It’s entirely due to coincidence that, in the UK, The Blacklist airs immediately after Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., on another channel. It’s not, however, a juxtaposition which does S.H.I.E.L.D. any favours at all; particularly this week, when another unsatisfactory outing for the Agents is followed by a very strong Blacklist. Within four minutes James Spader is dominating the screen, as if to say: now this, bitches, is what a network drama should look like eight episodes in. It’s the cure for what ails ya.
In fact, this week’s villain probably isn’t a bona fide Blacklister, nor is it really a person: “General Ludd” is more of a collective movement, inspired by the Luddites, falling somewhere between OWS, Wikileaks, and the Unabomber, and dedicated to bringing down capitalism. The show hedges its bets just a little on whether there might be something to what General Ludd are saying, which is probably fair enough.
Anyway, after a plane is blown out of the sky Agent Cooper is prepared to do a deal with Red to get his assistance, and Red obliges, pointing Keen and Ressler towards Nathaniel Wolfe (Justin Kirk from Weeds) as the founder of General Ludd. I can only assume that the writers are keen to encourage Keen/Ressler shipping, because despite this presumably being the very highest priority case in the whole of North America, it’s only the two of them who get sent out to possible home addresses, sightings, and so on.
While this plot is twisting and turning – and it has a couple of nice stings in its tail – Keen finds out that her father Sam (William Sadler) is in hospital. Because of General Ludd’s activities all commercial flights have been grounded, so she can’t fly out to see him – but Red can, and the two of them plainly have an extensive shared history.
In all of this Spader gets to do some proper acting: he has an entertaining showdown with Andrew Dice Clay, playing a corrupt plastic surgeon – the only type we see on TV, of course; he then goes toe-to-toe for a couple of excellent scenes with William Sadler; and he winds up evincing some genuine menace in a conversation with Tom, from which we can surmise, I think, that Tom – whoever he is – plainly doesn’t recognise Red.
A good Case of the Week, a genuine OMG! moment, and longer arcs which keep you hooked. There’s even room for a moment which verges on the meta when Keen, annoyed by Red’s enigmatic revelation that he knows Keen’s father to be ill, snaps: “I am not doing this, playing this game – what you know and how you know it.” Which would make this the final episode, I suppose, if she means it. But The Blacklist knows what it’s about. I thought this was terrific entertainment.