[This is a review of The Blacklist season 1, episode 16. There will be SPOILERS.]
Despite mountains of evidence suggesting The Blacklist has little to offer outside of James Spader, the series boldly attempts to center an entire episode on Donald Ressler's quest for revenge, after his on-again, off-again girlfriend Audrey (Emily Tremaine) is killed by the episode's titular blacklist entry, 'Mako Tanida.'
Aside from being played by Banshee's Hoon Lee, Tanida is a fairly standard one-and-done Blacklist villain. This time though, in addition to the character's outlandish plot, the series opts to define Tanida through several broad racial stereotypes, one of which is Tanida's preference to force his victims to perform seppuku, or ritually disembowel themselves. As it turns out, Tanida was a Japanese crime lord whose empire supposedly fell into the hands of his rarely seen brother, after Ressler and three other FBI agents sent him to prison many years ago. What looks like simple revenge against the men who brought him to justice, quickly turns into something more, however, as it's revealed Tanida's quest is to find the agent responsible for killing his brother and stealing his empire. Once Ressler and the suspiciously retired Bobby Jonica are all that's left on Tanida's hit list, the episode predictably devolves into a question of whether or not Ressler will cross the line and become a killer to avenge someone he loved.
Overall, it's another example of The Blacklist using the death of a character to fuel an ancillary plot point only to be ostensibly forgotten. The episode asks a great deal of the audience to not only be invested in Ressler's rogue mission against Tanida, but also to have any emotional response whatsoever to a character as thinly drawn as Audrey. As per usual, the most compelling aspect of the episode is Red, who helps Ressler locate the escaped Tanida. In doing so, Red offers Don some insight into the emotionally barren wasteland that is a life lived only for revenge – which, of course, ties into Red's own troubled past.
The episode sees Red spend most of his time arranging a private performance of Swan Lake, which then bleeds into what is presumably a brief memory of his deceased daughter. It's clear what The Blacklist was aiming for here, but Red's wistful remembrance of his child is so disconnected from everything else in the episode, the segment just fails to resonate and, unsurprisingly, falls flat.
Which is essentially what happens with the big reveal of Tom's secret that the network had been teasing since the show last aired. As it turns out, Tom is some kind of deep cover agent working Liz for predictably vague purposes. Tom finds himself in crisis mode for most of the episode, after he narrowly prevents the Cowboy (Lance Reddick) from abducting Jolene (Rachel Brosnahan) on Red's orders. The realization that Red's one step away from proving Tom isn't who he says he is, essentially becomes the impetus for him to kill both Jolene and the Cowboy – effectively eliminating two characters more interesting than he is.
It's one thing to confirm suspicions about a character, but it's something else entirely to make the revelation mean something within the larger context of the show. Here, Tom's misadventures are as underwhelming as anything else, because there's no one of any significance responding to them. Clearly the show is hoping to create a sense of tension heading into the end of the season, but this one step forward, two steps back approach frustratingly keeps The Blacklist from doing the one thing it desperately needs to do: progress the plot into a place where the characters actually have an impact on the story, rather than exist as a passive element within an increasingly convoluted narrative.
The Blacklist continues next Monday with 'Ivan' @10pm on NBC. Check out a preview below:
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