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The Blacklist Premiere: [Spoiler] Is Back, and So Is the Fun

Red tries to rebuild his criminal empire, one carny at a time

Cory Barker

For shows with big, overarching mysteries, we tend to focus on the resolution -- the answer, the big reveal and so on. But while resolutions get a lot of attention, it's often what shows do after those significant moments that keep them down a successful path.

The Blacklist concluded its fourth season by finally -- finally -- answering the question almost everyone at home already knew: Red (James Spader) is indeed Elizabeth's (Megan Boone) father. Ninety-some episodes of deception, destruction and death later, the show moved that enormous elephant out of the room, while simultaneously burning down Red's underground global criminal syndicate. So what now?

A surprising amount of jolly good fun, actually.

The Blacklist Exclusive: Red and Liz Have an Awkward Father-Daughter Chat

The Season 5 premiere, "Smokey Putnam," didn't present an entirely new Blacklist, but there was a noticeable shift in more than just Red's fashion budget (he's no longer dressing like your dad going to work, but instead like your dad having fun on the weekends). Stripped of questions about paternity, conspiratorial bureaucrats and Russians, The Blacklist turned in a playful caper involving a far less dangerous group of criminals, carnies. They have their own insular language, it's hilarious! Folks!

More importantly, the removal of the paternity baggage means that the show can now, at least temporarily, concentrate on the next evolution of Red and Liz's relationship. That relationship is always at the core of what Blacklist wants to accomplish, but the matter-of-fact fashion in which Liz addressed Red as her father without fully changing her perspective on his worldview made for an enjoyable hour of television. Liz and Boone have been put through a lot in four seasons; it's a fine change of pace to see her play more of a begrudging co-conspirator than a traumatized pawn in a convoluted game.

That Liz is still professionally obligated to aid Red to justify her team's existence to FBI management creates a moderately ridiculous "only on TV" conceit that still works perfectly as a generator of drama -- and if this episode is any indication, even some comedy. In this framework, Red gets to build his next empire from the ground up, further enabling the show to highlight just how good and cool he is at all this criminal stuff. But there's enough humbled humanity to the character -- and to Spader's always-game performance -- that it's hard not to enjoy his relatively sad attempts to pick up bounty hunter gigs, and then somehow turn them into the foundational pieces of his latest scheme.

The Blacklist: Everything You Need to Know About Season 5

This probably won't continue. There were signs of major drama peeking around the corners of the main storyline's playful vibes. Tom (Ryan Eggold) is back from a quick sojourn in spin-off territory, and he's in possession of that mysterious suitcase Red and Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq) are desperate to find and that probably has something to do with Liz's mother. Tom, that cad, is already lying to the woman he supposedly loves, and those quick flashes of Red and Tom, bloodied, imply really bad stuff to come.

Meanwhile, Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) is already being blackmailed by a cleaner for his role in Hitchen's death last season, and the rest of the squad is preparing to face the wrath of a new administration looking for reasons to cut the admittedly controversial program they've been running with Red for four years.

Within a few weeks, The Blacklist will probably be back to graphic (for broadcast TV) violence, governmental decay and a whole boat load of lies involving Red's intentions with Liz or his consultancy. But this? This was pretty fun, and illustrative of what the show could be free of the emotional baggage of its first four seasons. Last season's reveals were a perfect chance for a fresh start and the show followed through with that in week one. Hopefully it continues for at least a few more weeks.

The Blacklist airs Wednesdays at 8pm EST on NBC.