[This is a review of The Blacklist season 1, episode 18. There will be SPOILERS]
Near the end of ‘Milton Bobbit,’ Red and Liz have what amounts to – on this show, anyway – a meeting of the minds. Liz has set up the prototypical conspiracy-tracking whiteboard, filling the void left when Tom’s board was torn down in a hurry after his secret lair was discovered. Obviously, this was a way for Liz to work out the complicated ins and outs of discovering her husband is working for some clandestine operation that has targeted her due to whatever connection she has with Red. And sure, like everyone who’s still watching the show, Liz would like to know exactly what that connection is, but because this is The Blacklist, Red tells her that’s not important now; they need to focus on things like burnt pieces of paper referencing Berlin and just “stay the course,” because all the answers will come in due time. (Translation: Wait until the season finale, so the show can leave things on a cliffhanger.)
But when Red says, “stay the course,” who is it that he’s actually talking to? Is it Liz, or is it the audience? Because for all the fumbling around the episode does with regard to working out who Tom is, in the end, all that comes from the investigation are more of Red’s weak stalling tactics and Liz’s yarn-free whiteboard. It’s a frustrating way to tell a story, but at least all these unanswered questions and feeble refusals to progress beyond a simple conceit provide the audience with at least one concrete detail: The Blacklist isn’t about anything beyond answering the question of who Red is to Liz. That is: instead of being an intriguing storyline with a mystery (or mysteries) at its core, the show is proving itself to be a mystery with no real story to back it all up.
The stakes are presumably raised during ‘Milton Bobbit,’ when Liz accelerates Tom’s proposal that they renew their wedding vows. In a sense, the rushed ceremony demonstrates just how deep and personal Tom’s deception is, but it also establishes that Liz can give as good as she gets. And if the fate of Tom’s famous gluten-free pancakes is any indication, she can give a whole lot better than simply faking her way through another wedding ceremony. It’s a game of cat and mouse that attempts to establish the conviction of both parties involved, but, like everything else, it winds up feeling like another stalling tactic.
So, rather than expand the storyline, or progress beyond a trite ‘I Married a Spy’ reveal, The Blacklist serves up Tom’s fake brother Craig, as the superficial sacrifice for the sake of appearing to move the narrative forward. As unfulfilling as it was for Craig/Chris bail out a hotel, it was worth it to see the look on James Spader’s face – once again proving the only reason to watch the show is to see Spader’s reactions to everything that transpires.
That notion is reinforced by the fact that the blacklist component to the episode is so inessential to the plot and the overarching story that Liz bails halfway through the investigation and just lets Ressler take point on tracking down Milton Bobbit, a.k.a. The Undertaker. Milton’s story is so disconnected from the rest of the episode it winds up being little more than a distraction from any of the bigger issues at hand – which, if you think about it, pretty much sums up everything else that happened.
The Blacklist returns Monday, April 21 with an all-new episode.