The Blacklist is back, and still teasing. Or perhaps it's just trolling.
The pre-Thanksgiving episode of the show built to a pair of semi-cliffhangers suggesting that both the characters and the audience were about to learn significant truths. Frustrated with Frank/Iyla's (Brett Cullen) lack of cooperation, Katarina (Laila Robins) vowed to take her torture plan to the next level with psychoactive drugs. Liz (Megan Boone) also finally started to question the motives of the helpful grandma next door. These two storylines seemed sure to coalesce, with Reddington (James Spader) racing to save Frank/keep Liz in the dark about Katarina yet again.
Unfortunately, these stories didn't so much coalesce in "Orion Relocation Services" as they did interrupt one another. And despite a few notable "reveals" and good performances all around, The Blacklist is still toying rather than telling a satisfying story.
Katarina's pursuit of the truth took her and Frank into the past, thanks to a cocktail of drugs (and some help from a conflicted doc played by the great Michael Cerveris). It was a unique way to tell a flashback story that expanded upon last season's supposedly earth-shaking "Rassvet" and the younger Iyla played by Gabriel Mann. This go-around, Frank's "memories" revealed that, sometime soon after the events of "Rassvet," Iyla and Dom plotted to kill Katarina, only for the hit to take out her lover instead.
Like in the prior episode, everyone involved here elevated the material. Cullen and Robins navigated adeptly through the novelty of their characters being placed within drug-induced flashbacks, particularly as Katarina realized that Frank so clearly betrayed her all those years ago.
The wrinkle, of course, is that there's so much manipulation and misinformation that it's difficult to fully grasp if these reactions matter. Katarina was clearly betrayed in the past, but it's still unclear exactly why, and, more importantly, what Frank is hiding related to Reddington. The episode saw him be literally sedated so he couldn't reveal the piece of information everyone wants. That's not delayed gratification. That's trolling.
Likewise, that Frank's "memories" placed him into the body of the man we supposedly know is Iyla potentially confirms that present-day Red is not Iyla. But Frank never personally confirmed his identity, so questions still remain -- which is actually what the show wants.
Meanwhile, Liz finally and momentously realized that her do-gooder babysitter is, in fact, her duplicitous mother. That's a big deal for this show. Huge, even. The final sequence of the episode, with the two characters methodically airing this basic truth, was effectively tense and well played by both Boone and Robins. But predictably, The Blacklist ended it quickly, on a faux-cliffhanger that will surely be discarded come next week. Liz is not going to execute her mother.
This story has been less cumbersome than the Frank/Iyla mystery, but perhaps only because it's been underdeveloped over the last half-dozen episodes. Given this show's history, it was good to see that Liz came to understand the truth on her own and that she avoided Red's hot pursuit to cover up any trace of Katarina. But the lead-up to those solid moments were tiring, particularly when Red simply refused to answer questions about his search for the "mysterious woman from Paris." Just because frustrating duplicity is baked into the premise doesn't mean that The Blacklist should still rely on that as a default mechanism in Season 7.
The time for teasing, or trolling, is over. Next week's Blacklister is Katarina. More substantive information should be revealed and The Blacklist should set up something more engaging for the back-half of the season.
The Blacklist airs Fridays at 8/7c on NBC.