[This is a review of The Blacklist season 2, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]

Like any procedural, The Blacklist will occasionally take a ripped-from-the-headlines approach to its storytelling. And although its intentions are to ground the narrative in relevance by linking it to something, like, say, a series of random acts of violence perpetrated by equally random individuals, the superficiality of the storyline winds up making everything feel reductive.

There’s a fine line in using these stories as the basis for an episode of TV. In a way it’s the same as when Law & Order: SVU (or any other likeminded program) takes a tabloid-y scandal or story and turns it into an hour of salacious semi-relevance that borders on parody. But here, as The Blacklist centers on David Costabile‘s dysfunctional and titular Dr. Linus Creel and his research into the “warrior gene,” the show moves from addressing malignant social behavior to having a one-and-done character suggest a one-size-fits-all solution with the notion that bad genes are the root of bad behavior.

That’s not to say that The Blacklist‘s depiction of something equals endorsement (although by ostensibly proving the Dr. Creel right, it comes close), but by throwing in a governmental conspiracy involving mind control experiments, the whole thing just feels clumsier and more shallow than usual.

On one hand, that’s what happens when a show is in its fourth of twenty-two weeks; the strength of the series is demonstrated by showing how well it can tread water. Now that the Berlin saga is on the proverbial backburner, Agent Keen and the rest of the black site crew are free to tackle the weirder cases that can be conveniently solved within the span of a single episode. It also means the meandering mythology of Red’s connection to Liz, and whatever it is she has locked behind a door in a garage somewhere will be dolled out piecemeal, with the writers not even bothering to drum up a respectable red herring to whet the audience’s appetite.

Megan Boone and James Spader in The Blacklist season 2 episode 4 The Blacklist Dons Its Tinfoil Hat

Instead, an episode like ‘Dr. Linus Creel’ works with matters of actual narrative significance that are so small the show may as well have taken the week off. The usual conflation of Reddington and Liz’s priorities is nowhere to be seen, as Ressler mentions Red is using Creel as a distraction, so he can deal with Naomi – otherwise known as the former Carla Reddington. Instead of doing something about it, the FBI just shrugs its shoulders in acceptance of Red’s attempt to divert its attention away from him, since the organization has the shiny new Gene Master on the prowl.

While Red is busy convincing Naomi and her husband Frank they need to leave their lives behind and allow him to set up new identities for them, Liz winds up getting some free therapy from Dr. Creel.

For the most part, Reddington’s adventures in revealing Frank’s infidelity – and subsequently convincing him to rededicate himself to his marital vows – is only as interesting as Naomi’s involvement in Liz’s past. The show is not coy about saying that Naomi knows a thing or two about Liz, but at twenty-six episodes in, the audience knows better than to expect anything remotely like an answer. So, The Blacklist offers up its own distraction with news of Naomi’s daughter Jennifer, who has gone off the grid and will likely be next on Red’s 2014 tour of family that no longer wants to speak with him.

Liz’s discussion of her anxieties with regard to Tom’s betrayal is a little more interesting, however. She mentions how she’d like to keep Tom as her prisoner, to find out about all of his lies, and it sounds a little like Liz has some perfectly acceptable feelings she’d like to work out with her ex. But in the episode’s conclusion, her wish seems to suggest the answer to what’s hidden behind door number one.

As enticing as that may be, it’s the same slight of hand trick the show constantly pulls. In other words, like everything that happens here, it’s little more than a distraction or window dressing — sort of like Dr. Creel’s nervous tick of pulling out his own hair. The episode gives action without consequence and a series of questions without an answer in sight. That’s slight, even for a show that excels in making a diversion look like it’s playing things close to the vest. Let’s hope next week offers the audience something that might actually have some impact on the overall story.

The Blacklist continues next Monday with ‘The Front’ @10pm on NBC. Check out a preview below:

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