Last week, millions of viewers tuned in to NBC's much-hyped The Blacklist
, making it one of the most successful new dramas of the season. The pilot episode had its share of twists, but none was more baffling than when troubled rookie Agent Keen stabbed James Spader's Red Reddington in the neck in a fit of rage.
That struck me as a very weird, very serious development at the time, but this week the show all but ignores the fact that it happens. Red ignores it too, but I guess that's understandable -- as the FBI continues catering to his every whim, he seems to be getting a pretty good deal out of this overall.
Reddington's cushy arrangement, as it happens, is proving controversial among his captors. But even as the FBI higher-ups continue to debate the merits of indulging an admitted criminal mastermind, damned if he doesn't have a knack for predicting trouble. This week, he successfully forecasts a freak train derailment, assigning blame for the disaster to a mysterious assassin called "The Freelancer," whose modus operandi is to kill targets and innocents alike in seemingly random accidents.
Before Red gets down to business capturing the Freelancer, he insists on escorting Keen on a dinner date to meet with an informant. She's more than happy to indulge his desire for an instant, borderline telepathic, personality read -- expositorily convenient ability she has there -- but their evening turns sour when he manages to escape FBI custody at will once again.
Keen's FBI friend Agent Ressler is quick to blame Elizabeth for losing the fourth most-wanted man in the world, but really, you can tell that he's just angry at himself. Ressler realizes that it was idiotic of him and his superiors to entrust Reddington solely to a psychologist who just started work with the agency, like, two days ago. Furthermore, he never should have left the two of them alone with each other, because last time he did that, Keen stabbed Reddinton in the neck. Why is she being given so much responsibility, and why doesn't she face any disciplinary action for stabbing an unarmed prisoner in the neck? That's nuts!
Ressler curses the unconscious conspiracy of bureaucracy and incompetence that led them all to this situation, and curses his own cowardice for allowing such absurdity to simply play out in front of him unopposed. None of this is explicit, mind you, but it's hard not to assume that that's what he's thinking. Anyway, Red willfully returns to their custody about 30 seconds later.
Having exchanged information with the coat check guy, Red reveals that the Freelancer's next target will be a human trafficking victims advocate. Keen personally attends a dinner party for the target -- I guess the FBI is pretty understaffed on this show -- with Red accompanying her once more. Red is able to pinpoint the Freelancer as a waiter, leading Keen to draw her gun and ostentatiously break up the party. But once the Freelancer is captured and tortured for a bit -- very poignant, The Blacklist -- he reveals that Raymond Reddington was actually the one who had hired him.
Another Pen to the Neck
It turns out that Red had planned on Keen waving her gun around and shutting down the party, because that would be a great ruse to get him alone with the victims advocate. In private, she confesses to being a hypocritical human trafficker herself, though she denies it when Keen arrives to save her. Unfortunately for her, Reddington's assassin has already given her a lethal poison, causing her airway to close up.
Unsure of who to believe, Keen tries to save the woman the only way she knows how: by stabbing her in the neck. Seriously! Another neck stab! Red even makes a sly quip about it, as if batting 1,000 on neck-stabs will be a cute little running joke for the show -- I agree that it could use a little more humor, but this isn't quite what I had in mind.
Hilariously enough, Keen's neck-stabbing trick is completely useless and the woman dies. Reddington successfully had someone assassinated under the FBI's nose, Keen stabbed another person in the neck, and this is still considered a functional work partnership as far as the FBI is concerned. Case closed?
Listen, not to get caught up on the neck-stabbing thing, but it's just so crazy. I mean, this whole arrangement was on thin verisimilitudinous ice to begin with -- and that's fine, I'll always give a high-concept show the benefit of the doubt on its premise -- but there's no way I'll believe that you can punch a hole in someone's trachea as many times as you punch your time card and keep your job.
Honestly, why would any FBI profiler be doing rote security work like this, let alone an emotionally compromised rookie like Keen? No part of her psychological expertise is valuable in these situations, and if Red really wants to bond with her, then they should do it from an FBI cubicle. Plus, the stabbing, the necks, she's crazy!
This is only the second episode, and The Blacklist is already getting pretty bonkers. If this is what the showrunners intended, and we're really going to get a new neck-stabbing every week, then I guess I can respect the audacity. Unfortunately, I rather suspect that the crew simply isn't sure what they're doing here, and they're trying out a bunch of cheap tricks to see what sticks. In somebody's neck.
airs Mondays at 10pm on NBC.
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(Image courtesy of NBC)