The majority of this third season of The Blacklist has focused on Liz and Reddington—and rightfully so, since their relationship and attempts to clear their names have resonated with every other character on the show in various ways. By doing this, The Blacklist has strengthened its bond between Liz and Reddington, minimizing the trust issues that have existed between them and, instead, turning them into a decent team. In doing so, however, The Blacklist has neglected its cast of supporting characters. “Arioch Cain” finally expands the third season by getting everyone involved and splitting this week’s story into four separate, smaller stories that all, for the most, part work.
With The Blacklist, whenever you spend too much time with a certain character, it becomes hard to avoid the show’s bullshit and you start to see the flaws within. This still happens in “Arioch Cain,” as Reddington goes on diatribes about shooting elephant poachers, or when Aram interrogates a website creator in a scene filled with techno-babble. But by breaking “Arioch Cain” into smaller plots, those cracks become less visible.
First up is the Liz and Reddington story; a bounty has been put on Keen’s head and now assassins are coming after her. Well, really only two: Wendigo, who brands Bible verses on his bullets, and Solomon. “Arioch Cain” does a pretty good job of building the tension as to when the next attack on Keen will come, even thought it never does after the initial attack. The Wendigo search actually isn’t that bad—Keen driving away from his shooting while laying on the ground of a car and holding up a mirror is pretty effective. But the scene where Reddington saves Wendigo from falling off of a building, then lets him go when he realizes he won’t get any information out of him is such an overdone trope that there’s no suspense at all as to how the situation will play out.
Speaking of lack of surprise, “Arioch Cain” starts with a flash forward to Keen’s death, twelve hours in the future, but we know it’s inevitable that this isn’t actually what happens. Turns out the only way to stop the bounty on Keen’s head is to pretend like she’s dead, then follow the money to the assassin. The fake crime scene is much easier to create once Dembe comes out at just the right moment, guns blazing, killing everyone in Solomon’s troupe, even while he’s bleeding out from his own gunshot wound.
However, this storyline also shows the strengths and problematic weaknesses with The Blacklist sticking to the actual blacklist in these plots. When they discover who put Liz’s name on the assassin’s dark net website, it turns out “Arioch Cain” is actually a young girl who is mad at Liz for killing her mother in the bombing she was framed for. At least this allows the blacklist to have some personal resonance with these characters.
Considering that the blacklist is a list that Reddington came to the FBI for three years ago, there’s absolutely no reason for Arioch Cain, a teenage girl, to have been on that list all that time ago. Up until literally the moment the episode starts, there’s no reason for Arioch Cain to be wanted at all. If anything, Wendigo is the criminal that’s been on Reddington’s radar.
During all of these antics, Ressler is in the middle of a presidential commission focusing on him and the FBI, especially concerned with their not sharing information with the CIA. Kessler finally admits that he doesn’t believe Keen to be a terrorist and that sharing information with the CIA, headed by David Strathairn’s cabal director, could only hurt Keen’s chances of a fair trial. In the end, Ressler is forced to cooperate with the CIA. At the very least, this furthers the story of the cabal, and at this point we’ve really only been seeing one side of this season. And as the end of last season showed, The Blacklist can have a lot of fun with courtroom scenes, and Ressler’s defense of Keen during the commission is no different.
I also can’t remember the last time we had a Aram and Navabi story, which as I mentioned earlier puts Aram in a position of power for once, but also does this by having him just talk nonsense, expecting it to mean something to the audience. Their working together is quite enjoyable, especially when they discuss how dumb the assassination website’s name is: deadnotalive.org. At this moment, there’s not much for these characters to do, besides whatever the week’s episode puts in front of them, but it would be great to see them get more of an actual, continual story for once.
As always, the most problematic character who is given way too much screen time is Tom, who is now embroiled in an argument between a millionaire’s son and the boxing bookies he refused to lose a fight for. Tom’s cover was apparently that his cover was terrible and would be found out. Good one, Tom? Basically at this point, he’s just killing his new friend Asher Sutton’s enemies until the Russians and eventually Karakurt try to find him. I get what The Blacklist is trying to do with Tom—trying to offer Liz a possibility of normalcy by allowing Tom to kill his way back into her heart, but his stories always feel the silliest, especially when almost everything works out exactly how he expects it to. Also, where the hell did all of Tom’s Nazi tattoos go?
“Arioch Cain” finally spreads The Blacklist’s plot beyond Red and Liz, thereby making the show feel a bit more complete than usual. If only this series could iron out some of the creases that arise in its expected stupidity, as well as ditch the list of villains that no longer makes sense, the show could really rise up and become the must-watch series it already thinks it is.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.