The Blacklist: 2.16 The Major, 2.17 Tom Keen
The latest two episodes of The Blacklist brought to a head the prosecution of Elizabeth Keen in the murder of the harbour master and delivered on some key revelations as we learned more about her ex husband Tom then all of season one combined.
Despite Red's actions to silence Samuel Aleko, Detective Wilcox was far from swayed and the case took on a whole new life as Keen and Cooper faced the questions of a high court judge as a prelude to a trial before a grand jury. "Only 41 people know this task force exists" noted the Deputy Attorney General at the start of the episode. That number looked set to increase as secrets were threatened to go public and the deal with Red was going to be exposed, putting the security of the nation at risk.
Events playing out in these two episodes felt like the culmination of a year and a half of storytelling, which is perhaps why The Major employed the age old 'cheap episode' that was the clip show. Was it successful? Perhaps. The first episode decided to go with the show not tell approach as Liz informed the judge what she did and the context in which it fitted into the harbour master's murder. It allowed the audience to revisit past cases, re-examine her relationships with Red and Tom and reflect on the many unopened questions. But I get the feeling it would have worked just as well without them. Perhaps there was the need to meet the action quota of a standard episode of The Blacklist?
It also led Cooper to purger himself to save Liz. We had already learned that he had weeks to live and all bets were seemingly off. His illness, we learned in the concluding Tom Keen was a brain tumour, only discovered when he was injured in the season one finale. With Liz in on his secret, her mentor relationship with Cooper deepened. There was genuine hurt when he attacked her for keeping her secrets about Tom from him; Cooper has become another father figure in her life and disappointing him was worse than anything the judge could bring against her. Thankfully the bridges between them looked to be mending and with the medical trial actually looking to help him deal with the tumour, there is hope that there is still plenty more to come from Cooper.
Talking of Liz's other paternal figure, Red pulled out all the stops to save Liz. He realised that only by bringing in Tom could he stop her from going to prison for murder. This led him to the titular Major, Lance Henriksen's Bill McCready, a man that recruited delinquent boys and trained them into spies for the highest bidder. McCready lived to see another day, so I look forward to seeing more of the Major, particularly given his connection to Tom.
From a young purse snatcher named Jake who audiences would later know as Tom Keen, to the UN diplomat under McCready's sway, The Major complimented the flashbacks with some great moments. I loved the dialogue between Red and Ressler as the master criminal devised a plan to kidnap Deputy Minister Mahmoud in order to get close to the Major. "You want the FBI to invite a U.N. diplomat to meet with you?" asked Ressler. "Of course not." scoffs Red. "Inviting him for a chat with one of your most wanted criminals would be ludicrous. You'll need to abduct him." It is these droll one liners that roll of James Spader's tongue that make him one of the most fun, dangerous characters on television.
I equally loved his conversation to Mahmoud when he did kidnap and torture him. "The very concept [of the UN] is comically dichotomous... Nations putting their self-interests aside in the hopes of building a global community, holding hands and Kumbaya? I mean, honestly, it's like kindergarten. Do you have rug time?" Dialogue gold indeed.
The episode teased more secrets as a surprisingly vocal Dembe told Red. "You tell her the truth by telling her everything.” We weren't quite in full revelation mode yet, but the truth about Tom deepened into his own self-titled episode. Red and Ressler, proving to be a great double act one more, travelled to Germany in search of Tom, who was now in full neo-Nazi mode. The transformation was quite frightening, from mild mannered teacher in those season one days where we didn't quite know whether he was evil. Indeed, the truth about what he was doing surprised everyone, almost as much as the revelation that Liz had imprisoned and tortured Tom in the actions that led to the death of the harbour master.
Just as frightening was that Tom was quite good in his new role, offing the competition and buying into heart of the criminal organisation he was sent to infiltrate. Seeing Red and Ressler turn up and destroy all his carefully laid plans was priceless. Red trying to convince Tom to return to the US to save Liz looked to fall apart spectacularly as Tom refused and walked away, only to stride into the courtroom at the eleventh hour and admit to the murder to save the woman he loved.
I don't know about you, but in a twisted kind of way, I kind of hope Liz and Tom work it all out!
As for the courtroom scenes in Tom Keen, John Finn's Judge Renner seemed to lose any sense of compassion as he turned the investigation into a witch hunt of his own. Willing to reveal the secrets of the Raymond Reddington operation in the pursuit of justice threatened to bring down the Grand Jury investigation teased in the pilot episode flashbacks of The Major. Even Tom's confession couldn't turn things around. It took the arrival of Tom Connolly and some very transparent threats to force Renner to finally back down, bringing the whole 'pre trial' to an end.
This was the second time Connolly had stepped in to be the hero, having got Cooper the place on the trial a couple of weeks before. There is obviously a lot more to Connolly then we have seen and I am not convinced whether he really is an ally or villain, but then the great thing about The Blacklist is that no character is clean cut.
With the case finally over, Tom now (we assume) in the custody of the Post Office black site and Liz's secrets revealed, I am excited to see where the show will come next. Liz has certainly gone full circle in her relationship with Red, bonding as she used the proceeds from the flat Red bought her to pay for the trust fund for the dead harbour master's daughter. Both have guilt over the death of someone and are looking out for the family of the victim. It is a connection I am looking forward to the show exploring in the weeks to come.