May 12, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “The Blacklist”


THE BLACKLIST was a hit before it was much of a show, and it’s still decidedly uneven.  That was underscored again by tonight’s season finale, which killed off–well, apparently; you never know with this series–at least one regular and grievously injured more, but put very few cards on a table that could have used some.

Half the show’s writing staff worked on the script, which was credited to series creator Jon Bokenkamp, Executive Producer/showrunner John Eisendrath, and Co-Executive Producers Lucas Reiter and J.R. Orci, from a story by Richard D’Ovidio (the episode was directed by Michael Watkins), and when it was over, The Blacklist was still toying with the possibility that Raymond Reddington (James Spader) might be the biological father of FBI agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), thus explaining why he was determined to have her in his life.  This time, Liz’s almost-late husband Tom (Ryan Eggold), with what appeared to be his dying breath after she’d shot him, had told Liz that her father hadn’t died in the fire of her childhood, a fact Red had repeatedly claimed to be true, including when she confronted him with what Tom had told her late in the episode–and then the final shots of the season revealed that Red’s back was covered in old burns, although that still leaves ambiguous whether he’s her father or just the one who rescued her from the fire.

Viewers of The Blacklist have accepted that this is a mystery the show has no intention of resolving anytime soon.  More frustrating was the way it’s continued to play out the other large-scale mystery of the season, which was why a mysterious foe known as Berlin was trying to destroy Red, including by killing Liz and her entire FBI task force.  Supposedly the reason Red had turned himself in to the FBI all the way back in the pilot was so he could gather information about the nearly-invisible Berlin.  (Tom, we learned several episodes ago, was also in Berlin’s employ.)  It was painfully obvious from early in the episode that Berlin was going to turn out to be the character played by Peter Stormare that everyone thought was merely the Big Bad’s guard, because he was the only recognizable actor among the suspects, and then not only did the show leave him alive and on the loose at the end of the season, but it left his motives a mystery.  (The only new clue:  Red has a picture of the woman who was presumably Berlin’s daughter, who was supposedly horribly murdered while Berlin was in a Russian jail, although none of that may end up being true.)

Not, on the whole, a very satisfying final hour to hold viewers until September.  As usual with The Blacklist, there was plenty of action along the way, including Red reverting to his killing-machine mode as we hadn’t seen since early in the season, mowing down all the guards who had gathered to create the impression that one of Berlin’s minions was the Big Bad himself, and then torturing and killing the faux-Berlin.  Series regular CIA agent Meera Malik (Parminder Nagra) bit the dust early, a loss that was probably meant to have more emotional impact than it did, and Liz’s boss Agent Cooper (Harry Lennix) almost died a la Carlo in The Godfather, but managed to survive.

The Blacklist has shifted quite a bit since its instant-hit premiere.  It started as a relatively straightforward procedural, with Red as Liz’s Hannibal Lecter, giving her enigmatic assistance on cases from behind bars.  When it became clear that Spader’s deliciously hammy performance was the show’s breakout aspect, Red was set free, and for a while the stories became crazily flamboyant fantasies and Red a much more violent character who committed murders in nearly every episode.  More recently, the series has found more of a balance between his character and Liz’s, with her storyline of finally discovering Tom’s treachery giving Boone something more substantial to play, and Boone herself being less wooden than she was at the start of the season.  It’s still not a show that places much emphasis on logic or even narrative consistency, and Spader’s performance, always great fun but a step or two from cartoonish, sometimes goes over that line.

What’s been clear from the start is that the show is the scripted hit NBC has desperately needed for many seasons, and the network is going all-in next season, both giving it the prized post-Super Bowl berth and using it as the linchpin of an attempt to rebuild the Thursday night line-up.  Blacklist will likely suffer from the loss of its The Voice lead-in, but as The Voice has faltered a bit in recent weeks, Blacklist‘s numbers have stayed remarkably strong, fueling the idea that it can thrive on its own.  The Blacklist is far from the most polished series on TV, and often it’s barely comprehensible, but it’s reliably entertaining, and that will certainly do for its network.

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."