Early in Season 5, The Blacklist has mostly focused on Reddington's (James Spader) empire rebuild and Tom's (Ryan Eggold) reappearance after a sojourn into his own twisted family history. While the former has been far more compelling than the latter, the show's decision to spotlight its two leading men makes sense given that they're consistently the most volatile components of this story.
This week, however, The Blacklist pivoted ever so slightly to shine the spotlight on the third member of its leading trio, the character with the least amount of surface intrigue but who perhaps has the most potential for evolution in this version of the show. Liz (Megan Boone) yet again has these scheming and duplicitous men in her immediate vicinity; but unlike in the show's early seasons, she is, in theory, far more aware of the ways in which her father and her lover manipulate her. That makes for fertile storytelling ground, if handled correctly.
In "The Endling," the show presented two visions for Lizzie: one we've seen too many times before and one that illustrates the impact of a nearly half-decade relationship with one of the world's most innovative criminal minds. Unsurprisingly, one vision was far more interesting than the other.
For too long, the fundamental mystery-driven nature of The Blacklist required that characters — primarily Red and Tom — withheld the truth from Liz. Sometimes those decisions were made to signal the true nature of the characters making them, but other times it felt as if the show had no better way to tell its stories. Liz was made to look foolish or naive too often, if only to emphasize how smart or cunning the men around her could be. We get it, Red and Tom are cunning.
While the show has gotten away from that more recently, Tom's reemergence has brought it all back to the forefront. A primary story of this episode involved Liz, a supposedly good federal agent, being hoodwinked by her longtime beau in the dumbest of ways. Doctor pal Nik (Piter Marek) calls with a secret update? Tom successfully convinces Liz it's a telemarketer. Tom needs her identification for high-level access? Easy stuff, as he just snagged her badge at lunch and then dropped it back in her bag after some PDA.
The show could sell us on this stuff in Season 1 due to Liz's inexperience and relatable blindness for her loved ones. But in Season 5, after everything that has happened on this show? No. Just, no.
In the better part of the episode, Liz's evolution was handled better, to a degree. The Blacklist hasn't pushed too far on how the reveal of Red's relationship to Liz changes everything, which is smart. The two had a relatively obvious — if dysfunctional — father-daughter bond beforehand. It might be official now, but the day-to-day interactions are similar.
Where the change is, and where the show has smartly honed in on, is what Liz explicitly does when she's around Red. Two episodes ago, she — under the influence of high-priced champagne — admitted enjoyment in watching Red dismantle Greyson Blaise's life. That was a bit of low-stakes fun, really.
The stakes were raised in this week's episode. Here she allowed a major criminal, the murderous Nirah Ahmad (Poorna Jagannathan), to kill herself to keep her sick son alive — with Red's encouragement/assistance. Further complicating matters, Liz pulled Nik into the ER to help operate on the sick son, unknowingly implicating him in a second sketchy act.
It's the perfect kind of half-step toward a slightly different view of the world where Red's influence is more visible. On one hand, as Liz noted late in the episode, she helped a sick and innocent child survive (and eliminated a threat in the process). On the other hand, as Cooper (Harry Lennix) argued, she stood by and let an evil person off the hook, disobeying protocol to decide who gets to live and die. The ultimate results of her decision were good; the processes she followed to get there are less good — though not overtly evil. Red-esque, if you will.
These are the stories The Blacklist can tell more clearly now that the questions about how Red knows Liz now have answers. But the show must get out of its own way. Even the good stuff this week was muddled by a late-episode scene with Liz naively describing her guilt over involving Nik in the off-book attempt to save Nirah's son.
Yes, that sequence — cross-cut with Nik being murdered by a mysterious figure — demonstrated that Liz's conscientious, empathetic worldview still exists. But it also functioned to further display how she's out of the loop yet again, with all these larger forces working around, and potentially against, her best interests. The dramatic effect of her speech cut with Nik's death wasn't worth another instance of making a compelling female character seem endlessly naive. One step forward, two steps back.
The Blacklist airs Wednesdays at 8/7ct on NBC.