This season of The Blacklist began with a depowered Red Reddington (James Spader). His criminal empire had crumbled, as had the walls he constructed around his "secret" parentage of Liz (Megan Boone). Our man was living in a sad motel, hanging with carnies and boosting cars just to feel alive again.
Although he hasn't yet reclaimed his empire or crafted an especially gushy relationship with his daughter, Red has spent the first part of this season slowly ingratiating himself to unsuspecting members of the task force. A few weeks ago, he made his presence known to an already conflicted Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff). This week, it was Harold's (Harry Lennix) turn to be pulled more directly into Red's orbit.
When Harold revealed that he needed some personal time off to help out the son of an unknown friend, Red swept into action, offering his services — Dembe, mostly — to the ever-moralistic special agent. Harold being Harold, he declined Red's nebulous-but-nefarious solicitation, only to find himself caught in the middle of a sloppy shootout and foot race. Of course, Red didn't take no for answer and Dembe was there to save Harold at the absolute perfect time of need.
From there, Red did his thing: convincing someone they need his help just long enough to push them into making a dangerous choice. He carried out some advanced interrogation techniques on a potential suspect while a discombobulated and befuddled Harold stood by and watched. After the interrogation resulted in quality intel, Red refused to accompany Harold on his mission to confront the likely criminal intimidating his friend's son. Instead, he suggested that Harold had to make the choice on his own: revenge or justice.
Harold being Harold, no blood was shed. Only one punch was thrown. The leader of the task force could, in no good conscience, take his already off-book operation even further off-book.
On one hand, this story all came out of nowhere, as if the show simply decided that the sixth episode of the season was about the time to give Harold and Harry Lennix something substantive to do. Harold's friend was never seen on screen, nor was the son an especially engaging character beyond his basic plot function.
On the other hand, it enabled The Blacklist to demonstrate some of the subtleties of Red's skillset. Sure, he is generally smarter than everyone around him, but the process is what makes it compelling. He doesn't just talk people into giving him what he wants (whether through intimidating or flattery); he knows what buttons to push so that people feel empowered enough to cross their own personal boundaries of what constitutes right and wrong. While Harold ultimately didn't break, he bent a little — and that might be just enough leverage for Red to use in a dozen different ways in the future.
Plus, Spader and Lennix are great together. More of this unlikely duo, show!
Red's courting of members of the task force should make for compelling stories in the short term. Of course, there will always be storytelling real estate devoted to his manipulation of Liz, and this week continued his simmering feud with Tom (Ryan Eggold) over the literal bag of bones. But with this approach, it finally feels like The Blacklist has actually demonstrated why Red can be so socially influential — instead of just telling us over and over again.
The Blacklist airs Wednesdays at 8/7ct on NBC.