[This is a review of The Blacklist season 2, episode 18. There will be SPOILERS.]
For what it's worth, the Det. Wilcox/Eugene Ames storyline that has been unfolding over the past few weeks on The Blacklist managed to do something the show hadn't really done before: it focused on the actual collateral damage associated with what the FBI taskforce and Raymond 'Red' Reddington were engaged in. The storyline was one of the first times the series seemed interested in looking outside the insular team working so closely with the so-called Concierge of Crime, to see what kind of impact their actions – or, more to the point, the secrecy of their work – had on the lives of an average individual.
Sure, The Blacklist has previously focused on regular people being caught up in some scheme or another, being run by of Reddington's fabled blacklisters. However, they were usually dispatched – either saved or sacrificed – in order to serve the plot at hand. So, to its credit, 'Tom Keen' brings the Eugene Ames story full circle, suggesting there is some price to be paid for what Liz, Cooper, Ressler, and the rest of the taskforce do - while also using a familiar magic bullet to make sure everyone basically gets off scot-free.
The end result is something of a mixed bag. The stakes of Det.Wilcox's battle to bring Ames' murderer to justice rose considerably over the past few weeks, intensifying from a local cop looking to solve a missing persons case, all the way to a full-blown crusade to hold the federal government accountable for its actions. And as disappointing as last week's clip show was, the meeting with Judge Denner (John Finn) did at least result in an adversary whose intentions of learning the truth were not only sound, but they also shined a spotlight on the ethically questionable antics the FBI had been up to - since making a deal with the devil, that is.
In that sense, Wilcox and Denner quickly became the rare adversaries who were actually in the right. And by letting the series focus on their efforts, even for a few short episodes, The Blacklist almost seemed like it was shifting gears. There was a brief moment when it looked as though the series was going to hold its characters responsible for their actions. This was an interesting avenue to explore that not only justified bringing Tom back into the fold, but it also forced Red to confront his need to continue keeping his secret (whatever it may be) from Liz. And although none of it really amounted to anything, perhaps it's worth it just to see the series try something new.
What the Wilcox/Ames storyline essentially boils down to is Liz feeling guilty about Tom murdering a good person. And while she's not willing to actually face any kind of punishment for her role in Ames' murder (or see anyone else punished, for that matter), she is willing to part with some cash (money she obtained by selling an apartment Red purchased for her) in order to help assuage her guilt. It's the easy way out that alludes to the character having a conscience, but it doesn't actually require any real change in her behavior. The audience can be told Liz cares about the daughter Ames left behind because she's going to set up an anonymous trust fund, but there's no real depth to the action; it doesn't require any real commitment in terms of the storytelling because it doesn't force Liz to actually change.
The audience is safe to assume Ames' daughter will receive the money, but it's doubtful the effect of the money will ever become apparent. Not seeing how the daughter reacts to the money or how it benefits her is one thing, but what's the likelihood that Liz's action will impact her in a way that makes her decision noteworthy (beyond the superficial guilt on display in the episode's final moments)?
There are some fun moments in 'Tom Keen'; they don’t really amount to much, but they do make for some engaging scenes. Seeing Red and Ressler team up and head to Germany works as an Odd Couple-like scenario (the depths of which should be plumbed more often). It's just too bad that the journey to Germany was about as effective as a phone call, as the two come back empty handed, relying on Tom to come back of his own volition. Of course, that's to help reform Tom's character, as he makes the decision to confess to Ames' murder and get Liz off the hook (for the murder charge, anyway). This, in turn, works to reinforce the idea that Liz and Tom still have feelings for one another, despite the fraudulence of their marriage.
But Tom doesn't have to pay, since Tom Connolly (Reed Birney) comes in like a deus ex machina to sweep all the problems faced by Liz, Cooper, and even Tom under the rug. Even Cooper's brain tumor is given the magic bullet, as it turns out the seizure he suffered was a result of the experimental treatment at work, and not a sign of his health failing.
In the end, 'Tom Keen' is the sort of episode that The Blacklist specializes at: it gives the appearance of significant events happening, but all it really does is put the characters right back in the position they were in to begin with. There's nothing wrong with an up-and-back per se, but as much as this series makes allusions to a grander story going on – especially with the tiny morsel of information Red delivers Liz at the end – a continual return to the status quo isn't much to go on.
The Blacklist continues next Thursday with 'The Longevity Initiative' @9pm on NBC. Check out a preview below: