Television

'The Blacklist' Continues Its Slow Decline Into Mediocrity

Anthony Merino
Is Liz (Megan Boone) watching the show's slow descent?

In "Dr. Adrian Shaw (No. 98)", creator Jon Bokenkamp seems dedicated to throwing ice water on our suspension of disbelief.


The Blacklist

Airtime: Thursday, 10pm
Cast: James Spader, Diego Klattenhoff, Mozhan Marnò
Subtitle: Season 4, Episode 7 - "Dr. Adrian Shaw (No. 98)"
Network: NBC
Airdate: 2016-11-03
Amazon

I've only seen the first Transformers movie; key to its enjoyment is knowing to shut down your mind ahead of time. Rational thought is the enemy of almost every action movie ever made. For a small portion of the movie, I told a few dozen IQ points to go take a nap. I was still bored, periodically offended with a few moments of racist stereotypes, and bewildered by Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox's ability to animate cardboard. Then came a scene in which one of the character's glasses falls off, and one of CGI robots picks them up. The problem was, the glasses were of normal human scale, maybe four to six inches. The robot's hands, however, were equal to the size of the character. Instead of keeping the glasses to scale, where they would be barely visible, they were instead rendered as almost equal size to the hands that picked them up. That was it; I labored to get through every second of the movie after that scene. Director Michael Bay stomped on the toothpaste and sent it flying through the bathroom. Unfortunately, a similar thing happened a few weeks ago watching The Blacklist.

There was a scene where the show’s two athletic, bad-ass good guys -- Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) and Samar Navabi (Mozhan Marnò) -- were chasing the episode's villain, Gaia (Louis Cancelmi). At one point, they seemed to have a teleporter machine that got them from inside a nuclear power plant to their car in a few seconds. A minute later, they get out of their car and Gaia gets away. Standing only a few feet from their car, they just chucked it and gave up pursuit.

The last few episodes of season four have had moments of ridiculous coincidence or absurd timing, but I was able to ride it out. Then out of nowhere, it came up again. This time, the two good guys board a boat that just got into port. Armed with a search warrant, they check out the ship. Ressler gets informed that the entire ship was searched and there was nothing suspicious. On the balcony of one of the upper decks, Agent Navabi calls out to him to check something out. Thus begins creator Jon Bokenkamp episode-long practice of throwing buckets of ice water on my suspension of disbelief.

First, immediately after yelling to Ressler, Navabi scampers down a flight of stairs to the level he was on. Once she gets down, she takes him over to the suspicious object, which was on the level that Ressler was on. Which kind of begs the question: why didn't she just stay on the same level? At this point, my mind was grasping for reasons to explain it, but I was inclined to just accept the logic of the show.

She takes Ressler over to a place on the ship where something non-nautical is covered by a tarp. An entire FBI investigation team was almost fooled by a green tarp. Again, maybe in the beginning, Ressler was just dealing with some bad information. Ressler tells Navabi to go look into what these odd little dials are hiding, which apparently was an entire operating theater and medical room. Which is something you kind of hope an FBI team could have sussed out on their first go-through of the ship.

Then, just to make sure that there was not a single neuron that wasn’t offended, the writers have Navabi walk through an almost 100-foot-long sick bay populated with sick people. Not only was there a full operating theater, there was a room full of ill people that the FBI couldn't find, smell, or hear on their first run-through of the ship.

At this point, I'm clocked out. I'm no longer invested in the story; instead, I'm just wondering what absurdity will come up next. That absurdity is an unknown man who jumps Agent Navabi.

This moment embodies two of the problems with The Blacklist this year. First, since about halfway through the first year, it began to erode away at its ability to create suspense. All of the core cast has been put in danger; one was diagnosed with a fatal illness, and another faked her own death. All have wiggled out of the threat. Long-time viewers would have to go back all the way to the first season episode "The Good Samaritan (No. 106)", when Luli Zeng (Deborah S. Craig), one of Red’s bodyguards, was executed in order to find an episode in which a key character died. So when a baddie jumps Navabi, at no time did I ever buy into her life being threatened.

The second is a problem that seems to have come up this year: the action sequences seem a lot less realistic. This was more evident earlier in the show, when Navabi is chasing after Renata Ayela (Rosa Arredondo) and tackles her to the ground. For some reason, instead of shooting the chase from a long view, in one continuous shot, the director shoots the chase, cuts to a close up of Navabi jumping, then to a shot of the two characters rolling on the ground. The whole scene just seemed completely fake.

The show’s slow decay into mediocrity is frustrating. What The Blacklist does best is punctuate every episode with moments of bewildering bizarreness. In one scene, the villain "The Coroner" (James Hong) shows up carrying a inflatable donut to sit on. In another, Red and his loyal bodyguard Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq) are playing a find-the-object game in a copy of Highlights magazine. These were and are the touches that made the show great. Unfortunately, these touches are like tabasco sauce on pizza. If the pizza is good, it can add considerably to the flavor. If the pizza is bad, it just tastes hot.

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