Back in 2013, NBC was not doing too well, viewership-wise. The network had The Voice, but had struggled to capitalize on that show’s success. There were a few rays of hope, like NBC’s Thursday night comedy block, the beginning of the Chicago empire with Chicago Fire, or Grimm‘s solid Friday numbers. But NBC’s position remained precarious. That all really started turning around in the fall of 2013, when this week’s TV Roulette selection The Blacklist premiered. An instant hit, The Blacklist marked the moment when NBC began clawing its way back to respectability; now the network is back on solid ground, with a relatively strong stable of shows to work with (well, on the drama side; let’s not talk about their comedies). The Blacklist has been so successful that of course NBC would look to replicate its success, and this past pilot season it has down so by ordering to series both a spin-off of The Blacklist, and a prequel to the Taken movies. This week’s episode of The Blacklist is actually the backdoor pilot to the newly named The Blacklist: Redemption, and also served as the penultimate episode to the season as a whole. How did the episode deal with the burden of pulling double duty? We’ll find out right after the rundown.
Spoilers Ahead for the most recent episode of The Blacklist
TV Roulette Week 17
The Blacklist; ‘Alexander Kirk,’ Season 3, Episode 22
May 12th 2016
Have I Seen This Show Before?
I watched the pilot, and maybe a couple of more episodes in the first season (I don’t really remember, the shows all run together), and then snippets of a couple of episodes in the last two seasons.
Backdoor pilots are really tricky. You are using a current show to spinoff a new show, which means you have to figure out a way to balance introducing the cast of the new potential show without breaking the narrative in the current one. Sometimes this can be done rather easily. Dick Wolf’s Chicago franchise just needs to figure out a way for police and firefighters to interact, or in the case of the upcoming Chicago Law, a police story that must involve attorneys. (Impossible! – Ed) These are pretty simple tasks and the result can be seamless. And with a strictly procedural show like that, the backdoor pilot doesn’t need to be the first episode of the new show, but can just jump right into its world.
Even then, though, backdoor pilots can be risky. Sometimes the main characters from the original show mess up the dynamics for the new show, as happened with Supernatural‘s attempted spinoff, Bloodlines, in an episode that highlighted how much worse the new cast was compared to the old cast. You could also just do what The Originals did when it hijacked an episode of Vampire Diaries that never really fit with what was actually happening in the current story. In that case, most of the characters in The Originals were already so well established that it didn’t mess with anything. The show then smartly reworked the backdoor pilot to be from a different perspective to allow for it to work on its own.
So The Blacklist had a lot of choices to go with, and decided to mesh them all together to create its own spin on the backdoor pilot. Like The Originals, The Blacklist decided to make its spinoff star a long running character in its show, Ryan Eggold’s Tom Keen, while also using recurring players Edi Gathargi and Tawny Cypress. Then it took a note from the Chicago series by bringing everyone together in a fashion that does not seem out of place for the storyline, while also highlighting a new character in Famke Jannsen’s Susan “Scottie” Halsted. The Blacklist upped the ante, however, by more or less seamlessly integrating all of this into the final storyline of the season, which is about bringing the “killer” of Megan Boone’s Elizabeth Keen to justice. This let the episode work pretty well on its own, and helped it not feel like it was breaking the world of the show it was using as a springboard. Sure, that meant that James Spader’s Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington took a bit of a back seat in this episode. But his presence could still be felt profoundly throughout, and he is the one who basically sets up the new show, as Red reveals that Scottie is in fact Tom’s long lost mother, and thus the key to answering the many questions Tom has about his past.
The episode was also aided by the absence of the other lead of The Blacklist, Boone. Though that brings up quite an important question: is Elizabeth Keen actually dead? The show acts as if she is dead, and if she was killed off, it was fittingly during the dark period on television that I am sure will one day get a name, like the “Female Lead Culling,” where starting in March of this year multiple shows killed off prominent female characters. The spate of deaths unfortunately highlighted how poorly networks view female leads compared to their male leads, or in the case of The 100, was fucked up for other reasons entirely.
The Elizabeth Keen death, however, never quite added up. Megan Boon was pregnant in real life, and was clearly heading for some sort of maternity leave, or at least a drastically reduced role in such an action heavy show like The Blacklist. While Spader could carry the show in her absence, Boon couldn’t simply disappear for no reason. So it always felt a little suspect when Elizabeth was killed off, and I questioned whether this death would actually stick or if this was just a way for Boon to take time off from the show. Add in the fact that there has been nothing mentioned about Boone actually leaving the show, plus pictures of her being on The Blacklist set, and this is feeling more and more like how Game of Thrones handled its recent similar situation with
‘Alexander Kirk’ itself was actually quite entertaining. It figured out how to highlight each of its characters, including those who will presumably feature in the spin-off. Jannsen is very entertaining as Scottie, and the spin-off will feed off her unique energy. The new show is really pushing the idea that Scottie and Tom will have a similar relationship to Elizabeth and Red’s (from what little I know of the latter pair), and the chemistry between Eggold and Jannsen suggest that this could work in the spin-off. Of course, just like with The Blacklist, this new show seems so action packed that the depth it can achieve will clearly be hit or miss, even if it managed to hit entertainingly this time.
Of course, much of what this episode needed to do was set up for next week’s finale, and the show does a good job of getting the pieces in place for the main characters in The Blacklist to actually deal with Alexander Kirk. Kirk is played by Banshee‘s Ulrich Thomsen, who doesn’t get much to do this week, but should be a lot of fun in next week’s finale. This episode achieves the best of both worlds by giving enough to the penultimate episode to make it more than a mere tablesetter, but does so uniquely, by setting up a pilot for a completely different show. But it’s hard to tell how much of the episode’s crispness comes from how rarely I’ve tuned into The Blacklist, versus what I would feel if I had been keeping up with this show. Procedural-ish shows like this can feel repetitive at times, but this episode suggested a commitment to serialization that should keep everything fresh and enjoyable. Plus, the caper parts of the episode were mostly done very well, other than the fact that, with this being the penultimate episode, you knew that the real payoffs wouldn’t come until next week, so the stakes got a little muddled. Still, this episode got my heart pounding, an impressive feat, and proved that, in nothing else, The Blacklist is a show that will keep you entertained, which is more than so many other shows can say. That alone solidifies its current place in the television hierarchy, and makes me glad things like it are on the air.
Notes and Observations
- Like I said, Red doesn’t have much to do in this episode, but the scene with him, Scottie, and Senator Diaz (Benito Martinez), is awesome, and Red’s tense phone conversation with Kirk made me really excited at the concept of the two of them meeting face-to-face next week.
- Considering Scottie’s company is actually the one that performed the hit on Elizabeth, even if they were hired by Kirk, I appreciated Tom’s attitude toward working with all of them this episode: contempt and necessity. His intention to use them to get to Kirk and then kill them all was a nice change of pace from most shows, which would try to bury such history. When Tom actually shot Gathargi’s Matias Solomon once he felt Matias is no longer needed, it added an edge to this new show, because its leading man isn’t fucking around. This will especially be interesting because Matias presumably survives his gut wound, since he, too, will be in the spin-off.
- The clever use of retinal scans in this episode were also nice, as the show took the step of punishing the characters for knocking someone out by having the character’s retina temporarily no longer work for the scan. It was an unexpected bit of trouble that helped raise the tension.
- This show is very stylish, and its shooting style gives it a more unique look and feel compared to a lot of shows of this ilk. Don’t get me wrong, it still conforms in a lot of ways to standard action television shooting syndrome, but it does make a little effort to look different.
Episode Grade: B+ (this is becoming a theme at this point, I guess)
Will I watch more?
Hmm, I will likely watch the finale to see how this whole Elizabeth Keen thing shakes out, or possibly the premiere of next season, if that question is delayed being answered until then. Otherwise, while I enjoyed watching this show, it probably won’t be able to make the cut going forward.
That’s it for this week’s TV Roulette. Tune in next time for more roulette stylings. Until then, remember, smoking can kill you one way or another, but especially if the cigarettes are poisoned.