Forget the pigskin. The real Super Bowl battle is between Reddington (James Spader) and his Belgrade adversary, Luther Braxton (Ron Perlman).
Let’s bitch it out…
Case of the week: After Red allows himself to be captured to gain access to a top secret interrogation facility known as the Factory, Lizzie (Megan Boone) and the task force mobilize to extract him. Naturally it ends up being the Red and Lizzie hour as they team up to take down Braxton before he gains control of the CIA all-access code and all of the US’s intelligence info (or something nebulous and McGuffin-y like that – the specifics are immaterial).
Essentially the plot is little more than an excuse for lever pushing, explosions and gunfights, which is pretty much exactly what we expect from an action series in the post-Super Bowl timeslot. I just wish that dramatically the episode were a little more meaningful – there’s too much time spent on silly immaterial things like Red fighting with his underlings about the mechanics of the plan (this is redundant since we know they’re going to do it). There are simply too many moments that seem specifically engineered to produce “fuck yeah” reactions from drunken football fans, especially Red’s slow-mo shotgun shooting montage near the end of the hour. Yes, it looks cool, but is that the only reason it exists?
Red Alert: In an effort to introduce new viewers to the series, ‘Luther
Vandros Braxton’ works overtime to (re)introduce the details of the Red/Lizzie relationship including obscure references to the fire that burnt her hand, as well as how valuable she is to finding the Fulcrum. This last detail sets up the second half of this two parter while simultaneously acting as yet another McGuffin (welcome to The Blacklist, new viewers!).
At this point all we know about the Fulcrum is that it contains a lot of damning evidence that Red has wielded to control the shadowy cabal and ensure that he remains out of jail. With the murder of Fitch in the fall finale, the Director (David Strathairn) and his international group of friends are no longer interested in protecting the dapper tattle-tell. This means that the hour ends with an (obviously ineffectual) missile attack launched in an effort to destroy Red, Luther and the Factory in one fell swoop. Anyone willing to bet that come Thursday everyone will still be alive and kicking, despite the fact that trained professionals would undoubtedly have no problem blowing the Factory sky high with minimal effort?
Agent Boring: Along for the ride are Agent Boring (Diego Klattenhoff) and Samar (Mozhan Marnò), although if we’re being honest, they basically exist solely to be tortured. I may have literally laughed when both agents were captured within seconds on landing at the Factory and then spend the rest of the episode dangling in nooses waiting to be executed. I can’t imagine anyone watching the show for the first time would care about their survival since they are barely introduced or make an impression. Hell, only Aram’s (Amir Arison) panicked reaction to Samar’s peril connotes any genuine concern. The dismissive manner in which the supporting cast on this show is used continues to be one of its greatest weaknesses. Why dedicate screen time to characters that no one (including, seemingly, the writers) care about?
Tech Specs: Technically there’s a noticeable bump in the budget for this episode, which means we get plenty of money shots of helicopters, planes and more than a few high calibre explosions (Side Note: Alas the Factory itself is pretty bland, resembling nothing less than the Alcatraz set from The Rock minus the personality).
Unfortunately the most egregious deviation from the usual look and feel of the series are the overly showy and dramatically laughable lighting decisions. At one point Red and Luther chat with each other in different parts of the facility, and each of their faces is blurred out courtesy of their very own coloured lens flare! It’s so distracting I nearly paused to look up the director in anticipation of discovering that JJ Abrams guest-directed the episode (FYI: he didn’t). Later as Harold (Harry Lennix) angrily confronts Kat Goodson (Janel Moloney), Director of NCS, about the strike attack, the chiascuro lighting in in his office is so reminiscent of film noirs that I kept anticipating a someone to make a failed seduction attempt or take a bullet to the back of the head.
Equally unsuccessful is the music that closes the episode. Perhaps it’s just me (and/or the red wine), but I thought that the music was diegetic; I honestly thought that one of Luther’s cronies was singing as Lizzie was brought in. It wasn’t until the song continued over Red’s rampage that I realized that The Blacklist was trying to shoe-horn in one of its trademark musical montages. I guess I’m just surprised at how truly terrible this was executed – a unique combination of the musical cue being both inappropriate for the visuals and too loud to be used as a soundtrack.
Overall Impression: I’m torn. I think that despite my issues with ‘Luther Braxton’ the episode offers exactly what new audiences need in an introductory sample. In many ways the episode is genuinely representative of what the series delivers on a week to week basis (for better and for worse), but my mildly dissatisfied reaction reminds me of how I felt about the Elementary Super Bowl episode from a few years ago. The Super Bowl undoubtedly calls for a larger than life narrative and while ‘Luther Braxton’ delivers on that front, I can’t say that it includes a compelling narrative or any interesting character beats. Perhaps I’ll sing a different song on Thursday when we see how ‘Conclusion’ unfolds (the previews make it look like a hybrid bastard of Fringe and Alias), but for now, this is a solid “meh.”
The Blacklist continues Thursday in its new timeslot at 10pm EST on NBC