[This is a review of The Blacklist season 2, episode 12. There will be SPOILERS.]
Of all the surface level villainy The Blacklist explores week in and week out, nothing delivers quite as good a time as when the show dives head first into the world of sketchy backwoods people. It hasn’t been too long since agents Keen and Ressler were running around in the forest, doing battle in ‘The Mombasa Cartel‘, so apparently the time was right to get back in touch with nature, and hopefully steer clear of lime disease.
In ‘The Kenyon Family’, The Blacklist again peeks into the lives of those who live off the grid – or as close to that as possible. Instead of just one family with a penchant for hunting “The most dangerous game,” the titular Kenyons are a religious group led by a Koresh-like figure named Justin Kenyon – who has somehow convinced his followers of his righteousness, while using the group’s land as a storage facility for various black market weapons dealers.
It’s an odd combination of bad guy traits that doesn’t quite work, and the episode seems to know it. So, to make the whole thing more salacious, the episode opens up with one of Justin’s sermons, wherein he suggests and then implements an incestuous marriage ceremony. The camera lingers on the veiled face of a young girl, as Justin just looks on with a weird grin on his face. The ceremony is then disrupted by an attack on the compound from a group of unseen individuals. And that’s the last time Justin and his religious sect are really featured in the episode.
It’s a move that, at first hints toward a deeper mystery within the confines of the group’s compound. But the potential mystery turns out to be rather rote revenge drama, filled with thin characters who, in this instance, are still more compelling than any of the show’s FBI regulars (simply because they are the only ones afforded the opportunity to make a choice).
Like so many one-and-done episodes of The Blacklist, the FBI isn’t give an opportunity to do much of anything beyond react – either to Red’s direction of who they should target next, or to the actual actions of those they’re targeting. There’s a brief subplot that gives some insight into Cooper’s health scare – though no actual details are given – but that’s about it.
After arriving on the Kenyon compound, the FBI find Justin missing and the rest of the Kenyonians dead – which the exposition is sure to point out was the result of stabbing, strangulation, or a beating. All signs point to Justin implementing some assault on the government, as two police officers are killed when a van explodes on the side of a highway. The event is nearly duplicated when another van, with a young boy inside is located. This time, however, the boy is talked out of blowing himself up by Agent Navabi.
The questioning of the boy’s mother offers details into life at the Kenyon compound. The woman’s response is filled with the kind of details that The Blacklist loves, where one enigmatic figure is able to control the lives of so many people, with little explanation, justification, or demonstration of how or why he holds this power over others. It is all just backfill; a story that’s told second-hand to connect the dots on what’s really going on.
And what’s really going on is a group of young men, cast away at the onset of puberty by the Kenyons for being male, led by Justin’s son – perhaps not coincidentally named David – have formed a tribe in the backwoods. The tribe is waging a war on Justin (killing him and placing his body in a shamelessly Hannibal–esque tableau) and anyone else who comes near their land, apparently, as they assault the FBI convoy carrying one of the survivors of their raid on the compound. Unsurprisingly, the assault leaves Ressler useless once again, this time pinning him down in the front seat of the SUV, before David and his followers cart him off, dragging him along the leaf-strewn ground by an ATV.
Thankfully, Liz is on hand to save her partner, which she does right around the time a horde of federal agents show up, having tracked the location of the compound thanks to a bunch of Hellfire missiles that belong to a botanist with a real mean streak.
Naturally, Red’s act of making the FBI aware of the Kenyon group is to serve his own best interests. There’s a bit of intrigue in what he eventually retrieves from the trunk of a presidential limo, hidden in a garage below the Kenyon compound’s chapel. Viewers will know better than to think there would be some kind of coherent explanation surrounding the briefcase and its contents. And they’re rewarded for that understanding with Red making an ambiguous phone call to the number he retrieved in a St. Petersburg safe. The voice on the other end of the phone asks if he found the safe – which seems a bit unnecessary, unless that specific number happens to be one digit removed from that of a really popular pizza delivery place.
All of this adds up to a paper-thin episode of The Blacklist, where the most significant things to happen are a vague phone call and Liz’s refusal to let her relationship with Red become anything more than “just business.” That staunch refusal to move past the business side of things is a painfully accurate description of this bland, manufactured episode. With any luck, next week will offer something a bit more substantial.
The Blacklist continues next Thursday with ‘The Deer Hunter’ @9pm on NBC. Check out a preview below: