The Blacklist – Recap: Traffic Jam
Recap and review of The Blacklist – Season 1 Episode 2 – The Freelancer:
The challenge with a show like The Blacklist is in finding a way to balance the character dynamics with the overarching premise, which focuses on a different criminal on the titular Blacklist each week. It’s hard to know right now how any of these individual criminals fits into Reddington’s overall plan, and the real trick will be in making it all seem obvious in retrospect, to lay the foundation with clues and foreshadowing for what’s to come. That can prove to be exceedingly difficult for even the most established dramas, but The Blacklist is only two episodes deep at the moment. It’ll be genuinely interesting to see if the show will be able to leave the trail of bread crumbs for viewers to follow. As for now, however, “The Freelancer” follows up last week’s strong premiere with another solid installment.
This week focuses on a criminal known as “The Freelancer,” a man who murders high-value targets by disguising the assassinations as tragic accidents. This would be bad enough, but the staged accidents are inevitably disasters that end up taking more than just the life of the target. “The Freelancer” has staged train derailments, airplane crashes and more, with little care to who was onboard at the time. To this end, Red (James Spader) tries to warn the FBI about a potential disaster scheduled to happen at Decatur Industrial Park at 11am that morning, but his warnings aren’t heeded in time. Agent Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) is on-hand as the train derails in catastrophic fashion, taking the lives of sixty people, including the figure “The Freelancer” was targeting. And so the FBI defers to Red’s advice on the next target “The Freelancer” has set his sights on. However, Red will only talk to Elizabeth (Megan Boone), and she isn’t exactly crazy about teaming up with him again, as she’s convinced Red planted the passports and fake IDs of her husband Tom (Ryan Eggold) under the floorboards of her house. Cooper (Harry Lennix), for his part, believes Red could be somehow involved with Tom, but the evidence doesn’t exactly bear out. And regardless, Red is remaining distressingly vague about what it all means, telling Liz at dinner that she might not know her husband as well as she thinks she does.
Much of the episode’s storyline relies on the FBI once again trusting Red not to run, which proves to be a crummy choice on their part, since he ends up escaping from the restaurant in which he and Elizabeth are eating. He does this, presumably, to meet with his inside contact on the location and plans of “The Freelancer,” but the FBI is unable to tail him effectively, as Red is gradually becoming one of those omnipotent criminals who’s always one step ahead of his federal handlers, which is fine at this point, since Spader has the talent to pull off that kind of character, cliches be damned.
Ultimately, the trail leads to the discovery of the next “Freelancer” target: humanitarian Floriana Campo (Isabella Rossellini), a noted advocate against sex trafficking. Floriana gained the attention of “The Freelancer” as a result of her 15 years with the UN, and the contribution of $25 million from her non-profit toward putting an end to sex trafficking. It’s this latter detail that provides “The Freelancer” with the context for his next attack, as he plans to assassinate Floriana at a fundraiser for her non-profit organization. To keep Red in line, FBI Agent Meera Malik (Parminder Nagra) is brought in, while Liz keeps an eye on Floriana. Luckily for everyone, Red agrees to accompany Liz to the gala event after the FBI makes good on Red’s terms, and it’s Red who is able to alert Liz to the presence of “The Freelancer” before he’s able to carry out his attack. This results in a fairly exciting, though protracted, footrace throughout New York City, as “The Freelancer” makes a run for it and keeps far ahead of Ressler. It isn’t until Liz commandeers a taxicab that “The Freelancer” is captured, as she simply runs him down in the middle of the street. Now compromised with a bone fracture, “The Freelancer” has no choice but to give up his motives and sources, and this is where the storyline takes an intriguing turn.
Liz tracks Red to the hotel where he has Floriana at his mercy, since she’s been poisoned by “The Freelancer” and he claims to hold the antidote. We learn that Floriana is actually the person behind the far-reaching sex-trafficking operation she’s been publicly trying to end. Red has taken part in carrying out this vendetta against Floriana in repayment for her misdeeds. Floriana ultimately succumbs to the poison, as it’s revealed that there never was an antidote. Once again, Red’s motives are called into question, as is the complicated nature of his morality. At the end of the day, he’s still a criminal, but he’s a criminal with a moral compass. We remain with the mystery of just what the connection is between Red and Elizabeth, but unlike last week, it doesn’t feel like an essential part of the narrative. We have Elizabeth asking if Red knew her parents, and the FBI briefly wondering if Red and Tom share a connection, but the central mystery of the series ultimately felt ancillary this week, and it’s to the show’s credit that the story didn’t suffer for that choice.
A bit of ambiguity certainly can help a show like this, and this is further indicated by the storyline with Tom: he’s released from the hospital, but Elizabeth opts to take Red’s implicit advice and conceal what she knows. She returns the box to its spot underneath the floorboards and replaces the carpets in the house, and never once brings up to Tom that she suspects a thing. Of course, Tom doesn’t act any differently himself. In fact, he appears to love Liz more than ever, as evidenced by a flash drive she discovers among Tom’s bloody clothes from the night of the attack. On the flash drive, she discovers a background profile in which Tom talks to the adoption agency about what a wonderful person Liz is, and what a great mother she’d make. He goes on to add that she never wanted a biological child of her own, she’s always wanted to adopt, in order to provide love for all the orphaned children in the world like herself. In the face of all this contradictory evidence, Liz is left with little recourse but to reassess everything she’s ever known about her life.
“The Freelancer” keeps up the pace from last week’s premiere, and maintains the considerable focus on the show’s central premise, centering on the capture of the criminals on The Blacklist, and the moral ambiguity of Raymond Reddington, along with the question of his connection to Elizabeth Keen and her husband, Tom. Like last week, The Blacklist manages to remain engaging even as it occasionally eases up on the action and intensity.