[This is a review of The Blacklist season 2, episode 15. There will be SPOILERS.]
For an episode of The Blacklist that basically devolves into a disappointing clip show, 'The Major' begins with an intriguing set up, wherein a young Tom (a.k.a. Jacob) is recruited by Lance Henriksen's titular Major (of what?), who promises the kid all his sociopathic tendencies are the result of his being special, and that everyone else is the problem. The interplay between the soon-to-be Tom and the Major sounds like the beginning of an epic parenting fail that will no doubt produce a barely tolerable narcissist (if someone were to check Tom's Instagram page, it would probably be littered with selfies). But despite the concerns that Tom is going to be a little too self involved in his later years, the flashback does do one thing rather well: it establishes a solid foundation on which the audience can learn a little more about Tom's background, and his connection with Red.
Why is anything Tom did or continues to do important? That is the question at the heart of the episode. And it's one that The Blacklist is sincerely trying to establish by raising the stakes in Det. Wilcox's ongoing investigation into the death of the harbormaster that Tom killed. It's clear that Tom is the key to keeping Liz out of prison, but, according to Dembe, he's also one of the many things Red should be telling Liz the truth about.
Naturally, that little nugget of wisdom comes in the episode's final moments, so it's all but impossible to gauge whether or not Red will take Dembe's advice seriously and actually do something about all the misinformation and half-truths Liz and the audience have been wading through for nearly two seasons. And, given the show has been around long enough for the audience to understand its basic structure, the chances that some obstacle will arise, keeping Red from doing what Dembe suggests, is almost a given. It would be nice to think that The Blacklist is ready to push forth and really develop the two most important aspects it has going for its (i.e., Liz and Red's relationship, and the larger clandestine group mythology lingering in the background), but if the past is any indication, and here it most certainly is, then the audience will likely be looking at a wrinkle, rather than a reveal.
And that is the fundamental problem made evident by Liz recounting to a very inquisitive judge what amounts to the last 37 episodes of the series: For all the bloody violence, the weirdness, and the moments of near-intrigue, there's still a much larger and more interesting story on the other side of the truth that Red is withholding.
For what it's worth, 'The Major' does manage to develop some intrigue while Liz is busy perjuring herself in the judge's chambers. Det. Wilcox produces physical evidence that she's lying about her whereabouts when Ames was killed, putting added pressure on Cooper, who also joined the perjury club by backing his agent's lie. Elsewhere, Red manages to use a kidnapped Malaysian deputy minister to organize a sit down with the Major, in which he explains more of what Tom actually is. How that makes Tom's adventures in Germany relevant to the story at hand beyond seeing the Major's La Femme Nikita-esque handiwork in action, and setting up a dangerous situation that may prevent Tom from coming to Liz's aid is not immediately clear, but here's hoping it amounts to something more than mere busy work.
There have been slight episodes of The Blacklistbefore, but nothing quite like this. And while clip shows are dull and lazy, 'The Major' does raise an interesting question: Was the episode intended to be a jumping-on point for new viewers, or was it a recap before some dramatic shift in the narrative was allowed to take place? Again, Red's discussion with Dembe seems to suggest the latter, but with Tom still running around, playing arms dealer with a bunch of neo-Nazi's, there's the chance that the series will settle for a conclusion to Tom's current arc in lieu of advancing the overall narrative to a more compelling, progressive place.
Ultimately, the episode traps the audience in the only thing it has to offer: a web of speculation. This ploy is essentially a smokescreen, intended to shield it from the kind of scrutiny that will reveal just how hollow it really is. Thinking about what is to come is only natural with a series that loves to play around with giant, globe-spanning conspiracies and a dense mythology, but to present ideas of what's to come in lieu of a worthwhile examination of the here and now doesn't do the series any favors.
The Blacklist will continue next Thursday with 'Tom Keen' @9pm on NBC. Check out a preview below: