Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Short Take: The Blacklist, Season 1, Episode 11: "The Good Samaritan Killer"

This review originally appeared on Pol Culture.

"The Good Samaritan Killer," Season 1, Episode 11, of The Blacklist, features a teleplay, by Brandon Margolis and Brandon Sonnier, which is two stories in one.

The first (and far more interesting) involves Reddington (James Spader) tracking down those responsible for his abduction and torture in the previous episode. His goal is to determine who betrayed him and made the abduction possible. Playing vicious ruthlessness has always come easy to Spader, and his talent for it hasn’t dimmed. Reddington is nothing less than frightening when confronting the various parties in the abduction plot. Margolis, Sonnier, producer Jon Bokenkamp, and director Dan Lerner don’t shy away from the frequently brutal violence he employs, and Spader’s unholy calm in these moments gives it a particular jolt. The mystery of who betrayed Reddington could probably have been handled better. Margolis and Sonnier don’t tease the audience with the person’s identity, or create any suspense working towards the revelation. There’s a lot of tension in the individual scenes, but they don’t really build to a greater whole. But those individual scenes are often ingeniously nasty, and it’s hard to imagine anyone pulling them off better than Spader.

The second story, which gives the episode its title, involves a serial killer (Frank Whaley) that Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) is profiling and tracking for the FBI. It’s pretty formula stuff. The major weakness of Keen's characterization is present. She is as affectless as a Clint Eastwood character when it comes to violence--she shoots antagonists without blinking an eye or misgivings afterward--but the show never uses it to make a larger point about the character. At least with Reddington, it’s clear he’s supposed to be monstrous.

With regard to future episodes, the final scene has it appear as if the series' set-up will be back in play: Reddington will again be collaborating with Keen and the F. B. I. in taking out the figures who are part of his “blacklist.” And there’s one new element that holds a lot of promise: the mysterious figure (Alan Alda) who ordered Reddington’s abduction is now apparently a series regular. Alda is always terrific at playing low-key sinister. It looks like he’s going to have plenty of opportunities. One can't wait.

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