Back when The Blacklist premiered, almost two years ago, it played like a show going for a very The Silence of the Lambs vibe. As the first few episodes passed, it became clear that The Blacklist was far too bland to warrant such a comparison. The further the show went, I wished that it would head more in an Alias direction, where the show could allow itself to have fun, introduce crazy ideas and generally go nuts. “The Longevity Initiative” is the closest The Blacklist has gotten to mirroring the great Alias, but after seeing its best attempt at that, maybe it’s not such a good idea after all.
The Longevity Initiative might be our most Bond villain-y Blacklisters yet, as they’re a company led by a tech billionaire (Roger Hobbs) trying to figure out how to achieve immortality. While The Blacklist can sometimes get insane, it’s never quite jumped to the mystical level of a bunch of doctors trying to live forever, so right away the plot just doesn’t match the show thematically. One of the doctors for The Longevity Initiative (Dr. Julian Powell) has been stealing people with brain injuries from care facilities in order to test his work on them, often cutting open the frontal lobe to try out his experiments.
By the end of the episode, we of course discover that Dr. Powell hasn’t found any way to allow for immortality, and that he’s actually been using Hobbs’ money to fund his own research—trying to restore the memory of his fiancée after a car accident left her with severe brain damage.
The larger scope of the episode doesn’t mesh at all with the direction this show usually goes in, to the point that there’s never any real way to believe that anyone will discover the fountain of youth. It’s sort of like the theories about how Cthulhu might show up on True Detective, or that characters from Breaking Bad might have super powers; it’s fun to think about, and it would be insane if it happened, but it also would be a complete 180 for the shows.
What does actually fit in nicely in this episode is Reddington’s reasoning for sending the FBI on the track for The Longevity Initiative. Red is sent to Powell by Hobbs in order to kill him, but his real motivation is to use Powell’s research to get the lost Fulcrum-related memories out of Liz. While he doesn’t get any closer to that mystery, he does get closer to Hobbs, to the point where he is now a useful ally. Unfortunately, the show hits us over the head with this idea, with Reddington literally just saying that Hobbs will definitely pop up and be very important at the moment when he is most needed. You don’t need to outright tell us this; you can just show us, eventually.
At least The Blacklist is trying to take ideas from other shows, since they pretty much don’t have any good ideas of their own. Usually I would frown on this, but c’mon, it needs all the help it can get. We are introduced to Kevin Weisman—Marshall on Alias—who plays Dr. Maynard, a coroner that throws plenty of exposition and explanation our way. We also see Tom being interrogated by the Germans, who threaten to turn him into a Blood Eagle, basically a way of taking the skin near the spine and cutting it to make the victim look like a bloody angel. This idea was already visualized on the much better Hannibal as well.
Speaking of Tom—first he’s almost killed by the Major, then almost killed by the Germans and are able to escape from both, ending the episode by showing up on Liz’s doorstep on her birthday. We also see that Tom Connolly’s backroom dealing could effect Cooper and the task force more than it should, with Cooper basically giving Hobbs a free pass so that he can remain in the cancer trial that has been so effective lately.
While I do maintain that The Blacklist should take hints from other, better shows, it ends up not making sense thematically in “The Longevity Initiative.” In fact, this episode becomes one of the least action-focused episodes of the season, and while it’s not exactly bad, it’s also not that enthralling either. Even if The Blacklist does take more chances and try some new things that don’t exactly work (like they don’t here), I wouldn’t mind them being more ambitious like they were in this episode, until they find something that does work.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.