For the entire third season of The Blacklist, Elizabeth Keen and Raymond Reddington have been running from the FBI as they try to seek a way to exonerate Keen. This hasn’t really felt like it could end any way, other than with Keen getting arrested. And yet The Blacklist has dragged this out for eight episodes, as if it would end the fall finale with a big surprise when it did happen. “Kings of the Highway” isn’t so much an episode of surprises, as it’s more of a series of inevitabilities that just finally occurred.
Still, there is something poetic about Keen’s arrest happening, due to one of the only events that Reddington doesn’t have complete control over. While driving through the woods of West Virginia, Red is kidnapped by a gang known as the Kings of the Highway, who pick up hapless motorists, take all of their money, then dump them. They have no idea who they’ve kidnapped, but of course Reddington is quick to try to turn the situation in his favor.
The Blacklist seriously has a kidnapping plot problem, as maybe half of the episodes involve some person on the show getting kidnapped in some way, then the rest of the cast trying to get them back. If you’re going to keep going back to that, that’s fine—if it’s handled in an interesting way. The Kings of the Highway are susceptible to several backstabbings and double-crosses that seem to occur in every show and movie in which a large amount of money comes between a group of criminals. I also am still incredibly confused by how the blacklist actually works. I mean, how does this gang of thieves end up on the blacklist, and if they’re actually on it, why doesn’t Red know who they are?
It’s also incredibly hard to care about a plot like this, where the idea is that Reddington will die if Liz doesn’t save him, when we know absolutely no danger will befall anyone important on the show. Even though The Blacklist tries to present the Kings of the Highway as a group of mentally unstable loose cannons, there’s no real threat and no actual danger.
Throughout the episode, Dembe is waiting to pick up something that is referred to only as the “care package.” All we know is that it’s worth over two million dollars, that the Kings of the Highway are willing to let Reddington go in exchange for it—which never happens—and that it is a tool Reddington planned to use in order to exonerate Liz. Once again, The Blacklist has created another MacGuffin, in the same vein of the Fulcrum: a mysterious item that we don’t understand the value of, but it motivates the people in the story to go after it. The Blacklist time and time again fills its arcs with such trinkets, and at this point it’s just laughable that there’s another one.
In another string of inevitable plot “twists,” Aram finds out about Navabi and Ressler sleeping together, because they’re both just dropping nonstop clues to Aram as soon as they walk into the office. Of course this tryst breaks Aram’s heart, but it’s the group’s mentality towards Liz (and what they’re willing to do to get her) that eventually gets Navabi fired for helping Liz find Reddington. It was only a matter of time before the group splintered over Liz, but at this point it’s hard to sympathize with anyone other than poor Aram.
For the first time in a while, Keen actually has something interesting going on, since she doesn’t have Red around, telling her exactly what to do. This season needed to reinforce the bond between Red and Keen, but her dedication to him has been overwhelmingly boring in the last few episodes. She gets to show off some of her undercover skills in order to find Red, but it just sort of relies on her stealing a guy’s phone and goes further than it probably needs to. Meanwhile, Tom and Harold still have Karakurt in their possession, and discover that the Cabal have put a tracker in his chest. Well, time to get that tracker out and go on a road trip!
Right now there are a lot of moving pieces on The Blacklist, with the mysterious Cabal seemingly everywhere and with care packages and hostages abounding—all apparently in the service of letting Keen go free. It’s unclear what all these pieces of leverage have to do with each other and frankly it just looks as if The Blacklist is giving itself enough pieces to play with down the line when it finally decides to give some answers.
This lack of real plot planning has shown throughout The Blacklist’s third season so far and the more it flails around, the more scattered and uninteresting the show becomes. The Blacklist needs more unpredictability, like it tried to give this week, but handled in a way with actual stakes and focus.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.