The Blacklist 2.11: Ruslan Denisov, 2.12: The Kenyon Family
One of the most noticeable changes with season two of The Blacklist is the global scope of its storytelling. Season one had the same themes but was predominantly based in the US. Ruslan Denisov took Keen, Ressler and Red to Uzbekistan is search of a kidnapped priest / CIA agent and the notorious criminal Ruslan Denisov.
What I liked most about the episode was that it wasn't clear cut who the villains were. Denisov might have employed brutal methods - kidnapping corporate assets and agents for ransom - but it was to aid the people of the country, subject to poisoning and slow painful death as a result of a shady oil pipeline run by a US company. Faran Tahir has a habit of playing nasty villains so it was interesting that while he started off as the big bad of the episode, you began to sympathise with his cause - if not his methods - as the story progressed.
In fact there were many villains to choose from in this episode aside from Denisov. The US oil company execs who covered up mass graves after their first oil pipeline killed thousands and then hid the effects of the second? Definitely. The Uzbeck former official who helped covered up the deaths many years ago? For sure, though he became a reluctant hero by coming clean in the end. Red for masterminding the whole affair just to allow his ally - a French oil company - to take over when the US was forced to pull out? Maybe, but then the interesting thing about Red is that you never know the full story and his means will always justify the ends. That is what makes him one of the most fascinating characters currently on television.
And Keen; her actions holding Tom prisoner came back to bite her in the ass in Ruslan Denisov as the harbour master she lied to, the one who Tom eventually killed - became the target of a missing person's case - and later murder enquiry. Keen gave the master her card when she lied about tracking a fugitive and it was soon found on his body. At the end of the episode she ran to Ressler for help, after lying to Detective Wilcox and failing to stall his investigation.
The Kenyon Family had no such trouble reaffirming who the central villain was - Justin Kenyon. The US-centric episode began with a very non-traditional church sermon; we knew something was wrong when Kenyon began telling the story of the two daughters who laid with their father before an obviously under-age girl - his daughter? - was brought out in a wedding dress to be married to him. An incestuous cult? No good could come from this and indeed it didn't.
Though what was fascinating about this episode was the fact that Justin Kenyon was not the big bad, despite allusions to that. What we assumed was him masterminding sending children in vans full of explosives into cities to cause Armageddon became something entirely different. We soon discovered that it was his sons behind the act and the bombings and gruesome slaughter of his congregation, not with guns with with stabbings and blunt force trauma.
The feral men with guns in the woods made the episode all the more chilling. The men - once boys - had been left in the woods for dead just so Kenyon and his chosen few had the pick of his daughters to take as wives. But rather than dying they had become their own fanatical community and now they were taking up their father's cause, denouncing him in the process. It was something verging on an episode of The X Files; a terrifying community of sub-humans that you couldn't imagine existing so close to civilised society.
Yet again, poor Kessler went through the wringer. He has been shot, stabbed and drugged and this week he was dragged through the woods on the back of a dirt bike. I wonder if the show is putting him through all this just so that when he is killed, the shock of it is all the more powerful as we will assume he'll make it out alive. Taken to the compound at the end of the episode, Ressler and Keen saw what the true fate of Justin Kenyon was; murdered by the son he abandoned in the woods years ago, his eyes and mouth stuffed with twigs. It was both horrific and satisfying.
As for how Justin Kenyon tied into the wider, global threats of The Blacklist, we learned that the cult leader made his money by renting out shipping containers on his compound to numerous criminal elements - Red included. We met one of these criminal elements, an elderly florist called Ruth who tortured her accountant and had three Hellfire missiles on the compound. She was a wonderful character and one I hope to meet again. Just as fun was the return of grumpy DMV clerk Glenn Carter, the man who can find anything, including the safe in St Petersburg Fitch told Red about before his death. There was plenty of great comic moments between Carter and Red as they took a trip to the Russian city where they discovered a phone number in the safe. Just who it was answering the phone remains to be seen but it certainly came as a surprise to Red judging by his reaction.
The Kenyon Family turned out to be one of the best episodes of the season, balancing comedy, action, shocks and horror with on-going plot threads like Cooper's health. There was no room for the detective hunting Keen or a return of her husband Tom but there is still time for both. Ruslan Denisov complimented it as both dug deep into the moral complexities of their villains and those around them. So a strong couple of weeks, even if I still feel that the magic of season one isn't quite there. Regardless, The Blacklist remains one of the most fun, action-packed and thought-provoking shows currently on television.