[This is a review of The Blacklist season 2, episode 8. There will be SPOILERS.]
During its time on the air, The Blacklist hasn’t demonstrated much interest in exploring or even explaining the purpose of its core plot. Instead, it has sought out as many subplots as possible to give the illusion that the show is capable of resolving storylines, while at the same time suggesting that something much larger and more substantial is lurking on the horizon. It is constantly saying, “be patient” and “just wait till you see what we have in store for you.”
That’s all well and good, and considering Alan Alda’s character, Fitch (a.k.a. the titular Decemberist) has reminded Red that 2017 is the due date for some clandestine achievement of the world’s baddies (or something to that effect), at least there is something to look forward to…in three years. So what is on the horizon? Who is really behind this event and in what way will it benefit them/become a misfortune for others? Why is Red involved and what does he have to do with something called “the fulcrum”? Depending on how invested you are in the series, these may all be compelling questions.
True to form, though, The Blacklist isn’t telling; it’s simply playing the part it does so well by promising more and delivering as little as possible. This is incentivized television at its worst: a show where the enticement to keep watching is buried in a story that increasingly feels like it’s never going to get off the ground.
After a handful of encouraging episodes where Red was seen dealing with lingering familial issues, only to reveal he’d actually been seeking out the ultimate “I told you so” in the form of Berlin’s still-living daughter, things began to go downhill fast. The twist in that scenario came with the understanding that last season’s big bad had actually been duped by someone lurking in the shadows, and who was much more powerful than a Russian who was willing to cut off his own hand for a shot at killing Red. That person, of course, turns out to be the aforementioned Fitch, who winds up spending most of the episode with some spare plumbing parts and a bright green light around his neck, courtesy of Berlin.
What makes ‘The Decemberist’ such a frustrating episode isn’t just the fact that its title is intended to recall the members of an unsuccessful 19th century Russian uprising, but instead feels more like Alan Alda is a member of an indie folk rock band with a penchant for nautical-themed story-songs. No, the frustrating element is how unaware the show is to the value characters like Fitch and Berlin actually bring. That value comes from understanding the investment the show has put into building them up, in terms their role in the “larger mythology.” And although there’s more evidence to suggest Bigfoot exists than The Blacklist has a coherent kind of mythology or plan in mind, these characters, at the very least, represented the idea of a more substantial story. Killing them both off may look like the series is advancing its narrative, but really it’s just shuffling back to square one.
The same can be said for Liz’s relationship with Red and, especially, Tom. After weeks of teasing Liz’s hardline stance of using her fake husband as a resource to track down Berlin and his cronies, the show reveals that she was really keeping him around because some part of her still loved him. Tom is another in a long line of characters on this show who defy binary depictions, despite clearly being on the wrong side of the conflict (so long as you acknowledge Liz is on the right side). There is something interesting in the way Tom (or Red, or Liz) isn’t simply one thing or another, and his super-secret pact with Red is indicative of that. But such a depiction needs be more than the acknowledgment of the multitudes in every human being. It needs to have some bearing on the story aside from being yet another part of an unnecessarily complicated and increasingly stagnant mystery.
While the ‘The Decemberist’ may have felt like it was cleaning house, it actually wound up over doing it, giving its own narrative an unwarranted sterilizing that suggests a total aversion to meaningful conflict. Rather than having actual obstacles stand in Red’s path to who knows what, the story now hinges entirely on the mysterious contents of a safe in St. Petersburg and the mysterious event that is scheduled to take place sometime in the future. What either of those things means and why they’re important is still up in the air, and they will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. Because, when you’re The Blacklist, why should you spend time unraveling a mystery and working to make it significant, when you can simply continue to add more parts to it?
The show will be back in the early part of next year, but if this midseason finale is any indication, there’s going to be more rebuilding of the plot going on than the advancement that this show so desperately needs.
The Blacklistwill return to NBC in February 2015.