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Television

The Blacklist: Season 3, Episode 4 - "The Djinn"

Anthony Merino

“The Djinn” offers a shocker on par with Pedro Almodóvar; The Blacklist definitely got its groove back.


The Blacklist

Airtime: Thursdays, 9pm
Cast: James Spader, Ryan Eggold,Paul Reubens, Peter Veck, Hisham Tawfiq, Christine Tawfik
Subtitle: Season 3, Episode 4 - "The Djinn"
Network: NBC
Amazon

The usual gambit The Blacklist plays balances coolness with believability. The cooler something looks, the more the audience is going to tell their rational mind to shut up. While this dynamic is clearly at play in this week’s episode of The Blacklist, “The Djinn” introduces a new dynamic. Writer Daniel Cerone, former head writer of Dexter (2006-2013), pushes the viewer’s boundaries of taste by including several sadistic moments throughout the episode. These moments look like horror movies, sterilized just enough to be palatable to a prime time television audience. Rationalizing this excessive amount of stylized cruelty requires two things. First, that it be central and crucial to the story. Second, that it leads up to some revelation or plot turn that is dramatic enough to be worthy of the baroque violence. This is the main balance of the show, but will the viewer accept the inappropriate violence for a strong narrative?

The episode opens with a scene of an unconscious man wearing a leather gag tied down to a table. His torso is marked up. Each marking corresponds with a major organ. Another man in blue scrubs stands inspecting the body. A mysterious woman appears and advises the man in the scrubs that everything is set up and he has until the clean-up crew arrives in the morning. The woman injects the victim with something to wake him up. As she leaves the room, she creepily utters, “If you find that you can’t finish your meal, we’ve provided take-out bags in the kitchen.” The guy on the table awakens to see the guy in scrubs sharpening a set of knives, all to a disconcertingly upbeat percussion jazz riff. Thus begins “The Djinn”, the horror-porn episode of The Blacklist. Intercut in the episode are segments of a ball- gagged man being crucified. There are also scenes of a man being shot, another having his neck snapped, and several long shots of pools of blood.

There are two reveals at the end. One has to do with a character Alice (Christina Cole) being a strawman for the Djinn (Christine Tawfik). On its own, this yawn-inducing reveal offers little to support the cruelty on display throughout the episode. Its only when the motivations of the Djinn are revealed near the end that it becomes a jaw-dropping twist. The torment inflicted on the Djinn is truly horrific, and the twist is worthy of legendary Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar. The closest scene I can remember equal it in sheer perversity and shock was at the end of episode four of season one of the UK series House of Cards (1990) where Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson) throws Mattie Storin (Susannah Harker) to her death as she yells, “Daddy…” It’s enough to justify the graphic violence throughout the episode, as the physical violence is an apt metaphor for the psychological pain and torment the Djinn suffered.

Cerone, however, almost ruins the entire scene by having Raymond 'Red' Reddington (James Spader) go on a tirade about inclusiveness and the awfulness of human intolerance. This is one of the series odder and more annoying quirks. Having a man who will kill without remorse or regret pontificate on political and social issues not only makes little sense, it’s annoying. Luckily, the speechifying is short-lived and the episode continues, ending on a third minor reveal in which a character is double-crossed.

Thankfully, The Blacklist has returned to the original episodic nature of the first season, with each episode following the investigation and capture or killing of a person on Red’s “Blacklist”, with a few scenes that deal with the season’s overall story arc. In “The Djinn”, these subplots include the continuation of the Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq) saga, with his fate still up in the air. Mr. Vargas (Paul Reubens) looks to have double-crossed him; then again, that’s what Mr. Vargas does, so there is still a chance he’s a mole for Reddington. Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold) goes undercover as Mr. Wainwright, a grifter, to ensnare wealthy playboy, Asher Sutton (Peter Veck).

The Blacklist has had many shocking moments in its two-year plus run. Early on, the reveals were what kept people tuned in to the show, with every episode seeming to end on some shocking revelation or cliffhanger. That being said, there are only so many times a shocking reveal about a particular person can be done without it becoming routine. Tom Keen has flipped enough to be an acrobat, which no longer comes as a surprise. This week’s episode focus on revealing something shocking about the guest character instead was a great move. Hopefully, the show’s writers will be able to continue this upswing throughout the season.

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