November 11, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Midseason Finale Review: “The Blacklist”


THE BLACKLIST adequately completed the first act of its season’s mission with tonight’s fall finale–but the tough part is still to come.  NBC largely adopted a conservative schedule this season–a new sitcom after Tuesday’s The Voice and a couple more thrown away on Thursday, another fantasy thriller after Grimm, a third old-skewing procedural to go with Wednesday’s pair–with one daring exception.  The Blacklist, the network’s only non-football, non-Voice hit, would run for only 2 months in its Monday 10PM slot, then vanish for more than 2 additional months, to return (after a post-Super Bowl re-introduction) without anything like its Voice lead-in on Thursdays at 9PM, where it will face the red-hot Scandal, as well as the final season of 2 1/2 Men and FOX’s post-Gracepoint Thursday.

In a way, the Blacklist move can’t fail, because it could hardly help boosting the network’s current Thursday 9PM (Bad Judge and A To Z) ratings.  But there are enormous risks, both in weakening Mondays with the unsteady Katherine Heigl vehicle State of Affairs, and in damaging the crucially important Blacklist.  We won’t know for several weeks how Mondays will fare, or for months about Thursdays, but the first step was for The Blacklist to hold its own during the fall.  This it largely did: Blacklist numbers were down about half a point this fall, with a 2.4 in its most recent airing, but that’s still a very solid rating for 10PM, especially since The Voice has itself been down as a lead-in.

The next step was tonight’s midseason finale, written by series creator Jon Bokenkamp and showrunner John Eisendrath, and directed by Michael Watkins.  Ideally, it would have set up a shattering series of revelations and cliffhangers that would have left viewers breathless for the show’s Super Bowl night return.  That didn’t happen, although there was plenty going on during the hour.  Two recurring guest stars were killed off, Alan Alda’s scheming government officlal Fitch and Peter Stormare’s terrorist-with-an-excuse “Berlin.”  Fitch died at Berlin’s figurative hand, wearing a bomb around his neck that series antihero Raymond Reddington (James Spader) couldn’t learn how to remove, while Red personally shot Berlin after briefly reuniting him with the daughter (Scottie Thompson) Fitch had manipulated Berlin into thinking that Red had killed, launching Berlin on a rampage of vengeance that took up most of Season 1.

All of that was fine, but it didn’t really propel The Blacklist into the second half of its season–it was more like clean-up.  And the episode-ending Big Reveal was more puzzling than anything else:  the news that Tom (Ryan Eggold), fake husband of series heroine/Reddington protege/FBI agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), who’d been part of Berlin’s elaborate plot against Red, had actually been working with Red from the start, would seem to require a Christopher Nolan-ish warp of time and space to be in any way logical, let alone satisfying, and perhaps the show will accomplish one in February.  For now, though, it left viewers feeling more “Huh?” than “Wow!”

The rest of The Blacklist remains as it was from the pilot:  moderately delicious when Spader is biting off his exposition and proving himself always three steps ahead of everyone else, relatively limp when anyone else is occupying the screen.  The attempt to make Elizabeth more of a badass didn’t accomplish very much, especially since that Big Reveal meant that her supposedly daring maneuver of keeping Tom hidden for months when he was believed to be dead, torturing him for Berlin-related information, was actually part of the Tom/Red plan all along.  She remains no more than the show’s pawn, and not a terribly interesting one.

The Blacklist‘s place on NBC is more gripping than its own storyline, and that cliffhanger won’t be resolved until February (at least).  This much is clear, though:  Raymond Reddington may not fear many people, but he should have a healthy apprehension about a person even better than he is at remaining steps ahead of the competition–Shonda Rhimes.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."