[This is a review of The Blacklist season 2, episode 13. There will be SPOILERS.]
Technically, it could be argued that a serial killer might fall under the scope of Red’s fabled blacklist, but it seems like a bit of a stretch that one, who is as local as the titular killer is here, would ever find a spot on a document with such an international flavor. So, we can probably chalk this one up to a freebie that Red’s willing to throw in because he wants to get back on Liz’s good side – especially now that he knows she’s in possession of the Fulcrum.
Whatever the case may be, the episode provides a nice platform for Amanda Plummer (a Hannibal alum, oddly enough) to offer up her eccentricities to create a character who is not entirely overshadowed by the ridiculous twists in her story. Those twists, as it turns out, begin with Red’s theory that the reason Liz has never cornered the Deer Hunter is because she’s been looking for a man. As Red sees it, the Deer Hunter’s preferred method of taking down big game almost conclusively points to the killer being a woman. It’s thin, gender-based stereotyping, that puts Liz’s profiling expertise under scrutinty, but at least it ends with Amanda Plummer taking a bite out of a human liver.
For her part, it turns out the motivations of Plummer’s character are at least partially the result of a desire to help others. Her position at a women’s shelter called Whitehaven gives her the perfect cover to find abusive men to stalk and murder with her crossbow. Naturally, the women’s shelter setting also ties directly into her own tragic past – one that reveals she was the wife of the original Deer Hunter, and has since assumed the mantle, after doing him in for the same reason she’s killing off the other men.
Where the episode slips up, however, is in the execution (no pun intended) of the Deer Hunter’s crimes. It’s made too easy for the FBI to track her down, since she apparently asks the permission of the women her prey are harassing before taking them down and ceremonially noshing on their organs. It’s an additional step that allows the episode to run from point A to point B, but only in the most perfunctory manner. By the time Liz and Ressler intersect with the Deer Hunter, the subsequent chase that Liz embarks on alone basically reduces the killer’s arc to that of any other villain of the week: a brief confession after taking the hero hostage, which is then followed by a self-righteous justification that is easily picked apart by her would-be victim.
Even so, before Ressler pops up and prevents Liz from killing the Deer Hunter, there’s the potential for an intriguing investigation of the gender stereotypes lurking beneath the surface of the episode – stereotypes that can actually be worked into Det. Wilcox’s investigation into Liz’s role in the murder of a harbormaster. Unsurprisingly, The Blacklist glosses over all but the most obvious parallels between the two; so that it can focus more time and energy into showing Red manipulate and ultimately undermine Wilcox’s case.
To be honest, maybe this is for the best. Wilcox’s deal with Samuel is the only place where any real tension or sense of conflict is generated. There’s a feeling that The Blacklist is building toward something substantial with Wilcox’s dogged pursuit of Liz – something that could potentially drive a late season arc – but the case never gets off the ground. What’s worse, Wilcox and Liz aren’t even afforded a chance to look one another in the eye. Instead, their only communication happens over the phone, which should have been an indication of where the thread was headed.
There’s a brief hint of promise when Liz contemplates telling Wilcox everything, but of course Red does what he does best and gets her out of a jam. Only this time, it doesn’t feel like an accomplishment; it feels more like Red’s letting the air out of a potentially interesting storyline that would have deepened Liz’s character (in terms of understanding her conflicting emotions about the ethically shady stuff she’s been involved with lately).
The rest of ‘The Deer Hunter’ is spent with Red chasing down the man he spoke to over the phone at the end of last week’s episode. For once, it’s nice to see Red speak to someone who uses the same irritating avoidance techniques he does. Aside from what little intrigue generated by the bloodstained apartment Red and Dembe discover, it seems the answer to mystery of the man on the phone (and whether or not he’s still alive) will have to wait for another day.
Although not a terrible episode, ‘The Deer Hunter’ does show the limitations of The Blacklist by its refusal to use Amanda Plummer’s presence to its advantage, and in its refusal to advance any of the season’s ongoing threads results in the need for a burner episode like this. What’s worse, that burning results in an ill-fated detour into imitation that only highlights the storytelling prowess of the series in question.
The Blacklist continues next Thursday with ‘T. Earl King VI’ @10pm on NBC. Check out a preview below:
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