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The Blacklist Squandered a Good Opportunity to Get Weird in Disappointing Midseason Premiere

Even in lockdown conditions, this was not an attention-holding hour of The Blacklist

Cory Barker

After a long hiatus, The Blacklist appears willing to ease back into its main conflicts and storylines. The fall finale upended the status quo once more, with Liz (Megan Boone) and Katarina (Laila Robins) teaming up to outsmart Reddington (James Spader), but the first episode in three months kept the familial turmoil on the back burner. Instead, "Victoria Fenberg" continued this season's interest in more topical procedural plotlines, to middling results.

The Blacklist has always struggled to modulate between high-stakes episodes and the more banal case-of-the-week fare. Substantial and/or violent events occur one week and in the next week everyone is back on the job, only sort of acknowledging everything that just happened. The show tries to gloss over these big moments by making them part of the text -- Liz talks about how Reddington is avoiding or lying, for instance. Although this is less of an issue when there's more time between episodes, it still requires that the latest episode offer something compelling enough to distract from the lack of focus on season-long developments. This episode, unfortunately, did not meet that requirement.

The Blacklist Renewed for Season 8

Katarina was nowhere to be found, presumably hiding out as part of her and Liz's long con on the unsuspecting (for now) Reddington. Father and daughter didn't talk much about prior events, either. Following Ressler's (Diego Klattenhoff) advice, Liz played dumb with Reddington and asked him if Katarina was the woman from Paris, and he predictably lied. That brief moment served as a kind of reset on the simmering tension between the two, but also underlined how long they've been having this same conversation. Otherwise, the biggest development to come out of the main story is that Liz confided in Ressler regarding her plan with Katarina -- another small building block for hopefully something better later on.

James Spader, The Blacklist

James Spader, The Blacklist

Virginia Sherwood/NBC

Aram (Amir Arison) experienced another crisis of conscience when Elodie's (Elizabeth Bogush) husband nearly died, only to fall right back into the routine with her. There's a real sense of dread hanging over Aram's choices with Elodie. Whether she's maliciously working with Osterman Umbrella to hunt down Samar or something less evil, it's hard to imagine Aram getting away from Elodie unscathed. To that end, the scenes here played well, but it felt like there was one beat missing amid the hour's other action.

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And most of the action in "Victoria Fenberg" didn't match some of The Blacklist's wilder "ripped from the headlines" procedural episodes. While the root conceit of a man trying to get back at a Sackler-like family whose pharmaceuticals led to the death of his son is intriguing, centering that tension in the realm of art forgery couldn't sustain the stakes of the plot.

Both pieces of that story could have worked as part of separate stories. Art forgery and heists make for perfect, fun material for Spader to chew on, and there's real gravitas to a story about crusading against evil pharma. Together, though, they mitigated the impact of each component. The weirder the show can be with these cases, the better. This one was not weird enough.

It will take some time to ramp back up the tension between the central characters, but even in lockdown conditions, this was not an attention-holding hour of The Blacklist.

The Blacklist airs Fridays at 8/7c on NBC.