The Blacklist:  "The Cyprus Agency"
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The Blacklist:  "The Cyprus Agency"

Christ on a crutch, this is a dumb show. Dumb and gratuitously unpleasant and vaingloriously half-assed, as if it thinks it’s doing the viewer a favor by not bothering to wrap its gruesome little conceits in any degree of style or wit or imagination or even logical plausibility, because if this stuff were involving and entertaining, if it induced the viewer to give a rat’s ass about what was going on, it would be so epic and awesome we probably couldn’t deal with it. The show’s mediocrity didn’t make it seem like such a menace just a few months ago, but goddammit, now The Following is back, and before you know it, you won’t be able to swing a dead cat on TV without hitting a lame, insultingly dopey serial killer show with an overqualified, slumming leading man. It’s getting to be a cultural plague, like that month of so when every network had a show about a guy who went back in time and woke up in high school.

In the climax of tonight’s episode, Lizzie Keen finds herself in a big room full of women in hospital beds who’ve been abducted, put into medically induced comas, and impregnated, so that the babies can be sold into adoption. If you’re going to go that far out where the buses don’t run for your weekly trip into the heart of darkness, you ought to make it count for something, but the show has so little weight and veracity that it’s not scary or horrific or creepy or anything. And don’t even suggest that maybe something about the show could be fun. The only way to have any fun with this show is to start hitting the freeze-frame control on your remote at random intervals whenever Megan Boone is onscreen, to see what happens to her perfect, shiny round pancake of a face. Look, suddenly she’s a porpoise! Wait, now she’s Dondhi! Hold on, now she’s the “Planet Hillary” image stretched out of shape after copying it with Silly Putty!

This week, Red directs Lizzie’s focus to the Cyprus Agency, the evil adoption agency headed by Campbell Scott, who plays his part with the same methodical, glum blandness that even good actors seem to be required to summon up for this show’s Big Bad roles. (Lest you thought that maintaining a baby farm staffed with kidnapped women is a day at the beach, Red points out that “Moving stolen children is difficult. Copious amounts of paperwork.”) Seriously, if they find their lives so joyless and their rows so hard to hoe, why don’t they all cut deals with the federal government and start putting all their old enemies away? That’s what Red is doing, and he’s the only person on this show who ever acts as if he’s having any fun. The act is unconvincing; James Spader grins and tosses off his wisecracks as if he were trying to convince a court-ordered psychiatrist not to increase his dosage of antidepressants.

The one hopeful sign in this performance is that Red, who so often just seems to be going through the motions, does act as if he really enjoys shooting people. I would regain a lot of the respect I once had for Spader if I knew for sure that he revs himself up for these scenes by pretending he’s playing them with the agent who talked him into signing on for this. Tonight, in the last new episode that will be seen until after the Winter Olympics, he does what he can to keep the viewership on the edge of its seat for a month by breaking into Jane Alexander’s house, rudely telling her, “Sit your ass down,” and then emptying a gun into her, apparently because she stole his Gordon Lightfoot album.

Red has killed two birds with one stone by choosing this moment to sic her on the Cyprus Agency. After what she’s seen, she herself no longer has baby fever, and she abandons her plans to adopt a baby with the husband who Red wants her to dump, or at least distrust. Campbell Scott himself is an orphan who was once adopted and then “returned, like a defective toy,” by his foster parents, who could just tell there was… something wrong with him. Proving them right, he’s since devoted his sociopath’s ruthlessness to take revenge on the world by breeding his “perfect” babies, impregnating the captive women himself—a reveal that is supposed to elicit “Ooooooh!”s from the viewing audience, like the moment when it becomes clear why all the Boys from Brazil part their hair that way. I guess somebody thought that adoption agencies have it too easy in this world, so The Blacklist is doing its part to, as Red would put it, disseminate paranoid fantasies that will help exploit and pervert people’s natural inclination to think that any kid that’s not of their blood who sometimes acts in ways they don’t understand is the second coming of Caligula. Not that I would care about that in the least if The Blacklist’s reckless, dark fantasies were in any way fun to watch. But we’ve covered that already.

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