‘The Blacklist’: Ressler Goes Rogue

Published 5 months ago by

James Spader in The Blacklist Season 1 Episode 16 The Blacklist: Ressler Goes Rogue

[This is a review of The Blacklist season 1, episode 16. There will be SPOILERS.]

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Despite mountains of evidence suggesting The Blacklist has little to offer outside of James Spader, the series boldly attempts to center an entire episode on Donald Ressler’s quest for revenge, after his on-again, off-again girlfriend Audrey (Emily Tremaine) is killed by the episode’s titular blacklist entry, ‘Mako Tanida.’

Aside from being played by Banshee‘s Hoon Lee, Tanida is a fairly standard one-and-done Blacklist villain. This time though, in addition to the character’s outlandish plot, the series opts to define Tanida through several broad racial stereotypes, one of which is Tanida’s preference to force his victims to perform seppuku, or ritually disembowel themselves. As it turns out, Tanida was a Japanese crime lord whose empire supposedly fell into the hands of his rarely seen brother, after Ressler and three other FBI agents sent him to prison many years ago. What looks like simple revenge against the men who brought him to justice, quickly turns into something more, however, as it’s revealed Tanida’s quest is to find the agent responsible for killing his brother and stealing his empire. Once Ressler and the suspiciously retired Bobby Jonica are all that’s left on Tanida’s hit list, the episode predictably devolves into a question of whether or not Ressler will cross the line and become a killer to avenge someone he loved.

Overall, it’s another example of The Blacklist using the death of a character to fuel an ancillary plot point only to be ostensibly forgotten. The episode asks a great deal of the audience to not only be invested in Ressler’s rogue mission against Tanida, but also to have any emotional response whatsoever to a character as thinly drawn as Audrey. As per usual, the most compelling aspect of the episode is Red, who helps Ressler locate the escaped Tanida. In doing so, Red offers Don some insight into the emotionally barren wasteland that is a life lived only for revenge – which, of course, ties into Red’s own troubled past.

The episode sees Red spend most of his time arranging a private performance of Swan Lake, which then bleeds into what is presumably a brief memory of his deceased daughter. It’s clear what The Blacklist was aiming for here, but Red’s wistful remembrance of his child is so disconnected from everything else in the episode, the segment just fails to resonate and, unsurprisingly, falls flat.

Megan Boone and Diego Klattenhoff in The Blacklist Season 1 Episode 16 The Blacklist: Ressler Goes Rogue

Which is essentially what happens with the big reveal of Tom’s secret that the network had been teasing since the show last aired. As it turns out, Tom is some kind of deep cover agent working Liz for predictably vague purposes. Tom finds himself in crisis mode for most of the episode, after he narrowly prevents the Cowboy (Lance Reddick) from abducting Jolene (Rachel Brosnahan) on Red’s orders. The realization that Red’s one step away from proving Tom isn’t who he says he is, essentially becomes the impetus for him to kill both Jolene and the Cowboy – effectively eliminating two characters more interesting than he is.

It’s one thing to confirm suspicions about a character, but it’s something else entirely to make the revelation mean something within the larger context of the show. Here, Tom’s misadventures are as underwhelming as anything else, because there’s no one of any significance responding to them. Clearly the show is hoping to create a sense of tension heading into the end of the season, but this one step forward, two steps back approach frustratingly keeps The Blacklist from doing the one thing it desperately needs to do: progress the plot into a place where the characters actually have an impact on the story, rather than exist as a passive element within an increasingly convoluted narrative.

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The Blacklist continues next Monday with ‘Ivan’ @10pm on NBC. Check out a preview below:

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11 Comments

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  1. Seeing Ressler go on this dark journey was great.
    I’m surprised that Red did try to sweeten the pot, i.e. take care of this episode’s baddie and I’ll make it worth your while.
    I’ve got to think that’s got to be in the back of Red’s mind, the slow corruption of the unit. I’ve got to think that this is Red’s long game, give the FBI the men and women on the blacklist, while clearing the way for others, namely his own operatives in place.
    Just my opinion.

    other topic, anyone have thoughts on Intelligence? Should I power through the current episodes or avoid?

    And yes, I’m still bummed that Almost Human’s run is over…

    • I really like Almost Human, sure it might be another buddy cop drama with a sci-fi twist but it was refreshing. I will not knock Intelligence as I am giving it more time but basically if I have to choose between Intell or Black List- Black List wins. Maybe this is not something completely new but I have been noticing lately that these shows are produced by there main stars which I will say is nice to see because it shows determination for what they are working on to succeed.

    • Chad, if you have time and don’t mind watching another show that will probably be canceled I’d recommend the current episodes of Intelligence.
      I find it easier to care about the characters there than on The Blacklist.
      The thing that made me the most upset on this episode of The Blacklist was that they killed Lance Reddick’s Cowboy(!!!). The reviewer is right, it’s hard to be interested in those characters.. even Elizabeth.

      • Nods about the Cowboy.
        Seems like they wasted a good character… well, they’re not the only show that’s done that.

        thanks for the advice.

  2. I think you’re being too hard on this show. The titular “blacklist” from Red has always been just a substrate on which the vehicle of the show has driven. The interesting part of the show is not and has never been the villain of the week, even with the spin of these targets being people who are shadowy figures of such ill repute that law enforcement doesn’t know about them (but a fellow shadowy criminal, Red, does). There are plenty of other procedurals that follow this general formula already. Do we really want something else like The Mentalist, Castle, Bones or Monk where interesting characters slug through a new formulaic villain every week, only really pushing forward the underlying currents in fits and spurts (usually reserved for the first and last episodes of the season)? And, unlike some of these other shows, the underlying currents are more than just an occasional multi-episode serial killer or a painfully slow love story progression between the attractive primaries.

    I find The Blacklist more interesting precisely because it turns the usual formula on its head: The weekly villain isn’t ever the real focus of the episode, they are just road blocks or vague facilitators to push forward the real plot. Liz and Red, the stars of the show, aren’t pursuing some kind of obvious, albeit slow-moving, fanfic romance. What really matters is the history and relationships of Liz, Red and Tom. Every week, Red dishes out a little bit of information about a listee, in exchange for something he wants from Liz or the FBI, and every week we get some answers and some new questions about the underlying mythology of the show. In this sense the show is a lot like LOST, minus the weird magic, and The Mentalist with a tighter focus on the end-game than on the daily slog.

    If what you want is another thin procedural, with just a slightly different premise (which is how The Blacklist seems to be treated here), this is clearly not the show for you. I will grant that Spader is the best actor and Red is the most developed character, but I think you’re wrong when you say the show is struggling or that it hasn’t found it’s voice yet. The show has it’s voice, it’s just not what many people expect it to be.

    • Watching Spader read a diner menu is better television than most so having him smarm across the screen doing Alan Shore tuned up to 1000 is just gold.

      Villain of the week pfff your quite correct it’s all about Red and Liz, their history, Red’s specific history (why he left, why he came back, what does he know that keeps him “safe”, what’s the end game etc.) That’s what the shows about…. the sooner Liz put two into Tom the better…. that fella is damn irritating.

  3. I do like this show, but I found myself saying all they need to do to to fool the viewer into thinking they had more of an emotional investment in Audry that they actually do (a character’s name I couldn’t even recall until they said it) is to go with the heavy handed trope of discovering that she either was or might be pregnant when she died.

    Lo and behold, guess what happened right at the end?

    They never miss an opportunity to go with the cliched manufactured emotional response.

  4. I kind of like The Blacklist, even though occaisionally I do feel a point should be fleshed out and clarified a bit here and there to give it for clarity and substance.

  5. You guys write positive review for Agents of Shield and negative reviews for The Blacklist.

    LMAO.

  6. Inwas disappointed in this episode. It was very predictable and the characters behaved inanely in order k further the storyline. What kind of special agents just let someone walk up to them in the middle of the night without being suspicious? And at least attempting to draw their weapon? Resaler just charges at the bad guys and, despite having a gun that he used rather effectively, decided to wrestle him instead. And no backup???? Just drive to you girlfriend’s house??? You already know the bad guy has skill and backin lg enough to take out task force members but your just going to go alone to get your girlfriend???

  7. So Tom does know who Red is.

    Tom is almost like Burton from Banshee, he has to take off his glasses to become evil.

    What I found funny is if he was going to use a gun anyways (why don’t these people use silencers?), he could have shortcutted his offing of Jolene with a single shot to her head after the phone call. I was underwhelmed by her ability to fight Tom after she bragged to the Cowboy she could handle herself.

    So weird seeing Hoon Lee play a Japanese mafioso. If you’re not watching Banshee, you should, his Job character is hilarious.

    This episode had too much focus on Ressler and not enough on Keen. Just kidding, I thought this was a Walking Dead review.

    I like where this series is going, lots of threads to tie together and still keeping the mysteries out there. And yes, nice to see Alan Shore Unleashed.

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