The Blacklist "Ivan" Review: The Truth Hurts, Literally
Well hello there! It's been quite a while since we checked in on The Blacklist, hasn't it? Last time I reviewed the show, Alan Alda was interrogating Red and Elizabeth had been at least momentarily convinced that her husband Tom wasn't playing her and/or trying to kill her.
But for a series that many people would offhandedly identify as a boilerplate procedural, a lot of macro-level stuff has happened on The Blacklist since Episode 10. The show has smartly moved away from questions about Elizabeth's paternity (a move that's probably only temporary, but I'd argue it was necessary), developed tension between Elizabeth and Tom that wasn't based solely on espionage, and brought in some solid guest stars (most notably Lance Reddick and Rachel Brosnahan) to beef up Red's side investigations. Of course, the big bombshells really dropped in the last two episodes, "No. 57: The Judge" and "Mako Tanida," as The Blacklist finally revealed that Tom is in fact working for someone, and the job requires him to pretend to be in love with Elizabeth.
For most of the audience, the Tom reveal probably wasn't much of a bombshell at all. From the beginning, The Blacklist has asked us to be skeptical of this dude, even when—and perhaps especially when—his wife decided to trust him. Because that skepticism has existed all along, it's pretty easy to look at Elizabeth and think, "Man, she's kind of dense for not noticing some of these things." And that was particularly true during the big, intense sequence in this week's "Ivan" where she was rummaging around in Tom's secret lair and he was constantly one second ahead of her, hiding behind doors, sneak-attacking her, and then barely slipping away. I'm sure there are some viewers who watched that scene and couldn't believe how silly it made the lead character look. And in some ways, I can agree with that line of thinking.
However, over the course of the last half-dozen episodes, The Blacklist smartly shifted Tom's suspicious behavior away from Elizabeth, so that much of the plotting and murdering he's done in recent weeks didn't actually impact her directly—and thus she didn't look like a fool for not knowing. She didn't and still doesn't have all the information, but there's a difference between being blissfully unaware and being naive or stupid. This approach also allowed for Red to watch over Elizabeth from afar, sort of solidifying his affection and interest in her. He's still a criminal mastermind, and he's also almost certainly lying about 100 different things as well, but he cares.
With those things in mind, Elizabeth using her brain and discovering Tom's presence in the safe house, and then her subsequent realization that Red had been working on the music box all along to comfort her when she needed it most, made Elizabeth look as competent as possible in an episode where she finally, truly discovered that her husband is a fraud, a scumbag, and almost certainly a murderer. The Blacklist's premise fundamentally keeps its lead character in the dark—about Red, about her paternity, about Tom, etc.—so it's crucial that when big things happen, Elizabeth doesn't look like an idiot for too long.
Obviously the nature of a REVEAL like this is that it's going to take some time to play out. If the show's patience in getting to this point is any indication, we could see The Blacklist milk the unmasking of Tom until at least the end of the season, and probably even into the next one. The show has gotten some good milage out of Elizabeth and Tom lying to one another thus far, I don't know why it would try to scratch all that now, right? The promo for next week's episode seems to suggest that Red will want Elizabeth to use her knowledge to get more information out of Tom, and that could be very cool. Megan Boone and Ryan Eggold have been solid all season, but they've been really strong over the last couple of weeks in playing their characters' range of emotions. They're asked to remain relatively still in next to James Spader, even as the world closes in on both of them. It works.
For the most part, I enjoyed the sequence with Elizabeth working her way through Tom's hideout. It's a fairly standard "hideout," but it also features a lot of open space and light. Pushing the real intense stuff outside and using the darker tunnel access point gave the scene a bit more freedom, visually. The Blacklist spends a lot of time in warehouses and alleys, but it does good stuff with exterior spaces, and has made some fine use of the New York City weather throughout this middle stretch of the season.
Less enjoyable this week was the procedural case. I got a kick out of Red zooming the team over to Belarus in pursuit of a big Russian terrorist who they thought was involved in the high-tech crimes, only for them to discover that it was actually a high school student pretending to be the titular Ivan. But after that fun little reveal, the proceedings of the investigation were so secondary to everything else that was happening (at least for me) that it was hard to stay invested in the case. The final bit—where the kid considered crashing a metro train because his crush wouldn't reciprocate his stalkerish feelings—was fine, I guess. Sometimes a show just has to fill time amid the more fascinating stuff. Thankfully there was a solid amount of fascinating stuff in "Ivan," and perhaps more importantly, The Blacklist is now set up to make some bigger moves in the final five episodes of the season.
– I didn't mention it above, but The Blacklist has done right by Ressler since we last convened. Although I'm not always a fan of the "introduce a random love interest just to kill them off a few episodes later" move, it's worked well in this case, and Diego Klattenhoff has brought some depth to a character who's still pretty basic. Ressler's relationships with both Elizabeth and Red are headed in some interesting places.
– I've heard some wild theories about the show over the last few weeks. Apparently people think Ressler and Red could be related now? They have the same blood type! Tom called Phantom Finance here; does that tell us anything? Let's hear those theories!
What'd you think of "Ivan"? How are you liking Tom's arc?
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