[This is a review of The Blacklist season 1, episode 20. There will be SPOILERS.]
As it proved with the surprisingly effective arrival of Anslo Garrick during the mid-season finale, The Blacklist is better off cooking up a story line based around the idea of an action of consequence taking place in the present or very near future, rather than constantly obfuscating events that happened in the past for the purpose of generating tension between its primary protagonists.
For all its effort, 'The Kingmaker' isn't quite that kind of episode, but it's close. Mostly, the latest chapter in the fuzzy saga of Raymond 'Red' Reddington acts as a kick-starter for the season finale, wisely shifting the focus away from Elizabeth's somewhat (and likely unintentionally) detached perspective regarding the reveal of Tom's true identity, and placing it exactly where it needs to be: on Red and whatever myriad interests he has that are being threatened by some mysterious entity.
Of course, we only know this because of a long opening sequence where Red and an associate sit poolside to discuss the whispering of their mutual "friends" who are concerned about the losses suffered on Reddington's end. What losses, exactly? Well, there's a politician in Prague Red apparently had some stake in, but why he or the murder scandal he winds up embroiled in are really important to the Concierge of Crime isn't really established. The scene perfectly encapsulates the essence of The Blacklist: two men talking about what unseen people are saying offscreen. Like everything else on the series, things are only significant because characters say they are, not because the writers have successfully shown the audience why – an element that continues when Red contacts Fitch (Alan Alda) to seek the Alliance's help in rooting out the faceless enemy and stopping him or her before more damage can be done to his "interests."
Red's approach with the Alliance is to threaten them with the evidence that will reveal their nefarious plan to the world. What the evidence is, and what the Alliance is really up to, however, remains unknown, asking the question: Why should anyone care? So far, The Blacklist is all just world building using matchsticks and tissue paper – the thinnest material possible – or, if you prefer, it has assembled an entire plot line with global implications that hinges on little more than characters repeatedly saying, "Because I said so."
In that regard, 'The Kingmaker' continues to dance around the details by offering a distraction in the form of Linus Roache as the titular blacklister, who is making it possible for a low-level politician named Patrick Chandler to make the bold move into the upper echelons of politics. After a prearranged car wreck leaves Chandler's wife dead, Red points the FBI at the sudden media sensation, telling them it's the work of the Kingmaker. For what it's worth, Roache gives a Spader-like performance, imbuing another stock criminal with enough exaggerated eccentricities that he's at least interesting to watch. You may not remember what he was trying to accomplish, but you will remember the sniffing.
As is the series' MO, the biggest revelation comes in the last five minutes. Here, Elizabeth, guided by the photos she recovered from Tom's safety deposit box, tries to ascertain what Red was doing at a hospital in Nebraska when her father died. After some prodding, Red admits to Liz he killed her father in an act of mercy, to end his suffering. To the episode's credit, this exposure paves the way for Liz to stop by Ressler's apartment for a beer and some light newspaper reading– you know, since they're both single, now – but also, by further inserting Red into aspects of Agent Keen's personal life, it may work to provide the show's far more interesting B story with the foundation it needs to become next season's primary focus.
'Berlin,' the penultimate episode of The Blacklist season 1, airs next Monday @10pm on NBC. Check out a preview below: