[This is a review of The Blacklist season 2, episode 22. There will be SPOILERS.]
For what its worth, The Blacklist was on something of a roll in the weeks leading up to the season 2 finale. The series seemed poised to confront the biggest problems facing its unnecessarily complicated narrative, and to streamline the story in such a way that better defined where it was headed and why. With Liz and Red hot on the trail of the Cabal, and Tom/Jacob ready to become Liz’s sidekick in her quest to find out the truth about her past, things were lining up rather nicely.
But the series has been here before, and it has managed to reverse course or to stall in the kind of fashion you would expect from a show that has one story to tell, but desperately wants to do that over the course of seven or eight seasons. Needless to say, with all the promos for the finale suggesting a revelation of sorts, there was a kind of heightened expectation that the end of season 2 would either deliver on its promises, or it would perform one heck of an up-and-back that would settle things nicely into a familiar status quo.
As such, it’s nice to see that while ‘Masha Rostova’ didn’t exactly deliver the kind of bombshell the series had been teasing (with regard to Liz and Red’s relationship), it didn’t exactly shy away from it either. The big reveal that comes from Liz remembering the night her father died essentially refutes the notion that she’s Red’s daughter, by making her responsible for the death she’s been trying so hard to recall. As it turns out, Red put all those blocked memories in place, so that he could take on the role of a “sin-eater” and absolve Liz for shooting her abusive father.
The revelation is unexpected, and thus packs a certain emotional punch. But at the same time, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, and the questions still swirling around it are as troublesome (if not more so) than having Liz not know. Moreover, The Blacklist has officially gone down a tricky path by claiming to reveal something from a memory the audience already knows to have been manipulated in some way. Whether they plan to or not, the whole situation reads like a temporary solution to the problem at hand. Sure, the series may take this Liz-killed-her-dad ball and run with it, but it reads as being already prepared to be retconned – something that dilutes the efficacy of the reveal, in some ways.
Furthermore, having Red classify himself as the sin-eater does the character little justice without the show telling the audience why he would do such a thing. This is the kind of moment that requires the series to deliver motivation along with revelation; The Blacklist settled for just delivering the latter.
So, what’s it all mean? Liz killed her father for abusing her mother, but we know so little about the situation, the revelation begins to fall apart as soon as you look at it beyond the surface-level intrigue (e.g. knowing that Liz was responsible for the action she’d suspected Red of for almost two seasons now). Liz is now aware of a moment in her life that she wasn’t aware of before, but the moment fails to answer the question: So what?
The same goes for Liz’s shooting of the attorney general. Sure, by ending the season with Liz joining Red on the FBI’s most wanted list, the audience is treated to an unexpected character shake-up that could produce dividends for the overarching narrative down the line… but that doesn’t explain why Liz pulled the trigger. The cold-blooded execution of Tom Connolly (there were entirely too many Toms on this show, anyway) in the episode’s final moments, Red’s plan to out the Cabal by handing the information contained in the Fulcrum to 11 investigative journalists (the first salvo in their war against the clandestine organization headed up by the Director) – all that is fascinating, and potentially game changing. It certainly sets up a season 3 that will be dramatically different from the two that came before. However, when you look at how Liz got there, the one big decision that she made – to kill a man in cold blood (in addition to the smaller, but still strange one to sleep with Tom/Jacob and lament not going away with him on his boat) rang false.
And that leads to a good question: At what point is it better for a series to play into the audience’s expectations, than to swerve at the last moment in an attempt to skirt them? Those swerves may very well pay off by making The Blacklist a better show, one that is willing to switch up its formula in order to serve the larger story that has been unearthed this season. If that’s true, then these hard-to-believe choices will be easier to overlook; right now, though, they feel a little like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole – or that the characters can simply be re-tuned to fit the needs of the narrative.
There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, however, and that is the question of what the future will bring. As mentioned above, season 3 will likely start out as a very different animal, and for a show whose basic premise already feels a little tired, that could be very rewarding. Whether or not the narrative will continue on this unexpected path is another matter entirely. In the end, despite all the debatable actions that brought the series to this place, the question of what comes next looms large. It’s not a cliffhanger; it’s something better: a potential new start. And it is certainly a compelling reason to tune in when the series returns in the fall.
The Blacklist season 3 will air this fall on NBC.