The Blacklist Season Finale Review: The Burning Truth
A show's first season finale can tell us a lot. It's the last chance to make a big impression, but also an important moment to set things in motion that were part of an original pitch or series bible, and to convince people to return in Season 2. Though things will certainly change, the Season 1 ender solidifies a show's identity.
With that in mind, I find it amusing that The Blacklist's Season 1 finale included the big statement post-colon with "Conclusion," considering that the episode did everything it could to push off any substantive resolution. However, after 21 episodes of The Blacklist, we probably shouldn't've expected much else. This is a show that loves the allure of mystery, the paranoia that comes with the inability to trust anyone, and the simple pleasures of James Spader's Red strolling through a somewhat protected lair with one gun and a whole lot of swagger. On a weekly basis, that can work—and clearly, given the show's ratings, it has—but as The Blacklist has moved toward the end of its freshman season, the show didn't quite figure out how to successfully unveil mysteries or reveal answers to longstanding questions. That trend continued with this so-called conclusion to the two-part introduction of Berlin, as the episode did a couple things that made it appear as if some clarity was on the way, only to very quickly pull the rug out from underneath us one more time.
Don't get me wrong: I don't mind that The Blacklist wants to keep jerking us around, and I was under no illusions that this episode would answer every question, clean the slate, and set us up for a brand-new show come the fall. I've said it countless times now, but there's something very admirable about the series' broad, throwback intentions, and if that means delayed resolutions, okay. Spader is good enough, Megan Boone has improved; there's stuff to like here.
However, what made this finale less satisfying than it could've been was that The Blacklist clearly thought that bloodshed could compensate for a lack of clarity. While the former makes for great sweeps promos, the latter definitely makes for a better episode. "Berlin: Conclusion" was one of the more violent efforts in recent weeks, and it's obvious that the mayhem was intended to be especially gruesome because so many horrible things happened to the members of the task force. Yet, there's no version of this finale where Meera getting her throat slit in a club by a lumbering Russian thug, or Cooper being attacked in the car, actually mattered. Those two weren't real—or even partially developed—characters. In fact, of the five members of the task force, they were the two least important and/or interesting. It's always unfortunate when it's evident that a show is trying to kill off long unused and underserved characters simply to ramp up the stakes or the violence, and that's exactly what happened here. "Berlin: Conclusion" strained very hard to show Lizzie or Ressler grieving over Meera's death (she had two kids!). or struggling to keep it together at Cooper's bedside, but those scenes were boilerplate and ineffective because The Blacklist hadn't given us any reason to feel invested or moved by those moments.
By the time that Red and Lizzie made their way to Berlin's supposed hideout (Red by gunning down at least five dudes with ease; Lizzie by stupidly getting herself kidnapped by her husband), the show had had plenty of opportunities to give the audience something to chew on, to make us feel like the fact that all these blacklist cases were connected mattered, etc., but instead, it mostly resulted to violence again. The showdown between Red and "Berlin" was intense enough, and it further improved once Tom brought Lizzie into the apartment for a bit of a standoff. Yet, two or three gunshots later and it was just... done.
Well, except for when it wasn't. It's frustrating enough when TV shows deny resolution by killing off characters before they can reveal information or let the audience understand what the hell is going on, but it's probably doubly worse when those supposedly dead characters turn out not to be who we thought they were or simply turn out not to be dead, and somehow this finale managed to whip out both of those strategies to drum up confusion and intrigue for Season 2. Of course Berlin wasn't the dude played by sort-of-recognizable Andrew Howard; he's obviously the dude played by the much more recognizable Peter Stormare! And even though we still have little idea of where Tom comes from or what he was really doing, Lizzie got a satisfying moment when she shot him—except for that he's alive, probably!
The twists and turns are part of The Blacklist's DNA, but the finale wanted to have its proverbial cake and then reveal that the cake was actually a pie masquerading as a cake. It was probably one step too far, even though I know I'll enjoy The Blacklist more with Ryan Eggold still looming as a deadly threat, or that I can look forward to more episodes with Stormare as a Big Bad. Keeping the real Berlin and Tom around rectified the lack of answers or resolution when we thought those characters were dead, but also immediately undercut any value their deaths might've had in the first place.
The good news, I guess, is that "Berlin: Conclusion" finally revealed, at least to us, the best evidence we've seen to date that Red is Lizzie's father. He has the nasty burns to prove it. Now, Red could've simply been present for the fire that supposedly killed Lizzie's dad, but if that's the case, the show truly does enjoy screwing with us. Of course, Red spent the entire Berlin ordeal refusing to admit much about Lizzie's father's identity, even after she received information from "dying" Tom that suggested that he was alive. I commend the show for taking 22 hours to reveal something that it so blatantly telegraphed in its first 30 minutes, though I suppose there were enough red herrings to keep the arc interesting over the course of the season. I don't have an issue with the actual information, but with how the show handled it, and how that speaks to Lizzie's role in the story. She can't just take Red's word for everything, not anymore. The finale wanted us to view her choice to work with him again as this big emotional moment—and another reunion between the estranged father-daughter combo—but it still made her look pretty dumb. That needs to change sooner rather than later.
While "Berlin: Conclusion" was far from satisfying, I also find it hard to be too disappointed about the end of The Blacklist's first season. For the most part, the show stayed true to itself—its violent, vague, and kind of silly self. The series has a very clear identity and mode of storytelling, both of which were further underscored by this two-parter. Not many shows know exactly what they are and embrace it so efficiently, especially this early in their runs. That's something, even if I don't always care for it. Until next fall!
– Thanks for reading and commenting throughout the season folks, and for keeping the community going when we weren't checking in. You're all on my blacklist—or something.
– Good for Alan Alda for getting those checks, but my is his Finch character a bore.
– Ressler's experiences have changed him, you guys. He's willing to choke you with a blazer. Quite the Jack Bauer contemporary, huh?
– Pretty cheap of the episode to bring back the bracelet given to Lizzie in the pilot. You have to love (read: loathe) such desperate attempts to signify that IT'S ALL COMING FULL CIRCLE.
– Considering the magnitude of the crash and the city's history with plane-related incidents, you'd think a few more people would've been freaking out, no? Lotta people just jogging in the park like it's nothing.
– Any predictions or guesses as to what Berlin wants with Red? That was some kind of creepy story that Berlin told about his time in Siberia.
What'd you think of the finale, and the season overall? What's on your wishlist for Season 2?
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