Whenever I watch a great TV drama, often I like to look back at the episode and think about where the episode started, where it ended and see just how far we’ve come in only an hour. Especially with a show like Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, every episode matters, with the entire framework of the show sometimes shifting due to the material of just one episode.
Yet when I watch The Blacklist, the question becomes more “what was the purpose of this hour?” Since the beginning, The Blacklist has followed a very predictable formula week after week; the villain changes, yet everything else pretty much stays the same. Reddington presents a criminal of the week, they chase them down—which rarely has any bearing on the larger story at hand—and this is all bookended by Elizabeth making plans with her husband at the beginning of the episode, then disappointing him by canceling said plans near the end of the episode. In fact, after watching “Madeline Pratt,” the only elements that seem to matter is a monologue Red gives that might still be completely made up and a history of a character that technically, we should already know.
“Madeline Pratt” brings us the titular villain who has a romantic past with Reddington. She enlists the help of Red to plan a heist to steal the effigy of Atargatis. This item holds inside of it what is believed to be a list of six Soviet spies, but then turns out to be a list of six hidden nuclear bombs. Essentially it’s a MacGuffin trapped in a MacGuffin. (Besides, it’s not like they’re going to set off a nuclear bomb on this show. That would be too interesting.)
So Reddington brings along his favorite companion Elizabeth to steal the effigy away from Madeline Pratt. All of a sudden though, the show decides that Elizabeth should have a criminal past. Yeah, that’ll make her exciting, right?! Even though she has had an extensive background search, they failed to discover that her father was a criminal and that she also has had a thieving past.
We also get a little information about Red’s past, supposedly, as who knows if it can be taken seriously. He explains to Madeline Pratt that he was going to run off with her to Florence on Christmas, yet didn’t because he came home instead to find his family dead and that all he could see was their blood. Even if he’s being honest, the story doesn’t tell us anything more about his family’s murder except that it was really gross, and that he was planning on running out on his family anyway.
James Spader does get to have quite a bit of fun this episode, especially in that speech, which he does pull off incredibly well. Yet any good will is taken away when his cover in a heated moment turns him into Elizabeth’s effeminate partner. The show giveth, then taketh away.
As far as the plot of “Madeline Pratt,” it is nice to see the show escape from the typical bad guy/murderer and present someone who has a connection with the actual characters. Yet the heist becomes far too convoluted at times, almost like the writers realized that the episode would be too short, so they decided to throw useless plot digressions in to lengthen it out. Also, the whole conflict between Elizabeth and her husband is becoming unbearable at this point. It’s the same thing every week and this relationship has been doomed from the beginning. If The Blacklist doesn’t kill Tom or at least do something interesting with him by the end of the first season, it’ll be a huge mistake.
At this point The Blacklist is just spinning its wheels, throwing in ideas that don’t really make sense in an effort to make the show interesting. It’s not working. With boring plots that become far too convoluted, The Blacklist feels like its trying too hard to be a good show, yet never getting any better.