In retrospect, Season 6 of The Blacklist was truly split in two. The first half of the season — which ended with Episode 12 — injected new energy into the show's formula. Its focus on Reddington's time in prison gave significant room for James Spader to chew up the scenery and compelling choices for both Liz (Megan Boone) and Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq). Few stretches in the show's history can match those dozen episodes.
Though not a failure, the second half of the season has not been as major of a triumph. Red's freedom and the task force's return to normalcy have coincided with more cabal-related nonsense and explorations of Reddington's past. The latter thread has carried the back portion of the season, particularly the all-flashback episode unveiling how this man became Reddington. But the threads involving the cabal and the treacherous Anna McMahon (Jennifer Ferrin) and President Diaz (Benito Martinez) haven't delivered as much intrigue as the show might have hoped.
It's thus a minor but logical unfortunate circumstance that this season finale is really more of a finale to the back half of the season. "Robert Diaz" delivered major developments related to McMahon and the president's middling plan to "save America." Having been confronted with his past actions, Reddington made headway on finding Katarina, his love and Liz's mother. And finally ready to move past all the trauma in her personal and professional life, Liz reunited with her young daughter.
There's no denying that those are major moments for some of the show's recent storylines. But some of the show's more frustrating tendencies managed to weigh down the moments' impact.
Ultimately, the McMahon/Diaz run didn't do much for the show. As noted in this space last week, neither character offered depth beyond what their respective (and very good) actors brought to the table. Just as prior episodes tried to establish McMahon's ruthlessness, this one demonstrated her supposed intelligence. Key members of the task force were placed into custody for their role in a conspiracy against the government — of course the one that the team discovered McMahon was in fact planning.
Yet it didn't take time for Liz and company to outsmart McMahon to free her colleagues. Similarly, while McMahon and the evil Secret Service plotted to keep the task force away from the presidential debate wherein Diaz planned his big sacrifice, the team navigated the huge security detail with relative success, stopping what appeared to be the botched assassination. And then when they were temporarily arrested, Reddington quickly attacked an armored transport vehicle to save them. And then Dembe shot McMahon in the skull before she could explain much of anything. Season's big bad dispatched!
Villains exist on this show to get outsmarted by Red, there's no doubt about that. But for the show to dedicate so much time to McMahon and to never effectively make her or her plan against the country that interesting is a legitimate error in execution. The end result was likely always something like this; it could have been more of a worthwhile journey.
With McMahon ousted, the task force turned to the evil, angry president, who was in fact not assassinated and instead watched the first lady take the bullet. The last 20 minutes of the episode tried to create a big mystery about why the Secret Service goon missed his chance to execute the president. The big reveal there? That before his first election win, Diaz drunkenly hit and killed someone with his car. The first lady had guilt about it and couldn't keep it secret anymore. She had to be eliminated for the good of the country!
As I've said before, there's never going to be a tremendous reveal involving the cabal. Cut off one tentacle and two yada yada. But for everything to lead to such a generic, small surprise was disappointing. Combined with the dispatching of McMahon, it was very disappointing.
The episode served the two lead characters better but to differing degrees. Liz's reunion with Agnes was legitimately moving and one of those things that the show could have treated even more seriously. It's a huge development in Liz's life and a capper to her arc in the second half of the season. She's wanted to move past all the trauma and try to be with her loved ones. That Red wouldn't stick around to share a moment with his faux granddaughter was low-key heartbreaking. It was a great moment that could have been given more time.
Elsewhere, the episode ended with Red and Katarina. There's a lot to explore between those two, and between them and Liz. Clearly, that's where the show is headed in Season 7. Katarina kissing and then knocking out Reddington makes for a fun little shock to conclude a strong, if flawed season.
Despite some quibbles with the back half of the season or this episode, The Blacklist is primed for great material next go-around. The dysfunctional dynamics of this quasi-family should return the show to its strongest pocket. It also appears as if the cabal plotline will dovetail more directly with Katarina's reemergence, which could potentially avoid that material feeling tackled on so that the task force characters have something to do.
The Blacklist will return for Season 7 in the fall on NBC. It's available to stream on Netflix.