Despite its intense focus on the “family” drama between Reddington (James Spader) and Liz (Megan Boone), The Blacklist has more successfully fleshed out supporting characters than in the early years. This is a function of being a long-running series with 22 hours to fill, but that reality doesn’t always dictate that detours from the main plot are good. But on The Blacklist, they generally are, and every character gets at least an episode or two in the spotlight — which only makes the big Red-Liz episodes more meaningful.
The impact of this approach was on full display in “Twamie Ullulaq,” an hour with not a lot of Red, and Liz mostly just hanging around as part of the team investigation. Instead, as Red pushed the task force to look into missing trucks in the The Alaska Triangle — yes, it’s like the Bermuda Triangle and yes, it appears to be “real” — Agent Park (Laura Sohn) and her mysterious history up in the Last Frontier took center stage. Meanwhile, the B-plot returned to Aram’s (Amir Arison) internal strife over learning that Elodie (Elizabeth Bogush) did, in fact, stand to inherit millions of dollars from her now-dead husband. In both cases, The Blacklist exhibited that it can make good TV without James Spader serving as the MVP.
Filling in Park’s backstory could not have come at a better time. Since her introduction in the season’s sixth episode, the character has been shrouded in mystery, and with all of the task force regulars too wrapped up in their own crises, no one has asked many questions. Park’s two defining traits before this episode were that 1) she did something while working in Alaska, and 2) she has a short fuse/is prone to violent outbursts, likely because of what happened in Alaska. The episode made a genuine effort to contextualize those traits as part of a broader point about the type of people who succeed in this job and fit on the task force. The former was more effective than the latter.
The slow reveal of Park’s backstory had a weird energy that The Blacklist does pretty well. Her initial return was met by so much hostility that the scenes felt almost comedic. This was compounded by Park’s capture by the episode’s crooks and some convenient time in captivity with the man who “killed” her mother that toyed with a bizarre antagonistic mismatched duo vibe that didn’t exactly scream “I will avenge a family member’s death.”
Eventually, though, the episode unveiled that the dude didn’t kill Park’s mother at all — she did. The guy played a role in hooking her mother on drugs, but a young and confused Park unwittingly injected her mother with the killing dose, kickstarting years of rage that culminated with adult Park’s attempts to kill the dealer in Alaska.
Sohn did great work in her first major spotlight episode, particularly given the disjointed energy in some of the episode’s earlier scenes. She sold Park’s range of emotions, from reignited rage to something closer to acceptance.
The last few scenes of the episode tried to position Park’s murky past into a referendum on what lines FBI agents should and shouldn’t cross, to middling results.
Unsurprisingly, the show revealed that Red actually set up the entire Alaska Triangle mystery as an emergency to “help” Park move on, while Liz pushed Cooper (Harry Lennix) to keep Park around because everyone does wild stuff in the name of family. That’s the kind of moral calculus a show like this and characters like this have to make given their weekly actions, but it doesn’t generate much intrigue when addressed intermittently like this. It did not, however, upend an otherwise strong story.
Similarly, Aram’s up-and-down relationship with Elodie reached its nadir here, as he, with Red’s help, proved that her husband was murdered and that she likely orchestrated a relationship with Aram from the first time they met. Ouch!
Though the story is not over yet, it always seemed to be heading to this place because the show loves to torture Aram. The departure of the man’s other long-term love interest was a major plot line just last season! There’s something tragic about a person with such earnest intentions repeatedly being destroyed by having an absolutely dangerous and morally complicated job. By the end of this episode, the angle is that Aram has finally elected to trust his gut and be proactive about upholding “justice,” or whatever, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see another swerve in the story. Again, that would only pile on the misery — and The Blacklist has proven that it can be an equal opportunity misery generating machine.
The Blacklist airs Fridays at 8/7c on NBC.