Before Season Two proper of The Blacklist starts, we get a look at what happened in the show’s debut season, which basically boiled down to four facts: 1.) “Red” Reddington was a wanted man, who now works for the FBI, finding some of the most wanted people in the world, 2.) At the FBI, he only works through Elizabeth Keen, 3.) Elizabeth Keen’s husband Tom ended up being a spy, and 4.) Now Reddington is being tracked by a man known as Berlin, who’s out for revenge. If you decided to skip the first season of The Blacklist and jump right in, this is pretty much the gist of what you’ve missed.
But this also points to one of the major problems with the first season: so much stuff happened, but nothing really happened. The majority of the show focused on a “criminal of the week” that had no purpose to the larger story, and minor characters had next-to-nothing to do, remaining poorly defined the entire season. As we start off the second season with “Lord Baltimore,” these issues seem to have been fixed—or at the very least, worked on—but there are still plenty of problems that need some attention.
One of the big strides forward at the end of the first season was the introduction of a villain that could match Red. No more of these piddly serial killers who all just happen to live in the D.C. area. Red’s new foil is Berlin, played by Peter Stormare, who appears ready to match the hammy acting of James Spader at every turn. Berlin’s attempt at vengeance against Reddington for killing his daughter leads us to several associates that the FBI needs to hunt down, finally making the criminal aspect a part of the larger story, even if these stories are still pretty ridiculous.
This week’s criminal is Lord Baltimore, an internet tracker who uses data analytics and statistics to get information in order to hunt down desired targets. This isn’t a bad idea, but where it ends up is pretty nuts—it involves split personality twins, and finding a target through some type of dye in a person’s tie. Although Lord Baltimore loosely ties into the bigger plot, it’s sort of crazy business as usual.
Even Berlin has his own strange quirks that don’t seem to add anything. For example, we see Berlin taking ice baths and getting far too angry about additional expenses in the search. This sort of mirrors Reddington rambling on in every episode about some incident in some foreign land that he seems inclined to share with anyone who will listen. This is a larger problem with The Blacklist— this need to give an insane amount of information that serves no purpose. The show throws so many unnecessary names, ideas, places and theories into each episode, but none of it really matters (see: Season One).
On the larger scale, “Lord Baltimore” does finally give all of its characters a semblance of direction for the season. Reddington is keen (heh) on hunting down Berlin, and is now invested even more so since his ex-wife Naomi (Mary-Louise Parker) has been kidnapped, and is getting shipped to Red piece-by-piece in boxes. Meanwhile Keen is now rightfully paranoid, living out of motels and creating aliases after her husband’s actions. Ressler is avoiding going to therapy, but is now taking pills, and by the end of the episode, Harold Cooper takes back over as head of the task force (even though he received a diagnosis of some sort that doesn’t seem to be too promising).
The first season of the The Blacklist had a multitude of problems, and “Lord Baltimore” still showcases many of them. But it does seem like the writers are trying to fix the problems that really made the show so uneventful and unfulfilling. It’s not a gigantic shift for The Blacklist, but hey, it feels like a move in the right direction.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.