Monday, October 21, 2013

REVIEW: 'The Blacklist' - The Team Works Together as Red Hands Liz Some Truth in 'The Courier'

NBC's The Blacklist - Episode 1.05 The Courier

Red finds out that The Courier (Robert Knepper) is delivering a package worth millions of dollars to an Iranian spy. While racing to stop the mysterious criminal transaction, Liz inadvertently finds herself thrust into a dangerous kidnapping plot and Ressler must finally accept that Liz is a valuable asset to the team.

"The Courier" is the first episode of The Blacklist where I got a good sense of an actual team dynamic. So much of the show so far has revolved around Red Reddington. And even when its not, its been about the personal and professional struggles of Liz Keen. Now, those two are the fundamental relationship of this show. Of course, they should dominate a large portion of the story. But does that mean the show needs to marginalize its ensemble characters? To this point, Harry Lennix, Diego Klattenhoff and Parminder Nagra have largely been exposition-delivering machines. I did note how I enjoyed the third episode reveal that Cooper and Ressler are proactively following Keen. But that didn't open them up as characters at all. They still largely follow under the same function in this hour as well. But the team dynamic just clicked in a way that hadn't been utilized before. So, that's progress.

However, the show needs to develop its characters. It is particularly fun to watch this group of people chase down a different "blacklister" each week. But that isn't necessarily sustainable. A point of watching this collection of characters chance down these types of bad guys is to enjoy the characters and how they react to certain information given what we know about them. But we literally don't know anything about Harold Cooper, Donald Ressler or Meera Malik. And yet, the team dynamic worked slightly better in "The Courier" because it didn't rely on the Red-Liz dynamic to propel the plot forward. We had Ressler going undercover to gain intel. We had Meera and Liz in a car chase with the Courier. We had Meera and Ressler in a tense standoff with the Courier. We still had Cooper as the disapproving black guy in charge. The interactions of the rest of the team felt meaningful for the most part in "The Courier." In the end, however, Red and Liz were still the two to seemingly pull out the answer of the NSA guy's whereabouts. That did undercut the work of the others a bit.

Even when the series pulls back and offers the character moments for Red and Liz, it still kinda feels like a plot point moving along. The mystery surrounding Tom is meant to be a driving force for the Liz character. But each week, it also feels like we're just being given another piece of the puzzle. This week it's Tom own discovery of the box. That scene is very crucial because it could play two very different ways. You could view it as Tom retrieving the box and noticing that something is off. With that option, the plot really has to be stretched to fully explain why he would confront Liz about it now. But that is an option that could still be explored. What it played more like for me was Tom discovering the box and freaking out over it just like Liz first did. He assumes it's hers and directly confronts her for answers on why it's there and why she has passports and money for him. That is another route I could easily see the show go down.

But then, there is also the reveal of the file's contents to Liz via Red. She now knows all about the murder that came from the gun in the mysterious box. Furthermore, there is a photograph of the prime suspect who looks an awfully lot like Tom. Couple that with the episode's opening dream sequence and the show basically is telling it's audience to see Tom as a bad guy now. In that respect, I don't think they succeed as well as they would like to because of the duality of the interpretations.

It very much could just be one big manipulation of Liz orchestrated by Red. He desperately needs her for his long con. That continues to be alluded to immensely while giving the audience no answers whatsoever. He believes that for her to truly be on his side he needs to make her feel just as alone as he is. That why she reaches out to him. And so far, that seems to be true. Liz is entirely more trustworthy of him than I realistically think she should be. But hey, he is the one to give her answers to her questions about Tom. She couldn't go to Cooper or Ressler about that because they don't trust her at all. She also knows that she can't trust Red and that he is always looking for something in return. But in the moment where her life could be shaking up and she goes to him is all the proof needed to say Red needs her to be close to him and vice versa as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • That's Charles Baker aka Breaking Bad's Skinny Pete as Red's new friend. He does add to the intrigue and mystery of Red but nothing concrete yet.
  • Robert Knepper was very understated in the role of the Courier. I guess when a huge part of the character is that he feels no plan than that means he can't have big emotions to play. That's fine for the character but a tad disappointing with the casting.
  • Hey, Liz and Tom are still being watched. By who? Well, the show definitely wouldn't give that answer (or any for that matter) now.
  • Favorite Red moment was when he said, "Thank you for being honest with me. In my life, that doesn't happen frequently." That was meaningful character development. After his grand speech at the end of episode four, it does feel like the show is slowly adding depth to that character and to Spader's performance.