In The Blacklist’s Post Office of supporting characters, most are pretty easily definable. Ressler is just a do-good cop that, for the most part, tries to uphold the law, with his rare defining trait being an occasional drug habit. Aram is a nervous computer genius that harbors an obvious love for Samar Navabi. Yet it’s Navabi who has the most secretive past, but we never delve deeper than the surface. Her most defining characteristic over this season has been that she’s the only person to play devil’s advocate in believing that maybe Elizabeth isn’t as good as everyone else thinks she is. “Zal Bin Hassan” finally delves deeper into Navabi’s story, but unlike these other character where we warm up to them more after their individual episodes, Navabi somehow seems colder than ever before.
As much as The Blacklist convolutes the story this week, it’s actually a really simple one. Zal Bin Hasaan is a terrorist who has abducted six people knowledgable of a missile-defense shield for Israel. No one knows what Zal looks like, but it’s believed that he planned a bombing in which Navabi’s brother died. Reddington gives Navabi the information to find Zal and in doing so, Navabi discovers that her brother is still alive. As the story progresses through various twists and turns though, we find out that Navabi’s brother is actually, in fact, Zal Bin Hasaan.
?Reddington’s role in all of this is to get Zal Bin Hassan in order to meet with a restaurant owner’s boss. Who is this boss that Reddington needs to meet with? Well, let’s just add that to the list of The Blacklist’s unanswered questions. When Navabi has her brother in custody, Reddington offers to take him off Navabi’s hands in an effort to exonerate Liz. Navabi no longer knows her brother as he is now and agrees with Reddington’s plan.
Meanwhile in the suburbs, Tom has brought Karakurt to Cooper’s house, also in hopes of getting Liz exonerated and helping her reach her eventual goal of getting married and having kids. When Ressler finds out about this, he freaks out and starts kicking garden gnomes like a child. Back at the office, The Director has been kicked out of the Post Office for not sharing intel with Ressler’s team, leading to an incredibly unceremonious conclusion to that episodes-long arc.
It is surprisingly nice to see Tom and Liz together again, but it’s hard to actually root for this couple in any way. This whole relationship was built on lies and there’s no real reason for Liz to still be interested in Tom after all he has put her through, except that he’s convenient and pretty much the only male she knows that she doesn’t work with and/or who might be her father. Once again, Liz’s story this season has been incredibly problematic. No one truly believes that she’s going to be sidelined in order to pop out some kids, get married and live a happy life. Also, how reductive is this to her character? At the beginning of the series, she was both focused on her career and the potential to have a family, but she’s completely thrown away her career goals for no apparent reason. Sure, if that’s what that character wants, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, however this entire season has been about Liz conforming to whatever people want her to do, and it doesn’t feel natural. If anything, this feels like a way to sideline Liz for more mystery and action scenes.
Any sympathy Navabi gets this episode is almost immediately thrown away in the final minute, where both Navabi and Ressler hook up after accepting how defeated they are. Once again, sure, if that’s what they want, there’s nothing wrong with that. However this also feels like a way to brew false conflict. Really the only romantic relationship The Blacklist has given its audience reason to root for is the one between Aram and Navabi, and now this seems to only exist to give Aram a reason to be more engaged and angry with this group. It feels like created conflict for no other purpose than to actually create conflict, rather than helping push forward character or story.
“Zal Bin Hasaan” tries to do justice to Navabi, but does so by returning to The Blacklist’s flaw of convoluting plots and making characters feel reductive to the story at hand. The Blacklist has been successful at adding depth to its minor characters in the past, it’s just a shame it can’t handle doing that with one of its more important supporting characters.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.