[This is a review of The Blacklist season 1, episode 11. There will be SPOILERS.]
Television procedurals and those programs locked in a more episodic format generally follow a certain guideline as to how each and every episode is built. Most of the time, The Blacklist uses the criminals on Red's titular list as the vehicle of the story, while the increasingly complicated matters involving Elizabeth's past, Red's intentions with her, and now the clandestine organization headed-up by Alan Alda's Fitch slowly boils away in the background, providing question after question and basically avoiding any firm answers.
There's nothing inherently wrong with that; the intrigue is likely enough to keep most people tuning in week after week (after all, there's only so much magnetism in Spader's performance to attract viewers), but what happens when such a formula is used during an episode where it's completely unnecessary. It asks the question: Does the show not know where its own strengths lie, or is it just not interested in developing them?
The basic premise of 'The Good Samaritan Killer' is very much in line with everything else the show has delivered so far in its first season; the only real catch here is that it has to follow-up on all the drama and potential game-changing events from the two-part 'Anslo Garrick' storyline that aired prior to the break. The conclusion to that story not only left Red out in the open, but it also pointed to a possible mole in and around the group working from within the Post Office Black Site. When the episode kicks off, it clearly intended to demonstrate how the group is still reeling from the Garrick attack by showing everyone as a potential suspect. Aside from that, there are few changes, though. Sure, Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) is amazingly up and around – though walking with the aid of a cane, for the time being – but other than that, it's alarmingly business as usual for everyone but Cooper (Henry Lennix), who's eager to task Agent Malik (Parminder Nagra) with finding the mole.
This feels like a terrific place to jump back on board with The Blacklist after the mid-season finale; it certainly has the potential to create some intrigue with regard to the identity of the mole, and it ties in tangentially with the lingering questions regarding Elizabeth's husband – who suddenly wants to move to Nebraska. Aside from maybe generating a better idea of just how the black site is run, and offering a glimpse as to who the people doing the running are, focusing solely on the aftermath of Garrick's raid on the Post Office would have also created considerable interest into Red's location and what he's been up to, which might have made the desperation to bring him back in feel more pressing and less a function of the show getting back to normal. Instead, 'The Good Samaritan Killer' chooses to add Red's own mole hunt to the story, while also throwing in a tale involving Frank Whaley (Ray Donovan) as a serial killer hunting down perpetrators of domestic violence.
Obviously, Red being who he is (i.e., the only interesting character on the show, and James Spader) the storyline involving his bloody and violent quest to track down the traitor in his midst quickly becomes the most interesting thing the episode has to offer. Sadly, instead of focusing on Red, or the Post Office, the episode just scatters the interesting bits like crumbs on the floor, hoping the audience will follow the tiny morsels of significance and think them nourishing enough to wait for more. Meanwhile, Whaley's vengeful nurse storyline comes in just behind the Dexter series finale as the worst Dexter episode ever; not only does it have nothing to do with the show's central conceit of the blacklist, but it offers no logical reason for Red and Elizabeth to have any interaction with one another at all. Not that it stops the writers from literally phoning a reason in, as Red randomly makes a phone call that points her in the right direction and, like magic, Frank Whaley's suddenly on Elizabeth's radar.
It's understandable that The Blacklist would want to come back from break with a story that might help things settle back down into a comfortable rhythm; but if ever there was an opportunity for the show to open itself up to a slightly different, character-focused approach, this was it. As a consequence, the more interesting aspects the storyline has to offer are starting to look as if they're in conflict with the episodic formula the series is still beholden to. The bright shiny roadster that was the conceit of the program doesn't have room in the back for the larger story that has sprung up around it. If The Blacklist wants to expand its story to accommodate the needs of characters like Red and Elizabeth, it's going to have to trade that roadster in for something with a little more space.
The Blacklist continues next Monday with 'The Alchemist' @10pm on NBC. Check out a preview below: