In last week’s pilot for The Blacklist, the show started off by blatantly ripping off The Silence of the Lambs, thereby not creating its own identity in any way, other than establishing itself as a disappointing copy. With “The Freelancer,” The Blacklist’s second episode and likely a good indicator of how this show will go from here on out, the Lambs comparisons are taken away, yet it still feels like a mishmash of plenty of other tired clichés to a laughable point.
From the first moments of “The Freelancer,” not much makes sense. The episode begins with James Spader’s “Red” Reddington being transported to a soundtrack of “Sympathy For the Devil,” which doesn’t make any sense since A) this character is more moderate than evil and B) we have absolutely no sympathy for him at this moment in the series.
In the cold open, we get a train that’s going off the rails (SYMBOLISM?), and of course Red knows who is behind it, a person known as The Freelancer. As he lets the FBI know, he doesn’t have a phone number, e-mail address or really anything, but through basically only one in-person meeting, he knows who the person is, what their next target is, what their pattern is and way too much other stuff to make sense.
This leads to Red going to Montreal with Elizabeth Keen to meet a liaison of The Freelancer. After making contact, Red runs away for no good reason, only to arrive in the FBI van while the FBI is searching for him. He knows that the next victim is Floriana Campo, a human rights activist played by Isabella Rossellini. Yet as soon as Keen gushes admiration over Campo, it’s clear that she won’t be all she’s cracked up to be. Instead of freeing sex slaves, she’s actually the head of a sex trafficking ring. So basically if Keen thinks highly of a person, they are probably hiding a dark secret (see also her secretive husband, who is now in a medically induced coma.)
Very little of “The Freelancer” transcends “bad-guy-of-the-week” status, but what does is completely unsatisfying. Keen confronts Red about the mysterious box filled with money, passports and a gun that she found in her house that looks to be owned by her husband. Red states that she can either turn in her husband, confront him, or maybe there is a third option: completely ignoring it. Which…just great. Yes, The Blacklist, please set up your only compelling mystery, then immediately have one of the main characters lose interest in it.
There’s also the introduction of three more minor characters. This show is definitely going to need to spread things out beyond Reddington and Keen, but it already has several minor characters that don’t really have anything to do yet.
As for the question as to whether or not Red is Keen’s father or not, “The Freelancer” jokes and brings up the idea so many times, it seems like it’s too blatantly obvious to actually be a mystery the show reveals. Right? The opening’s editing makes this point, but when Red and Keen head to Montreal, Red even suggests that their cover relationship should be that of father and daughter. I mean, there’s no way the show thinks its audience is this stupid.
After checking out the first two episodes of The Blacklist, I can’t help but think the writers think they are as cocky and smart as Reddington. It feels like I’m looking for the interesting elements, but they’re just sitting there going “you’re asking the wrong questions,” as I watch confused and unfulfilled by this arrangement. It may all make sense and seem great to the team behind The Blacklist, but instead of hiding behind a self-confident mask, they need to actually have the show make sense and give it an identity of its own.