After last week’s particularly strong “Leonard Caul,” which showed us how The Blacklist could actually be interesting, “Quon Zhang” pops up and reenforces one of The Blacklist’s most consistent problems: the convoluted and completely uninteresting crime of the week. After some of the big events from the last episode “Quon Zhang” attempts to still follow up on those moments, but because of the show’s insistence on having a new person on the list every week, it bogs down what could be some compelling, bigger picture moments.
The Blacklist has always enjoyed wasting our time, taking us down a ridiculously long rabbit hole to give us the smallest bits of information, which is exactly what “Quon Zhang” is all about. Zhang is a smuggler who has recently been specializing in digging up unmarried Chinese women under the age of 35 in America, in order to ship them back to China to be reburied with young dead men, so as to keep their ghosts at bay. Yup, we’re stopping ghosts now.
Maybe the best part of “Quon Zhang” is how little this case really matters and how little everyone seems to care about it. They originally think that Zhang is maybe smuggling something in the caskets. Nope. Could there be something inside of the cadavers? Nah. Just shipping dead bodies in order to have them buried somewhere else to stop angry, single ghosts. The only time the crew seems all that interested in this case is when it turn out Zhang has had a request from a family to kill a woman who left their son at the altar, who then committed suicide, so she can be buried with their son.
This even seems like a B-story to everyone involved, with each character checking in whenever they get a free moment from their own adventures. Liz is still trying to find out about the information from her past that Reddington knows, while Navabi is helping Reddington with his own little plans. The entire Quon Zhang saga exists so that they can figure out what Zhang is trying to smuggle into the country, and when we finally find out at the end of the episode, it’s an Agent Karakurt, who is apparently going to help start World War III and he’s already in the country. Well, it’s a good thing we wasted so much time with those mail order corpse brides!
At the very least “Quon Zhang” does feel like it might be heading in a strong direction for Season Three, although I’m pretty sure I felt the same way at the end of Season One about Season Two, but we’ll see. The idea of our group trying to stop different attacks from beginning World War III is potentially interesting, especially since we’re seeing how deep the ties of The Director and the Cabal are really going.
At this point, it seems like The Blacklist is also tiring of its own conceit. At times, the show has been able to make its weekly cases weave in well with the overall story, but those episodes are incredibly rare. If anything “Quon Zhang” is a perfect example of the fact that keeping up the crime-of-the-week element is just holding the show back.
In fact, the best moments of “Quon Zhang” come when the cast is concerned with the larger picture. For example, this week we get a twisty interrogation scene with Reddington, Dembe, Samar Navabi, all working against Kenneth Jasper (one of the Director’s closest allies), which changes allegiances and our viewpoint so many times, it shows the strength this show could possess, if only it could focus on what actually seems to matter.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.