Can a storyline be simultaneously under- and over-baked? The Blacklist is trying to answer this extremely difficult question.
The arrest and imprisonment of Reddington (James Spader) have dominated the first half of Blacklist's sixth season to increasingly mixed results. The novelty of a powerful character in a new environment that could have minimized his power offered significant potential. The required court proceedings likewise initially enabled Spader to return to his Boston Legal glory days. The storyline shift even brought new things for Liz (Megan Boone), who had to reckon with her choice to set her fake father/real father figure up so that she could discover yet another big-time truth about her past.
But in recent weeks, the prison angle dried up as Reddington quickly gained influence in his cell block and with the warden. Reddington outsmarted everyone in court, ensuring that the trial scenes, too, lost their novelty. And Liz's investigation? Mostly side-lined amid her (still engaging) ethical struggle over Reddington. The potential great stuff quickly shifted into a type of routine.
Yet, despite missed opportunities, this week's episode — with its rapid march toward a mini-climax of these stories — offered a potential pivot for this season. Perhaps predictably, "The Cryptobanker" only partially delivered on that pivot. It's a frustrating time for The Blacklist.
Again, even within the context of this episode, there was so much potential. Reddington's jury trial finally beginning? Could introduce more juice into those scenes. Reddington simultaneously trying to defend himself in front of a jury and plan a prison break? Heck yeah.
Somehow, though, the show burned through both of those threads within the hour. Once Sima elected to reveal the terms of Reddington's immunity agreement to the jury, the defendant went on the offense. On one front, he pushed for accelerated proceedings in court by changing his plea to guilty, and eventually, accepting the death penalty punishment. On the other, he moved his breakout attempt up more than eight weeks, hoping to escape right as the government believed they finally had him cornered.
The episode tried to juice these scenes further by framing Reddington's trial choices as a complicated way to protect Liz as well as the Reddington-led investigation into the global cabal. The Blacklist can always score solid material out of that patented Reddington complex moral calculus, but it landed roughly here simply due to the time allotted.
By the time the prison break sequence unraveled, The Blacklist appeared ready to hit the reboot button again, moving back toward a version of the show with Reddington on the lam and assisting the task force. That would be a retread and a disappointing end to the promise of the early season, but that seemed better than six more weeks of Reddington smugly charming a judge, a jury, and his warden.
And then it all blew up. Reddington got caught. He's now been found guilty and sentenced to death.
That, too, holds a lot of promise. But to get there, the show may have to explore some of the things it could have already explored the first time that Reddington was placed in prison at the outset of the season. Plus, the gut-punch of a failed escape doesn't exactly forgive a few weeks of middling stories and a sudden escalation in this episode. That's roller coaster storytelling, and not in a good way.
The Blacklist's constant desire to make Reddington look as cool and smart as possible likely means that, even in these circumstances, our main man won't be down for long.
The Blacklist airs Fridays at 9/8c on NBC.