I’ve always found that The Blacklist is at its best when it isn’t taking itself too seriously. In the last few weeks, we’ve had cults and vengeful serial killers, and this week we go full-on Bond villain. Of course, when the show does start to get too serious, it almost suffocates under the pressure. For example, the first season attempted to tie all of its story lines together by presenting the idea that all the criminals may or may not be connected—also another example of this show’s incredible indecisiveness. “T. Earl King VI” is not only a welcome episode where The Blacklist is clearly just having fun, but also integrates past villains in a way so that it doesn’t feel forced and works quite well.
This week, our villain is the King family, who, for over a century and a half, have put on secret auctions for the elite with objects like priceless paintings, uranium and even people. Their dynasty has been strong for so long because of a family game that has been played for generations, where two sons must try to earn more money through the auction than the other, with the loser having to play a game of Russian Roulette while their father watches. The person who survives gets to continue the family legacy; literally, winner takes all.
Reddington is intrigued by the King family after they abduct Madeline Pratt. When Reddington goes to investigate, it turns out that she was only used to get Reddington captured and to have him sold at the auction. At the auction, we see yet another villain, this time the warlord from Camaroon—whose compound Reddington burned down—who plans on paying a high price for Reddington’s head. But using these two former villains in this way shows us that their might be some connection between them, without feeling forced at the last minute to explain it, as we saw at the end of last season.
Also, of the five episodes in this second half of Season Two, all five have involved kidnappings. At this point, shouldn’t the FBI use some sort of tracking device on their agents? It now seems like a 100% certainty when it comes to their cases and some precautions should be taken. At the very least this kidnapping lets us see the team in action, even if it does also show how poorly and often they fail. There are so many ways this plan goes awry that seem completely solvable. For instance, they easily lose Keen when she goes undercover, keeping no contact or eyes on her at all. The whole undercover plan is also using the assumption that the person Keen is impersonating—Josephine Sullivan has never been seen by the people running the auction. Then, in the most stupid mistake of the entire plan, someone lets the real Sullivan make a phone call, completely ruining Keen’s entire cover. It seems like dumb mistakes, and kidnappings happen all of the time under this branch. Maybe they should work on that.
“T. Earl King VI” occasionally suffers some of the usual problems, such as Reddington’s irrelevant history with the villain, or the overcomplicated nature of the plots at points, but the cheesy fun of the episode makes up for most of that. Jeffrey DeMunn as the wheelchair-bound head of the King family is extremely over-the-top and makes for a perfectly ridiculous villain. Plus, it’s hard not to sort of have a chuckle ready every time Tom pops up. Now he’s going undercover as a neo-Nazi in Germany, which we see through an 80s movie montage of him preparing by shaving his head and getting some swastika tattoos. Oh Tom, you’ll never stop being hilariously intense.
In not taking itself so seriously, The Blacklist makes the most sense. “T. Earl King VI” not only integrates former villains and tells a simple and fun story, but also gives us some character development between Elizabeth and Reddington, as we see how much he hatesof having to be reliant on someone else. This episode is a perfect example of how making some simple tweaks on this show can actually make it far more successful on a week-to-week basis.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.