The Blacklist: "General Ludd"
C+

The Blacklist: "General Ludd"

The commercials for next week’s episode promise a real “game changer,” and I’m wracking my brain trying to think of any way this game could change that wouldn’t be for the better. Actually, this episode constitutes a kind of a curveball in itself. Red doesn’t kill this week’s guest villain; in fact, nobody does! The bad guy is Justin Kirk in a peroxide-blonde hairdo, and he doesn’t even end up in the hospital, like the “corporate terrorist” in the only previous episode that ended with the FBI holding onto someone who was still breathing.

Considering the super-shadowy nature of the names on Red’s list—this roll call of top international criminals whose identities have heretofore been unknown to the Bureau—one could see all kinds of advantages to bringing them in alive and available for extensive questioning. But they’ve been dropping like flies, and the ones who died at Red’s hands weren’t even struck down in self-defense. You might think that Harry Lennix would have a few choice words to say about this, but he looks as if he checked out a long time ago. You can’t blame him; he’s supposed to be a powerful figure, with access to our nation’s top secrets and with troops of federal agents at his command, but he had more control over Superman in Man Of Steel. (Laughing off Lennix’s suggestion that he repay the FBI for its extraordinarily gentle treatment of him by pitching in on some non-Blacklist cases, Red sneers, “I have no interest in cases I have no interest in.” On this show, that’s what passes for a witty line.)

Kirk’s character is “General Ludd,” a.k.a. “Bradley Holland,” birth name “Nathaniel Wolff.” This worthy is at the forefront of an Occupy-like movement that hopes to bring down the national economy.  That sounds awful, but the show itself seems uncertain how bad a guy this General Ludd really is. Like a lot of other TV shows that have tried to put some version of Occupy onscreen, its basic position seems to be that these people are kind of nutty, and probably dangerous, but hey—we all hate banks, right? It’s like when hippies started turning up on shows like Dragnet and Gomer Pyle, USMC.  The made-for-TV hippies could be nice kids, really, and some of those songs they liked by that Dylan fella were right pretty when sung in Jim Nabors’ voice, but for God’s sake, don’t let them babysit.

As the revolutionary dream soured in the 1970s, made-for-TV hippies on cop shows often turned to terrorism, and the writers of those shows usually made a point of demonstrating that, for all their political talk, they were really just crooks trying to get their hands on some loot. It turns out that Justin Kirk is on a personal revenge kick: When he was 6, his daddy lost his job with an airline after a corporate raider bought the company and sold it off in pieces. That’s the real reason he’s running around sticking bombs on airplanes—a hobby that doesn’t exactly lock tightly into the business of trying to destroy the economy, even if the script tries to half-heartedly pretend that it does.

He and Red do get to have a face-to-face exchange at the end, in which Red delivers the boilerplate “Some people think your revolutionary talk is just that” malarkey, before assuring him that he himself believes he’s sincere in his goals. (He also teases the general about taking his nom de guerre from the Luddite movement, while using technology to further his goals. This raises the question, is the blond hair supposed to make the audience think of Julian Assange? And has NBC seen the grosses on The Fifth Estate?) In the end, I’m not sure what Kirk’s character is supposed to be about, except that he gives Red a convenient whipping boy to whom he can deliver his own heartfelt defense of capitalism. After saying, “I like money. I like the lifestyle it affords me,” Red adds, “I like the things that happen when you give it away.” This guy was introduced as Benedict Arnold crossed with Hannibal Lecter, but he’s sounding more and more like Bill Gates.

Red does kill someone: William Sadler, as Elizabeth’s cancer-riddled adoptive father, who he visits, and suffocates, while Sadler is on his deathbed. The two of them have an exchange in which it’s made clear that they know each other from way back, and Spader does something not wholly unlike real acting in their scenes—not, I suspect, because the material touched him more deeply than this show’s script’s usual do, but because Sadler is a good enough actor that Spader felt embarrassed about letting him see him coast. Their dialogue skates right up to the edge of the “Is Red Lizzie’s father?” question, and then wiggles a few toes over it. Sadler says that Lizzie has to be told the truth; Red demurs, saying, “You will always be her father. I can only hope to love her and protect her, as you have.” The show is already in a bit of a corner here, because it’s come so close to saying out loud that Red is Elizabeth’s father that any other explanation for his interest in her is likely to ring hollow, yet it’s such an obvious turn of events that if the show ever confirms it and tries to sell it as a big moment, it’s going to be a letdown. It took a show like Lost a couple of seasons to get itself in this fix.

Stray observations:

  • John Hughes fans will be thrilled to learn that tonight’s episode also features a Pretty In Pink reunion: Andrew Dice Clay makes a guest appearance as a crooked plastic surgeon. Personally, I could never tell any of those movies apart, and would have appreciated it if, having hired Clay, the producers had not managed to show him getting a pedicure on-camera.

More TV Club