[This is a review of The Blacklist season 1, episode 21. There will be SPOILERS.]
One of the things that made the 'Anslo Garrick' storyline two of the more effective episodes of The Blacklist was the way the two-pronged approach to episodic storytelling was fused into a semi-cohesive whole. This fusion of procedure and mythology isn't something the show does very often, but it should be, since the penultimate episode 'Berlin' proves that kind of cohesion helps give the narrative the feeling of being more significant. For the most part, the episode adheres to the series' well-established rules of delaying actual story progression for as long as possible, but it does at least attempt to do something different with the blacklist component of its plot, by folding that aspect into the larger issue that will obviously end the season.
It doesn't come off like clockwork, however. Despite feeling like it has something more significant to offer, 'Berlin' still boasts many of the same characteristics of any other installment of the series. That is, the episode generates ample amounts of suspense and tension, and then mostly defers the payoff or release of that tension to the following episode. For anyone who has been keeping up with the adventures of Raymond Reddington and his increasingly unhappy FBI counterpart, Agent Keen, that kind of deferral shouldn't come as much of a surprise.
The major issue is, of course, centered on the question: Who is Berlin? Sadly, the answer is not a new wave band from the '70s and '80s. Instead, from what Keen and the rest of the special FBI task force can surmise, Berlin is actually a person, and a deadly one at that. For the most part, the myth building around Berlin gets epic pretty quickly. Early on, Tom mentions Berlin to the guy he's about to flay, telling him, "You don't choose Berlin, he chooses you." Later, after some quiet time with a stack of old case files, Liz figures out that the blacklist is almost entirely connected, and that it all leads back to one person chasing Red.
After all the portent surrounding this mysterious figure, all the talk of the "five horsemen of the apocalypse" (thanks to John Glover and his amazing hair for that one), and the highly convoluted blackmail scheme wherein a bunch of schlubby airport employees are infected with a deadly virus to facilitate a prison break, The Blacklist presents the audience with the man we presume is Berlin himself. And it turns out he's really just some goofy guy wearing an oversized hood on an airplane (which is only slightly less annoying than people who wear sunglasses indoors). It's incredibly silly but it also makes sense, because even highly-organized super villains are prone to getting chilly from time to time, and it's hard to intimidate James Spader while also battling a runny nose.
Red remains mostly calm throughout the pending arrival of Berlin, as he's primarily focused on repairing his relationship with Liz, since they can't be friends anymore after she found out he killed her father (or at least assisted in his suicide). He's so adamant that she not give up on him (or the task force), he even gives her a file containing incredibly personal, intimate details about her relationship with Tom as an olive branch, and when that doesn't work, he seemingly allows the FBI to arrest him to prove how important she is to him.
Naturally, the stakes aren't nearly as high as they seem, as the plane carrying Berlin and his parka gets shot down over D.C., leaving everything on a cliffhanger. With the introduction of a new villain who is now central to the entire storyline, there is suddenly a great deal for the series to unpack in a single episode. If things stay as they have all season, it stands to reason the show will leave some of that unpacking for season 2.
The Blacklist concludes season 1 next Monday with 'Berlin: Conclusion' @10pm on NBC. Check out a preview below: