Last week, The Blacklist basically decided to air a glorified clip show, catching us up on all the events up until this point in the series. But I mentioned that it left out the most important aspects of The Blacklist: the frustrating storylines, the lack of importance to anything and most importantly, it’s dedication to wasting as much time as possible. Well, they must’ve been waiting for this week to give new viewers those elements of the show. And boy, did they deliver.
“Tom Keen” is really all about dragging things out and gigantic letdowns. Early on in this season, The Blacklist set up a big moment in the show, where Liz captured her ex-husband, tortured him for information, then Tom ended up killing a harbor master and leaving the blood on Liz’s hands. While last week’s episode was sort of useless, the idea of someone actually having to account for the murder of this person in a court case made me excited at the thought that a horrible decision might actually stick to someone, once the case was all said and done. I guess I should’ve known better.
As we start “Tom Keen,” the judge that questioned Liz has been shown new evidence that completely contradicts her testimony from the last episode, making it even more useless in hindsight. Not only does it seem like Liz is going to be convicted of murder, but she can now add perjury to her list of crimes as well. Even Cooper has lied to the judge in an attempt to save Liz and their task force, and he’s so mad about it, it puts him in a seizure-induced coma. As a last ditch effort, Reddington and Ressler go to Germany to try and get Tom back to confess to the murder and save Liz, a mere few weeks after Reddington told Tom to leave and never come back. (Proving once again that anything that happens on The Blacklist can and will be taken back at some point in time.)
In a rare turn, Reddington is actually the strongest element of “Tom Keen,” taking Dembe’s advice by being more honest throughout the episode, and still maintaining the core of what makes him fun. There are no long, drawn-out stories or shady hiding, just Reddington attempting to save Liz. This leads Red and Ressler to Munich, in the middle of a gun drop off, much to the surprise of Tom. Red tells the neo-Nazi group that Tom is part of pretty much the whole truth, all while telling Tom that they need him to save Liz. Tom refuses to come back, and Red and Ressler return empty-handed.
The first half of this episode, focused on tracking down of Tom, feels completely superfluous, taking Red from contact to contact, until an unwilling Tom is located and then comes home. The Blacklist might be at its most frustrating, due to its long-term lack of importance, but this time wasting from episode to episode is also incredibly annoying, even if it does give us a more interesting version of Red.
Back in America, things seem dire for Liz, until of course the last second, when Tom arrives at the perfect moment to announce that he killed Ames. The idea that Liz might’ve gone to jail seemed far-fetched, but Tom? Sure, that makes sense. Think of the places this story could go: Tom is forced back to the U.S., where Liz can visit him anytime and keep an eye on him—where their love might possibly grow back, regardless of how badly neither of them wants it. That’s clearly what’s going to happen, right? No.
After all the build up of someone having to pay for this death, the introduction of new characters solely for the purpose of this drawn-out storyline and the court case of the past few episodes, all it takes is a visit from soon-to-be Attorney General Denner to the judge’s chambers to wash everything away. Somehow, Tom, Liz and everyone that lied under oath is completely free to go. Celebrate good times, c’mon!
Even though Tom presented himself to the court as the murderer, somehow, once everything is said and done, the police officer investigating Ames’ death gets all up in Liz’s face and blames her for the murder she didn’t commit, and makes her feel bad about the wife and daughter Ames left behind. Riding high on her guilt trip, Liz creates an anonymous scholarship for Ames’ daughter, because hey, it’s the least she can do.
Continuing to prove my theory that all you really need to watch of any episode of The Blacklist are the first and last minutes, “Tom Keen” ends by strengthening some of its most important relationships—truly the only thing that this episode has evolved for the show in any way. With Liz feeling guilty for the murder of Ames and what that means for his daughter, Reddington confronts her and basically explains that now she’s in the position that Reddington has been in with her for decades. Liz knows now that Red cares about her, since—as she puts it—he saved a man he hates to save her, reuniting the two in a manner that we all saw coming from a mile away. The episode ends with a final moment where Tom calls Liz asking how she is. Even with all the new swastika tattoos, Tom still cares about Liz! Awww.
“Tom Keen” does end the episode on a strong note, but it doesn’t counterbalance the fact that this installment shows just how disposable and changeable everything that came before it can be. This season has made one of its largest threads about this murder and the repercussions of it, only to have one scene completely negate pretty much all of it. Not only is there no accountability for these characters, the writers have given themselves a way to write their way out of any arc they’ve set up. “Tom Keen” leaves a huge part of Season Two feeling totally unnecessary, but at least it’s staying tonally consistent by remaining incredibly frustrating.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.