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The Blacklist: Red Defends His Empire From Inside a Cell

His defense in court didn't work out as well

Cory Barker

As all my favorite motivational speakers and Silicon Valley thought leaders preach, failure is a stepping stone to success. Nobody knows how to turn a negative into a positive like The Blacklist's Raymond Reddington (James Spader). Recent episodes have shown that, for Red, prison offers only physical barriers to his influence over the world's one-percenters and evil-doers. Two episodes ago he successfully defended himself in court -- and flirted with the judge in the process. In the most recent episode, he became king of the yard in less than a week by using messenger rats.

Perhaps recognizing the trend of victories for the Big Red Machine, this week's Blacklist toyed with the formula just a little. Rather than spending more time with Red as the don of the clink, "Alter Ego" explored the limits of Red's power in two contexts to mixed results.

In one story, Red returned to the courtroom to complete the hearing on the admissibility of the gun he had at the time of arrest. Much like the courtroom scenes a few episodes back, the back-and-forth squabbling between Spader's Red and Ken Leung's aggrieved lawyer made for a fun time.

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The show always asks the audience to accept that Red is the smartest person in every room. His strategic manipulation of his arresting officer at least demonstrated how he does it -- he talks and talks and finds people's pressure points just enough to get exactly what he wants from them. Sometimes, like with Liz (Megan Boone), the pressure ramps up over a long period. Here, he broke down the cop's claims much faster, but no less effective, and threw in a number of lines about the beautiful color of his suit and his sexual proclivities to boot. Spader as a lawyer, or even a self-defending criminal, is simply TV gold.

Because this is a TV show that should ebb and flow, Red's strong court performance wasn't enough to sway the judge. The weapons charge is on the table, and thus Red technically broke his immunity agreement with the government. And yet, Red also learned a key piece of information: There's a recording of the tipster call that led to his arrest. He hasn't heard it yet, but when he does -- well, let's just say it's not a great development for whatever floundering plan Liz and her fake sister have going. Even when the man loses, he wins!

James Spader, The Blacklist

James Spader, The Blacklist

Will Hart/SONY/NBC

The other half of the episode featured the task force running down a Red-supplied lead related to a typically Blacklist-style leadership group who planned to vote on... something related to Red's power. Some one-percenters got knocked off, which raised alarm bells about Red's sustainability as the greatest living criminal, or whatever.

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The details of shadowy rich people groups on this show never truly matter. What did matter, however, is that the task force was successful in protecting an unknown heir of one of Red's supporters, assuring more positive votes in his favor. May he reign forever.

The case did feature my favorite Blacklist flourish: extremely unsettling corporate business models. In many cases, the horrors of capitalism manifest through pseudoscience; here, though, it was all about exploiting basic human longing through actors. The titular Alter Ego offered paid performers who fit inside crafted narratives of clients' lives, essentially mixing escort services with dream journaling. By the end of the episode, Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) had been convinced to use the service to help survive a cousin's wedding. If only that could be featured in next week's episode.

The Blacklist airs Fridays at 9/8c on NBC.