The Blacklist: Season 3, Episode 23 – “Alexander Kirk (No. 14): Conclusion”

The Blacklist's season-ending surprise is more The Happening and less The Sixth Sense. Not a good thing!

Have you ever noticed that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”

–George Carlin

We often use ourselves as our own personal benchmark. There have been plenty of times I have been blind to surprise twists that other people say they had sniffed out well ahead of time. For example, I was shocked by the endings of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense and David Fincher’s Fight Club. So, when I whenever I see a shocking turn of event coming, I’m kind of ambivalent. On the one hand, I get a nice feeling of self-satisfaction, while on the other, I feel a bit disappointed. If I could figure it out, it must have been obvious. Back when Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) was killed off in “Mr. Solomon, the Conclusion”, I mentioned that she could have been faked her death, as in the “Amok Time” episode of Star Trek.

So, when Boone shows up 40 minutes into “Alexander Kirk (No. 14): Conclusion”, the gasp of disbelief was more of a resounding, “meh”. There are a lot of ramifications to her returning to the series. For each intriguing twist or intrigue it provokes, there’s an equal danger of more of the same malaise that has been dragging the series down.

The major plus is now we finally have an adversary equal to Red. Mr. Kaplan (Susan Blommaert) started off as one of a menagerie of Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington’s (James Spader) quirky allies. Playing one of the few serious gender ambiguous characters on television, she soon emerged as the only person in Red’s circle whom he saw as a peer. There were several scenes, which suggest a high level of intimacy between the two.

Creator/Writer Jon Bokenkamp seems to have stumbled blindly into what could be groundbreaking television. There have been few transgendered characters on TV. Most of the time they’re played for a laugh; their main purpose seems to be to make the episode’s most flamboyantly straight character uncomfortable. So far, the series has only used Mr. Kaplan’s gender identity as a kind of personality quirk. (If he gave the character a backstory, he could actually claim to include a sympathetic and well-developed transgendered person.) Additionally, throughout the series, Blommaert has stolen almost every scene she’s in. She gives her character, who clearly has obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as being generally obsessive, a great deal of humanity. She’s one of the only actors who can be in a room with James Spader and actually stand on her own. So, while it’s a long shot, if the writers of The Blacklist actually promote Mr. Kaplan to one of the series’ major players, it could lead to narrative greatness.

On the other hand, bringing Keen back also means bring back one of the series’ worst characters. If Blommaert’s Mr. Kaplan represents one pole in a continuum of actors/character’s ability to coexist with Spader’s Red, then Boone’s Keen holds the opposite pole. A good deal of this is due to the structure of the show. Every character has a type they are filling. Unfortunately for Boone, Keen occupies a few too many. Throughout the series, she’s been the damsel in distress, the creepy love interest, the loose cannon apprentice, and the moral voice of the show. Ironically, this may make her character more realistic in real life, but for a television show, it just seems kind of random.

In a way Spader’s Red is the benchmark for the entire series. All of the characters are measured along the Kaplan-Keen continuum. The producers have done a good job of both including a fairly robust supporting cast and having a great collection of reoccurring characters to even out the show.

The Blacklist started out so very promisingly this year. The first part of the season was just a continuous arc of Keen evading capture. Red showed great moments of Machiavellian complexity and charm. More importantly, as the mainstay characters had gotten a bit stale, a few new characters were introduced who looked great. Except, the show introduced these compelling wonderful characters who came in, stole the show, and were never written about again; the evil Laurel Hitchin (Christine Lahti), the good Marvin Gerard (Fisher Stevens), and the unknown Charlene Cooper (Valarie Pettiford) all had great bits, but were never given the chance to develope into great characters.

A worse tendency was to take really great characters and neuter them. In the beginning of the series, Matias Solomon (Edi Gathegi) was a revelation. Gathegi was the first villain to have the same qualities as Red. Gathegi was also able to hold his own in several scenes with David Strathairn, who played Cabal leader Peter Kotsiopulos. By the end of the year, he was a bounty hunter who could not catch a rash in a public pool. Similar to this, many of the secondary players were highlighted in different episodes giving both the actors and the characters a chance to shine, only to be reduced to stereotype in the next episode. This was most noticeable in characters Navabi (Mozhan Marnò) and Aram Mojtabai (Amir Arison) who were actually given personality and fortitude only to be flattened back into familiar stereotypes: the bad-ass exotic female lieutenant and the genius computer geek,

From its inception, The Blacklist seemed to have a limited life span. It was one of those shows that seemed to open midway over a pool of sharks. Beyond that, it has centered on Spader’s portrayal of Red. The two best examples of shows that have lasted a long time are MI-5 — originally titled Spooks — which ran from 2002 to 2011, and 24, which ran from 2001 through 2010. Part of their successively longevity was that both rotated through characters frequently.

In bringing back Liz, and doing so in such an obvious way, I am not sure whether The Blacklist’s writers are maniacs or idiots. The show has another year, but without a lot more Mr. Kaplans and a lot fewer Elizabeth Keens, I doubt it’ll make it to season five.

RATING 5 / 10
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