Stripped of everything that made him one of the most effective criminals in the world and his "dangerous" secret related to Liz (Megan Boone) revealed, Red has demonstrated some signs of softening. But he's also managed to slowly ingratiate himself with members of the task force... perhaps performing a more collaborative and ethical stance simply to take advantage later? With Red, the line between good and evil is almost always blurry.
The one exception? Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq), of course. If there's one way to guarantee that Red will demonstrate legitimate compassion and care for another human being, it's to put his longtime associate and friend in any kind of danger. This week's episode, "The Kilgannon Corporation," did just that, adding another tally mark to the "Red could be saved" side of the ledger.
The Blacklist deserves credit for crafting purposefully simple, case-of-the-week episodes that transmit a couple of key character or thematic ideas to the audience. Procedural is, now more than ever, a dirty word on TV, but it requires real artistry to churn out watchable episodes like this one.
The framework was perfectly adequate: Red and the team tracked an international human trafficking ring, Dembe went undercover and found himself in danger, and Red responded accordingly. Along the way, Dembe cared for a sad young girl, only further illustrating his value to the team — and to people in general.
Given Red and Dembe's history, the glorified slave trade took on additional meaning. Of course Red was the previous executor of the evil trade route, which only further complicated his usual murky outlook on right and wrong. Like usual, Red wanted to hop into this case for selfish reasons involving power, money and access. However, once Dembe got deeper into the operation, Red turned reflective — of his past with Dembe and his potential future as a father to Liz and productive member of society.
This is still a broadcast procedural, so nothing dramatically shifted by the end of the hour. Dembe survived his mission, returned the little girl to her family and even got a hug for his troubles. Red eliminated an entire enterprise of threats under the guise of patriotism and kept his closest ally alive for the next mission. Simple, but effective.
Still, Red poured his heart out to Liz about his relationship with Dembe and how he views that fine line I mentioned before. It's hard to say that Red has been changed by this trauma and the latest time he's faced a life without Dembe. This has happened before, and it will happen again. But this was yet another signal that Red, at worst, recognizes what he's done — and what he might want to do differently moving forward.
Like always, there's no reason for sweeping shifts in a few episodes. If anything, these first seven episodes have presented a Red who is more willing to be contextually compassionate and humane in new ways. It can be true that he both wanted to help Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) and Harold (Harry Lennix) and score some points that can be cashed in later when things go sideways. It can likewise be true that he both wants to protect Dembe and Liz above all else and re-accumulate strength on the global crime scene.
The point is that for the first time in awhile, it feels like Red is a complex character and not just a "complex character," with all the empty trappings of the modern anti-hero.
The Blacklist airs Wednesdays at 8/7ct on NBC.