[This is a review of The Blacklist season 2, episode 3. There will be SPOILERS.]
Whether it is the corruptive influence of Reddington, the past year she has spent chasing down the world's most wildly eccentric criminals, the ramifications of her fake marriage to Tom, or a combination of all three, Agent Elizabeth Keen has found it increasingly easy to cross a certain line as of late, and The Blacklist wants to make sure everyone knows.
In 'Dr. James Covington', the majority of the focus shifts away from Red's struggle with Berlin to center somewhat superficially on Elizabeth's state of mind, presented through the oft-used gimmick of an incredibly specific dream in which a bearded Tom tells Liz not to trust Red and to seek answers to "that night," before being shot by the man in question. Red then sidles up to Liz's bed and posits the same question this show has been pestering its audience with since day one…and then Liz wakes up.
Most of the time, dream sequences are a tacky excuse to peek into the mind of a character and spell out their hopes and fears in the most blatant manner possible, and this is no different. While this particular sequence was successful in spelling out what Liz wants and why her paranoia is so intense, the fact that, even as a dream, the sequence didn't seem out of the ordinary for The Blacklist is probably a little more troublesome.
Still, to its credit, the episode is trying to build an arc for Liz that isn't entirely dependent on questions the show incorrectly believes will increase in value the longer they go unanswered. Instead, The Blacklist is trying to show a new Liz, one who seeks solace and strength from her paranoia, a fact that even Cooper points out when he tries to talk Liz into taking a month off to mourn what happened to her marriage.
Of course, Liz isn't the only one whose suspicions are proven correct, but she doesn't quite get the pleasure of seeing them confirmed. Red can't afford not to be paranoid, but unlike Liz, he can't go around randomly frisking strange dudes in motel parking lots; he has to use wildly elaborate schemes in order to root out possible traitors in his midst. And that's precisely what he does by bringing in Paul Ruebens to play Mr. Vargas, a weasel of a man (seemingly in Berlin's employ) who wants to turn the members of the Syndicate against Reddington.
The point the episode is trying to make is that Red values loyalty above all else, which likely has more to do with Naomi than anything else at the moment. The fact that he was using the episode's blacklister, Dr. James Covington - to help the Syndicate gain control of an Indonesian port - is so secondary, Red mentions it almost in passing. But it's good that he did, otherwise the two storylines would have been even more incongruous than they already were.
That brings everything back to Covington who, because he came without a blandly obvious codename or a strange tick that signaled his devious nature, was clearly not your typical blacklister. Instead, he's more of the self-righteous antihero who doesn't play by the rules because the rules don't suit his needs. That means Covington rents black market organs to criminals to help fund his underground children's clinic.
Like Liz's dream sequence, the episode goes to great lengths to spell out how there is a lot of present-day Agent Keen in Dr. Covington's actions. She's willing to take a trade-off in her pursuit of justice, especially if it means a greater good can be done through less than legal means.
The ever useful Ressler is quick to point out that the Keen from a year ago would never have settled for such a trade-off. That's great for the audience, because Liz can't grow a beard like Tom to show that time has passed and The Blacklist will never let any sense of character progression sneak by without someone mentioning it.
With the uninspiring contradictions of its pseudo-villain, 'Dr. James Covington' is defined primarily by the actions of Agent Keen and what they mean for her development, as she eases into a less rigid interpretation of her duties as an FBI agent. It's not much, but it is certainly more interesting than seeing her and Ressler simply rack up another perfunctory win against the titular Blacklist and then move on.
As per usual, however, the episode overshadows its character progression with a series of cliffhangers. And while the confrontation between Red and Naomi holds a spark of interest, watching as the motel guy assembles a large weapon decidedly does not.
The Blacklist continues next Monday with 'Dr. Linus Creel' @10pm on NBC. Check out a preview below: