The Blacklist "The Pavlovich Brothers" Review: Domestic Disturbance
Is Elizabeth Keen an idiot? Above all else, that's become the dominant question of The Blacklist's entertaining yet oftentimes silly first season. The show's premise inherently places Liz at a disadvantage. Everyone around her is lying about 100 different things, and she's simply trying to survive a new job and the mystery and likely subterfuge surrounding both Red and her husband Tom. That'd be tough on anyone. But as the season has progressed, it does feel like every time The Blacklist allows Liz to figure something out, she's almost immediately made to look at worst extremely foolish and at best blinded by emotion, giving Red or Tom or whomever else another advantage. I really enjoyed "Ivan" from a few weeks ago, when Liz truly learned that Tom wasn't just a school teacher, but as many people in the comments pointed out, the episode didn't necessarily do the show's lead character a lot of favors. Here we are two episodes later, and "The Pavlovich Brothers" gave Liz her big moment with Tom—and then kind of made her look dense again.
The Blacklist took a chance in playing the long game with its two central mysteries—Tom's allegiances and Red's history with Liz—both of which are directly connected to Liz and generally require her to solve them to A.) bring the stories to a satisfying conclusion, and B.) justify her abilities and presence as the show's lead character. Many of today's great shows don't wait that long to burn through stories, which makes The Blacklist kind of a throwback to a slower time, when the expectation wasn't that a show would answer everything in a max of 15 or 20 episodes, Scandal- or Vampire Diaries-style. While I appreciate this about The Blacklist, it almost certainly made tonight's BIG MOMENTS less impactful than they could have been because Liz continued to be a step or two behind.
To be fair, "The Pavlovich Brothers" probably gave Liz the clearest and safest "out" she's had in a while, in that her problematic behavior can be written off as a byproduct of her pure rage over everything Tom has done to her. Although Red and his seemingly never-ending network of helpers had Tom on complete surveillance, Liz quickly ruined the operation by following Tom into the National Archive simply because she couldn't help herself. She just had to see what this man—this man who she thought was her loving husband—was up to. It was a stupid decision, and one that allowed Tom to call into his people to let them know the crumbling status of his covert work, but hey, I get it. We all probably would've done the same thing.
The same rationalization explains Liz's choices in the second half of the episode as well. Once Red cunningly used the team to find the titular Pavlovich brothers—the men involved in the kidnapping waaaaay back in the pilot—and then used the brothers to smoke Tom out of his safe house, Liz finally had her chance to face Tom as he is, not as a husband or a fake husband, but as an operative. The interrogation was unsurprisingly charged, with an emotional Liz pushing for the truth while Tom didn't really give much up (at least at first). The episode went out of its way to illustrate how damaged, and perhaps hardened, Liz is by everything that's happened; 18 episodes ago, she freaked out when her husband was attacked and tortured, and this week she was prepared to do the exact same thing to him. I mean she snapped his thumb with big pliers! That's some real ish right there, nicely played by both Megan Boone and Ryan Eggold, and nicely directed by Paul Edwards.
Unfortunately, as Tom pointed out, snapping someone's thumb isn't the best plan when you have them handcuffed. He escaped relatively quickly, jumpstarted a destructive and somewhat incomprehensible skirmish, returned the handcuffing favor, and then simply gave her some information about Red's True Nature. Even if you can set aside the fact that Red did some of the primary legwork to capture Tom in the first place, or that Liz's emotions simply got the best of her during the confrontation, it was pretty dumb for Tom to just give Liz the proverbial next clue on her quest. The Blacklist hasn't completely removed Liz's agency, but developments like this one definitely limit it. Let her figure some of this stuff out for herself!
I'm hoping that with the truth about Tom out in the world, The Blacklist will give Liz more opportunities to be intelligent without quickly pulling the rug out from underneath her. Before this episode, I would have said that she didn't really trust Red that much anyway, but I'm a bit concerned that his role in Tom's capture—and his ability to say "I told you so" about Tom—means that Liz will blindly believe Red again. You know, until she reveals the contents of those photos Tom provided her and then changes her mind.
THE NOTE LIST
– Tom suggested that he was working for the good guys; is there any chance that's true? And do we think that actually cares for Liz at all? He seemed pretty cold-blooded during the interrogation, but he kind of had to be.
– Red scanned the book that was supposed to be handed over to Tom. Any guesses as to its contents?
– This episode spent a lot of time talking about what a threat the Pavlovich brothers were and stressing their connection to previous events, but they weren't especially interesting.
– Speaking of the brothers: Their introduction this week involved abducting a Chinese scientist named Li who was working on White Fog, the nickname for a nasty germ strain. Shout-out to the show for getting a bunch of people to say GERM WARFARE. The standalone cases have been much more hit or miss in the second half of the season than they were in the first half.
What'd you think of this one? How do you feel about the show's treatment of Liz?
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