The Blacklist: “Frederick Barnes” (Episode 1.07)

TV Reviews The Blacklist
The Blacklist: “Frederick Barnes” (Episode 1.07)

For the first time on The Blacklist, the show wants us to feel sympathy for Reddington, a character who up until know has been little more than a devilish, smug criminal with a haunted past. Reddington isn’t an antihero like Don Draper, Tony Soprano or Walter White, because he’s frankly not that likable. You can argue just how likable these characters were throughout their stories, but what made them successes was a core of understanding. Reddington has none of this.

“Frederick Barnes” tries to make its two antagonists have dual layers, one more successfully than the other. Barnes is a former scientist who is now setting up biological attacks in DC, killing 37 in a metro and continuing from there with his experiments. His attempt to infect people with Kurz disease, which makes the arteries in your face explode, is to try to find a cure for his sick son. The disease is so rare that it’s hard to find funding for a cure, so he’s taken matters into his own hands.

Barnes is played by Robert Sean Leonard of House and is definitely the most effective of The Blacklist’s villains-of-the-week. More than any other villain, Leonard fills Barnes with a inherent disappointment in his actions. Almost every other one so far has blamed their actions on being a necessary evil, a sort of unfortunate means to an end. With Barnes, for the first time this actually feels accurate.

In case you miss the bigger message here, Reddington lets Elizabeth know that he can relate to a man who would watch the world burn for the one person he cares about. And guess who that person happens to be? While Barnes was busy murdering dozens of people to protect his son, all Reddington needs to do apparently to forget his past is a little suburban real estate purchasing. Paying twice the asking amount for a house, Reddington admits this is the house that he raised his daughter in with his wife. Reddington spends every day trying to forget what happened here, so to fix that problem, he blows up the house. Whew, good thing physical destruction can destroy memories!

While Reddington is destroying his former house, Elizabeth is busy creating a new one with her husband. But instead of being understandably cautious, she has instead decided to believe that surely someone must have placed the box corrupting her husband in their house. So now since they can’t move, she’s trying to redo their house to forget the awful things that she assumes have happened there.

I admire The Blacklist for trying to make some of these characters, especially Reddington, have a multilayered nature that makes them more sympathetic. But at the same time, the show hasn’t taken enough time to actually build character. We’re about one-third done with the first season, and there’s hardly anything we know about any of these characters. I mean at this point, the most we know about the past of Elizabeth is that her father abandoned her as a child, she and her husband went on vacation at the same time and place as a person who died and that they have named their IKEA lamp Ike.

But we need more than just silly little details. It’s great that we know Reddington has regrets about his past, but expand on that! I would love for The Blacklist to have a bottle episode—I don’t care where, let’s say…a broken elevator or whatever—where Elizabeth and Reddington just tell us more about each other. I made fun of The Blacklist in the pilot for attempting to do a Silence of the Lambs-ish “quid pro quo,” but that’s exactly what we need at this point.

The Blacklist so badly wants us to care about these characters, their background and how their pasts have destroyed them, but it needs to give us more information to actually accomplish that. Take the time away from the rampant criminal-filled DC that has seemingly sprung up out of nowhere to work on the characters we’re going to see every week, rather than focusing on the weekly mystery that doesn’t truly have any larger importance.

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