The Blacklist is a show that wants to surprise you; it’s a show that has basically bet the farm on its ability to repeatedly pull the rug out from under you and shock the shit out of you. How does it do, in its mid-season finale? Well, “Special Guest Star: Alan Alda”—I, for one, did not see that coming. After Renzo from Luck uses Elizabeth to lure Red out of his big glass cocoon and vacates the premises, he takes him to an abandoned church in Baltimore and hangs him from the ceiling by his wrists, where a doctor administers the opposite of anesthesia: “When he’s finished,” oozes Renzo, “the waft of a breeze against your skin will make you beg me to kill you!” Red remains quietly detached, shifting into a Zen trance that fucks with the doctor’s dosages and leaves him seemingly impervious to pain, though it makes him shudder all over in a way that makes you want to implore Renzo to throw a blankie over the poor chilly baby.
It turns out that Renzo has gone to all this trouble of abducting Red on behalf of Hawkeye—Alan Alda, that is, who saunters in while poor Renzo is still trying to get the torture under way. Alda and Red go way back, as you might expect. And he and the other members of the Secret Society of Super Villains have indeed known all this time that Red had joined forces with the FBI. What’s more, they could have killed him any time they liked. That’s a big gain in plausibility. But why haven’t they killed him? “We know what you have, Red,” Alda explains. “And we know what will happen to it if you turn up dead.” Is he referring to some intangible mixture of charisma, indomitability, and hamminess that is Red’s essence? A transcript of what was on the erased gap in the Watergate tap? A print of the suppressed original version of Pretty In Pink that ends with Molly Ringwald and Duckie playing tonsil hockey? Whatever it is, Alda apparently decides that it’s okay if whatever happens to it happens, because he then proceeds to take his leave, with the understanding that Renzo will now do to Red what he pleases. This leads to the expected unhappy outcome for Renzo.
Alda is fine for what he has to do, and I enjoy getting to see him play a son of a bitch as much as anybody. But the real thrills come from Susan Blommaert, who played Mrs. Paddock, a.k.a. the devil, in the “Die Hand Der Verletzt” episode of The X-Files. Here, she’s Red’s cleaner, GPS tracker, and battlefield general, and she shows up in response to Elizabeth’s shot-in-the-dark call for help after she’s finally figured out that the house across the street has been keeping her under surveillance and killed the Tim Thomerson lookalike she found on duty there. Enter Blommeart, snapping on a pair of surgical gloves as if she means business and telling Elizabeth, “I have two directives,” she says. “To protect you and find my employer. I intend to do both.”
Soon she’s dispatching a team of well-armed mercenaries, led by another guy who looks like Tim Thomerson, which made me wonder if the real point of this episode was to make me want to watch Trancers again. When Blommeart is onscreen, you can get a sense of what the show has always been hoping for in its ever-shifting, always disappointing gallery of associates and helpmates for Red. She cuts such a strong figure that she doesn’t seem ridiculous even when she sort of fails at both her directives: Both Elizabeth and Red end up protecting and saving themselves. Considering how much she does for the show, I’m tempted to call this unchivalrous on the writers’ part, but if they have any sense, they will arrange to have the chance to make it up to her in future episodes.
Freed from Renzo’s clutches, Red phones Elizabeth to tell her, in answer to her direct question, that he’s not her father, and that she needs to watch that husband of hers. He could be lying on both counts, but I sure hope he isn’t. In the meantime, the creators of The Blacklist might spend some time during their vacation
- writing some juicy scenes for Susan Blommaert and
- taking a long, hard think about what they want this show to be.
My preferred model would be Yogi’s Gang, an old Hanna-Barbera show from the 1970s in which Yogi Bear and all the other cartoon characters the studio had under contract traveled around in a flying ark, encountering symbolic villains who they would come to understand, then denounce: Mr. Bigot, Lotta Litter. The Sheik Of Selfishness. You get the idea, if idea isn’t too grand a word for it. If the problem with the wan nature of the villains seen so far on this show is that James Spader doesn’t like sharing the screen with any worthy competition, he could play Red and the guest bad guy. I’d love to see him, in a purple cloak and Bela Lugosi hairpiece, as Mr. Bigot, taking himself aside and insinuatingly asking if he’s ever seen Harry Lennix’s long-form birth certificate. 100 percent pure cartoon drama, with a valuable message: If Spader doesn’t owe it to himself, and it appears that he thinks he does, surely he owes it to the kids.