After the sophmore season of The Blacklist failed to quite live up to the high-stakes mystery and fun of Season 1, it was about time that the critically acclaimed NBC show took a step to shake things up, delivering on the "different feel" that creator Jon Bokenkamp promised for the new season.
Episode 2, Marvin Gerard, will air tonight, but before then let's take a look back at The Blacklist Season 3 premiere episode.
The Troll Farmer (No. 38)
"Suspect's name is Special Agent Elizabeth Keen. She was my partner, but as of today, she's a fugitive wanted in connection with the murder of 14 CIA agents, a US senator, and the Attorney General of the United States." Agent Ressler
The premiere episode picks up right where Season 2 left off, with Elizabeth "Liz" Keen (Elizabeth Keen) and Raymond "Red" Reddington (James Spader) on the run from the FBI. At the head of the team hunting them is Agent Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) on a mission as personal as it is professional.
Ressler and the team are tracking their van but Red and Liz pull a fast one on them, hiding in plain sight on the back of a transporter and changing into cop uniforms and racing off in a police car. They escape to a bunker beneath a pub and plan to wait out a week whilst the Troll Farmer Bo Chang (Aaron Yoo) works his disruptive plan of "information warfare" on social media to distract the authorities from Red and Liz's true whereabouts.
Meanwhile, Ressler has Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) and his wife in custody with suspicion of assisting Liz in the murder of Attorney General Tom Connolly (Reed Birney). Aram Mojtabai (Amir Arison) struggles with his loyalty to Liz and the belief in her innocence whilst Ressler and Samar Navabi (Mozhan Marnò) come to loggerheads over his part in Liz's escape: "[Cooper] wasn't complicit, but you were."
After the bunker is compromised by Lyle Fisher (Joel Bissonnette)'s patriot sister Tiffany (Kelly Hutchinson), Red and Liz drop by the Troll Farmer's apartment to hide out for a day before attempting to escape the city. Red succeeds in making it past the blockage, but Liz does not. Then, after an episode of Liz attempting to extract information about her mother from Red we finally get something from him, spurring Liz on towards her final plan.
"Katarina Rostova was the cleverest, most resourceful woman I have ever known. No matter how dark the moment she could always find her way through... I see her in you, every day. She is as much a part of you as the air you breathe."
This all cumulates in the twist ending, which is pulled off just perfectly. Ressler and Samar figure out at the last minute where Liz is heading and arrive on scene just in time to chase her to the gates of the Russian Embassy. She makes it over the gate just in time and is swiftly apprehended by two Russian guards, looking Ressler dead in the eye as she lies to them:
"My name is Masha Rostova! I'm a Russian agent. I work for the FSB and I'm seeking diplomatic immunity..."
Of course, how well this plan holds up will remain to be seen next episode, especially considering Liz doesn't speak Russian...
However it is clear that this season is going to be pushing Liz's transformative story as she finally starts coming into her own, edging closer to becoming the woman her mother was, terrible or not. The hair change was just the beginning; Red's speech about Katarina and Liz's subsequent calculated risk-taking suggests that as the season develops so shall Liz, perhaps finally to the point where she stands on par with Raymond Reddington. Boone's acting was better in this episode too which is nice to see as, like the writing, it was pretty shaky last season.
The introduction of new villain Mr. Solomon was very well handled and Edi Gathegi is already proving his ability to craft a compelling and sinister antagonist for the season.
He was introduced singing a lullaby as he kidnapped Elle, the daughter of Isabella Zuma (Victoria Janicki), and absolutely embodied soft spoken menace and danger. His arc in the episode concluded with Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq) giving himself over to Solomon in exchange for the life of his grandchild. Although I have to admit the whole "nerve agent in the baby" subplot does sound ridiculous, I have very high hopes for Mr. Solomon and the plans he has for Dembe as the season unfolds.
The only off-putting thing that really stood out was Ressler's characterisation, which jumped about a lot during this episode. The tension between him and Samar was oddly downplayed, especially when he nearly got her killed, but perhaps this is something that we'll see further developed in subsequent episodes.
It was nice to see that The Blacklist kept up one of it's best traits: the soundtrack. This episode's was great as usual, featuring The Doors (Peace Frog), Hannibal Leq (Wassup) and the ending scene topped off nicely by The Editors (No Harm).
Overall, a very good episode and a very strong way to start Season 3. The Troll Farmer was a breath of fresh air for the show, and it's well past time that something like this happened to shake up the format. After a fantastically strong start in Season 1 The Blacklist jumped the shark much earlier than expected with the overly silly repressed-memory recovery sub-plot in Luther Braxton Conclusion (S2E10) and now needs a return to ground, which this episode gave us.
In the light of the incoherency suffered by Season 2 Jon Bokenkamp promised us an organic sense of "a real energy and urgency" this time around, and The Troll Farmer certainly delivered on that front. Let's hope the series can keep this energy up when Episode 2: Marvin Gerard airs tonight.