At a certain point, all the double-crossings and uncertainty of allegiances in The Blacklist sort of quit mattering. No longer is The Blacklist really about who is actually good and actually bad, but it’s about who has the more pertinent information at any given time. Because of this, “The Troll Farmer” works for the most part because of the hunt for Reddington and the newly-fugitive Elizabeth Keen led by their former friends and co-workers.
With Ressler now the head of the task force, he leads Aram and Samar after Reddington and Keen, who is believed to be a Russian spy, even if almost everyone has their doubts. Rarely is “The Troll Farmer” about anything more than these two groups trying to outsmart each other—and that’s completely fine. In fact, one of the biggest flaws in the last season of The Blacklist was the attempt to constantly shoehorn in a “crime of the week” aspect into the much more interesting core story of the show. “The Troll Farmer” does this as well, but with a much easier, throwaway purpose.
In the same way that last season introduced Peter Stormare’s Berlin as a potential big bad for the season—which inevitably ended up disappointing—“The Troll Farmer” sets up the hauntingly reserved and calm Mr. Solomon, played by Edi Gathegi. He kidnaps Dembe’s granddaughter to get close to him and drug him, all while remaining totally cool in the face of Dembe shooting his guards during dinner. What makes Mr. Solomon such a compelling idea of a character is how similar his mannerisms and style are to Reddington, and how both of their conniving natures could work incredibly well if they went up against each other.
We start off the third season with a pretty boring person on the blacklist, known as “The Troll Farmer.” Basically, he’s a man that uses social media to mislead people, or as Reddington puts it, he uses smoke to distract from the real fire. By creating hoaxes, he’s able to spread disinformation as a way to benefit his clients. Considering Reddington and Elizabeth are trying to escape a city that is searching desperately to find them, the Troll Farmer seems like the best bet of evading the police grasp.
Too often, however, when The Blacklist presents one of these “criminal masterminds,” it turns into a complete letdown. For example, the Troll Farmer is supposed to be a brilliant, deceptive genius, yet when we see how he manipulates people through the internet, it basically breaks down to him sending five tweets from different parts of D.C. and a photoshopped picture of Red and Keen walking across the street. The Troll Farmer said that his usual plan would’ve taken a week, but is that all he was really planning on doing? We even see one of the tweets, which is laughably stupid: “OMG—just saw that girl on the news.” Is that really all it takes to confuse Ressler and his team?
At least the episode ends with an interesting cliffhanger, as Keen jumps the fence to the Russian embassy seeking asylum. But I bet by next week, this will lead to all of those theories about Keen as a Russian spy being excused. The Blacklist always presents each new step in every arc as some huge game changer that will completely evolve the story, but that rarely turns out to be true. So also after a while, nothing really seems to mean that much anyway.
“The Troll Farmer” is a decent season premiere of The Blacklist, giving us (albeit predictable) chases, a much more open and kind Reddington and a new villain with potential. However, with the show pretending like its agents “changing sides” is huge and every slight plot twist is some gargantuan deal, it’s hard to believe that despite new characters and compelling cliffhangers, any of this will really matter to the plot in the long run.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.