After Season 2 of NBC's The Blacklist failed to quite live up to the high-stakes mystery and fun of the critically acclaimed first season it was about time that the showrunners took a step to shake things up, delivering on the "different feel" that creator Jon Bokenkamp had promised for Season 3.
Now we're four episodes into the new season and the promised "reboot" is certainly being felt, with The Blacklist Season 3 so far mainly managing to keep with the promised changes to the dynamic of the show.
Season 3, Episode 4: The Djinn
Leave Dembe Alone!
Although we don't actually get to see the wonderful Edi Gathegi appearing as Mr. Solomon in this episode more is revealed about the Cabal hitman's mysterious origins. Full name Mathias Solomon, he's a former CIA asset who was a soldier in the Eritrean–Ethiopian War of Independence of the late 90s. According to Raymond "Red" Reddington (James Spader)'s informant Leonard Caul (Ned Van Zandt) - "Solomon committed atrocities on the battlefield so vulgar even the CIA disavowed him." Yeesh.
After managing to remain MIA for a decade he's resurfaced now on the hunt for Red and Elizabeth "Liz" Keen (Megan Boone), using Red's bodyguard/close friend Dembe Zuma (Hisham Tawfiq) to get to them.
In this episode the stoic Dembe remains unbent, unbowed, unbroken, on a suicide mission to protect his family and Red. It's nice to see him getting to deliver some righteous punishment down upon his captors after getting the short end of the stick over the past three episodes but a shame to see him being tricked and shot immediately afterwards, left to an uncertain fate.
Tom Reenters The Ring
I'm still torn about the reintroduction of Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold). He's an interesting and intimidating character and Eggold carries him well, but forcing him back together with Liz (which seems to be the way things are going) doesn't gel well given the entire basis of their marriage.
Given that Liz makes contact with him towards the end of the episode we wonder if and how their relationship is going to develop from here on out, especially given the context of the episode (Liz's happy family fantasy).
"I'm coming to save you." Tom tells Liz, "I love you." Alright cool, but unfortunately Tom that doesn't undo the toxic basis of your relationship.
Red & Liz
When Liz first discovers that her spy ex-husband has reappeared, Red warns her off on the basis that he could be monitored by the FBI. This smacks a little of jealously however which i'm sure the 'Lizzington' shippers will've picked up on.
We were promised more developments in the Liz/Red relationship this season and we've certainly seen more hints this season towards there being something more than platonic between them, despite the age gap. However I still think Red's feelings for her could be bleeding through from whatever the nature of the relationship was that he had with Liz's mother. Note the way he reacts to her new haircut as she begins looking more and more like her mother, and though he refuses to speak much about Katarina Rostova when he does his voice is full of admiration.
Finally Liz's admission that her greatest fantasy is to return to the apple pie family life that she was anticipating back in Season 1 doesn't really seem to gel with how her character is developing now, but I guess that'll resolve itself as the series progresses.
The Big Bad
It's an episode of interesting supporting characters; Alice, the front for the Djinn's organisation, is played excellently by Christina Cole radiating an cool enigmatic creepiness throughout, even when she gets rumbled by Red and Liz.
Christine Tawfik portrays this episode's main bad guy (or gal) Nasim Bakhash, and she's pretty great, full of quiet fury as Nasim and then loud angry fury as she confronts her abusive father and reveals her plans as the true face of the Djinn.
In a twist reminiscent of Almodóvar's The Skin I Live In Nasim is revealed to have been born as the male Nasir, forced to undergo gender reassignment surgery by his father Bahram Bakhash (David Diaan) when he revealed he was gay at the age of 19.
"Nasim: "I wasn't trapped, i liked my body, i liked men!
Bahram: I wanted to protect you, they could've killed you."
It's a heavy scene even for The Blacklist, and segues into Red's anti-prejudice rant which feels apt for the time we find ourselves in now. Nasim's explosive monologue towards her father continues this theme, but cuts a little closer to the bone by exposing inherent prejudice towards femininity and how people compare this to homosexuality.
Nasim: "You violated my body without consent. You sliced out my identity and disregarded it as waste. You cursed me to live the rest of my life as a second class citizen, despite being a first born son!"
This scene is a little problematic; whether it reads like a commentary on homophobic and sexist prejudice executed by those using religion as an excuse to oppress or is merely offensive to transgender, religious people (and indeed women in general) is a matter of subjective viewing I suppose.
It is also a little odd too see such an explicit socio-political commentary in something like The Blacklist, but at least it's better than last years ridiculous repressed-memory subplot of Luther Braxton Conclusion (S02E10) which I will always point to as the moment where the show jumped the shark for me.
All in all another fairly coherent offering from Season 3. It's nice to see this new "symbiotic relationship" forming between the task force and Liz & Red, though I still think Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff)'s characterisation is a little all over the place and has been since Episode 1 of this season. Aram Mojtabai (Amir Arison) is adorable as usual; I feel like he's always been played as the younger brother of the task force and the moment where he's reintroduced to Liz is nice as he becomes the facilitator of this new relationship dynamic.
However the overarching narrative does feel like it's dallying a little now which could be dangerous in the long run. And please, somebody save Dembe, my heart can't take this emotional trauma.
The Blacklist Season 3 Episode 5: Arioch Cain will air Thursday October 29th 2015 on NBC.