'The Blacklist': The New Cold War

[This is a review of The Blacklist season 2, episode 21. There will be SPOILERS.]


Ever since Lizzie challenged Red to tell her the truth about her past by proclaiming that, if he doesn't, she will simply find the truth out on her own, their dynamic has changed. Obviously, everyone is still wondering whether or not Red is in fact Lizzie's father, and it would seem, through this slight shift in how they have begun speaking to one another, The Blacklist wants to do its best to underscore that line of thinking.

It's unclear whether or not the series plans to confirm what their relationship is one way or another (although, given the circumstances of the season's penultimate episode, now would be a great time to do it), but watching Liz act like the precocious child, telling Red all about the things she's found out and is going to find out, while he casually avoids eye contact and maintains his own line of thinking, sure makes it look like they have the kind of relationship the show has been hinting at since day one.

In a way, watching as that wrinkle in the characters' dynamic unfolds is the most interesting thing the show has going for it. Instead of Red telling Liz he can't tell her anything, writer Daniel Knauf simply has the Concierge of Crime ignore her incessant questioning, knowing she's likely right – Liz will uncover the truth on her own. Maybe that's fatherly logic, maybe it isn't, but as season 2 heads into its finale, setting Liz up to take the fall for the assassination of a U.S. Senator, it becomes important to see how Liz's pursuit of the truth and the truth's pursuit of her are on a collision course.

James Spader and Noelle Beck in The Blacklist Season 2 Episode 21

For a show that has been playing fairly loose with its own concept for almost two seasons now, it's refreshing to see the series push its characters toward a conflict that has larger implications than revealing Red's past. Last season was all about Berlin coming to town. He was a faceless villain the audience knew nothing about, and therefore it was a challenge to muster up anything beyond mild curiosity as to who this bad man was. For what it's worth, season 2 has attempted to raise the stakes somewhat by being forthcoming enough about what the Cabal is and what they're hoping to achieve that the investment the audience can make is considerably larger. By placing Liz smack dab in the middle of it, the investment grows considerably.

Now that's not to say we're not in the middle of a giant up-and-back, wherein all the potential turmoil that is building with regard to the finale will find the characters back where they began by, say, episode 2 of season 3. That's certainly a concern, especially with a network drama that has to fill 22 episodes every season. But the historical structure of most television shows shouldn't prevent The Blacklist from at least using its B plot to demonstrate a willingness to engage in actual progression.

What makes 'Karakurt' an enjoyable installment, then, is the way it weaves the series' B plot into the A plot, by threatening to turn Liz into a fugitive by virtue (incredibly convenient virtue) of the fact that her mother was a KGB agent. Liz's predicament will perhaps force Red's hand in revealing what really happened the night Liz's "father" and mother died, and the series can find progress in the aftermath of that reveal.

As with last week's 'Quon Zhang,' this week's titular blacklister does little more than become the catalyst to get the plot going. In fact, Karakurt is such a non-entity he could have remained off screen for the entirety of the episode, since the Cabal's plan was to use Liz and the FBI as the delivery system for their customized virus that kills Senator Hawkins. It's a little like The Blacklist is just going through the motions or running on autopilot, not realizing the twist at the episode's end would render the casting of the Russian assassin a moot point.

But that plot twist is precisely what makes the episode work. And depending on how it plays out, it may be what makes season 2 a success. The retooling of various character relationships has become an important part of where the overall storyline seems to be headed. The FBI was once set to take down a criminal each week, playing a weird game with a criminal mastermind. That's compelling enough for a weekly series that's only interested in making bizarre crimes of the week matter for approximately 42 minutes. But by pitting this small FBI task force against the Cabal, and doing things like have Cooper come to Reddington to help resolve the situation he's in with Tom Connolly, The Blacklist seems to have grander things in mind. It reads a little bit like a retcon, but by giving the series a goal, it makes the storylines more interesting.

There's no telling where things are going to end up in the season finale, but with Liz's trusted group consisting more and more of people who were once thought of as the enemy (e.g., Red and Tom/Jacob), she may be better off as a fugitive, than she ever was as a FBI agent. There's some real potential in next week's episode. Let's hope the series is able to do something with it.


The Blacklists will conclude season 2 next Thursday with 'Masha Rostova' @9pm on NBC. Check out a preview below:

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