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The Blacklist S01E20: "The Kingmaker"

We've reached the portion of the season where what NBC's promo department is promising about The Blacklist and what actually happens on The Blacklist are hilariously divergent. We expect networks to hype every episode as the biggest and most shocking episode since the last one, but what this show seems to view as a HUGE DEVELOPMENT hardly ever tracks as such. 

"The Kingmaker" was a fine hour of television. Frankly, it featured what was probably the best case and Blacklister of the show's 2014 episodes. But what Liz learned about Red from those photos Tom pointed her toward—and what we learned about Red independently from Liz—didn't exactly move the needle for me. In past reviews, I've discussed The Blacklist's penchant for taking things slow with its central mysteries, and while I'm fine with that approach, I can't really stand it when any TV show allows its characters to simply not answer questions because they're mysterious or something. 

Red was doing a whole lot of that in "The Kingmaker," particularly in the second half of the episode when Liz confronted him about his role in her father's death. She prompted him with clear, direct questions, and he mostly just sat there. Even once she (read: Aram) discovered that Red had probably killed her dad, Liz more or less let Red off scot-free when he refused to provide additional details. Last week we saw her torture her own husband, and yet this week, after learning that this NOTABLY EVIL PERSON killed her dad, she just stormed out, crying her way to Ressler's apartment? Come on, give your female lead more credibility than that. Of course, it doesn't help that we saw the events in question take place four months ago, again setting up a situation where the lead character, who is supposedly very smart, looks kind of slow. 

In theory, breaking Liz down like this should allow the show to build her back up with real gusto in the last few episodes of the season. Her entire life has been destroyed, but now she knows that she can't trust either one of these men in her life. What does she do now? Fight back. Unfortunately, the fact that she made that trip to Ressler's betrays what The Blacklist thinks of Liz as a character. I don't think this show is dumb enough to have her jump into some romantic thing with Ressler, at least not at this point, but the writers need to be careful here. Liz has been too many steps behind for too long. They can change that now, if they actually want the audience to care about their female lead.

As "The Kingmaker" illustrated, The Blacklist is generally more interested in Red than it is in Liz. I get that. James Spader is wonderful, Red is a secretive supervillain type, etc. "The Kingmaker" brought back Alan Alda's mysterious Fitch and introduced some of his cohorts—a collection of international fellows and I think just one woman Skyping in. You see, somebody has been coming after Red's operation, and he needs Fitch and the United Nations of Evil-Doers to back him up. So far, that isn't going so well. Red's out on his own a little bit more now, and threatening to expose sensitive information about Fitch and his crew if/when things go south. That could be interesting, but right now, it's just old dudes talking in rooms. 

Hey, that case though, right? Linus Roache brought a little star power to his performance as the titular Kingmaker, a tricky bloke who made his name by building up politicians and world leaders using any means necessary. I enjoyed the idea of the Kingmaker character and the lengths to which he'd go to ensure his clients' success. The second half of the story got bogged down in typical procedural bad-guy stuff—B&Es, executions, and so on—but it was somewhat satisfying to see the look on Red's face when he learned that the Kingmaker was dead, and thus unable to be coerced into giving up the info Red needed. 

Yet, I couldn't help but think throughout this case: Why in the world is the FBI still doing Red's dirty work, seemingly on a whim? It's the premise of the show, sure, but this week they were already investigating the Kingmaker before anything notable happened on U.S. soil. I suppose we'd all do well to once again remind ourselves that The Blacklist is just Red Reddington's world, and everybody else is simply living—or delivering exposition—in it.


– Of course the promos for next week's episode made it seem like THE MOST IMPORTANT one ever. Sure, show.

– No Tom this week, but Ryan Eggold did show up in a slick Mustang ad meant to trick viewers into not hitting fast-forward on the DVR. Get those checks, Ryan. 

– Dembe was eating pot-laced ice cream and simply loving it. I want so much more of Dembe every week. Wouldn't you watch a Dembe web series? 

What'd you folks think of this one? Is The Blacklist moving at the right pace for you?

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 3/26/2015

Season 2 : Episode 17