Previously on The Blacklist: Liz (Megan Boone) was left in a compromising position because Reddington (James Spader) betrayed her once again. While that could describe at least 65 percent of The Blacklist episodes, this week's installment at least directly addressed the frustrating sameness of Red's actions as the show began its stretch run for Season 5.
Fed up with Red's nonsense, Liz made it very clear that she knew he nabbed — and subsequently eliminated — the one informant who could help her bring Ian Garvey (Jonny Coyne) down by legitimate means. In fact, our beleaguered hero even got physical with her father, pushing him up against a wall and ordering him to answer a simple and direct question. In that moment, Liz perfectly personified my annoyance with Red.
Of course, in that moment Red also personified The Blacklist's typical doublespeak and avoidance. Red weaseled out of any significant consequences for his actions because he previously told Liz (and us) that this is exactly what he was going to do. He will stop at nothing to get that godforsaken bag of bones, and likely to make Garvey pay for all the awful things he's done.
For Red, this is a cop out to justify his continued undermining of Liz and the task force's investigation. And for the show, Red's rhetorical tap dancing is an attempt to justify further tension between he and Liz without any real change possible. It appears that we're supposed to view Red's half-cocked honesty about his actions as a major development; yet, it still promotes the status quo the show has fostered for four-plus seasons.
The action in "Anna-Garcia Duerte" thus mirrored the typical Blacklist formula. Liz pursued the Garvey investigation on mostly legal terms, while Red and Garvey circled one another in that criminal mastermind kind of way.
The procedural story — with a renegade former child bride and sexual assault victim fulfilling contract kills for other teenage girls in a similar position — functioned to procure a ledger that Red could use as a bargaining chip against Garvey. Even after Liz angrily confirmed Red's meddling with the witness, she went right along with his plan to get the ledger, and even passed it along so that Red could ominously threaten Garvey at the end of the episode.
It's not that this storytelling makes for bad television. It's simply that The Blacklist's storytelling operates from the default setting that Red's way is the right, or at least most successful, way. No matter where a story begins or goes at the mid-way point, Liz and others eventually partner with him, bend to his will or give him what he wants.
On one hand, of course this makes sense. James Spader is the star of the show. Red is a great, entertaining character. His methods are an entertaining riff on typical law enforcement procedurals.
On the other hand, if there's ever been a season of The Blacklist where things should be different, it's this one. Given the context of this season, this should be Liz's story. She should triumph over Garvey in a compelling way that doesn't have to involve her father negotiating for a bag of bones and then delivering Garvey on her behalf. By consistently leaning towards Red, the show compromises what could more powerful stories.
The Blacklist airs Wednesday at 8/7c on NBC.