The Blacklist: Season 4, Episode 5 - "The Lindquist Concern (No. 105)"

Anthony Merino

Creator Jon Bokenkamp doesn't kill the ancillary characters, he just guts them of everything that makes them interesting.

The Blacklist

Airtime: Thursdays, 10pm
Cast: James Spader, Adam Godley, Megan Boone, Amir Arison, Mozhan Marnò, Annie Heise
Subtitle: Season 4, Episode 5 - "The Lindquist Concern"
Network: NBC
Air date: 2016-10-20

Still absurd, but at least not boring...

Each week, the audience is introduced to one more baddie on Raymond "Red" Reddington's (James Spader) "blacklist": criminals so secret even the government doesn't know they exist. More often than not, the blacklister is related to one of the series overarching plotlines. Currently, The Blacklist faces the problem of this element of the show becoming either predictable or unrealistic.

In the start of the episode, Red informs FBI agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) about the "The Lindquist Concern": a confederacy of baddies that go about faking suicides of geniuses and stealing their uber-top-secret-classified inventions. It turns out that Silas Gouldsberry (Adam Godley) kills geniuses because he is one, and he knows what it's like to have his great idea squandered. Killing these geniuses was only a necessary aspect of his diabolical plan to release all of these great but dangerous inventions to the world. Now, that process has as much to do with linear thought as Simone Biles's floor routine has to do with walking in a straight line, yet the absurdity, complexity, and weirdness of Godley's Gouldsberry was one of the better aspects of the episode.

Unfortunately, the episode ends with yet another timer on a countdown, a well the creators have gone to way too many times. It's gotten to the point that whenever I see a clock counting down on The Blacklist, I can almost write the next few minutes myself: someone will explain how the world will blow up and be devastated, followed by computer geek and knower-of-all-things electronic Agent Aram Mojtabai (Amir Arison) pulling a Scottie (James Doohan) and explaining just how impossible the problem is before having a Dr. House (Hugh Laurie) genius epiphany and devising a solution, which is exactly what happens.

Creator Jon Bokenkamp has two relationship triangles playing out this season. The first is the warped codependency triangle between Red, Liz, and Alexander Kirk (Ulrich Thomsen). For the first three years of the series, Red has been a paternal mentor to Lizzy. He has a few flaws, like being a sociopathic killer, killing her adopted father, finding a manwhore spy to seduce and marry her, compulsively lying to her, and transparently using both her and the FBI to enrich himself. You know, small things.

Kirk seems to be competing with Red, trying to develop a paternal relationship with Liz. He illustrates his affection through kidnapping her and her child and then keeping the child. He also gratuitously kills a man right in front of her. Again, not the best foundation for a long term nurturing relationship, but the quantity of red flags that Agent Elizabeth Keen can overlook is staggering.

At the end of the episode, she, one more time, confronts Red with her moral outrage, which is as predictable as the ticking clock scenario. I lost count how many times Liz has told Red that she no longer trusts him. Lizzy, being an emotional yo yo, always ends up batting her eyes at her mentor/daddy crush, regardless of what she says.

The other is the actual romantic triangle between Agent Mojtabai, sexy ex-Mossad sultry Samar Navabi (Mozhan Marnò), and his new flame Elise (Annie Heise). Writers Jon Bokenkamp and Dawn DeNoon immediately test their audience's gullibility by having Elise Face-timing Aram because his dishwasher was erupting with bubbles. So, a fairly new girlfriend connecting though an online open platform to talk to her new squeeze who works in the hub of an ultra-secret FBI unit apparently just happens in the land of The Blacklist. While several equally absurd things happen in this episode, this ends up being the most irritating aspect of the storyline.

There are two main problems with this story arc. First, it seems pretty clear that Elise is going to turn out to be a villain or spy. If for no other reason, The Blacklist is shockingly like the animated series Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!. Once I figured out that whomever showed up at the beginning of the episode -- unless they were a guest celebrity voice -- would end up being the episode's baddy, I lost interest in the show. Like Scooby Doo, Bokenkamp populates The Blacklist with characters who, if they have any screentime at all, are either part of the FBI team, one of Red's vast array of assistants, or a baddie. Nothing is worse than a suspense show in which you see the surprise twist episodes before it happens.

The second irritation was that this particular plotline offers a sort of high school-era, passive aggressive pettiness to it. Last year, both Agent Mojtabai and Navabi were given pretty interesting backstories. They flirted like adults, and betrayed each other like adults. Each, in their own way, was actually developing some complexity to their characters. There was even a sense that with Liz dead, they could form the series' central romantic conflict.

Then season four happened. The devolution of their characters is disheartening for two reasons. First, human sexuality is complex, confusing, and sometimes difficult, but Agent Mojtabai and Navabi are grown, smart adults. We can assume that Mojtabai isn't a virgin, and we're certain that Navabi is not. Second, each had so much potential. Mojtabai was actually developing into a character that broke type. Of all the main characters, he's the most cerebral. The four other major male leads play on different types of testosterone-poisoned alpha-maleness: Red has that kind of predatory, vampiric charm; Agent Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) has that potty trained to a metronome straight-laced, ex-football jock thing down; Tom Keen is the pouting bad-boy; and FBI Director Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) is played as a kind of institutional paternal alpha male. Season four seems to return to the premise that any man who's not as obsessed with machismo as these four has to be a romantic loser.

As for Agent Mojtabai, her character looked to be groomed for a much bigger part in the series. All of last year, she had a kind of ethical nihilism that was far more in-tune and sympathetic to Reddington than to the FBI. She was also the only person in the regular ensemble Red seemed to respect, and the series seemed to be laying the ground work for her becoming one of Red's lieutenants, all of which seems forgotten in season four. For a series obsessed with keeping its core characters alive, they certainly don't seem to have any reservations about gutting them of them of anything interesting.

Despite its absurdities, this week's episode was a pretty reasonable bounce back to last week's mess. Its flaws didn’t keep it from being at least mildly entertaining. I'll take what I can get at this point.






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