[This is a review of The Blacklist season 1, episode 14. There will be SPOILERS.]
After three weeks away so that professional broadcasters could say things like, "It's all about speed" when discussing Olympic events that actually have the word "speed" in their title, NBC is finally back to its regular programming schedule, and that means Monday nights once again belong to Raymond 'Red' Reddington and, to a certain extent, The Blacklist.
Loyal viewers will understand why there is a difference. The conceit of the program is built on a somewhat solid procedural premise, but the show's continued existence is largely the result of James Spader doing whatever is necessary to keep the scenes he's in as interesting as possible. If that means developing strange ticks whenever he talks or putting on overly exaggerated affectations in order to convince a heavily armed guard at the Syrian Embassy not to consider him a threat, then so be it. Spader's the only one who has been doing anything interesting for the better part of 14 episodes, and if the show doesn’t start bringing him in some help, there's a good chance Red will be doing a string of increasingly demeaning celebrity impressions before slipping into full-on psychosis.
Maybe that's why, with 'Madeline Pratt,' The Blacklist brought in the always-fantastic Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty, RoboCop) to help out a bit. Ehle guest stars as the titular Madeline Pratt, an inscrutable thief who uses her skills to leverage influence on the international stage and, naturally, also has ties to Red's past. As Madeline makes clear on a number of occasions, she and Red had some dealings in Florence years back, and Red left her hanging, which, apparently, has given her cause to hold a bit of a grudge. After breaking into one of Red's safety deposit boxes to get his attention, Madeline wrangles him into a scheme to swipe an effigy that supposedly contains the names of the Kunger Six – Soviet deep-cover spies from the Cold War.
Of course, Red's game, as such a high-risk operation not only allows him to coordinate with his favorite agent, but it also gives him the chance to waltz into the FBI Black Site and all but tell Cooper and Malik he killed Diane Fowler with the kind of unsubtle insinuation this show has more or less perfected. For his part, Cooper is all bark that's quickly muzzled by the higher-ups in D.C., after he tasks Malik with tracking down Fowler's "killer."
With Fowler's death ostensibly on the backburner for now, Red and Keen can break into the Syrian Embassy, using Lizzie's incredible skills as a thief – which…okay. Ultimately, their collaboration this time reveals Madeline's dealing with the Russian mafia, and the Kunger Six are actually small nuclear devices hidden across the U.S. Red pulls a fast one on Madeline, going so far as to regale her with the tale of his murdered family, before conning her out of the location of the bombs and leveraging them with Cooper in exchange for the statue.
The episode concludes with Ressler postponing his date to comfort Keen, who is now convinced losing the creepiest husband this side of Arthur Mitchell would somehow be a bad thing. Right now, cutting the nauseating subplot of the Keens' domestic troubles would be the smarting thing The Blacklist did since casting Spader. Tom's been seen spending more time with Jolene (Rachel Brosnahan), which feels like it would be a significant development, but the show has yet to adequately address it. With any luck, the mysterious Jolene/Lucy Brooks will feature prominently soon, and we can get this show (and Tom) on the road.
The Blacklist continues next Monday with 'The Judge' @10pm on NBC. Check out a preview below: