The Blacklist: 2.17 The Longevity Initiative, 2.18 Vanessa Cruz
In the face of big bad villains like Berlin and The Director or memorable one-episode entries like The Stewmaker and T. Earl King VI, The Blacklist has presented some of the most powerful and terrible criminals in television history. However the show also has the ability to present criminals whose reasons are just, even if their methods are deplorable. The Longevity Initiative and Vanessa Cruz presented two villains who fell into this category. The might have deserved to be caught but as an audience you could understand, almost support their goals while still not advocating their actions.
For all the talk of human experimentation to unlock the 'immortality gene' The Longevity Initiative was really about a scientist, Julian Powell, trying to cure his girlfriend who was carrying his child when she was turned into a human vegetable as a result of a car crash. The twist that he was not some Josef Mengele-type monster made him a relatable character and his suicide was a tragedy when his experimentations were exposed and his attempts to save his one true love came crashing down around him.
But Powell - or at least his actions - made him a very real entry on Red's list. The Blacklist has never been afraid to go dark when need be and this episode was pretty dark. Kidnapping disabled people, injecting them with jellyfish DNA and then dumping their lobotomized bodies when they flatlined was particularly nasty, making the idea of The Longevity Initiative being a black market operation to make humans immortal all the more believable. The twists that Powell did not care about immortality was a nice turn of events.
Vanessa Cruz presented a similarly-style of baddie; with the titular Blacklist entry hunting down the men who framed her husband, leading to his death. Again, her motivations were understandable while her methods very questionable. Cruz framed powerful men, destroying their careers and their lives for the cover up her husband tried to expose. But framing your new girlfriend and planning her death as collateral damage in her revenge tactic; that is cold.
Billionaire Roger Hobbs was a key character in both episodes, funding the The Longevity Initiative and then aiding Red in his dealings with The Director. Another powerful but shady character, I must confess that even with a week between episodes, I struggled to remember who Hobbs was; The Blacklist is populated with many rich and varied characters; the lack of a 'previously' at the start of each episode demands the audience to pay attention week after week. While I applaud the show's ability to treat the audience with intelligence, sometimes its complexity can be its undoing too.
The other key theme through both episodes was the presence of Tom, back in the US after Red exposed his activities and desperately seeking a new life while finding himself continuously drawn back to his ex wife. Lance Henriksen's Bill McCready/ The Major made an encore appearance but his reunion with Tom was short lived and bloody. First McCready tried to have Tom killed for his failures and then the German gang Tom infiltrated in Dresden turned up looking for revenge.
Seeing Tom now, you can't help but feel sorry for him. We have seen, through flashbacks, drawn into a life of crime as a child Jacob and every step to gain a measure of control of late has failed. After gaining his freedom from the Germans - and leaving a tortured McCready to his fate, he turned again to Liz in the final moments of The Longevity Initiative.
I was surprised that Cooper hadn't brought Tom in after his confession to the harbour master's murder in the episode Tom Keen so it was nice to see Liz use Tom here as an asset to get closer to solving her own case. The fondness for each other was evident through Vanessa Cruz and the goodbye kiss had a lot of passion, even if it turned out not to be their final goodbye. I wonder where his final revelation to her - that Red hired him to 'marry her'. will leave them. It certainly doesn't bode well for her connection to Red, which looks set to come crashing down for the hundredth time!
Everything came to a head as Liz gave Red the fulcrum and he found himself shot in the chest by one of The Director's men. There is still a lot of mystery to this political powerplay, with Alphas' David Strathairn proving to be a much more mysterious and formidable foe to Red than Berlin. With four episodes left, I find myself both thrilled and filled with fatigue as Red's power plays unravel and previously teased mysteries come to the forefront. The Blacklist continues to be one of the most engaging thrillers currently on television, but I finding myself looking for some resolution before we enter season three.