Monday, October 7, 2013

REVIEW: 'The Blacklist' - 'Wujing' Redacts Some Answers but Also Works to Establish the Supporting Cast's Point of Views

NBC's The Blacklist - Episode 1.03 Wujing

The FBI is on the hunt for a high-ranking Chinese spy which Red claims has hired him to help decode a classified CIA transmission. Liz, posing as an FBI cryptographer goes with Red to decode the message while protecting US government secrets. Meanwhile, Liz proactively investigates Tom.

"Wujing" handled many of the concerns I had about The Blacklist as a whole very well. It did not follow the same path as the two hours before it. It did not hold Red above the rest of the characters. He was not manipulating them for some greater agenda. He was reacting to the situation like everyone else - albeit in a much different way. The supporting ensemble were given actual character motivations and something to do that added to the narrative. And some small teases were given to some much larger questions.

The case-of-the-week is actually pretty straight-forward. Red is hired by an infamous man working for the Chinese called Wujing - played by a sublime Chin Han - to decode the name of a CIA informant. Red brings in Liz in an attempt to take Wujing down. Twists occur that separate Red & Liz from the rest of the FBI listening in. Each group reacting to the changing circumstances was a delight and helped progress the characters forward in intriguing ways that helped us better understand who they are. The name is revealed and both sides try to get to him before the other does. Action set piece! The FBI are victors but this time it is Liz and her crafty nicotine patch tracking chip that ultimately result in Wujing's capture. So she emerges on top and earns praise from both Red and Ressler.

But elsewhere in the hour some great stuff was happening. I love the idea of Cooper and Ressler proactively investigating Liz while also helping with her and Red's cases-of-the-week. It gives them something interesting to do that also feels very realistic. These two are highly trained and skilled FBI intelligence officers. They simply cannot just be the reluctant aids whose help Red and Liz need in order to take down bad guys. So much of this series so far has been from Liz's point of view. But it's also important to remember that the other characters have different vantage points as well. Keeping that plot thread going will do wonders for the development of those characters and make the show as a whole work much better as an ensemble piece - and not just the James Spader giving a fantastic performance piece.

I still don't care much for Tom as he's still just an idea and a construct instead of a character. Part of it is because the show doesn't use Ryan Eggold much at all. But based on the screentime he has had and the better and more exciting stuff happening elsewhere, I think that is a good thing. He just feels slightly off compared to the rest of this world. He is a part of the core mythology but the mystery is told entirely from how Liz sees it. That keeps it somewhat relevant if not exactly exciting. The bigger answer intrigues me but episodic mechanics do not.

I gleamed from episode two that the show and its creative team knew how it was coming across to the audience. But now, after episode three I know for certain that it does. Red and Liz's first meeting in "Wujing" is at a hat store. A hat is Red's most distinctive bit of character costuming and we enjoy seeing him in that hat and him using that hat to signal meetings. The show is also very aware of just how frustrating its core reasoning behind Red wanting to work only with Liz actually is. She wants answers and we want answers. Liz bargains for the truth and gets another puzzle wrapped in an enigma. The show can get away with that for now. But it can't keep teasing this mystery out for a long period of time. I want that answer way before this season is over and I hope the show's creatives echo that sentiment as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • But how is Ressler so fine after the fight sequence with the Chinese guy?
  • Who the hell is the guy with the apple? My guess is he's a part of Cooper and Ressler's surveillance of Liz. That's a plot I'm really excited for as it will better connect her professional and personal life across more aspects of the show.
  • While that is a solid guess for that aspect of this hour, I have absolutely no clue about the number Red got as payment from Wujing. It's important to his larger plan but I've got no idea how.
  • Last week, NBC officially gave the series a back nine order after only two episodes. It has pulled in some great ratings. I desperately hope NBC learned from Revolution last year and figured out how to keep it a sustainable ratings hit.