[This is a review of The Blacklist season 2, episode 7. There will be SPOILERS.]
The thing about The Blacklist is that it is less concerned about telling a complete story from start to finish - weaving in various threads that develop characters or expand on the show's less-than propulsive mythology - than it is in delivering one scene that seemingly makes up for the disorganized storytelling that came before. This is the television equivalent of a restaurant offering its customers a free dessert after an evening of shoddy service – a sweet treat that's meaningful in the moment, but in the end is nothing more than empty calories.
That's certainly the case with 'The Scimitar,' which spends most of the hour focused on Agent Navabi's twisty search for terrorists with an impressive budget and elaborate set design skills, only to end on Red's meeting with Berlin. But instead of filling his enemy with hot lead, Red reveals that Zoe, proprietor of the blandly named American Bistro food truck and beer connoisseur, is not his daughter, but rather the long-thought-dead offspring of his mustachioed nemesis. No doubt many a head was smacked in the audience, as the show had certainly gone out of its way to lead everyone away from the "Liz is Red's daughter theory," only to place them smack dab in the middle of the same mystery the show began with.
Beyond the bait and switch of the lost-daughter, there's an interesting parallel between the way the show explores the importance of Liz and Zoe that goes back to the notion of singular moments being more important than a cohesive whole. While The Blacklist has kept the story of Liz and Red in its original packaging, leaving its contents virtually untouched, it essentially did the same thing with Zoe. But instead of placing her on a shelf to collect dust (and, presumably, value) the show traded her in for a small payday.
That collector's mentality goes hand in hand with the way stories are set up on this show, and it's kind of fascinating. The value is in either keeping the scene (or the reveal) locked away as long as possible or selling it off in the blink of an eye. There's no real in between. In this case, Zoe is definitely the latter. Her character existed solely for the moment Red delivered her to Berlin, as a kind of olive branch and way to clear his name as a child-killer. But what's intriguing is the show's impatience for building anticipation. One short scene where the two enjoy a ridiculously heavy lunch (after a single brief encounter involving Red's fetishized hat) only succeeds in turning Zoe into another commodity. The result is the further dilution of the intensity of the episode's final moment, and an increased reliance on the show's episodic structure of 40 minutes of filler and 2 minutes of (potential) significance.
All that's allowed to sit on this show are the unexplored (and most interesting) things it has to offer. Everything else is just set-up for the next "extraordinary" moment.
But to the show's credit, although it continues to rely primarily on a collection of somewhat disparate scenes – like Agent Navabi in Dubai – at least 'The Scimitar' ups its game to make Liz something of a player in the "scene" market as well. Sure, Liz doesn't quite have Red's panache when it comes to making an entrance or delivering a speech that will leave his opponent breathless, but she's certainly developing her own repertoire. In fact, The Blacklist is so certain of that, it's gone out of its way to give Liz a twisted 2.0 version of her marriage to Tom that Red is (seemingly) in the dark about.
To be honest, although watching Tom complain he's cold, or tell Liz she should look him in the eye when and if she finally does kill him lacks the impact of Red doing…well, anything, there is at least a sense of development in these moments that is in keeping with the way Liz of season 2 has changed from season 1 – and not in the superficially drug-addled way Ressler has changed. It's not terribly dramatic having a by the book character transition into someone more willing to play by her own rules, but it's enough to suggest that the series may yet have plans for the character beyond keeping her most important aspect on the shelf.
Next week is the midseason finale, which means since The Blacklist won't be back again until after the holidays, there will be a huge temptation for it to end with as big a "scene" as it possibly can. Will it lead to something with some personal stakes, or will it just be another of Red's red herrings? It seems likely that the latter will prove to be true, but at least we can rest assured that it will come in a single, potent moment.
The Blacklist will air its midseason finale next Monday with 'The Decemberist' @10pm on NBC. Check out a preview below:
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