Last week's season premiere of The Blacklist reveled in its freedom from the "secret" connection between Red (James Spader) and Liz (Megan Boone). It was, dare I say, a light and breezy episode of a show that's featured a whole lot of ugly, grisly stuff.
It is, however, only a matter of time before the show's fundamental traits — mystery and subterfuge — are moved back into the forefront. This week's effort, "Greyson Blaise," took a half measure of sorts, delivering another propulsive, charming story with the central father-daughter combination while also building up Tom's (Ryan Eggold) investigation into the literal bag of bones in his possession. One half of the episode was far more effective than the other, but it was so enjoyable it's hard to complain too much about what didn't work.
The Blacklist has always tried to paint Red as this partially conflicted, fully charismatic dude, but there's a level of needed malice behind Spader's performance that sometimes makes it hard to appreciate the character or the performance. But here? Here we got a completely uncorked Spader, with Red wheeling and dealing his way into one selfish pursuit after another.
Across the episode, Red convinced Cooper (Harry Lennix) of the need to bankroll his courting of the titular Blaise (an always solid Owain Yeoman, rocking his natural accent) abroad, then talked Blaise into coming to a party at a house he didn't have, then intimidated a wealthy couple into letting him use the house, and then gained Blaise's trust only to narc on him, exploit his resources, and fall backwards into a free Picasso. Boy did he have fun doing it, making everyone — including Liz — look like an intellectual lightweight in comparison.
Without the use of violence or talking points about code names and conspiracies, Spader's performance really hums. His ability to represent Red's glee over being the smartest person in the room is simply joyous in episodes like this where the character is courting and conning everyone around him for even the most ridiculous purposes like turning a rival's compound into hysteria simply to retrieve a coin that Blaise had outbid him on earlier in the case. Respect to that level of petty.
Red's charmed assault on Blaise also nicely demonstrated how Liz, deep down, enjoys her father's showmanship and skill — and might share them more than she'd like to admit. She was a willing compatriot throughout the episode, once blaming it on the alcohol during the fancy party rouse but ultimately admitting she just liked conning another con, with the master con.
In the short-term, this makes for a nice change of pace for The Blacklist. The two central characters get to explore their relationship with lighter baggage. And in the long-term, it will make whatever awful thing(s) Red eventually does to Liz or Tom that much more painful. Even if you prefer the show to play out the string more on the lighter vibe, the end result is likely to be the same: traumatic, awful, etc.
Back in the States, Tom's search for information about the suitcase of bones gave an indication of those awful traumas to come. The Blacklist can do this form of mystery-building in its sleep, particularly as it pertains to Tom and Red facing off, so that half of the episode didn't hold as much interest as Red's scheming in international territory.
However, the episode's final moment, with Red, Tom and Liz awkwardly pretending like there's no awkwardness between them, was a strong button on another fun episode — and a clear indication that the fun, as I'm defining it, is probably over. No one knows exactly what the others know, but they're certain something is going on — and they're all correct. Is it ridiculous that we're going down this road again with these three characters? Absolutely. But the constant push and pull between them and the annoying father-in-law on steroids story is what makes The Blacklist tick.
The Blacklist airs Wednesday nights at 8/7c on NBC.