‘The Blacklist’ Season 1 Finale Review

Published 11 months ago by

James Spader in The Blacklist season 1 episode 22 The Blacklist Season 1 Finale Review

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


Here is a tip for television shows: When your finale is partially built around the mystery of who a never-before-seen character is, don’t cast a recognizable face like Peter Stormare and then surround him with a group of actors distinguishable only for having a certain Eastern Bloc quality to them. For anyone watching the opening credits of The Blacklist season 1 finale, the second Stormare’s name appeared the gig was pretty much up, and all semblance of suspense ostensibly vanished. But perhaps that’s just as well as, in forming the origin of Berlin, the writers opted to simply echo the legend of Keyser Söze to the point it felt like NBC had suddenly begun re-broadcasting The Usual Suspects halfway through ‘Berlin: Conclusion.’

That is essentially in keeping with the series’ strangely coy way of doing things: Surprises are telegraphed well in advance, while seemingly important story elements remain obscure and formless. Larger mysteries and conspiracies are merely hinted at, and remain free from the kind of detail that would actually force the show to do anything noteworthy with them beyond stringing viewers along with the promise of significance later on. In that regard, the title ‘Berlin: Conclusion’ is something of a misnomer, as there is really no sense of conclusion in the finale, but rather a series of familiar beats that serve to hastily re-establish the vaguely threatened status quo, while also introducing a new super-villain that will apparently give Elizabeth Keen and the surviving members of the Reddington task force something to focus on when the show makes the jump to Thursday nights in the fall.

Much of the episode is actually concerned with the FBI’s attempt to properly identify Berlin amongst the Russian gangsters onboard the plane that crash-landed at the end of last’s week’s offering. Several of them are rounded up and questioned by Ressler, affording some details of the harrowing moments before the crash when the hooded stranger was shackled to a guard, who subsequently had his hand cut off. To its credit, the confusion surrounding Berlin’s identity affords the plot an opportunity to put several characters into the field, allowing the episode a chance to use the “nobody is safe” tactic by having Malik get her throat slashed while chasing a lanky Russian suspect through a disco, and then having Cooper nearly garroted to death by the same guy. Malik’s death is more or less glossed over – unless you count Elizabeth staring at her fallen comrade’s picture and offhandedly mentioning she had two kids – while it appears that Cooper will be back next season, since he gives Ressler the “everything’s gonna be okay” thumb twitch from his hospital bed.

William Popp and Diego Klattenhoff in The Blacklist season 1 episode 22 The Blacklist Season 1 Finale Review

Meanwhile, ‘Berlin: Conclusion’ treats its Reddington story line with the same sort of hazy regard it has from the beginning. Red once more finds himself in custody and about to be “disappeared,” since the powers that be really mean it this time. Before he can be shipped off to some secret facility, Alan Alda shows up and the two share a brief, but fuzzy chat about the indistinct group Alda works for before arranging for Red’s convenient escape from his prisoner transfer. That segues into a scene where a Russian official comes home to find Reddington already in his house, holding the man’s dog in a way that implies a threat, while he goes on and on about a piece of fruit with the kind of enthusiasm that is only eclipsed by Kramer’s devotion to the Mackinaw peaches. This type of scene has become so commonplace on The Blacklist that Reddington’s home invasions are nearly indistinguishable from one another – the only thing that changes are the implements through which he leverages the information he seeks.

That tired sentiment is carried forth when Red corners the man he was led to believe is Berlin. It is the sort of moment that Spader typically shines in – and he’s definitely good here – but the laziness of the writing overshadows any effort on behalf of the talent. Red questions the man and receives a mouthful of spit in the face, to which he responds by shooting his captive in the hand and then the hip, describing why it hurts so much to get shot in those places – because apparently the idea of being shot isn’t nearly enough detail to go on. The man finally admits his problems with Red stem from an incident in Beirut back in 2010, to which Red briefly recalls those heady days of four years ago, but refrains from offering up any kind of detail as to what actually went down.

Again, The Blacklist falls back on the crutch of characters telling one another about the importance of their own backstory without actually showing why any of it means anything. If these stories are phenomenal enough to make people like Reddington legendary, it might be of some benefit if the writers established a foundation of examples that actually carried some weight. Until then, Red’s renown will continue to feel like it was generated through the kind of gossip that fills the halls of your average high school – which would certainly be a more distinct angle than the one the show is currently implementing.

Megan Boone in The Blacklist season 1 episode 22 The Blacklist Season 1 Finale Review

With all the chasing of false leads and discussions of fruit, ‘Berlin: Conclusion’ has just enough time for Tom to show up and get shot repeatedly by Elizabeth before whispering in her ear that her father is alive. That opens up the door for Tom’s convenient disappearance, and a perfunctory get-together between Liz and Reddington where she basically lets go of the fact that he killed her adoptive father. Their meeting not only hints at the next season where Berlin will be the primary target, but it also gives Red the chance to tell Liz he knows without a shadow of a doubt that her father died in the fire that still haunts her.

The season ends with Red peeling back his shirt just enough to expose the scars on his back, suggesting Elizabeth’s father figuratively perished in the blaze and has since transformed into a much different person. It winds up being the kind of move that feels monumental for a moment, but is essentially a non-reveal. The only way this would mean anything was if the information was disclosed to Elizabeth directly, and the series was forced to do something with her having that knowledge. Instead, The Blacklist has chosen to go for the same low-risk formula it has utilized all season, and will apparently continue to use in season 2.


The Blacklist will return to NBC on Thursday nights in the fall of 2014.

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  1. Spoiler!!

    Red is Keen’s father.

    Yeah… not really a spoiler.

    Tom is still alive and we have the Big Bad set for next season.

    Gonna miss BendItLikeBeckham, but someone had to die.

    Still funny how Red is a one man tactical team (where was Dembe?)… but at least he used a silencer this time.

    Hopefully Keen can practice “how to not get caught by surprise” skills over the summer.

    • Red is her father? Jeez, am I glad I gave up on the show.

      • Well you’re quite silly if you think that that’s the only part there to the show. There is much more that revolves around that theory (emphasizing on theory).

  2. Kevin….you write beautifully and will “miss” your reviews of this program over the Summer, my only wish is you did not hate Blacklist so much. At first I thought you disliked it, but to me it is obvious your attitude affects your reviews. Alda and Spader’s fuzzy chat was revealing, if you have paid attention to the sub-plot with these two over the series run. Red’s back reveal was huge as it will be taken into play next season.
    I watch very few small screen offerings from the major networks, but I do enjoy Mr. Spader wielding his craft every week, no matter if the script strays a bit at times. All in all if you compare to the laughable AOS, then we have something watchable and enjoyable. How it will be received on a Thursday night is anyone’s guess…but in reading your review of 24 ( which to me has everything to do with Mr. Sutherland’s paycheck)then there may be hope for you to hand this off next season. However, please keep up the good work you do.

  3. Started off good, but at the end I felt very unsatisfied.

  4. It would be a major disappointment if Red turns out to be Lizzie’s father. Talk about a major plot hole. How could the FBI not make that connection? I’m hoping the burn scar reveal plays out as Red was either the man sent to kill Lizzie’s father or the father was a mentor to Red and he was there to save him but rescued Lizzie and delivered her to Sam instead. Maybe Kevin has some good points about how the show stalls a bit. But since I don’t have cable or satellite I’m just going with this being one of the best shows on broadcast television that I’ll actually make time to watch when it airs.

  5. Yeah, it’s pretty obvious that you dislike this show. I agree with the Pirate above. While i do agree with you that Spaders home invasions are a bit repetative, it seems to me that you are not catching most of the subtlety and subtext of the show. By themselves, the conversations between Hawkeye & Alan Shore have set up seasons worth of material.
    Red being Lizzie’s padre is way too simple of an answer for this show. I agree with Kenneth that the “scar reveal” is is misdirection. In fact, I am willing to wager that Dr. Jackson is the one that saved her from the fire.
    Also, in your mention of the scar “non-reveal”, you completely left out the main point of the scene. Red had a photo of Berlin’s daughter!!!!
    Again agreeing with Kenneth…one of the Best on Broadcast TV.

    • I agree too, love this show. Loved that cliffhanger ending, I wonder why he has a picture of Berlin’s daughter, unless it turns out Red himself is Berlin in a Keyser Soze moment.

      • The funny thing, is they both had the exact same picture.

        Are they intimating that Red was the one who tortured Berlin’s daughter?

        • No, remember the Chemist is th eone who had the picture. Red went back near the end of that episode and took that picture from the Chemist’s book. Maybe Red was working with the Chemist at some point in the past and had a hand in killing his daughter. That could be why Berlin is after Red. Also, they both have the same picture because the Chemist (or Red) sent the pocket watch with the girls picture in it to Berlin while he was in jail. I bet later on when the Chemist died, Red took the photo from the book knowing the crap is about to hit the fan with the Berlin…

          • That’s a good point, and would explain where Red got the photo, but…
            If Red had been involved with it, he would have known who Berlin was.

          • I don’t think so. My guess? Berlin’s daughter was Lizzie’s mom. Red was her husband and Lizzie’s father. She was abducted and killed by the Chemist, without Red being able to do anything to save her. Berlin is not aware of that fact. He only knows, probably after being manipulated by some unknown (yet) entity, that Red was involved somehow in his daughter’s death. He wants revenge, but he doesn’t realize that Lizzie is his granddaughter. That will be the starting plot in season 2, but it will evolve once Red, after a showdown with Berlin, becomes aware that he and Berlin had been played by common enemies to destroy one another. They are the real responsibles of he losing his family. And now he will start a long plot to destroy them, while protecting his daughter at the same time.

            • Red told Liz, ‘I have never lied to you.’

              Red told Liz when she asked if he was her father: ‘No.’

              While a show of this type takes some strange turns here and there, I doubt it would turn out that, despite Red’s statement to the contrary, that he is Liz’s father.

          • @SteveW:

            Ahhh… that makes more sense. I had thought that picture was of Jolene and Red was trying to track her down.

            So Antonio’s theory makes more sense and why Red was so mad at the Chemist and killed him.

            Makes this even more interesting.

          • Steve W….nice connection, but then as Michael said Red would know who Berlin is, and as he made it clear with the “other” Berlin he shot in the hand and hip, he never forgets a face. So indeed if he was involved with the Chemist…he DOES know who Berlin is and next season we have a hell of a set-up. Unlike our dear friend and reviewer Kevin, that is the brilliance of the writing to make you think and speculate with the wee details that grow into answers that we have a 50% chance of being correct.

          • Not the Chemist. It was the Stew Maker. The pic of the child (dated 1990) was #79 in his death album. Red took it after he pushed the guy into his own acid bath.

  6. This show is one I have been watching, and while I basically like it, I think one more season will probably be about enough to tie up loose ends. Spader is good, but the others are not really that mind-boggling great.

  7. Kevin- It is obvious you do not like this show, never have, and never will.
    Something personal, perhaps, as Red would say.
    Do us all a big favor and move on to something else more along your style,
    like maybe Dino Dan.

  8. Kevin,

    Good review. the “Blacklist” wastes
    a good deal of time, going nowhere.

  9. The picture is from the stewmaker, not the chemist. Red never forgets a face, yet he’s never been face to face with Berlin, hence he doesnt know what he looks like. He probably didnt know that his wife was Berlin’s daughter, since she had to hide her past to keep her safe, which obviously it was found out anyway.
    The picture that both Red and Berlin have is date 12/90. Red tells a story of his finding his family slaughtered on xmas eve. He’s been gone for 20 years. actual years dont have to match up with reality but they’re close.

  10. Yep, it’s official this show has fan fatigued me , I’m out.
    Didn’t any of this show’s writers watch Breaking Bad?
    Rewarding cliffhangers with resolution invests people in your story.
    Dangling out mysteries and just creating more mysteries was only possible on Lost because mystery was central to the show.
    Even so, In spite of Lost’s loveable weirdness they wove a maze so thick there was no reasonable conclusion so fans got royally cheated in the finale.
    With this show, the characters are uninteresting and never fully formed, so you stop caring about them.
    So the “action” sequences become worthless as well.
    James Spader’s schtick carried this sad sack show through about 3 episodes, but even Red become so predictable you knew what he was going to say in every scene, Spader’s played it the same every time and again, we stop caring!
    I’m not coming back to this one, but it makes me sad because they could have done much more with this show.

  11. Nice review.

    I agree 100% about the formulaic writing, and cheesy rehashes of predictable network TV plots. I watched the entire first season on Netflix and was thoroughly disappointed. Spader’s performance was the only thing that kept me interested. The inherent laziness of the staff is evident in their blatant use of NYC as the primary backdrop and calling it DC.

    Why was it even necessary to base the show in DC? All of the Federal Law Enforcement agencies and intelligence services have a significant presence in NYC…oh I don’t know because…it’s the financial center of the U.S. More importantly the need to resolve everything neatly in each episode while dragging on seemingly important plotlines. The premise of the show could have been great if it were backed by HBO, Showtime, or Netflix, because then I’m sure all the short hanging chads that are used to keep a person engaged during a commercial break wouldn’t exist.

    After the fourth episode I couldn’t help but feel that this was written by a couple of first year screenwriting students, Spader makes the show watchable. Seriously who didn’t see that in times of certain death it would be the Indian woman with a British accent to get it, or that among Reds crew it would be the Chinadoll Esque handy woman?

    So let me guess Dembe and Red became friends as African freedom fighters, or that he joined an African tribe by saving Dembe’s life somewhere…

    Some of the best cinema comes from books because of the richness in books, but then there’s those TV shows or movies that come from great screenwriting, blacklist is clearly not in either of those categories. It’s like the third copy of Michael Keaton in Multiplicity, that copy of a copy that’s a watered down version of the original because the sparcity in the remaining gene pool.

    For me it’s like a mishapened boob, I’m repulsed by it, but Spader’s nipple has me we watching because I like nipples.

  12. I dont think Liz mother was reds wife. If you guys dont remember the stewmaker takes a pic on his victims at the time that he is about to kill them. That picture of Liz mother looks like she was rather young so I doubt it. I initially thought that Berlin could’ve been Liz father but I guess that’s too simple. I personally like what many hate the fact that they dont give us much of a back story leaves me thinking and wondering whats going to happen next. The only thing I hate is that I’ll have to wait till September. On the other hand I’ll have to agree with the reviewer red told liz that her father was dead maybe he just simply meant that he is no longer the same person, now whether or not her father is red thats just another exciting mystery.