Spending time with the family around the holidays can be tough for all of us. The hackneyed traditions, the anxieties over gift-giving, the heated political arguments -- it's not always as magical as the Hallmark Channel makes it out to be. But when you're stuck listening to your uncle regurgitate flat earth talking points from Facebook in a few weeks, take solace in the fact that you're not part of the extended Rostova-Keen family. Each reunion or shocking first meeting goes so poorly on The Blacklist, even when it ultimately turns out OK.
The show has been building to the big Liz (Megan Boone)-Katarina (Laila Robins) showdown all fall, and really since it first revealed information about Liz's mother back in Season 1. Initial returns from this episode indicate that their anticipated reunion was not worth the wait -- at least not yet.
It's a prototypical Blacklist problem. The performers delivered an emotionally charged series of scenes that held together very well. Both Boone and Robins guided their characters through the roller coaster of emotions as each new piece of information clarified their respective positions. The scenes were intense but not overly heightened. These are two women scarred by decades of chicanery and death, and who default to distrust because of it. But by the end of a second conversation, they realized they weren't trying to get one another killed but rather learn the truth hidden by the common disruptor in their lives: Raymond Reddington (James Spader). That Liz and Katarina quickly joined forces to outsmart Reddington and search for "the truth" in secret is a testament to the show's sometimes spotty plotting. Red is always sketchy enough that characters turning on him is justified. And this season has done a good job of exhibiting Red's stubborn unwillingness to tell Liz anything about the "woman from Paris." Red is a liar. It's only fitting that two of the people he's lied to the most would eventually realize they are better off working against, rather than with, him.
From that standpoint, the "big" moments of the episode worked. The story for the second half of the season was established and there's a new dynamic between key characters. But for anyone looking for information related to Red, Katarina, and Frank/Iyla (Brett Cullen), this hour still withheld any major reveals, and, worse, continued to rely on characters speaking in vagueries and avoiding questions.
TV shows aren't just plot- and information-delivery systems. The relationships between characters ultimately matter more and are generally more compelling to watch as well. Yet The Blacklist is a show that so assuredly relies on the plot mysteries and in slowly unveiling intel that is supposed to deepen or challenges those character dynamics. It's a tricky calculus to get right because there are too many episodes and not enough substantial twists to reveal or mysteries to answer. But in this fall's stretch of episodes, the show hasn't calculated correctly. The admittedly strong interactions between characters -- and great work from the actors -- are harder to enjoy when surrounded by endless frustration and obfuscation.
Let's hope the new mother-daughter duo can uncover some truth about Red, and free The Blacklist from this rut in the process.
The Blacklist airs Fridays at 8/7c on NBC.