[This is a review of The Blacklist season 3, episode 8. There will be SPOILERS.]
In its fall finale, The Blacklist finds itself facing something of an uphill battle. The show is coming off a string of episodes in which its second most important character has expressed absolutely zero agency in an ongoing plot that revolves one hundred percent around her. At the same time, the lingering issue of Liz and Red's fugitive status has been so drawn out that it hardly seems relevant anymore – which maybe explains why Liz has been so blah about everything lately. As per usual, there are a ton of questions just waiting to be answered during the hour, but in true Blacklist fashion, the episode spends most of its time on a single complication, so that the build-up to all of the questions can end in a cliffhanger.
That means between the opening scene in which Red tells Liz that her misadventures as a fugitive are almost over and the closing sequence in which Donald Ressler, a.k.a. Man of Great Principles, arrests her, a whole bunch of stuff happens to Red that, in the grand scheme of things, doesn't really matter. Normally, this would feel like par for the course for the show, but having the man who is always one step ahead of everyone snatched in broad daylight by a group calling themselves The Kings of the Highway, feels instead like a new low.
Despite The Blacklist seemingly breaking its own rules for the sake of convenience, it is admittedly fascinating to watch Red tangle with The Kings of the Highway. From Cash, their Charles Manson-looking ringleader on, these backwoods pirates are simultaneously presented as the great scourge of interstate travelers and a bunch of bumbling clodhoppers. That contradiction makes the fact that they got the drop on Red either preposterous or hilarious, depending on how you want to look at it. This show isn't typically in the business of embarrassing its lead, but even Raymond 'Red' Reddington has to have an off day every now and again.
It's just too bad that Red's off day happens when he and Liz are so close to obtaining a new McGuffin that's so important Dembe has to stand around a used bookstore for the better part of a day trying to remember how John Travolta looked in Pulp Fiction when he opened Marsellus Wallace's briefcase. That way, he too can convincingly be pleased/in awe of whatever's in the case, so that the viewer knows just how important its contents are. Dembe pulls it off for the most part, and even looks appropriately forlorn when Liz opts to trade the McGuffin for Red's life to what's left of the group of slow-witted criminals that managed to outmaneuver The Concierge of Crime not once, but twice.
Some might say Red deserves a little credit since he does manipulate the group into whittling down its own ranks by reminding them how petty and untrustworthy they all are. He even evokes the Criminal Code – which is basically: "we steal from others, not from each other" – but apparently The Kings of the Highway didn't get the memo – which perceptively underlines one of the key drawbacks of a highwayman's peripatetic lifestyle: unreliable mail service.
While Red is having his no good, very bad day, Liz is engaged in a long-drawn-out seduction of a fellow named Jasper. The plan is sound, but Liz, having done nothing for several weeks is, like Red, apparently not at the top of her game. It takes her a while to shake off the cobwebs, so she spends what seems to be the better part of an afternoon putting the moves on ol' Jasper – you know, playing pool, drinking beer, talking about plaid shirts and beards. Liz likes playing it cool. So cool, in fact, that before she has gained any useful information, Jasper finds out she's the Russian lady from the news and tries to drown her in a kitchen sink full of suspiciously clear water. Liz stabs Jasper with a kitchen knife and then shoots him, suggesting when time is of the essence, a direct approach is always the best approach.
Back at the FBI, everyone but Ressler is having a pretty bad day, too. Samar gets fired for helping Liz and Red, and poor Aram gets his heart broken when he deduces that the woman of his dreams was accessing Ressler's laptop a little too early in the morning (surprisingly, that is not a euphemism). Meanwhile, Tom and Karakurt are still hanging with Mr. and Mrs. Cooper, though it seems their getaway to a cabin is going to be fraught with marital woes, as Harold's wife reveals she's been carrying on with the neighbor.
Maybe the most shocking revelation is seeing Laurel Hitchin (Christine Lahti) gun down Reven Wright (Adriane Lenox) in her living room. To her credit, Hitchin is profusely apologetic – it's just business, after all – and even asks if her victim has any last words, to which Wright responds, "Italian market" or "Tom Markin" – it's hard to tell, but the safe bet is on the latter.
All in all, for a fall finale, the importance of 'Kings of the Highway' sadly comes down to its cliffhanger ending. Liz, Dembe, and the McGuffin are in FBI custody, and Red is stuck driving an old beat-up truck, likely wondering how things could have gone so wrong. It's a sentiment that's probably shared by more than one person in the audience. Still, the fugitive storyline that started the season in such fine fashion fizzled out weeks ago. So, when the series returns in 2016, hopefully this new development will be what the show needs to get moving again.
The Blacklist returns January 7, 2016 with 'The Director – Part 1' @9pm on NBC. Check out a preview below:
Photos: David Giesbrecht & Virginia Sherwood/NBC