Friday, March 3, 2017

The Blacklist Mid-Season Thoughts

The Blacklist certainly has a way with explosive finales. I've barely recovered from their rather brilliantly pulled off Liz is dead/not dead finale (remind me to tell you about that some time) and now I'm left reeling from the traitor in Red's organization.

Even as a die-hard Blacklist fan, I'll admit this season hasn't been all highs. It started very strong on the back of Liz's return and subsequent kidnapping, all wrapped up in a lovely bow with Mr. Kaplan's well-intentioned betrayal -but betrayal nonetheless. I loved this entire arc -even if Mr. Kaplan's fate broke my heart.

I'm going to break this down into a couple of sections and talk about what I loved and what I'm having trouble with.

Red and Liz

I loved, loved, loved the entire Who's Your Daddy? arc with Kirk. It put Red and Liz at either ends of their most interesting conflict so far. Twofold. Because on the back of deciding that she doesn't trust Red to be involved in Agnes' life, she is forced to decide if she can trust him to save her life. Even when she is convinced that Kirk really is her father -and that Reddington lied about- she still chooses to trust Reddington over him. I love this. Especially when it turns out that Red was right all along. Their relationship is so convoluted and complicated and frustrating and beautiful. For the first part of this season, the interaction between these two was strong and fraught with complicated emotions -the first two episodes without their direct interaction even more emotional and intense.

I'm also not that upset that we still don't know who Liz's father is for the very simple reason that I care more about who Red is to Liz than who her dad is. This is just the more interesting question to me.

What I see in this arc are more clues to their connection, specifically these two:

1) Reddington tried to convince Katarina to take Masha/Liz and leave Kirk.
Why?, of course, is the next question. As I see it, there are two probable answers. Red was in love with Katarina and wanted to run away with her. But there's also the possibility that he hoped to protect her and Masha from someone or something. Possibly the fallout over the Fulcrum or from Liz's actual father, who was abusive.

2) "It doesn't matter."
Under torture, Kirk repeatedly asks Red 'Are you Masha's father?' and Red's comeback is "It doesn't matter." He basically tells Kirk -and I'm paraphrasing- 'She lived in your house as your daughter on and off for four years. You thought she was your daughter; you treated her and loved her like your daughter. So what does it matter who her biological father is?'

I can't help but think, did Red want that? Did Red want to think Liz was his daughter; to treat her and love her like his daughter? Does he think of himself as Liz's father? Is that why it doesn't matter, because maybe it's his truth, even if it isn't THE truth?

For the first part of this season, the interaction between these two was strong and fraught with complicated emotions -the first two episodes without their direct interaction even more emotional and intense. Throughout the Kirk arc, I felt their relationship was handled very well, especially when Liz decides to trust Red instead of Kirk despite believing Kirk is her father, but the moment Kirk left the scene, something fizzled out.

Initially, I thought Red was trying to respect Liz's space and, while I think it was a factor, this wasn't addressed very well and quickly became simply a lack of interaction between them. Past The Harem, they're not interacting very much at all and they're connecting even less. This was especially disconcerting in The Apothecary, because Liz has little emotional reaction to Red's impending death. There's no desperation or worry or frustration and, considering she's shown all of this in spades before, I feel like this was poor handling on the writers' part. I wished there'd been just one moment between them, even if it was silence, just letting the realization sink in. (This would have been perfect in the elevator ride up the Post Office, I'm just saying.) There was just that emotional connection missing here, and miss it I did.

In that same vein, I feel like Red and Liz still haven't dealt with the fact that she faked her death. They've maybe moved on, but they haven't come to terms with it. I know I'm still reeling from that twist, so there's no way Red can be over it that fast. There's still some unresolved issues here that need to be dealt with and I hope they're dealt with soon.  Even when they're in conflict or on different footing, there's a lot going on between them, but those last four episodes seemed to be missing that in the wake of everything else going onI want to get back the complicated and beautiful interaction between them with the mid-season premiere.


I loved him as a blacklister because he wasn't evil; he wasn't even necessarily a bad guy. He was just an increasingly desperate and broken man trying to put his family back together. He went a little bat crazy, granted, and did a lot of terrible things, but it's just like he said: It was all born of love.

And you know what? Alexander Kirk was basically a shadow of Red himself.

Kirk wasn't the only fantastic blacklister this season; as always, we had a great lineup of borderline plausibly genius villains and entrepreneurs. One of my other favorites was probably Natalie Luca; another villain driven by love and such a heartbreaking and haunting one at that.

Ressler -Coming to a Crossroads?

Ressler has a couple of really great moments this season and then, in my opinion, an unfortunately crummy subplot

Right off the bat, in the season premiere Esteban, our favorite by-the-book boy scout goes a little rouge and takes advice from Reddington to cut through the red tape and arranging the blacklister's arrest -against not only the CIA's wishes, but that of Cooper and Panabaker.

A few episodes later, Liz and Tom are desperate for any information they can get on Kirk in their search for Agnes. Ressler pulls a box of evidence out of their reach, takes one look at their faces, and hands it right back. Again, the rule-happy agent breaks the rules when they get in the way of righting a wrong.
And now it looks like he's not taking orders to close up Reven Wright's disappearance investigation. Oh no, he's taking matters into his own hands and this is going to be absolutely fantastic.

But that crummy subplot?

In Isabella Stone, Ressler's brother is going in for surgery but Ressler can't be there for him because the task force is at Red's beck and call. While I get Ressler's point and I agree with his side, I found myself mostly just annoyed with Ressler this episode for the simple reason that he didn't ask Cooper for leave to be with his brother. Cooper even point-blank asked him, rhetorical or not, if there was someplace else he needed to be, and Ressler brushed him off. I couldn't sympathize with him because, if it was really that important, he could have at least asked Cooper. And if the answer had been 'wait until after this job', then I could sympathized with him. But he didn't, and he spent the rest of the episode blaming Red for it.

That aside, I'm hoping this is another step toward a Ressler turning point. Every significant moment of Ressler's this season so far has been another step back from his faith in the justice system. Not in justice, mind you -remember Esteban- but in the system itself.

Despite really not liking how Ressler was handled in this episode, I do think they're setting him up for a crossroads. The first few episodes laid the groundwork for his losing faith, not in justice, but in the justice system, and Isabella Stone pushed again the idea that the system is being twisted.

When The Blacklist returns, will we see Ressler faced with a crossroads? How far will he bend the rules to skirt around red tape? And how much longer is he going to endure working with Reddington?

Mr. Kaplan -Is it a Test?

So I've got this crazy theory. I'm unconvinced as yet that Reddington doesn't know Kaplan is alive. Stay with me.

Reddington is a good shot. This is established, in the show and specifically stated in The Gambler comic. He is an excellent shot.

He's killed a lot of people.

He also shot Kaplan at fairly close range.

All of this makes it improbable that he could miss killing her and not know it.

I'm wondering, come April, if we won't find out the shooting in the woods and the squatter who 'rescues' her aren't some elaborate test to see whether she intends to further betray him or if she can still be trusted in the long run.

Now I go back and forth on this theory all the time. On the one hand, it's elaborate and convoluted. On the other, isn't this entire fantastic show?

On the one hand, I admit it's the fangirl in me wanting to redeem a piece of Red's soul. On the other, Red really struggled with what to do with Kaplan and the idea that she truly thought she was protecting Red from himself must have moved him a little, right?

On the one hand, Red maintains a very strict moral code.
On the other, think of this reveal at the inevitable confrontation with Dembe. Doesn't it sound just like something they'd pull?


One of the first things I noticed about Dembe this season was a slight difference in his interaction with Red. Specifically -their funny moments. While the 'Highlights' scene is the most memorable, there was also a moment in Miles McGrath when the blacklister refers to Red as 'the spy who came in from the cold'; Red comments to Dembe they should get it on cassette to listen to in the car and Dembe plays a perfect 'straight man'. Their interaction this season seemed much more easy, companionable, and friendly than in the past, and I adored it!

Curse them.
This twist is full of gut-wrenching emotion and game-changing consequences. For this reason, I love it. It's just what I expect from this show. But I also love Dembe and I don't want to see his great relationship with Red come to such a terrible ending, so I also kind of hate it. Which actually makes me love it more.

Where do they go from here? Only just last season, Hisham Tawfiq was upgraded from recurring character to main cast -is Dembe's role in the story going to remain prominent? Or was this a last hurrah?

And Red? Mr. Kaplan's betrayal shook him and, in some ways, broke him. How will Dembe's betrayal change him? Is he going to stop trusting all of his closest allies? Or is he going to place more trust in Keen and the task force?

What I want to see when The Blacklist returns:

  • Mr. Kaplan's Fate
  • Where in the World is Alexander Kirk? And what on earth did Red tell him?
  • Dom -I would love to see Liz's maternal grandfather make another appearance
  • What did Red need the ships for? He seemed pretty desperate to get them, and I'm wondering if this is another one of those 'bigger picture' things.
  • A Ressler-central episode; better yet, another Ressler & Red team up. Taking down Reven Wright's killer. While Ressler faces his misgivings about the justice system. Yeah, give me that.
  • Navabi and Liz to hash out their differences. I've been waiting all season to see these two patch things up but I'm starting to despair of its ever happening. They seem pretty content ignoring each other.
  • More Tom and Ressler interaction. They play off each other so well and they also still kind of hate each other. I love it. This could develop into such a fantastic and complicated relationship if the writers just build it up. Please please pleasepleaseplease.
  • More on Katarina. Don't tell me Liz finished that diary already.
And, of course, obviously
  • The confrontation with Dembe. But, gosh, it better be amazing and worth it because it's already breaking my heart.


One thing's for show: The Blacklist hasn't lost it's touch for explosive finales and, despite some weak spots, they can still tell a darn good story. I will certainly be tuned in for the return on April 20.

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