Although The Blacklist is at its best when mixing family drama with pseudoscientific cases of the week, the show can deliver a pretty solid 24 facsimile as well — typically near the end of each season. Season 6's penultimate episode shifted attention to Anna McMahon (Jennifer Ferrin) and her cabal co-conspirator, the president (Benito Martinez), to mostly engaging results.
The "mostly" qualification accepts that the cabal storyline is never going to be satisfying. Shadowy powerful groups sound good in theory, and they might help develop a few surprising moments. But the ultimate impact is so abstracted — because the group is so vaguely powerful — that it's hard to care. It feels like the show knows that and has tried to combat the issue by doing, well, exactly what 24 did all those years ago: make the president part of the evil plans.
Rather than deepen McMahon or President Diaz as characters, The Blacklist made them cunning baddies and ramped up the plot into a game of cat and mouse between the task force and the White House. Somehow McMahon was able to turn the Secret Service into her own black-ops hit squad in the search for the dossier, but the task force got their hands on key information from The Third Estate first: President Diaz planned to fake an assassination during an upcoming televised debate to accomplish... something.
Again, there's only so much to do with EVIL PRESIDENT characters, but a fake assassination plot offers a modicum of intrigue. The episode tried to double down on this intrigue by building to the "reveal" of Diaz's involvement in the cabal through the eyes of its purest and most honorable figures, Harold (Harry Lennix). Though the reveal meant less given that the audience has known about the president's participation in the cabal for weeks, Harold's first-hand experience crystallized that the task force has been backed into a corner.
McMahon couldn't prevent the task force from learning about the assassination attempt, so she took an even more aggressive step in disbanding the group and threatening criminal charges. Red (James Spader) and Liz (Megan Boone) were conveniently not directly involved in the Secret Service take over, which leaves them to save the day using non-traditional tactics.
This showdown between the task force and the White House raises interesting questions about what happens next week and even next season. What's the real endgame for McMahon and the president in the short term? How will the blacklist continue apace in a world where the president has been tapped as part of a global criminal conspiracy? And will any of this be as interesting as a single conversation between Red, Liz, and Dembe?
Well, the answer to the last question is fairly clear. The Blacklist should find time for deep family conversations amid its solid 24 mimicry.
The Blacklist airs Fridays at 8/7c on NBC.