Welcome to the unintentional penultimate episode of The Blacklist's seventh season (which also happens to be the show's 150th episode). Disrupted season-long story arcs are just below "no haircuts" on the global pandemic concern list, but it's still hard to ignore when watching an episode like "Roy Cain," which started revving up for the endgame right as it's all about to come to a stop with a half-animated finale.
Though next week's effort should be surreal, let's not get ahead of ourselves and show some respect for an episode that featured the return of Fisher Stevens' corrupt lawyer Martin, guest spots from Tom Wopat and Al Roker, and a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance by Jordan Wiesley from The Challenge. The Blacklist is perpetually underrated as the straight-up weirdest show on broadcast television.
Thousands of words could be written about Roker's appearance here, playing himself as a great friend -- and social companion -- of Reddington (James Spader). Roker (like all famous TV news personalities) loves to make fun of himself, but watching him ask the world's most dangerous criminal about ongoing problems with "the Bulgarians" was something to behold. Will an animated finale be able to top that? Unlikely.
More importantly, though, after last week's Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff)-centric affair, the show picked back up with the action from two episodes ago. Katarina (Laila Robins) still held the imam from Dembe's (Hisham Tawfiq) mosque under capture, while Reddington recovered from passing out in a restaurant kitchen. As Liz (Megan Boone) and the task force tried to determine how a currently incarcerated man's DNA ended up at the mosque, Red and Katarina's respective scheming slowly inched them closer together -- with Liz caught in the middle.
The personal connections and deep histories between these characters generate natural tension that this episode exploited nicely. Katarina tried to convince Dembe to give up information on Red in exchange for his imam, and Dembe agreed, right before Red showed up to "save" the day. Dembe has proven his loyalty to Red time after time, but they've also butted heads about how to handle Liz and various truths surrounding Red's past. There's a limit to that loyalty when seemingly innocent people like the imam are in danger.
And Red is now primed to end his relationship with Dembe once and for all, but they've been down this road before. Red protests too much with those closest to him. He's never let Dembe (or Liz) too far out of his orbit. The Katarina showdown raises the stakes, but it's still difficult to imagine that an increasingly unhealthy Red would truly take out Dembe for simply being willing to tell the truth.
Meanwhile, the Red-Katarina scheming is, naturally, getting to Liz. She paid for a private detective to gain information about Ilya (Brett Cullen), but wasn't comfortable with Katarina's full measures here. To make matters worse, Red made the announcement that he needs to get his affairs in order, including bestowing the criminal enterprise to her. Liz is sharp enough to know that all offers from her fake dad come with strings attached, and this is a big one at a very tumultuous time. She might have to pick sides sooner rather than later.
The episode did a great job ratcheting up the simmering tension. The principals showed increased unease, whether we're talking Katarina's desperation or Red's declining health. It's common for characters to plot in secret against one another, but now everyone is mostly aware of the other's actions, even if they're not talking about it.
If it's been frustrating to watch The Blacklist stall some of these developments to pad out the typical 22-episode season, knowing they were finally on the way as the season is going to end abruptly is just a bummer. But there's good stuff coming, even if that's six or nine months from now. At least that will give the writers time to plot out Al Roker's crusade against the Bulgarians.
The Blacklist airs Fridays at 8/7c on NBC.