TV seasons aren't typically made with network scheduling in mind, but it's nice to see that The Blacklist didn't waste time following up on its latest big reveal from eight months ago.
A quick refresher is in order. After a prolonged race to procure a bag of bones that cost her months in a coma and her husband's life, Liz (Megan Boone) finally outsmarted Raymond Reddington (James Spader) and learned the show's latest and biggest truth: The FBI's most wanted and the man so obsessed with haberdashery is not her father, or the real Reddington. He's a fake. A fraud. A real swindler.
Liz has too often operated an information deficiency, with Red one to 82 steps ahead of her. The first hour of the show's two-part premiere quickly attempted to reverse course and offer a thesis statement for the season: It's time for Liz to take everything she's learned from the fraudulent Reddington and out-manipulate him into discovering the necessary answers. And she's going to do it with her half-sister Jennifer (Fiona Dourif). It's fake dad versus daughter and daughter.
The Blacklist has suggested these type of turns before. In fact, the show's forward momentum is predicated on Liz feeling like she has the upper hand before Reddington unveils that he, actually, has been in control all along. But "Dr. Hans Koehler" did an effective job of showing how this time could be different, from the first few scenes.
The episode began with a fun and familiar sight. Red and Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq) successfully completing a robbery in the middle of another robbery, complete with dumping the original robbers out of the back of a trash truck and top-shelf preening from Red. But while one half of the show's leading duo basked in his own glory, the other half strategized about how to extract intel from her not-dad.
That noticeable contrast continued throughout the hour. The search for the titular doctor Blacklister, a plastic surgeon to the world's criminal elite, created opportunities for some of the most purposefully deliberate conversations between father and daughter. Liz quickly picked up on Red's needling about hunting a plastic surgeon, particularly because Red rarely pitches a Blacklist candidate unless he stands to gain from a successful collar.
But while Red kept harping on the potential fallout of revealing his innermost secrets, Liz went to work on two fronts. First, she played up her desire to know about Red's connection to Koehler and agreed to divulge some truths if Red turned over his interest in the nip and tuck specialist. In giving Red the sense that he was back in control, Liz took her second step in investigating leads related to the night of the fire, now supported by Jennifer's outside intel.
The two traveled to Delaware, where they spoke with the retired local sheriff and uncovered small bits of information. While it appears fake RR covered his tracks on the night of the fire, the sisters got their hands on some scrambled hospital records. At worst, the duo discovered that somebody stopped at a local medical facility for treatment after the fire.
By the end of the hour, the normal Blacklist and Reddington formula had been deployed. Red sort of tried to help the team catch the man who had kidnapped the plastic surgeon, the mysterious Moreau (the great Christopher Lambert), but mostly pursued his own angle. He obtained the surgeon's client list — featuring some of the world's greatest evildoers — and handed it over to Liz.
Well, most of the list. He eliminated his own file, of course.
Yet, rather than celebrating Red's continued triumph over peer criminals, the FBI or his daughter, the episode exhibited the new-ish normal between fake father and fake daughter. Liz immediately recognized that Red deleted his own file, called him on it and then laid on the daughterly charm. Instead of complaining about another lie, Liz underlined how "before everything changed," she knew that her father was kind, decent and beautiful.
For a show defined by the layered deceit between these two characters, this was a great moment and a fun way to begin this new version of the show. Liz's message works on two fronts. Maybe Red is unaware of her investigation into him? Then she's playing on his legitimate care for her, potentially causing him to slip up down the road. And if he's already aware of what Liz is doing then she's playing a kind of next-level mindgame that Red will respect in his own bizarre way. What a well-crafted and well-acted scene.
As always with The Blacklist, there's a decent chance this all leads to Red looking cool and smart and Liz looking absolutely foolish yet again. But for now, there appears to be a legitimate shift in how the two talk with one another. The power dynamic is as balanced as ever, which makes for a far more compelling race to the next big reveal.
The Blacklist two-part Season 6 premierecontinues Friday at 9/8c on NBC.