WARNING: Do not read on unless you have watched up through “Mr. Solomon: Conclusion,” unless you don’t care at all about major spoilers. You’ve been warned.
I’ve been watching NBC’s The Blacklist since day one, and from the moment James Spader’s Red Reddington walked into FBI headquarters and turned himself in, I knew we were in for a different kind of show. It was a marvelous cinematic scene, David Fincher-esque even, and it led to some incredible television.
Season 1 of The Blacklist did a great job of unveiling pieces of the puzzle at the right moment. We knew Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) and Raymond Reddington had a connection, and the internet exploded with the theory that he was her father. With most shows, yeah, it would have been that easy, but The Blacklist quickly revealed itself to be much more complex than that.
The first two-and-a-half seasons were great, not perfect, but smart. We had a great cast of well-rounded characters, led of course by the charmingly evil Reddington.
So what got us to where we are now? What was the first fumble that led us to a show that allegedly has now killed off its main character? Why has the show lost its edge? I’m afraid it goes all the way back to the season 1 finale “Berlin.”
Over the course of season 1, we learned that “Tom Keen” was merely an alias, and his marriage to Liz was an operation from Berlin, a mysterious foreign villain played by (who else?) Peter Stormare. Now, “Berlin” was a great episode, showing that every blacklister so far was a piece of a puzzle leading to Berlin, and also having the guts to kill off Meera Malik (Parminder Nagra), but it did one thing wrong. There’s a moment where Red and Liz are about to leave Tom to die, but Liz wants another moment with him. I think she was supposed to kill him here and wrap up their arc, but the writers or the network liked Ryan Eggold’s performance as Tom so much that they kept him around. Don’t get me wrong, Ryan Eggold did a spectacular job, but if you don’t end a story where it’s supposed to, you find yourself with discontinuity and plot holes all over the place. Plus, it led to one of The Blacklist‘s worst trademarks—the fakeout.
When Malik died in “Berlin,” it was a quick, shocking throat slit, and that was it. There was no “Maybe she made it” or “Maybe she staged her own death.” She was dead, and it stung. HARD. When a show or movie fakes out deaths like Tom Keen’s, it lessens the impact when someone actually dies, because instead of mourning, we’re immediately wondering how they got away. It’s perhaps a flaw of being a network show, being forced into 22 episodes a season, instead of 10 or 13 on cable, but we’re getting really sick of it.
Imagine if the most painful death on The Sopranos (if you’ve seen the show, you’ll know which one I’m referring to) turned out to not be real. Sure, there were plenty of fan theories at the time, like “Oh, we never saw the body” or “The character got away,” but they held no ground. These days, when a show doesn’t clearly show a lifeless corpse being lowered into the ground and covered with dirt, there’s a 99% chance they made it. If the show had the guts to actually kill Tom Keen at the end of “Berlin,” it would have made clear that The Blacklist wasn’t going to spin us around in circles.
Instead, The Blacklist continued the Tom Keen story into territory that, frankly, makes zero sense. Liz kept him locked up on a boat somewhere to get information and then maybe kill him, but of course she doesn’t do it then either. Then we find out that Tom was working for Reddington too, or at least in the past (they kind of went back-and-forth on this). Reddington tells Tom to never come near Liz again or he’ll kill him. Great, so we’re done with Tom, right?
NOPE. We now have to deal with Tom and Liz developing romantic feelings for each other again. Tom, the INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL who married Liz in order to kill her. Oh, but he developed romantic feelings for her along the way, right? If you want to go with that, remember when he cheated on her? When he was physically abusive with her? The whole “actually fell in love with her” BS wasn’t added until season 2 when they decided to keep him around. He was a villain, plain and simple.
By season 3, Liz was pregnant with Tom’s child and they decided to get married. Liz, who has been built up as a strong, powerful, and increasingly ruthless protagonist is now getting back together with her abusive, fake ex-husband. The entire first season was about her getting him out of her life, and now she’s getting back together with him. You’ve just ruined two seasons worth of character development for a reunion that literally no one was rooting for. No Mad Men fan was holding out hope for Joan and Greg Harris to get back together, but it seems the writers of The Blacklist really wanted Tom and Liz back together, entirely putting aside the physical and emotional abuse.
So that brings us to the two-part episode “Mr. Solomon.” Tom and Liz are about to get married, when they’re interrupted by Solomon’s (Edi Gathegi) men. The show has had a string of villains played by wonderful actors like Alan Alda and David Strathairn, and Solomon seemed to be one at first, but he’s gradually turned into someone who just starts a lot of shootouts. In the middle of the crossfire, Tom and Liz drive away in the wedding car, cans still dangling, at which point I pondered if I was suddenly watching a sitcom. Doesn’t one of them realize they’re going to give themselves away? Whatever.
But what else could go wrong in this sitcom? What if Liz goes into labor? Of course, so they go to an abandoned nightclub Red has picked out, but who’s the doctor? Oh, it’s Liz’s old boyfriend. Who could have predicted that? There was forced drama before, but why all of a sudden are we getting forced comedy?
It looks like the baby might not make it, but she does, but then Liz has complications. As the doctors take her to a hospital, Solomon continues to pursue, and along the way Liz dies. It was clearly a moment meant to shock the audience, but at this point it leaves us apathetic. Whether she’s dead or alive, the show has crossed a point of no return.
Let’s for one second imagine that she’s actually dead. The show has gone and killed off its protagonist to mix things up. This would be a terrible direction to take the story, as Liz still has a lot of mysteries to find out. Reddington would only speak to her, and it is very clear with her gone that Red’s entire plan would fall apart. Plus, after gradually derailing her character since we found out she was pregnant, killing her at this point would leave a bad taste in our mouth forever.
So that leaves us with another fakeout. I’m sure there’s some stupidly elaborate plot that Reddington or someone set up for her to fake her death, but who cares? When you toy with the audience’s emotions and fake deaths this many times, we aren’t invested anymore.
When BBC’s Sherlock adapted the classic story “The Final Problem,” they clearly showed that Sherlock was alive at the end of the episode. It wasn’t a cliffhanger whether he was alive, because we knew he would be back. The question instead was why he faked his death. It would appear The Blacklist doesn’t give its audience as much credit as Sherlock‘s does.
No matter what the resolution of this cliffhanger is, it doesn’t matter. We’ve been dragged through the dirt for so long that even if we get back on track, we’ll still be covered in it. There’s no saving this once-great show, I’m sorry to say. Whether or not Liz is actually dead, I’m afraid the show is. The Blacklist is dead, really dead, Meera Malik dead, lifeless corpse being lowered into the ground and covered with dirt dead, run down the curtain and joined the bleeding choir invisible dead. This is an ex-show, which of course, being on network television, means it will last another ten years. It was fun while it lasted.