The Blacklist "Ivan" Review: The Truth Hurts, Literally

By Cory Barker

Mar 25, 2014

The Blacklist S01E17: "Ivan"

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?

  • Comments (150)
Add a Comment
In reply to :
  • ammachetto Apr 08, 2014

    It seems like every so often...some other show is on instead of Blacklist. We come home really looking forward to Blacklist...and, no Blacklist! What is up with this?

  • Pnascimento Mar 28, 2014

    Nice episode with a very interesting twist in the plot, after all there's always a girl. A 17 years old portraying a russian mega hacker just to impress the girl he has a crush on... genius, true genius.
    As for Lizzie and Tom now that she knows who he really is the once happy couple will soon be in collision course, with dire consequences for him.
    I think soon (very soon) we'll know who or what is Berlin, the responsible for Red entire scheme. Starting with the whole reappearance and ending with a gunfight with the people he once betrayed.

  • mrjimmyjames Mar 27, 2014

    Ryan Eggold's done a good job portraying Tom this season. A unique look to the character and convincing as an assassin. Can convincingly play both sides.

  • Fred_Flintstone Mar 30, 2014

    Mr. James, I enjoyed reading your comments. We could use your insight over at the Blacklist recap discussions at Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy section. Big crowd of diehard fans. Hope to see you there.

  • mrjimmyjames Mar 27, 2014

    Ressler is Lizzie's future love interest. Now she's his brother. Wow, all over the place.

  • DavidKnowles0 Mar 29, 2014

    It does shows the FBI didn't really do a good interest in investigating Lizzie background at all.

  • mrjimmyjames Mar 27, 2014

    The producers of the show are very smart for pushing the mythology/villain of the week format. Worked well for Smallville and X-Files. But as a viewer, I'd much rather have mythology all the time. They should at least push it to the forefront a lot more often.

  • mrjimmyjames Mar 27, 2014

    I used to be fine with each week's plot of the week but recently it seems like each one is boring as hell. I want to know what Red is doing and I want to know all about Tom. The mythology of the show is great but the villain of the week format is lacking. Reminds me of episodes of Smallville where they veered off into zombie and children of the corn plots. Filler material.

  • mrjimmyjames Mar 27, 2014

    This week's plot was great until we found out it was a teenager trying to impress a crush. Seems improbable.

  • leeha Mar 27, 2014

    Frankly, I can't think of a single show that should have more than 13 episodes. They should air them back to back so there is no hiatus and the next show begins when that one ends. Instead of weeks on end of reruns of filler episodes.

  • MarlboroMagpi Mar 26, 2014

    The Blacklist would be much better if it was on cable and had only 13 episodes. Most people are interested in the theories and conspiracy involving Tom, Liz and Red. Most could not care less about the individual cases weekly yet we are still treated to those week after week to draw out 22 episodes. I nearly give up, only the Tom reveal brought me back.

    Please Blacklist, move faster ! Hopefully next season move away from procedural !

  • Mysterv Mar 26, 2014

    Love the series. It usually works on two levels --
    One level is the master criminal of the week. Usually interesting although the Ivan storyline was not the best.
    The other level, the key one, is the one where Red is interacting with everyone else on the show. James Spader is incredible and a huge credit to the writers too.

  • See More Comments (57)