The Blacklist: 2.13 The Deer Hunter, 2.14 T. Earl King VI
Two very different episodes this time, with the first feeling more like an episode of Criminal Minds while the latter proved to be the finest episode of the season.
The Deer Hunter picked up the story of Detective Wilcox and the death of the harbour master as he began to close in on Liz's lies about what happened. I wonder if this episode suffered a little from a scheduling change; there was no mention of this at all in the previous episode and it would have made sense to come before that, picking up after the events of Ruslan Denisov.
Still, there was a rather satisfying resolution to this case as Red stepped in to save Liz from prosecution. Samuel Aleko had been turned by Wilcox, offered immunity if he shopped Elizabeth Keen in. It was a big deal for Wilcox, allowing him to prove that the FBI could be held accountable and that Liz couldn't hide behind a 'classified case'. If the truth came out, she would go to prison. It was an interesting dilemma; Wilcox was ultimately right and she was guilty for being complicent in Tom's crime. At the other end, it was a situation that she couldn't hope to control and as the series lead we wanted her to find a way out.
Red took on a mission of his own; picking up mysterious calls, and working with bought police officers, all in order to intercept Aleko and offering a deal - admitting to the murder in exchange for getting his brother to the top of a heart-transplant list. As always Red's actions are never totally black or white. He saves an innocent man's life in exchange for another less innocent one and his actions protected Liz, something she would reciprocate in the next episode.
The main plot of the episode focused on the titular Deer Hunter. While fascinating, it seemed to be a random departure from classic Blacklist villains - the connection to Red's agenda was extremely loose and felt more like a side project of Liz and the FBI. After a brutal opening when the hunter killed his victim, strung him up and ate part of his liver, we saw Liz delivering a lecture on the Deer Hunter, a very different role then we have seen her in before. Perhaps her experience hunting down some particularly nasty Blacklist villains has made her an ideal candidate for the BAU?
Though in true The Blacklist fashion the villain wasn't clear-cut evil. Amanda Plummer delivered a wonderfully manic performance as crazy cat lady Tracy Solobotkin, hunting abusive men to protect the women who came seeking help at the organisation she worked for.
The copycat angle was a great twist as was the idea of the wife using her murderous husband's method as a way to enact justice. Her motivation may have made some sort of twisted sense, but the lengths she went to showed her true madness, particularly the eating of the liver to maintain the ruse. Though there was a certain amount of poetic justice in her husband becoming her first victim, dying in the method in which he killed others.
If The Deer Hunter was a very different beast to usual The Blacklist fare, then T. Earl King VI was the show at its very best. The titular family stemmed back generations, dealing in various black market auctions, some more horrific than others. From stolen Van Gogh's to kidnaped children, the imprisonment of child Vincent Peretti was perhaps the most twisted part of a very dark but gripping episode.
It was one that demanded you to keep up with what had happened before. General Yaabari from the season opener Lord Baltimore returned as did Jennifer Ehle briefly as Madeline Pratt from mid-way through season one. There was no 'previously' to start the episode and I had to remind myself who Pratt was. Given her limited screen time, I suspect she has a role to play Red's future.
The big twist of course was that Red was the intended auction item, on display for the criminal elite, which did lead to a delightful moment where he attempted to bid on himself. Yaabari was a great returning villain, working for a mysterious backer in Johannesburg, while overtly delighting in the opportunity to exact his revenge on Red for blowing up his base of operations.
For once Red was not in a position of power, despite all his attempts to gain it and you saw the grim realisation that Yaabari was going to kill him when his enemy gleefully stated that he only needed to come back with his head. Liz stepped in to save him at the last moment, something which only seemed to anger him. Their final speech took them another step closer to rekindling their strange relationship, with Liz genuinely tearful at his anger at her for saving him. Of course that anger was at Liz risking her life for his, showing just how deeply he cares for her.
Talking of Elizabeth Keen, this was her best episode in a while. The return of Tom helped massively; she is instantly more fascinating when playing off her traitorous ex-husband. Though did anyone else pick up on her affection when he phoned her? Aside from her connection to Tom, Megan Boone was also having a blast as Liz went undercover as ice queen Josephine Sullivan. It really proved how good at the game Liz could be when her head was in the game.
T. Earl King VI was a dark, fascinating episode on many fronts. From the deadly power play between Tyler and Francis King, playing Russian Roulette each night to gain their father's inheritance to the cages of soon-to-be auctioned victims in their cellars. That final game of Roulette led to the brilliant moment where Red took Tyler's gun and shot his father Earl in the chest. There was the realisation of horror in Tyler that he would have died if Red had not interrupted, allowing his brother to take over.
Then there was Cooper. There has been a lot of mystery to him this season, suggesting there was something more deadly at play than the injuries he sustained at the end of the last season. In an electric scene the truth was revealed; he has a mass in his brain and just weeks to live and so he has nothing to lose. His ruthlessness forced the interrogated concierge to give up the King's location and allow for the take down of numerous criminal networks.
Then there was Tom, coming out of his original mission for Berlin. His call to Liz almost felt like a goodbye, closing off the chapter of his life where he married her as part of his mission. His next assignment looks set to take him to a very dark place as neo Nazi Christof Mannheim in Dresden. I am excited to see where this storyline goes and just how he will reconnect to Liz. Because if there is one thing that call proved, it's that there is far more to come between these two.