This is what answers look like on The Blacklist. Tonight's episode threw two big curveballs into the proceedings: 1.) Berlin is a person, not a location, and 2.) a sizable chunk of the Blacklist cases we've seen so far are connected. Huge news! Oh, wait, both of those things were revealed in the preview for "Berlin" that aired at the end of last week's episode? Well, shoot.
However, outside of NBC's overeager promo department, these two developments worked well enough. Neither one is spectacularly original, but they fit into The Blacklist's relatively solid ethos as well as can be expected. The idea that Berlin is a person pulls Red's growing troubles and Tom's mission closer together, and gives the show a mysterious, seemingly opposing figurehead who represents everything that's happened this season—and everything that's gone wrong in Lizzie's life.
Similarly, while the news that many (if not all) of the Blacklist cases are directly connected to one another probably wasn't much of a surprise, "Berline" made quick work of illustrating how Lizzie figured it all out. Sure, she basically just looked at a bunch of files and headshots of former Blacklisters, but that's how everyone figures stuff out on television! And dammit, she figured something out. Put a W on the board for Agent Keen, guys. The episode still went out of its way to underscore that Red is 12 steps ahead of Lizzie, but hey, it also showed us that she's smarter than all of her coworkers, so that's something.
And in the grand scheme of things, "Berlin" answered a very big question. From the pilot onward, The Blacklist wanted to us to wonder exactly why Red wanted to "help" the FBI. While the show quickly and partially addressed that—he wanted to help because the FBI is dumb enough to follow his whims, seemingly no matter what—this development put the last little piece of that puzzle in place. Not only did Red want to take advantage of the FBI's resources, he wanted to do it specifically because he knew he was under attack by some unknown force (who we now know is Berlin).
Unfortunately, because this is still The Blacklist, the episode brought us those revelations by the 45-minute mark, setting up what should have been an exciting, intense final act, but instead it almost immediately petered out because the show clearly wanted to hold any bigger reveals for the season finale. Though we're probably all used to being jerked around a bit at this time of the year, I can't help but think about what The Blacklist would be like if wasn't so attached to the idea of being this kind of throwback drama series. "Berlin" tried to sustain the suspense about its titular individual by keeping a towel over his/her head and producing what was a truly miserable-looking plane crash, but those things only emphasized the episode's efforts to stall for just a few minutes more. Also, I'm cool with action-y shows on broadcast television, but if you can't shoot down a plane convincingly or without laughable CGI, just don't do it. You're not achieving anything with mediocre visual effects.
The emotional hook in that final sequence was supposed to lie with yet another slippery conversation between Red and Lizzie, and while I appreciated the episode's attempt to ramp up the end-of-the-season drama with the threat that the task force could be shut down, there's very little in what we've seen over the past 21 episodes to suggest that could actually happen for any extended period of time. I think the show wanted us to feel weird and moved by Lizzie's decision to try to convince Red to run from the FBI, but all that did was signal how twisted-up and kind of naive she is. Red needs Lizzie and the task force to protect him from Berlin, and she needs him to... find Tom, I guess? James Spader and Megan Boone continue to make these scenes work fine enough, but these are the kinds of moments where the problematic writing for Lizzie comes back to haunt the show. If we think she's just being pulled back into this terrible world because she's dense, that's not a good sign.
Like many of the 2014 episodes of The Blacklist, "Berlin" was far from bad, but lacked some of the spark that drove the episodes from last fall. This one delivered a couple of key reveals and certainly set stories and characters up for what could be a crazy, deadly finale. Yet, this second half of the season has been so content to just push the goalposts to the next week that there's no guarantee that the crazy and deadly will ever come. Let's hope it does, because this show can do both those things pretty well.
– This week's teaser, with the armored-car guard quickly falling victim to the Cullen virus and the bank going into lockdown, seemed really sloppy to me. The editing was a bit choppy, and unfortunately, the dude playing the guard wasn't very good. It happens.
– Another W for Mrs. Keen (and she's going to have to get that name changed): She infected Vogel, the mastermind behind the virus, with his creation in hopes of getting information out of him as quickly as possible. Ruthless.
– Speaking of ruthless: Tom cut a big hunk of skin off of one of Red's spies. Maybe there's hope for those two crazy kids yet!
– I loved how the show felt like we needed a scene where Lizzie explained her logic for leaving so the other people on the task force could express understanding, as if they're actual characters and not just exposition-deliverers.
– The biggest shocker of the episode was that The Blacklist hired John Glover and asked him to play someone other than a egomaniacal villain. Glover certainly relished the opportunity to play a crazy doctor, and he and Spader had a fun chemistry. It's nice when the show injects these little moments of humor into its extremely dour proceedings. Lighten up!
What'd you guys think of this one? Are you still excited for the finale?