How do you torture the man who's seen -- and really done -- it all? Convince him that he's essentially paralyzed, of course. It's the type of daffy-but-deadly maneuver you'll only find in a season premiere of The Blacklist.
For six seasons, we've seen the man we know as Raymond Reddington (James Spader) out-scheme, out-con, and out-murder his rivals like a legendary player in an all-star season of Criminal Survivor. Along the way, the show has established Katarina Rostova (Laila Robins) as a cunning equal to Reddington, a kind of Russian boogeywoman just waiting for her chance to disrupt whatever life Reddington has made for himself.
It's only fitting, then, that Rostova's opening salvo centered on drugging Red to the point of immobilization and then convincing him that he been brutally attacked and left for dead. Better still, the former KGB agent hired the episode's titular Blacklister, Louis Steinhill (David Meunier), a top-tier con artist, to play an agent trying to pressure Red for information on Rostova and/or the cabal.
Pretty good gambit! Short of going full amnesia, paralysis is the best/worst traumatic injury in the TV toolkit. The episode never truly committed to the idea that Red would be immobile for that long. The pleasure is in watching Red determine how he's been conned, and how he'll devise an even smarter, sharper con to regain the upper hand.
"Louis Steinhill" delivered it all: Red indeed sniffed out the con and made a temporary escape, only to be reined in by Rostova and her goons. And by the end of the hour, Red wasn't bound to a hospital bed. Instead, he was strapped upright to piece of fencing -- another brainsick tactic that you see only on shows like this -- with blood draining from his carotid artery. Tough scene, bro.
Meanwhile, Liz (Megan Boone) and the task force played second fiddle while Red and Rostova faced off. Nevertheless, the show made another smart decision by clearing the air between those who know the truth about Red's past (Liz and Ressler) and those in the dark (Harold and Aram). After leaning so heavily on lies and obfuscation in the earlier seasons, the show has made a pleasant turn towards transparency, at least as far as the FBI folks go. Liz and Ressler sharing the secrets made for some good episodes last season, and there's no real reason for Harold and Aram to be unaware any longer.
Liz's earnest explanation for why she kept the secret about dropping the dime on Red, as well as why none of his secrets really matter right now, felt earned after the events of last season. She's realized that, while Red technically isn't who he says he is, he's been an active part of her life for so long without having any blood relationship to her. That, in its own demented Blacklist way, is a sign of real affection and love. Hopefully Red doesn't immediately betray Liz's newly measured care for her real fake dad.
There's still so much to uncover with Rostova, her past with Red, and how she'll eventually try to drive another wedge between him and Liz. But this episode successfully confirmed her as a legitimate threat, even as we know that Red and Liz will likely triumph over her by the end of the season. For the journey to be worthwhile, the stakes have to feel real, particularly this late in The Blacklist's run. The Season 7 premiere accomplished that.
The Blacklist airs Fridays at 8/7c on NBC.