You know, I really didn't like Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows. So much walking without really going anywhere. And I realized the reason it was so unsatisfying is because the whole time you could see the outline: The story was telling you the story it was telling you, instead of just telling you the story. Bare branches, that should have been covered in blossoms. TV finales often have a similar feel, because they are more than any other episode, even the pilot, a bulletpointed list of shit that needs to get done. Sometimes you think you can leverage one or two really cool set pieces into justifying an hour of nothing special. And sometimes the magician forgets to wave his left hand around so you aren't looking at the right hand, and then you are just watching somebody take a card out of his pocket: That's not magic, that's just movement.
So this is maybe the most important episode of the show to date, in a lot of ways, as we transition into the third act of this first season of what is a pretty great, fun show. It answers the questions, it ties off the tourniquet, it gets you ready for the cut. It accomplishes that job, with a modicum of effort, but that's all it really does. But when you've seen as many finales fall flat as I have, over the years, it's sort of like the pilot thing: This might be the most consequential episode of the show, but it's also its least memorable.
What happens? This spooky high school kid steals a "digital nuclear bomb" because the girl he's stalking is the daughter of the head of the project (at another black site, which causes some funny intradepartmental hiccups and stepped-on toes). In the process, he accidentally kills an NSA spy, and then once he's discovered he decides to commit suicide by subway train, with Liz Keen in tow. She talks him out of it with some hamfisted negotiations, and that's that. The only special part is watching the kid be weird at school, because he is exceedingly weird and interesting, but that's like one scene.
It does touch off a secondary thing with Red and the Blacklist, by which he comes to determine that one of his enemies is actually the person doing the cybercrime, and has them fly all the way to Belarus -- Ressler even gets to pretend to get shot to death, which is either therapeutic/cathartic or dorky GI Joe shit, but either way seemed way too soon -- only to determine that actually it's this random other kid who has stolen the "Ivan" cyberhacker brand, so it has nothing to do with Red or the Blacklist. That's good for one act of plot right there, and never seems to connect back in any way I could tell.
Meanwhile, on the show we could have been watching while that whole BS was going on, Mr. Kaplan immediately finds the bodies of the Cowboy and Jolene (through her mysterious Mr. Kaplan ways) and Red pushes Liz just enough that she starts investigating Jolene, instantly locating her on ViCAP and then tracking her to the warehouse where Tom does his spy deeds. He's there at the time, so he destroys all Liz-specific evidence (and um, I guess all traces of his DNA?) and then waits until she has cleared the space before clonking her over the head and making a run for it.
So in the last few minutes, the Keens have creepy tender times -- he's notified Berlin that he is now forced to "liquidate" -- but Liz comes across some majorly circumstantial evidence that is the last straw in her denial of Tom's superspyness, so she runs to Red and he plays a music box that reactivates some of her weird memories of that fire that time, and he cradles her in his arms and promises she's going to be okay. Which is all fine on paper, but that's the thing about this episode: It's all on paper. I don't think the show is changing, but the scripts themselves have been worse the last few weeks and this one was for the dogs. Which wouldn't suck so much if it weren't such a potentially fantastic, game-changing episode. So just stick to the plot points, forget the embarrassing Watch Dogs magic-tablet-computer shenanigans, and get on the new level:
Because this is the new thing, starting next week: Liz determines that she's going to keep playing the Keen scenario to figure out about Berlin and what Tom has to do with her and Red, which means a Mr. & Mrs. Smith game, which is my favorite kind of game, because you can get your wires crossed really fast and I hope they do. That has major potential for some real twisted shit (twisted shit being the exact thing they tease us with about Liz, and never show), as well as hopefully getting back some of Liz's pride after being exposed as the biggest chump on the show.
Now, no amount of weak writing can take away from the visual of Red Reddington rocking his Lizzy in his arms, because that is gold of the sort that actually does take seventeen episodes to earn. It's just not a zero sum. So we cross our fingers, and we root for the show moving forward, and understand that sometimes limping toward the act break is exactly what it seems like, and any given week might mean a return to the vigor and cheeky intelligence that are this show's usual hallmarks.
Next Week: While the Post Officers go hunting for a claims adjuster who turns people into contract killers, Liz adjusts to the sexy new situation at home, but presumably gets no closer to figuring out the deal with Red at all.
Tom Keen married his wife Liz two years ago at the behest of a group out of Berlin, to investigate her ties to Red Reddington. After Red engineered a partial fail of his cover story he went dark, and Lucy Brooks went undercover as Jolene to smoke him out. A few of the Blacklist entries seemed to help her in this pursuit, but Red was using them to draw her out too. When Red's investigator caught the two of them together, Tom killed them both, but may be calling quits on his whole mission.
An NSA man, Nathan, is working on a very special bomb that can blow up the whole internet and digital infrastructure of a country. Today he is having computer problems inside a black site. Everything's going berserk! He can't even unplug the internet in time! Somebody named "Ivan" is hacking their files, and so he follows protocol by snagging the prototype of the device and vamooses. On the outside of his job it just looks like a TV repair shop.
Unfortunately, this Ivan character already has Watch Dogs power over his airbags, not to mention grid control, so before you know it the man has crashed his car and died! Ivan grabs the device and runs off in a little beanie, and that's a wrap on dead guy. So long. You had a strong profile before it was smashed to pieces by science fiction tricks.
Mr. Kaplan: "Good morning, Red and Dembe. Do you like my mysterious ways?"
Red: "Not as much as I love your jacket! Is this vicuĂ±a wool?"
Mr. Kaplan: "Just like brought down Eisenhower's Chief of Staff. Hey, look at these dead bodies I randomly found."
Red: "Well, that's two problems. One is the lady that is bothering my Lizzy, and the other one is a mean cowboy. When did they die?"
Mr. Kaplan: "Something like a week ago. I can do a field autopsy..."
Red: "That would be adorable! But no, I already know who killed them."
Mr. Kaplan: "Okay, I will make like a visitor to our national parks and leave no trace on this shallow grave crime scene."
Red: "And I'll call 911, to report a missing bitch with Crazy Eyes."
Liz: "Check out this dumb toy I got for you to take to work! Kids love this crap. It's a plastic hippo where the butt lights up!"
Tom: "If my cover job were my real job I would take a moment to think about what you just said and all of my choices."