The Blacklist: Season 3, Episode 18 - "Mr. Solomon, the Conclusion"
Touching acting, brilliant self-parody, and whetting the viewers' appetite for next week -- The Blacklist bounces back.
The BlacklistAirtime: Thursdays, 9pm
Cast: James Spader, Edi Gathegi, Megan Boone, Ryan Eggold
Subtitle: Season 3, Episode 18 - "Mr. Solomon, the Conclusion"
Air date: 2016-04-14
Last week, The Blacklist had one of its lowest moments. "Mr. Solomon (No. 32)" was little more than a series of insane coincidences, forced sentiment, and naked manipulations. Three things undermined that episode: a lack of a strong villainous character, a shameless series of overly sentimentalized plot points, and the absence of danger. This week represents a significant rebound in two of the three categories, which made "Mr. Solomon, the Conclusion" watchable.
One of the things that kept the series going was an outstanding rogues' gallery played by outstanding actors. The list includes Peter "The Director" Kotsiopulos (David Strathairn), Alan "The Decembrist" Fitch (Alan Alda), and Diane Fowler (Jane Alexander). It also includes two active baddies: Laurel Hitchin (Christine Lahti) and Matias Solomon (Edi Gathegi). Lahti hasn't made an appearance for a while.
The series wasted what was a great villain in Gathegi's Solomon. When introduced, he was a menacing figure. He shared lead character Raymond "Red" Reddington's (James Spader) ability to handle the most threatening situations nonchalantly. Unfortunately, for much of the season his role was to be the leader of the keystone cops chasing Red and Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone). In this episode, he does a lot of walking around in a mauve suite with his collar up. He comes off as a bad parody of Philip Michael Thomas's Detective Ricardo Tubbs in Miami Vice (with a Bluetooth).
The episode revolves around the pregnant Liz giving birth inside a nightclub. The high-risk/non-conventional birth is one of the most hackneyed tropes in television. Director John Terlesky, and writers Daniel Cerone and Jon Bokenkamp were either so outrageously tone deaf to this trope, or this is a brilliant piece of parody designed to undermine it. Liz is complaining to her husband Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold) that the baby deserves better then to be born in an ad-hoc triage center set up in a closed nightclub. Tom then goes to the turntable, turns on the disco lighting, and plays a song. The trope is fulfilled; the white knight saves the day and creates a romantic moment.
Subverting this are both some obvious and some obscure details. The obvious detail is that Dr. Nick (Pieter Marek), in the middle of doing an emergency cesarean section in a makeshift operating room, may not want a bunch of colored lights dancing around in the background as he’s cutting her open. More obscure is the song that Tom chooses to play: Paul Anka's "She's Having My Baby". There have been a lot of moments of pathologic narcissism in popular music, but consider the song's opening lyrics:
Having my baby
What a lovely way of sayin' how much you love me?
Having my baby
What a lovely way of sayin' what you're thinkin' of me?
So the song's narrator sees his partner's willingness to procreate as a way of proving to him how much he matters to her. Not heard in the show is the song's conclusion: the narrator's amazement that his partner could have chosen to abort the baby but she decided not to. He's so proud of her for loving him so much.
One of the strongest elements of The Blacklist has been the creator's taste in music. In the past, creator/executive producer Jon Bokenkamp has included songs from an eclectic group of artists including: Johnny Cash, Gordon Lightfoot, Dolly Parton, Tina Dico, The Platters, George Ezra, Pearl Jam, Hugo, The Cranberries, ZZ Top, and Avicii. One can assume they clearly know what they are doing in selecting that song.
It thus reads as a brilliant piece of subversion. On the surface, it looks like Tom's creating a wonderful romantic birth for his beloved Liz. But what he is actually doing is greatly endangering her life by playing a song in which a man praises a woman for carrying his seed. While a brilliant self-parody, it makes you wonder why the producers put its audience through so much sap without irony.
As I stated in my previous review, the lack of any consequences has damaged the show. Not just danger, but consequences. No matter what happens, everyone kind of bounces back. It seems Bokenkamp finally understood this. In this episode, Liz appears to die from complications during birth. I say appears because the director did leave a slight crack in the door, a la "Amok Time" an episode of Star Trek that aired September 15, 1967, in which Kirk (William Shatner) and his first Officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy) duel to the death. Kirk appears dead, but only because Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) injects him with a drug to simulate death.
Not only was it a necessary move, it was the right one for the show. Elizabeth Keen has been one of the weakest written characters on the show. In part, her main function has been to react to Red. Throughout the series, she was written far more as a character of convenience. Her character seemed like the writer's Swiss Army knife. When they needed her to be inventive and daring, she was inventive and daring. When they needed her to be innocent and trusting, she was innocent and trusting. When they needed her to be vulnerable, she was vulnerable. All of the other characters were far better defined.
This episode did feature a far more nuanced portrayal of Mr. Kaplan (Susan Blommaert). In "Mr. Gregory Devry" I speculate that Mr. Kaplan may be Katrina Rostova, Liz's mother. This theory’s bolstered a little bit by the exchanges between Red and Mr. Kaplan while Liz is going through her surgery. The normally stoic character seems unusually vested in Liz's welfare. There’s a shot, which starts on Red, then pans back and out to include Mr. Kaplan, suggesting that Mr. Kaplan is closer to the operating room and more invested than Red in the outcome. The only way she could be more concerned is if she's Katrina Rostova. Because the shot includes "She’s Having My Baby", it could be an Easter egg suggesting that Red is Liz’s father.
The other really important thing is that killing Elizabeth Keen -- even fake killing her -- forces the show to reset. The writers are going to have to find someone else to be the foil or control for Red. Perhaps one or two of the lesser-used characters will step up. Killing Keen also has regained a little of the series' original magic. When The Blacklist first came on, it was filled with one shocking reveal after another. Each week, the audience waited to see how the producers would surprise them with next. For the first time in a while, I’ve no idea what the next episode will be like. This is a good thing.