The Blacklist: 2.05 The Front , 2.06 The Mombasa Cartel
Tom is alive! If there has been one thing that has been missing from season two, it is the mystery and intrigue of Tom and Elizabeth Keen's marriage that kept us riveted for much of The Blacklist's debut season. With Tom alive - and a prisoner of Elizabeth too - season two got right back on track.
But before we got to this moment, we were introduced to two more members of Red's blacklist. The Front and The Mombasa Cartel continued to expand the scope of the weekly villains, making this season feel more global than its predecessor.
The Front began as an Indiana Jones style adventure, with Keen and Ressler pursuing a medieval artefact that contained a plague - the Apophis Strain - which threatened to wipe out humanity. The episode quickly picked up in scale as that plague was unleashed upon Washington DC and Navabi and Keen herself became infected.
The idea that this was the work of an eco-terrorist group, The Front, adds another layer of moral complexity to the episode that The Blacklist does so well. However the chief architects of that group weren't in the league of some of the other villains of the series; a radical leader and his devoted group of fanatics were something we've seen on TV many times before and so made the enemy a little bland. This was definitely more style than substance - though the method to unleash the plague and the catastrophic results were certainly fun to watch.
Navabi and Keen also got a good bonding scene and it is nice to see the Mossad agent integrating herself more into the unit. She is a far more interesting than last season's Meera Malik. I'm also enjoying seeing her relationship with Mojtabai evolve. I loved the final scenes with Mojtabai at Navabi's bedside and Red at Keen's.
The Mobasa Cartel was a far more interesting enemy. The threat wasn't on the same scale as the Apohis Strain but was far more engaging, thanks to some interesting personalities and the grand global scale of the episode that trotted between Africa, France and Russia before we even got to see Red or Keen. The moral dilemma was an interesting choice too; the poaching of animals and the question over whether the poachers deserved to die. Deciding the fate of African soldiers slaughtering a family and kidnapping a little boy to make him a child soldier and we're all on board with deciding what justice should be given. But killing endangered animals - it's horrific but is the crime in the same league?
One of the most powerful emotional moments of the episode was the Red's final reveal at the end - that Dembe was that child who watched his family die at the beginning of the episode. It was a great development in their relationship. That Red saved him and educated him makes him ever less the monster people assume him to be, and adds depth to Red's henchman too. Particularly Dembe's decision to temper justice with mercy and not to kill the mastermind behind the Mobasa Cartel. Sadly it was a decision Red could not follow himself.
But of course this episode was mostly Ressler's and he certainly went through the ringer. We've seen Keen evidently broken by the events of last season and so far she has thrown herself into her job. But Ressler suffered too and it started to come to a head in The Mobasa Cartel when his drug addiction came to the fore and he found himself imprisoned and hunted by a family of poacher-killers.
Considering how big and bad the cartel were, it was a mother and her two sons living in the wilderness of Alaska that were the real threat. Hunting members of the Cartel, killing and embalming them, we were treated to a particularly creepy scene where Ressler discovered dead bodies huddled round a camp fire, their eyes dead and their bodies fixed into position. It was also great to see the giant from Twin Peaks back on TV; though was I the only one slightly creeped out seeing him bathed by his mother?
There was a lot of greatness in these two episodes. Keen double crossing her 'observer', Red bonding with his daughter, Keen's jealously and that final reveal; Tom imprisoned by his wife. It was absolutely the right choice to keep him alive. As I discussed above, the 'is Tom a villain story line?' was a great part of the first season and without it season two doesn't quite feel like it has the same magic as its predecessor, even if it still is one of the best dramas currently on television and James Spader's Red continues to mesmerise as always .
I'm intrigued to see where The Blacklist is going as it heads towards its final two episodes before the mid-season break. Will Red's wife Naomi return? When will Zoe discover Red is her father? How will the war against Berlin heat up? And what is next for Tom and Elizabeth Keen? Even when it is not amazing, The Blacklist is leagues above so many other shows currently on television, certainly the most entertaining!