After some delightful 100th episode shenanigans and a mini-break, The Blacklist returned with a familiar combination of Liz (Megan Boone) and Red (James Spader) drama and an utterly fine/gruesome case of the week.
At first glance, "The Cook" was standard Blacklist fare, complete with Red withholding the truth from Liz and the task force plugging away on a nasty case involving a disgruntled man of faith who burned women alive for "tempting" him. But in small ways the episode illustrated some of the lasting effects of this season's action, with characters acting/reacting differently than we've seen before.
The big takeaway away from this episode came with the ongoing hunt for Tom's killer. One hundred episodes of The Blacklist tell us that Red will lie, obfuscate or mislead Liz whenever he deems it necessary. In certain contexts, Red's duplicitousness appears justified, but too often it feels like a function of the show's desire to sustain a level of mystery that only makes other characters (like Liz) seem naive.
The significance of Tom's death — and Red's tangential involvement in that tragedy — guaranteed that Red would not be completely truthful with Liz. The more meaningful question, then, was how long would Liz buy whatever story Red sold her. In an important shift from countless other instances, both characters handled their uneasy trust differently here, creating a string of really strong scenes full of something rare in The Blacklist universe: honesty. Well, sort of.
Unwilling to take Red's normal "it's in your best interest" posturing, Liz repeated her questioning about Red's knowledge of the information that got Tom killed. Her plea to return to Agnes, however strategic, pushed Red's buttons just enough to get about halfway to the truth. Tom was seeking information about a secret "artifact" pertaining to Red, but he'd prefer to keep it a secret. To his credit, Red was willing to contextualize his answers for once. The posturing disappeared, and the answer still demonstrated a self-interest, yet it was also pretty honest. As far as Red presented here, this isn't a secret being kept just to keep it; Red appears to truly believe that the revelation could cause meaningful damage to him or his operations.
For a show and a character so clearly defined by deceit, this small level of truth is actually significant. Liz's response — that she will continue to work with Red but also seeks to reveal the full picture — was likewise honest and, within the heightened context of this show, mature. They know they need one another for now and they both understand the import of this search, but disagree about what will happen at the end of search. That's far more compelling than Red operating a dozen steps ahead or Liz going fully rogue in defiance of her father and the task force.
The other side of the episode displayed less subtlety, albeit with some noted character progression. That this week's Blacklister targeted women for "temptations of the flesh" played particularly poorly in the #MeToo era. Perhaps television should move away from these kinds of tasteless "creep attacks women for being women" plotlines altogether? It doesn't matter if the audience is supposed to think the creeps are bad, folks.
Anyway, the better stuff came with Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff), who continues to struggle with the blurred lines between professional responsibility and personal morality. The investigation required — thanks to Red — the assistance of an arson expert-turned arsonist (C. Thomas Howell), who, in the past, would have absolutely disgusted Ressler. Now though? He's operating in shades of gray. When the criminal's assistance returned good intel, Ressler was willing to speak at his parole hearing, including a little speech about how everyone "probably" deserves a second chance.
All told, this development won't have a dramatic impact on the weekly Blacklist experience. Yet, it is a nice illustration of how to make small steps toward character evolution within the procedural framework. You know, until Ressler realizes near the end of the season that he's been manipulated into this more complex perspective by Red.
But it totally wouldn't be The Blacklist unless Red got the best of someone, right?
The Blacklist aris Wednesday at 8/7c on NBC.