s plan to deny the incident ever took place.
Beforehand, Braxton managed to escape with Keen, first taking her to a hospital in Juneau, and then to an abandoned estate, where the extraction of Keen’s blocked memory of the Fulcrum was to take place. In order to do this, Braxton enlists the help of a doctor named Selma Orchard, played by ER alum Gloria Reuben – whose appearance harks back to NBC’s glory days of Thursday night dominance – who specializes in memory suppression.
The events that unfold in ‘Luther Braxton: Conclusion’ are far more typical of The Blacklist than last week’s fast-paced episode. Here, the story unfolds in the show’s trademark, frantic style, complete with rapid-fire cuts to other characters being precisely two steps behind Red and a handful of as-yet undeveloped plots, like Cooper’s phone call and subsequent meeting with a physician – complete with pained expression on his and his wife’s faces – and Aram’s display of emotion when he confirms that Agent Navabi is still alive.
These tiny threads tease just enough to keep the audience interested in the ancillary threads of the show’s supporting characters (no word yet if Ressler’s still wrestling with his addiction to pain killers), but considering how they’re dispensed, it’s difficult not to see them as empty supplements to what little nutritional value is contained within the episode’s actual narrative. Sure, it’s nice for Cooper and Aram to get a little screen time, apart from doling out mere exposition, but in an episode that teeters so close to finally pushing the story past the point it has teased since its premiere, they feel like little more than needless distractions.
Much of that has to do with hindsight, looking back on what the episode purports to reveal, which upon closer inspection is practically nothing. If anything, the events of ‘Luther Braxton: Conclusion’ only serve to muddy the already murky waters of what’s actually going on between Red and Liz even further. Although it is confirmed that Red was present on the night Liz spends the episode fighting to remember, his exact involvement remains unclear.
Under a haze of drugs and hypnotic suggestion, Liz enters a lucid dream state with such an overt allusion to Alice in Wonderland, it’s a wonder James Spader didn’t appear in caterpillar form, smoking a hookah and asking Liz, “Who. Are. You?” The trip through the looking glass could have yielded some interesting results – if not some tantalizing visuals – but instead it opts for shots of Liz seeing things that remain off screen, while her younger self begs her not to remember.
And although Liz reaches the “complicated” conclusion that Red was present on the night of the fire, she does so under the impression he was there solely to get his hands on the Fulcrum. This is clearly a missed opportunity for The Blacklist to begin exploring what it means for Liz and Red to share whatever connection it is that they share, and to move past the “what if?” stage and move into the “what will become of it?” stage that might allow the series’ surface-level mythology to run deeper.
Unfortunately, the show’s love affair with the status quo wins out, as Red allows Liz to remain in the dark, even though her fuzzy knowledge of the prized object might once again put her in danger (not from Luther Braxton, however, who is seen hanging like a “side of beef” in the living room of the Director (David Strathairn)).
So, instead of a new angle on Red’s fugitive status, or some insight into his and Liz’s history that could further the story, The Blacklist settles for a sense of normalcy. And now, that normalcy is built as much on the possibility that Red is bluffing about possessing the Fulcrum, as it is Liz’s new standing as a completely unreliable character – courtesy of Dr. Orchard’s diagnosis that her memories have been tinkered with in the past and that relationships she remembers may not be accurate.
It’s a slightly skewed version of what’s come before. And while it will please those who favor constancy, the episode offers little to viewers who think the show could be better with a focus on progression.
The Blacklist continues next Thursday with ‘Rusian Denisov’ @9pm on NBC. Check out a preview below: