What a way to start 2018.
This is not the first time — even this season — where The Blacklist faced the aftermath of a momentous event. From departures and deaths to shocking reveals and births, the show has produced some great, big moments across its run. But it has, in all those instances, hustled to return to the status quo — with the relationships between characters, with the Blacklister case of the week structure, the whole deal.
Not this time, at least for one episode.
The Blacklist's winter premiere presented a different show, all the way down to the episode title (this one is "Ruin," with no case number or B-lister name in sight). The final episode of 2017 dramatically dispatched of Tom (Ryan Eggold) and jumped ahead in time, leaving Liz bedridden and alone after another series of traumatic circumstances. "Ruin" moved further into the future, with Liz doing her best survivalist impression in an Alaskan cabin in the woods, away from Red (James Spader), the team and everything that ruined her life.
Rather than simply giving us an angry or despondent Liz, the episode cross-cut her woodland misadventures with a series of flashbacks demonstrating how she got to this point. Nothing in those sequences was surprising intel-wise: she couldn't exactly live in her place, work that jump or even see her child without feeling immense pain and rage toward the mysterious figures who killed her husband, so she left.
It was the execution, however, that made those moments so strong. While the team celebrated Tom's memory over drinks, Liz despondently looked into the distance. As Red urged her to let go of the anger and truly grieve her husband's death, she moved the conversation along to focus on the need to continue the work of the Blacklist itself. In both the past and present scenes, the camera lingered on Liz's face just long enough to underline her status as a bomb, slowly ticking down to a powerful explosion that everyone else — including us — knows is coming.
The same praise is warranted for the present-day scenes in the woods. There, Liz's sad-but-stable hermit life was disrupted by a quartet of men, one injured and three creeps supposedly hoping to help their friend. Of course the men weren't who they claimed to be. They were part of a major crime family, in town to extract information from and ultimately execute an informant under witness protection.
Liz knew it immediately, we knew it immediately. The episode didn't try to hide that fact. Instead, it centered on Liz's consideration of action. Should she trust them to keep her cover, or trust her gut and make something happen? Once it became clear that the latter was the only course, all hell broke loose. Liz went full-on demented Full House on the trio. She filled ice cubes with glass, poisoned peanut butter, stuck them in bear traps, and then killed two with an axe to the chest and a flare to the face respectively.
Again, rather than going fully unhinged, Liz methodically executed some bad dudes, uncorking all the ugly feelings inside of her. While she ultimately returned to NYC at the end of the episode, thus suggesting a soft reboot and return to normalcy next week, the character feels legitimately changed by this experience. She's ready to get revenge, and even Red is a little spooked.
So much credit goes to Megan Boone for this episode. It was a strong change of pace in aesthetics and tone, but it wouldn't have worked half as well without her very, very strong performance. She's underrated and sometimes saddled with circumstances that frustrate, but she was powerfully muted here. This was her best work yet. Hopefully the show gives her space to continue to explore this version of Liz in the coming episodes.
The Blacklist aris Wednesday at 8/7c on NBC.