Wujing is a ruthless spy hunter, though he unfortunately lacks a sweet car than can turn into a boat. He’s killed several foreign agents operating in China over the last year, and he’s intercepted a coded message. Once decrypted, he’ll have his next target. When the code proves difficult to crack, he calls up Reddington for help. Red takes Liz to Wujing undercover as an encryption specialist to decode and send a copy of the message to the FBI. Wujing begins to grow suspect that someone may have betrayed him. Meanwhile, the FBI team tries to rescue the target before Wujing’s goons get to him, and to take Wujing himself out of play for good.
“Wujing” is a very competently written script, and it manages to wring a good deal of suspense out of the material. It’s really nothing new to those of us who enjoy spy fiction, but even if The Blacklist offers mostly old tricks, they’re being performed well. “Wujing” hits a nice stride where almost everything clicks together. It feels as though the show has figured itself out, more so than the pilot or “The Freelancer.” There’s tension, there’s action, nice dialogue, and mostly strong guest performers. This episode is also a little better at sneaking in minor details early, only for them to play a big part in the conclusion well after you’d kind of forgotten about them. This speaks to some well thought-out story structure.
I was pleased with the amount of progress with the series’ arc this week. Liz hasn’t given up on getting to the bottom of the Mysterious Box of Spy Shit found under the floorboards, and her investigation opens up some tantalizing possibilities. Reddington is still rather tight-lipped about why he’s got a big ol’ espionage-boner for Liz in particular, but even so, he’s a least beginning to hint at the truth. There seems to be some high-level skullduggery going on here, people. This is the kind of thing I find much more interesting than our bad guy of the week. I think The Blacklist could really shine if they just made this the main focus, but it’s very early yet. I’m excited to see where this goes.
I find it a little too convenient that a Chinese operative like Wujing would just happen to be in DC during the events of this episode. In fact, each of the three international supercriminals featured on the series so far have more or less stuck around the continental US, a single sidetrip to Montréal aside. Yes, I’m sure it’s for the sake of ease and the sake of budget, but certain other spy series involving talented young female agents who live with guys who look kinda like Bradley Cooper managed to fake their way through locales all over the world. It limits the scope of the series, and I hope they think about broadening their horizons eventually. From what my Canadian brain understands, the FBI doesn’t really work internationally, does it? I wonder whether setting this series at the CIA instead would have been a better fit.
James Spader continues to play Reddington as charming and affable, if ruthless. Surprisingly filthy, too! Reddington gets his fair share of dirty jokes in over the course of the episode. As a fan of filth, I am pleased as punch. I mean, just look at the alliteration I just used. In any case, he’s certainly doing very well with the role indeed. The writers have also allowed Reddington to retain some moral ambiguity. He’s not quite one of the good guys, and there’s still every possibility that he could be orchestrating some grand betrayal with all of this.
Diego Klattenhoff, as Agent Ressler, on the other hand, is really grinding my gears. Ressler certainly has is functions in the story: to be a huge dick, to be the gung-ho action man, to reiterate the plot for the slower-minded audience members, and to be a blonde spewer of cliché dialogue. I may have complained a bit about Meera last week, but I’ve definitely warmed to her. In fact, I’d rather just keep Parminder Nagra and eliminate the Ressler character. Seriously, he can get bent.
“Wujing” is a strong effort from NBC’s surprisingly popular new series, offering up a solid story and leaving you wanting more. There’s still a few bumps along the road that could do with being hit by a steamroller, but nobody’s perfect. Except me.