[This is a review of The Blacklist season 1, episode 17. There will be SPOILERS.]
All season long, The Blacklist has been leisurely working to generate a full-blown mythology as the driving force behind the show, a central mystery so intriguing it keeps audiences coming back week after week, just so they can be a part of the conversation. At least that is the obvious objective; the only thing is: there's no real conversation going on, the series has been around for 17 episodes now and it's no closer to presenting the idea that something worth talking about is actually at stake.
Of course, this is in reference to the mystery behind Red's ongoing fascination with Liz, and now the disclosure that Tom has been surreptitiously renting warehouse space to put up a smoke-free Rust Cohle-style corkboard, complete with various photographs of his wife, push pins, and the requisite red yarn tying it all together. What exactly he's trying to tie together is never stated, because the show's trying to generate the sort of suspense that inevitably becomes the next morning's watercooler experience. The problem is: there's nothing to experience. The series has been doling out information little by little, but rather than filling the story with details that eventually build to a large, game changing revelation (or at least one that hasn't been telegraphed since day one), the only thing the narrative has been building is a road that ostensibly leads to nowhere.
As far as shadowy conspiracies go, The Blacklist might have the most shadowy one of all – in that it's beginning to feel as if even the writers don't know what they're looking at. It's one thing for a program to not know the exact details of how a story will arrive at what it's after, but not knowing (or not convincingly demonstrating it knows) what it's after, or more importantly, what's actually at stake within the context of the central mystery is bad news.
At least in 'Ivan,' the series finally shows some movement regarding Tom and Liz, as deep cover agent Tom is undone by a toy hippo with a flashing light in its rear end (side note: if Liz thinks the hippo toy will entertain a classroom of fourth graders, her decision to postpone motherhood is the smartest thing she's ever done). This, of course, comes after Tom attacks Liz in his secret lair, leaving her bruised, but (temporarily) unaware who she was tracking. The main takeaway from their encounter is that neither one is particularly good at their job. Tom makes the split-second decision to hide behind the loudest door in the greater D.C. area, while Liz manages to first lose a suspect in an alley strangely filled with plastic sheets, and then fails to identify the guy punching her in the face as her husband of two years. And it seems all of this was just so Liz could wind up being comforted by Red and the music box he spent the entire episode building, while he continues to withhold information.
With all the Tom and Liz non-drama going on, The Blacklist still has time for its weekly procedural element, which involves a love struck teenager with the kind of amazing hacking skills that suggest The Blacklist equates computers with some kind of sorcery or black magic. It turns out 17-year-old Harrison Lee has been impersonating an infamous Russian hacker named Ivan, so he can steal a piece of top-secret military technology being developed by the father of the girl who doesn't even know he exists. After a brief chase, the blacklist portion of the episode climaxes with Liz talking Harrison out of crashing the subway car they're both on with his magic hacking device (thank goodness for the D.C. transit system's super-reliable Wi-Fi, right?). Afterward, Liz briefly reminds Ressler he has no one to go home to, while the NSA presumably beats Red to the punch and hires Harrison on the spot.
That leaves the pending cat-and-mouse routine between Tom and Liz to be resolved before the end of the season. If such a resolution actually occurs, hopefully the show has something far more interesting and propulsive waiting on the other side.
The Blacklist will continue next Monday with 'Milton Bobbit' @10pm on NBC. Check out a preview below: