[This is a review of The Blacklist season 2, episode 19. There will be SPOILERS.]
It's late in the season and there has been some detrimental wheel spinning as of late, but The Blacklist comes back from a brief hiatus to deliver an episode that is not only propulsive and thrilling at times, but also manages to feel significant in terms of negotiating where the narrative is headed. And even though it doesn't deliver the kind of push forward that might help make take the series to a more fulfilling place, it does feel as though some important, decisive actions were taken that will impact the story moving forward.
'Leonard Caul' picks up directly after the final moments of 'Vanessa Cruz', which saw Red fall victim to a sniper's bullet. Even though there's only so much dramatic tension that can be wrung from having your main character shot or put in a life-threatening situation, the episode utilizes the sidelining of Red to give Liz a chance to peek behind the curtain so to speak. And that opportunity is mercifully not wasted.
Liz was yet again on the verge of putting Red in a time out last week, after learning he hired Tom to watch over her. As usual, there was more to the story, but Liz's fiery temper and growing inability to tolerate the half-truths coming out of Red's mouth saw her walking away before he could explain. With Red now on the verge of death, Liz's priorities shift and she goes into savior mode – which, as luck would have it, eventually opens a window so that Red and explain the circumstances that brought Tom into her life.
The explanation works, for the most part. Tom was only supposed to be on the periphery, but his inherent dreaminess apparently pulled him closer than intended. Apparently, Tom's not the most professional guy, as he allowed their relationship to go far beyond what he was contracted to do. That and his shifting allegiance to Berlin became one of several yet-to-be-revealed factors leading Red to come out of hiding, so he could correct an out of control situation he ostensibly set into motion. The explanation buys Red a brief moment of trust that he squanders, when Liz asks if there's anything else he'd like to share. Red tells her there's more, but he's only giving out Tom-related details today. Liz, for her part, admonishes him, basically saying she'd prefer a lie to yet another roadblock on the road to truth.
What's interesting about Liz and Red's chat is how it acts as the catalyst for her to make a significant choice that will impact her relationship with Red and put her in a position to act according to her own best interests – something the character isn't allowed to do very often. As Liz aligns herself with Tom to uncover Red's secrets, she not only demonstrates some agency beyond the scope of her job, but she also provides a decent reason for Tom to still be a part of the storyline. And, in a way, it makes sense. If Red isn't going to be forthcoming with the information that Liz needs (and the audience wants), then she'll try to circumvent his secrecy with the best tool (that's only slightly meant in the pejorative sense) at her disposal. A team-up with Tom seems odd, given their history, but it's good for Ryan Eggold's character – it sure beats him just hanging out in abandoned warehouses, trying to figure out what his next move will be, anyway.
The Liz-Tom alliance, and Red's short confession aren't the only big things to come out of 'Leonard Caul', though. As it turns out, Alan Fitch's parting words to Red were intended to see Raymond team up with the one guy who can decipher the Fulcrum. Naturally, Caul is another "can-do" fellow; one who doesn't let a few sutures in his neck and a couple missing fingers prevent him from doing his job. What's his job you ask? Well, apparently, he's the guy who can decipher the Fulcrum with the help of some ridiculously ornate pieces of technology that basically boil down to a fancy projector in a briefcase. This projector shows the Cabal's greatest hits (some of which really are hits), and fear of it leaking is enough to get the Director to call off his attack dogs, mere seconds before they add the ailing Red to the pile of bodies strewn about a warehouse floor.
So, after a few weeks off, The Blacklist scores a rare hat trick on important developments that help get the story out of the rut it has been in recently. 'Leonard Caul' may have stopped just short of being a momentous episode, but it certainly helped create some much-needed momentum as the series prepares for the final three episodes of the season. With some clues dropped about Liz's mother (that photograph is ridiculous, by the way), that intimate a small connection to the Director, and a new direction for Tom and Liz's relationship, there's enough here to keep the audience engaged - even if Red (like the series) is still devoted to pulling the same old tricks.
The Blacklist continues next Thursday with 'Quon Zhang' @9pm on NBC. Check out a preview below: