The Blacklist: Season 3, Episode 3 – “Eli Matchett”

The Blacklist is at its best when it sticks to complex characters and stories over simplistic twists.

On this week’s episode of The Blacklist, the “Eli Matchett” caper centers on an evil Chief Technology Officer Susan Hanover (Cindy Katz) of the fictional agricultural giant Verdiant. This particular corporate executive has hatched an evil plot to annihilate the world’s corn crop with a designed virus, allowing Verdiant to step in as the world’s only provider of a strain of virus-resistant corn. By the end of the episode, both Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) and Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) evade capture, suss out the evil plan, and shoot a cop along the way. The whole drama is capped by Red’s WWE level threat to CTO Hanover to deliver to the Director (David Strathairn). “Tell him I’m coming.”

It looks like season three is setting up one main arc and a myriad of tangentially connected minor arcs. The primary arc is the evolving relationship between Red and Liz. One of the weakest elements of last season was Liz’s reactions to Red. It seemed that the character had been reduced to an audience proxy. Red would kill someone without remorse; Liz would be horrified. Red would show some kindness; Liz would be happy. All of which was a bit frustrating.

This year, the writers seem to dealing with the theme of Liz’s maturation under the tutelage of Red. Two things changed. First, last year, earnest to the point of masochism, Liz always was a white hat-wearing good guy. After killing Tom Connelly (Reed Birney) last year, Liz was no longer purely good. She may have had cause, but she did kill a man. In this week’s episode, she shoots a police officer who has the ill-fortune of stumbling across the two in a dinner. All of this points to her character developing in one of two ways; a choice between committing to being a white hat, or becoming just like Red.

Throughout the series, it has seemed that Red’s main concern was insuring that Liz’s name was cleared and that she was not forced to follow his lifestyle. The writers, at times, seem to be writing Red as a contemporary version of Michael Sullivan, Sr. (Tom Hanks) in Sam Rendes’s 2002 film Road to Perdition. Sullivan is fully aware that his life is beyond redemption but tries very hard to shield his son Michael Sullivan, Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) from going down his path. In many moments, Red seems to adopt a paternal relationship with Liz. Last year, he told Liz he was not her father — but he also admits that he’s never hindered by an adherence to the truth. If done right, this could be a very touching resolution to their story.

There are also times when Liz seemed like she’s being seduced by Red’s abundant charm. In one scene, as they are searching a suspect’s apartment, she looks up at him like she has a high school crush on him. Red also seems to send a few inappropriate glances her way on more than one occasion. While a romantic relationship between the two would be all sorts of seedy and wrong, and it’s unlikely the writers would go down this path, the potential is both intriguing and disturbing.

Aside from the intricacies of Red and Liz’s relationship, two secondary plotlines also developed in this episode. Red’s loyal bodyguard Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq) continues to be tortured by Mr. Solomon (Edi Gathegi). Red puts hyper-annoying tracking genius Glen Carter (Clark Middleton) on the case. Carter finds out that Dembe is gone; it’s likely future episodes will feature Red trying to track down his friend.

At the same time, realizing that Dembe will not talk — Solomon decided to abduct Mr. Vargas (Paul Reubens), who was one of Red’s ally last year. While it’s good to see Paul Ruebens return to the show, his inclusion in this episode makes no sense. If Solomon wanted to use someone to get Dembe to talk, it would seemingly make more sense for him to grab Dembe’s daughter or granddaughter again. Despite that plot incongruity, it does add an interesting thread to the narrative tapestry; whatever will happen between Dembe and Solomon has developed into a great arc.

Another development, former FBI chief Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) enlists former triple agent Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold) to hunt down the mysterious “Karakurt”, telling him: “I don’t trust you. You are a liar, a thief, and a murderer… which is exactly why you are perfect for the job.” Reintroducing Liz’s husband into the show’s plot may be this season’s most soapish element. Written as part psychopath, part chameleon, Tom Keen’s ultimate loyalties have always been iffy. The problem with Tom Keen’s character is that he’s becoming the equivalent of a pro-wrestler that’s switched sides once too often. Tom can be almost anything — and whatever revelation the writers come up with is most likely going to be met more with yawns than gasps.

The strength of The Blacklist has always been its willingness to deal in shades of gray. It’s hard to figure out if Red is a bad guy who does good things or if he is a good guy forced to do bad things. Liz, on the other hand, was always portrayed as a girl scout, but with each episode, her character gets grayer and grayer. Both Red and Liz’s developing characterization is fascinating; here’s hoping the writers and producers stick to choosing complexity over simplicity.

RATING 7 / 10