The Blacklist “The Freelancer” Review

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This week, the bosses at the FBI are still iffy about working with Reddington, and wonder if it’d be better to simply lock him up and take the credit. In the meanwhile, the team’s refusal to act on Reddington’s advice in a timely fashion results to a successful train derailment. He leads the team to Montréal, where the terrorist responsible, known as The Freelancer, is planning his next hit. The target is a human rights activist running a charity that frees sex slaves from their captors, but she may be more than she seems.

So, before we get too far into the review, can I just ask the television industry what the fuck is with their newfound obsession with “Sympathy for the Devil?” Fucking, I had just watched the Sleepy Hollow pilot immediately beforehand, where it was featured prominently. And in the opening moments of “The Freelancer,” there it was again. I fear the day the TV producers of the world remember their NSYNC CDs collecting dust in the attic.

Also, Reddington’s supercube prison is still the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. I can’t help but laugh every time we get an establishing shot of this cavernous warehouse, empty of anything except this ludicrous, enormous waste of money, built solely for the purpose of imprisoning James Spader.

This episode runs only 40 minutes without commercials. TWENTY FULL MINUTES OF ADS? REALLY? Is this the standard for hour-long programming now? Jeez.

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Not pictured: James Spader’s hand.
This episode was a little more focused on espionage than action than the pilot was.. What action there was is supplemented by some truly atrocious CG. The trail derailment scene might been more thrilling, as the overturned passenger cars hurtle towards the camera, had said passenger cars looked about as good as the trains in Final Fantasy VIII. Yeah, not every series has the budget to afford amazing CG imagery, but it was distractingly bad. As were the shots of the helicopter flying over DC, which were quite clearly the same stock footage city-skyline establishing shots from the pilot, with a poorly animated chopper composited in.

Our whirlwind trip to Montréal was kind of fun for a Canadian viewer. The French wasn’t too terrible, and the RCMP were actually portrayed accurately and as being pretty competent. Nary a red dress uniform or silly hat in sight. So yay. The FBI, however, come off as grossly incompetent. Reddington  quite easily gives them the slip to go pursue his own leads more than once, and by the end we know that much of what he’s told the Bureau about this particular case was a lie.

This is the kind of episode I was sort of expecting post-pilot. Not much of anything related to the core plot was advanced, in favor of going after our Bad Guy of the week. It’s a fairly predictable story and standard for the genre. Like I said last week, it smacks of early Alias, before the show’s myth-arc really kicked in.

Poor Parminder just can't escape the clutches of NBC
Poor Parminder just can’t escape the clutches of NBC

We’re introduced to a few new characters this week, the most prominent of which is Parminder Nagra’s debut as the Big Tough CIA agent sent to keep an eye on Reddington. I’m not sure what to make of the character. I don’t know that her role is entirely necessary, but it’s nice to see another actress I like on this series. She’s also given some good back-and-forth snark with Reddington, and it’s much more overtly adversarial than the Hannibal/Starling relationship he has with Liz. She also seems to be assigned the duties of resident ends-justify-the-means character, torturing a man rather brutally for some information. I’m cool with violence and all, but it felt a little out of place. While The Blacklist hasn’t all been sunshine and roses, it’s felt more like the classier James Bond side of spy shenanigans than it does Jason Bourne. It’s a little too abrupt of a tonal shift. It sometimes feels l like ever since 24 debuted, every thriller series feels the need for someone to get their Jack Bauer on. I’m certainly interested to see how this character develops.

The last few minutes do serve as a reminder to the audience of the plot threads introduced in the pilot, however. The FBI high muckety-mucks give their assent to work with Reddington, despite qualms over the potential fallout, and we also get another quick look at the Super Secret Box of Mystery Liz Found Under the Floorboards which suggests that her boyfriend might be in league with supervillians or something. Which she then installs new carpeting over because that will magically make it go away. However, with said boyfriend returning home near the end of the episode, next week might see some movement on that.

Isabella Rossellini is a talented actress, but her guest role left something to be desired. She just didn’t have the kind of screen presence she normally does. She doesn’t seem to be terribly interested in what’s going on, and gives a serviceable, workmanlike performance that never rises above “good enough.”

All in all, it’s a less bombastic and interesting episode than the pilot. Spader and Boone still have good chemistry together, and the influx of new characters should help to spice things up.  The Blacklist remains some solid entertainment if you’ve got nothing else going on. I hope to hell that all these criminals on the Blacklist aren’t going to have cute little codenames. “The Chemist.” “The Freelancer.” I’d rather this habit didn’t last long enough to get to “The Jaywalker” and “The In Front of Fire Hydrant Parker.”

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