Television

The Blacklist: Season 3, Episode 17 - "Mr. Solomon (No.32)"

Anthony Merino

Are ten seconds of near-Lynchian imagery worth 59 minutes and 50 seconds of Christmas Lilies of the Field?


The Blacklist

Airtime: Thursdays, 9pm
Cast: James Spader, Megan Boone, Ryan Eggold, Diego Klattenhoff, Hisham Tawfiq, Mozhan Marnò, Amir Arison
Subtitle: Season 3, Episode 17 - "Mr. Solomon (No.32)"
Network: NBC
Airdate: 2016-04-08
Amazon

The highlight of the latest episode of The Blacklist, "Mr. Solomon (No.32)", includes a scene in which a pregnant woman walking down a church aisle as laser sniper beams dance on her white lace bridal gown. This second is a microcosm of the entire episode, in which writer creator Jon Bokenkamp and director Eagle Egilsson force the viewer into choosing either entertainment or thought. It was an absolutely remarkable five to 15 seconds of television. Unfortunately, the level of absurdities, unbelievable coincidences, schmaltz, and enough deus ex machina to populate mount Olympus had to happen to lead to this moment, which brings up two questions: was the build-up worth the pay-off? and how many functioning brain cells have to be sacrificed in order to buy into the watching experience?

The main problem is a sense of piling on. The episode keeps adding gratuitous elements to just ratchet up the suspense. The ending scene in Ben Affleck's Academy Award-winning movie Argo epitomizes this dynamic. When six Americans try to escape Iran on a commercial plane, there’s pick-up truck containing the Iranian army chasing after the plane -- a scene Affleck added to augment the story. The idea that you'd need to ratchet up suspense in a movie detailing the escape of six Americans during the Iran hostage crisis is absurd.

One scene in particular seemed rather out of place. Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) asks for director Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) to officiate her impromptu wedding to Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold). She confesses that Cooper, her boss, for the last two years has become a father figure. It's moments of forced and clearly artificial sentiment like this that tests the viewer’s tolerance. Throughout the episode, I kept on having flashbacks to the awfulness that was Ralph Nelson's Christmas Lilies of the Field, a made-for-television movie based on the Nelson's Lilies of the Field -- the movie for which lead actor Sidney Poitier broke the Academy color line and won an Oscar for Best Lead Actor. Billy Dee Williams reprises Poitier's Homer Smith. The original movie was rather sentimental; the sequel was unadulterated saccharine sap.

In addition to the vacuous sentiment and silly coincidences, the scene embodies -- and maybe intentionally parodies -- there is central problem, with not just the episode, but also this season and the series as a whole: The Blacklist has been on for so long that it's becoming harder and harder to create any sense of suspense. To date, almost every plot twist and cliffhanger has been tried out. The series has a core of eight important characters: Elizabeth and Tom Keen, Director Cooper, Raymond 'Red' Reddington (James Spader), Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff), Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq), Samar Navabi (Mozhan Marnò) and Aram Mojtabai (Amir Arison). All have, at some point in the series, been under an extreme threat to their life, yet none of them have died. The more they don’t die, the less there’s a sense that they could die.

While all of the evil characters and a few of the minor good guys are killed regularly, the core of the show has stayed intact. You have to go all the way back to episode ten in season one to have a major ally of Red's killed: his personal bodyguard Lui Zeng (Deborah S. Craig) was killed to try to convince Red to give himself up. Two successful, similar series precede The Blacklist: David Wolstencroft's Spooks, released in America as MI-5, and Robert Cochran and Joel Surnow's 24. The difference is, in both of these earlier series, every character could die at any moment.

Yet it's more than just being alive or dead. It's as if none of the normal laws of consequences apply in the world of The Blacklist. The plot in "Mr. Solomon (No.32)" involves two things. A man marries the woman who broke his thumb, kidnapped him, and kept him chained on a boat for half a year. It also involves a woman marrying a man she found out was employed to seduce her and keep tabs on her.

This lack of any accountability is endemic throughout the series. In just three years, at least five characters have been kidnapped, and all have been involved in a firefight (no fatalities). Two have been divorced. One’s been indicted for murder. One has had life-threatening cancer. One has retired, one defected to the Soviet Union, and at least four have been tortured. Regardless of what cards fate deals them, apparently this band of hardy good guys always bounces back.

This is the reason why The Blacklist is heading quickly down the road toward being camp, in which the only way it can stay watchable is by parodying all of the tropes it supports. It’s a shame, but it’s also the reason that most television shows have about a three- or four-year shelf life. This would be a sad way to end what's been an entertaining series, and only a step up from the mix of absurdity and sentiment on display in "Mr. Solomon (No.32)".

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