Monday, November 11, 2013

REVIEW: 'The Blacklist' Forces an Emotional Connection But Still Creates Meaningful Character Development in 'General Ludd'

NBC's The Blacklist - Episode 1.08 General Ludd

Liz uncovers an elaborate plot to destroy the country's financial system when a new name on the Blacklist is revealed by Red. Meanwhile, Tom supports Liz when a family member falls ill.

What The Blacklist needed to do in order to be an entertaining series on a week-to-week basis was craft interesting villains who pop up for just one week and make a great impression while also clearly defining interesting dilemmas for its main characters. And the show is getting increasingly better at both of those qualities as of late.

Last week's episode with guest star Robert Sean Leonard was the best installment so far because it clearly outlined a character motivation for that villain. But it was also very easy to understand why he would do the heinous things he did. That in turn set up an interesting moral dilemma for Liz that helped round out who she is in this world of taking down the baddest of the bad criminals outside of the grand mythology of the show.

This week's blacklister is played by Justin Kirk and he plays it well. It's just sorely lacking any kind of emotional connection and depth. Meera and Donald quickly spurt out some exposition about how he turned into this way of thinking because of his father. But it just doesn't stick in a meaningful way that makes this story stick out other than being The Blacklist's attempt at covering real-life groups like Anonymous.

Interesting personal stakes for the main characters does not necessarily mean creating a mystery that surrounds the character. For example, Tom Keen isn't a character. He's a plot point only being defined so far by the mysterious box underneath the floorboards and whether or not he has nefarious allegiances. And in the beginning, Red and Liz too were enigmas surrounded in mystery. But those two have opened up in meaningful ways throughout these last few episodes. The episode's strongest scenes were the ones between James Spader and William Sadler because it didn't feel like the show going through the motions of a plot. Instead it felt like two old friends catching up as one is about to meet his demise.

Liz is both smart and dumb in her interactions with Red tonight. First, I applaud her for thinking like an FBI analyst and being able to look at his pattern and conclude that he took something from Wolf before he was arrested. So, that helps make the FBI appear to be more thoughtful than it typically is. But I'm also curious as to why when Red brings up her father that she doesn't start questioning him again about whether or not they share a past connection.

In "General Ludd," Liz and Red do have a shared emotional connection - in the losing of William Sadler's character, a personal friend and father. That connection in theory makes that final scene where Red asks Liz to tell him stories about him seem like a viable and thematically conclusive sequence. I just don't quite believe that Liz would let herself be vulnerable to Red at this point in time. Two weeks ago, she discovered he was trying to frame Tom and hated him for it. And now, she's willing to open up to him again? That feels too sudden.

Some more thoughts:
  • Justin Kirk just looked really weird with blonde hair.
  • Who didn't laugh when they read "an elaborate plot to destroy the country's financial system" in the episode description?
  • I enjoyed Andrew Dice Clay as the plastic surgeon and asset to Red. Red made sure to keep him in play. So I don't think I would mind another appearance.
  • Red murdering Liz's "father" is something I understand why it happened even though I know it plausibly is very far-fetched. Did no one in the hospital question that it could have been foul play? Wouldn't an autopsy deduce that he died of suffocation and not complications from cancer? Will the show bring this up again as a way to pull Liz and Red apart again?
  • Red being Liz's biological father is the only viable plot thread the show has sub-textually offered. If things really are that simple, I just want the show to put it out there sooner rather than later. I'm still intrigued by it but I do want some answers soon.