The Blacklist: The Judge

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It was, of course, only a matter of time from when we were first introduced to the shifty Jolene Parker (AKA Lucy Brooks) that the music team on The Blacklist would find an appropriate time to slip in Dolly Parton’s iconic song, ‘Jolene.’

This version, played at the end of ‘The Judge’ when Tom Keen heads to Jolene’s hotel room, is actually Parton’s original song, but slowed down by some genius by about half, which lends more melancholy and aching pain to the arrangement than the faster version.

It’s haunting and perfect to the episode, especially when Tom reveals to Jolene that Elizabeth Keen, his wife, is simply his assignment, and means absolutely less than nothing to him.

Assigned by whom, we don’t know yet, but the fact that Jolene has been tailing Red around the world (a fact brought to us by a cowboy hat wearing freelancer hired by Red to look into Jolene’s history) and she seems to have been sent as some sort of Tom Keen Infidelity Loyalty Test (a Jezebel litmus strip, if you will), I think it’s safe to assume Jolene and Tom are working for the same shadow organization, and whoever is running that, knows how Red and Lizzie are connected, why Liz is so important to Red and that Red, eventually, was going to come back for Elizabeth. That’s why they placed Tom in her path, so they’d have an established agent in place when Red finally surfaced. That? Is some Machiavellian work. Brava.

Speaking of Red, he didn’t really have much to do in this episode, except track down the proof that convinced this week’s Blacklister, The Judge, to surrender quietly. Much like last week’s Madeline Pratt, The Judge isn’t the typical Blacklister. She’s not ultra-violent, not a master-criminal, not creating designer babies for rich people. She does take her self-appointed position of ‘spiritual advisor’ to inmates really, really seriously and that whole, “eye for an eye” thing is carved really deep in her psyche.

Ruth Kipling (Dianne Wiest: In Treatment; Law and Order) has convinced herself she’s meting out justice when she kidnaps and imprisons people in her barn that she feels have impeded the proper process of law. However many years a specific inmate who has sought her help has lost because of a judge’s, lawyer’s, District Attorney’s mis-use of the system, she, in turn, takes from them.

It’s an interesting premise, and I liked it. I think it’s fair to say that most people can acknowledge that sometimes, not everyone gets the fairest of trials, and that justice isn’t always served. Making people accountable in this most Thunderdome of ways intrigues me. I’m not advocating it, mind, but if my dad served 30 years for something he didn’t do because some Crown Attorney (Canada, yo) withheld evidence, I’d be pissed, too.

I didn’t even need the inclusion of Harold Cooper’s kidnapping and near electrocution at the hands of the Judge and her minions to keep me interested in this story-line. Cooper, 20-years-ago, beat a confession out of a soldier turned Taliban member who took part in the slaughter of a village.

The man was guilty, but the fact was, Cooper still beat the confession out of him, a fact Elizabeth chose not to disclose to the authorities after he was rescued, even though that’s really, really illegal. The irony of Liz withholding information, after putting away the Judge, seems to be lost on everyone.

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The Blacklist: Madeline Pratt

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Hello, poppets! Here we are, back after the Olympics. I hope you had a good time, just as I did, watching all those wonderful winter sports (hockey) and are now set to bundle up with our favourite shows. Allons-y!

This episode of The Blacklist, ‘Madeline Pratt,’ is a little less violent and gross than previous offerings. In terms of The Blacklist, it’s practically lighthearted. ‘Lighthearted’ in that we don’t have any human traffickers to contend with and Red doesn’t suffocate anyone lakeside with the bag that held his deceased assistant’s ashes. Red likes orange sherbet in the middle of the night and gets acupuncture! Kooky.

It’s clear that Red and the titular super-thief Madeline Pratt (Jennifer Ehle: A Gifted Man) have a past, and one that’s been somewhat left unresolved. They’re still lovers, yet she holds a smouldering grudge. He stood her up in Florence who-knows-when and she can’t get over it so she sets him and Elizabeth up in the theft of a Russian icon from the Syrian embassy. God, Madeline, in the business you’re both in can’t you just put that in the ‘Loss’ column and move on with your life instead of getting all emotional and holding it over his head for freaking ever?

We also learn that Lizzie has a criminal bent of her own. Not only does her dad have a crooked past, but our Elizabeth can lift a cell-phone, slip out its SIM card, do a bump and relieve of a guy’s ID card (and replace, which is the harder part) and also a simple card trick, making the ultrasound picture of the baby she and Tom had planned on adopting disappear between her fingers. Because that’s not heavily laden with symbolism. At all.

Now, while this is most likely an attempt to make Elizabeth a more interesting figure to the viewer, because, God knows, right now she needs all the interesting she can get, and to have her have some intrigue or some mystery surround her would be great, this is not a success.

And that’s because it does not surprise me that Elizabeth has the skills of the lowest grifter, because I think it would be in the FBI’s best interest to teach their recruits the basic skills of the lowest grifter. Seriously, pick a pocket, guys. If you’re in charge of national security, I want to know you can lift my cell phone, at the very least, because then I know you can lift the cell phone of an actual bad guy. If you’re coming around my neighbourhood for an investigation, and I have to teach you how to pick the lock to a suspect’s back door (I admit to nothing and this is not a legal document) then I’m doing your job better than you and that can only end in tears.

One thing we have learned in all our episodes of The Blacklist so far is to not trust anything that comes out of Reddington’s mouth. He is the ultimate liar. But for some reason, when he and Madeline were in the fake lock-up he schemed up, the story he told her, about Christmas, and running out of gas, having to leave his car on the side of the road, full of presents for his little family and then walking for miles in the snow, the snow that seemed to have been falling for days, upset at himself for ruining their Christmas, then being able to laugh at himself, knowing he would be the brunt of future jokes around future Christmas dinners, “Hey, remember when Dad ran out of gas?” Wanting to hear his daughter playing piano and coming home to blood, only blood. Seeing blood. Smelling blood. His little one’s tiny fingers as she died. For some reason, I don’t think he lied to her. For some reason, I think we learned a lot about Raymond Reddington.

Sent by Pony Express

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Agents of SHIELD: T.A.H.I.T.I

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One of the unfortunate results of the month-long break imposed on Agents of SHIELD by the Olympics and whatever else, is that I, hand to God, had completely forgotten that Skye had been shot. That? Is not good.

Ward and May are planks of wood. If they’re a family, it’s of the, “Go to the shed and get me the switch, boy. You know what you done,” variety.

Now, in my defence, had it been, say, Simmons who had been gut-shot by Quinn and was hovering between life and death, I’d be lighting candles in a homemade shrine and preparing to rend my yoga pants and second-favourite hoodie out of grief, because I love Simmons like I love puppies and mojitos.

Which is probably why it rang a little false to me when Coulson told the doctor who had just informed him of Skye’s imminent passing, “We’re her family.” While it is certainly in Joss Whedon’s wheelhouse to take a rag-tag little group of individuals and have them gel into a sort of dysfunctional little family unit, that sort of thing takes time, or more distinctive personalities.

Simply telling us that the group is a family isn’t enough. We haven’t seen enough non-SHIELD related interaction between the principals for me to buy that. When did all this family bondong go on? Was there a trip to Disneyland that I missed? The Twins are sweet and they’d love anyone who was brought in and didn’t bully them. Coulson has that weird parental thing going on with Skye that I don’t understand, but, ok, I’ll buy it. But Ward and May are planks of wood. If they’re a family, it’s of the, “Go to the shed and get me the switch, boy. You know what you done,” variety.

In the “anything for family” sentiment, Coulson decides to take Skye to the facility where he was ‘treated’ (where men and women of science broke the laws of God and man) so she can suffer just the way he did when he was actively begging to die? Thanks, Dad! I get that he was dead. Really dead. Heart ripped asunder dead, and Skye is simply hovering that fine line between life and death, but come on, this is some moral grey area we’re working in.

The best part of this decision is that it brings the wonderful Bill Paxton (Big Love) Agent John Garret into our lives (if you haven’t yet seem Tombstone, go, do it now. You’ll thank me). Garret is dispatched to retrieve Quinn when Coulson ignores a direct order to bring him in. I don’t care why he’s there, as long as he sticks around.

Garret is surprisingly amenable to leaving Quinn in Coulson’s custody, after he hears that Quinn shot Skye. I think he just wanted to beat the guy senseless and didn’t really care where he got to do it, as long as it got done.

Turns out I was wrong when I said I thought Quinn shot Skye to make Coulson suffer, but I was right when I said he gut-shot her so she wouldn’t die right away (go me!). The Clairvoyant, whom/whatever that is, aside from something I’m officially sick of, can’t see what happened to Coulson (because he was dead?) so it ordered Quinn to shoot Skye, knowing Coulson would lead it right to where he was treated, then the Clairvoyant would have the secret of bringing things back from the dead. Because that’s something you want in a Super-Villain. But, you know, it’s for family.

There’s a pretty high cost to saving Skye’s life, or bringing her back from the brink of death, or whatever it is that happens after you resuscitate someone half a dozen times then inject her with a mystery drug. Two men were killed at the non-SHIELD facility where the Twins discovered Coulson had been treated, and it was all considered just the price of doing business.

The facility itself is now buried under hundreds of feet of rock and rubble, after the team had at least the foresight to destroy it, so anything useful to the Clairvoyant is now dust.

Included in that is the big, blue, half alien (I think it’s alien) floating in a container and having massive amounts of the same drug given to Coulson, and now Skye, pumped into its body. And when I say, ‘half alien,’ I don’t mean like Spock. I mean ‘half’, like only a torso. It’s as if they were trying to grow the rest of him, whomever was in charge of the project named T.A.H.I.T.I. (The Alien Hybrid In Turkey Initiative? That’s all I got. The soldiers at the facility mentioned Istanbul, so…)

And now that same drug is in Skye, who is an 084, so who knows how it’s going to affect her. You get the idea that that ran through Coulson’s mind as he tried to stop Simmons from giving her the drug. It has to do something, or else that whole exercise was just pointless, and I don’t want it to be pointless. Welcome to the family, New Skye. Try not to get shot again.

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Review: Agents of SHIELD: TRACKS

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There are a few things that I’ve learned in my literally thousands upon thousands of hours spent watching television. One: When Canadian actor Carlo Rota shows up, there will be blood, and it will be his fault. I don’t care if he’s introduced holding a basket of puppies in the first few minutes in whatever show he’s guest-starring on (Bones; 24; Castle) before the end credits roll, he’ll been revealed as the devil.

If you’re on a spy show and there’s a train involved, things are going to go south like whoa. Trains are just giant trouble machines, period. People get thrown off them; people get shoved into the luggage compartment. And have you seen the washrooms in a train? Heavenly Father, there is not enough Purell in the world. But I digress. Ask Bucky Barnes how he feels about trains.

So, when he showed up, all super co-operative with Agent Coulson as Italian special ops guy Luca Russo, making nice and not being at all upset about losing escort duty to our agents of SHIELD for some package traveling on a train in the Italian countryside, I knew immediately something was desperately wrong. Rota was sweet and adorable as the doting father on Canadian favourite, Little Mosque on the Prairie, but he’s pretty much the harbinger of doom on every else he’s involved with. I’m pretty sure if I saw him at a dinner party I’d been invited to, I’d just sneak out the back door with a pocket full of crescent rolls and some cold shrimp.

Secondly: If you’re on a spy show and there’s a train involved, things are going to go south like whoa. Trains are just giant trouble machines, period. People get thrown off them; people get shoved into the luggage compartment. And have you seen the washrooms in a train? Heavenly Father, there is not enough Purell in the world. But I digress. Ask Bucky Barnes how he feels about trains.

T.R.A.C.K.S reminded me of the Archer episode where Sterling was so excited because he finally got to live out his dream of having a fight on a train, and it turns out that fighting on a train really, really sucks. Basically, trains are silver bullets of awful.

But, good news, T.R.A.C.K.S, as an episode, was one of the better Agents of SHIELD so far. Splitting the team up into groups of two made it possible for the characters to display more personality without the handicap of getting lost in the crowd that is SHIELD. Ward, without the twins, is amusingly vexed by technology, May gets to lets loose and kick the living crap out of everything around her and it is beautiful; Coulson is warmly paternal with Simmons, much the same way he is with Skye, and it makes me wonder about what sort of previous personal life he may have had. He’s mature enough to maybe have had a young family at one point. He’s developed a deeply nurturing and caring relationship with Skye fairly quickly and even in these quick scenes with Simmons he’s fallen easily into a certain Dad vibe, chiding her gently about announcing his predilection for ‘prostitutes’ plural.

And Skye gets to demonstrate more of the focus and maturity we’ve been told she’s developed since that whole, “Whoops. You’re an object of unknown origin. Maybe you’re a Frost Giant’s drinking gourd; who knows?” incident (alright, that last part was unfair. I’m actually warming up to Skye since she found out she’s the human equivalent of Thor’s hammer. She’s lost some of that hacktivist immature brattiness and seems to have dedicated herself, somewhat, to actually having a job and working towards something concrete and real. Just couldnt resist a Frost Giant jab).

The pairings themselves worked well enough, although I was nervous about the Fitz/Skye team. Those two just don’t have enough field experience to be left to their own devices, especially when you consider another pair was May/Ward, the two warriors of the team. An argument could be made that the job was supposed to be simple enough so the kids should have been ok, but the truth is: The jobs are never simple and the chance isn’t worth taking. One experienced field agent per rookie next time, please, especially in light of what eventually happened.

But the Coulson/Simmons duo could have their own show as far as I’m concerned, and Jemma’s dedication to her ‘character’ and her choice of method acting and character research to get her through her part was simply a delight. It was good enough to fool the nameless Stan Lee character, who, while taking advantage of the boss’s prerogative to have a cameo role in every Marvel’s production, had a few choice words for absent father Phil Coulson, who evidently preferred work and hookers to his now-deceased wife, Simmon’s beloved mother. If this science thing doesn’t work out, Jemma, the bright lights of Hollywood beckon.

I liked the technique of telling each pair’s story between commercial breaks and felt it was strong in demonstrating the characters’ differing points of view. It was especially effective near the end of the episode on Ian Quinn’s (David Conrad) compound when it became clear that the ‘package’ in question wasn’t a parcel or box on the train, but the SHIELD team itself, most Skye, specifically. It was most apparent in Quinn’s shooting of Skye in the gut.

This is something else I know: If you want to kill something, you shoot it in the head. If you want to hurt something and make it suffer before it dies, you shoot it in the stomach (before you ask, my dad was a hunter. I’m perfectly safe to be around).

Quinn, under orders from the Clairvoyant, wanted Skye there so he could shoot her and Coulson could find her before she died. More than he wanted Skye dead, he wanted Coulson to suffer. It was Coulson he wanted to hurt. Skye was just the package, the little gift the Clairvoyant had Quinn leave for Coulson.

Random Bits:

• Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) is alive, awake and officially ‘Deathlok’. His creators also won’t let him see his son. One last thing I know: That won’t go over well.

• I wish I were clairvoyant, so I could know what was going on with ‘The Clairvoyant,’ because all these references to ‘The Clairvoyant’ are working my last nerve. Just reveal already. It’s like getting what looks like could be a really awesome present at Christmas, but it’s wrapped in so many layers of paper as a joke, by the ninth layer you’re ready to throw the box against the wall and give up; you don’t even want the dumb present anymore.

• I worked against every instinct I had not to use the phrase ‘Skye Train’. You are welcome.

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Interview: The Middle’s ‘Darrin’ John Gammon

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There’s a lot to like about John Gammon when you get to talk to him. The young actor from ‘The Middle’ appreciates his relative sit-com stability, is forging ahead with new challenges in a fledgling stand-up career and still has time to consider the future of his character, Darrin, and his star-crossed sweetheart, Sue Heck. The Middle’s Darrin, and John Gammon, are both far too good to be true.

I know you have a strong academic background: How does the discipline of an education help your acting career?

Certainly knowing that nothing comes easily, that you’ve got to work no matter what. Especially a lot of times, what you might be thinking, in the moment, is just ‘busy work.’

A lot of times you’ve got to read for certain characters; you’ve just kind of got to get through it as you would for any English class, any History class, it might be a little mind-numbing, but you’ve got to push on through because its only right around the corner, maybe you get to that next page and maybe that passage turns a light on, but if you’re not pushing through the text, if you’re not pushing through the pages, you might not come up with a good way to suggest something to the audience that you need them to have in mind, either consciously or subconsciously.

So you always have to be ready to do the work, be prepared, and stay on top if you’re going to create this character that’s going to be completely alive in the world.

I read that the role of ‘Darrin’ was only your third audition; is this true?

Yes. The third audition for anything that people at home would be watching.

Laughter

Yeah, there’s a whole bunch of student films, there’s some short films that, you know, I don’t think people in Cleveland will be watching that every Wednesday night.

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Ok, so you don’t have this skewed version of reality where you think things will be this easy for you all the time?

No, no, no, no.

What do you think of Darrin as a character?

He’s everything that is loveable and disarming. Aside from the jock part. He’s got a massive heart. In the more recent seasons, he’s become more of an intelligent character than we first noticed.

Probably one of the biggest decisions high school kids can ever make is deciding what to do after high school, and normally everybody wants to go off and jump right into college. I know I went to college, I know that it was a good thing for me, ultimately, but it just normally is not for most people, especially if you have the brain of Darrin.

Darrin, I think, is not smart, but he’s smart enough to know that he does not belong in college. He needs to go to a trade school, and start making money right away. And he’s smart enough to get Sue. You’ve got to give him that. He’s got two really smart things that he’s doing. Darrin has picked someone who is very virtuous, a very good, sweet girl, who’s not the winner, who’s not the one everyone wants to be with, however that’s happiness. And I think Darrin is smart enough to do two really huge things in recent years that most people, if they’re lucky, can get done in a lifetime.

What was your reaction when Darrin and Sue first started their romance?

I thought it was kind of funny because I think it’s normally how small town folks get together, often. (Puts on Southern twang) “I don’t have anybody to take me to this thing, he’s coming inside, he’s needs to go to the restroom. I was just gettin’ off the phone and he overheard me and was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll take you…’”.

There’s nothing wrong with it. Nothing particularly *right* about it, either. I guess you could say it’s sort of romantic and sweet. It just is what it is, you know. People in different circumstances and in environments behave in certain kind of ways that are specific to that environment and I think that’s what makes it on to the show. That’s normally how it goes. I thought it was very true to how normal people find themselves falling in love with someone who basically lives down the street who they’ve known their entire lives.

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What do you see in the future for Sue and Darrin?

Sue is coming up on her Senior year, that would normally mean prom. I would say it was up to her whether she would want to date someone else, however Darrin is still in town and he has been sort of paying a little bit more attention to Sue lately and I think that if anything happens, it will happen Senior year.

Senior year, I think, Darrin and Sue will find each other again. But we’ll have to see. I think they might find themselves a summer romance but you never know. However, we do normally have prom episodes on the show, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some kind of triangle happened where Darrin showed up with Angel and Sue is dumped and he is just at the same time having trouble with Angel and they’re re-united either at the prom or outside of it; I don’t exactly know.

How would it affect the dynamic of the show of they were to get back together?

I think it would make a lot of people happy. They never had as many letters for anything, they never had as many people write into the show as they did for when Sue and Darrin split up. They wanted to see Darrin and sue get back together. It felt really good to hear about all that because people were really adamant about them being together and being in love. I think that they’ll give the people what they want.

How do you put your personal stamp on Darrin, to make him stand out, since he’s not in every episode?

I think it’s actually easier when he’s not a part of every episode to make him stand out just by virtue of not seeing him very much in the first place, so he’s normally popping up in more unique situations just because the show revolves directly around what happens to the main family members and the main house and the main places they’re going to in Orson, Indiana. So the times Darrin is inserted in there, it’s easy to make him snap because he’s pretty unique just showing up and pretty unique not being the sharpest tool in the shed.

Also, trying to balance his friendship with Axl Heck and his feelings for Axl’s sister, Sue. The way I’ve normally been putting a stamp on him is by making him strong but sweet, dumb but wise.

When they sent Axl off to college, were you concerned about Darrin’s screen time being affected?

Yeah, but, I think because he was still in town, it wasn’t the ultimate, I wasn’t, you know, panicking. I’ve been doing this long enough to understand there’s basically no guarantees and just to be on the show in a recurring way is a huge thing to have. Even if I didn’t have it, I’d have the whole world open to me. I’d be able to go after other kinds of things; I would certainly be able to grow my hair out, that’d be great.

You get to work with Patricia Heaton and Neal Flynn, two comedy greats, what have you learned from them?

From Neal, ceratinly that you’ve got to prove that you are trustworthy both to the cast and the crew and especially the writers and producers to be there on time, every time, and to handle the work and to be ego-less and that’s something he’s been regularly verifying to me when we sit down to have lunch or when we talk in between shots or just some mentions in passing.

Patty, I would say, through her example, the way she carries herself on set all the time is just to have fun, really. She very much has fun, but she’s still very real, which is cool. She always reminds me of the mothers that I grew up with back home in Cleveland and it’s nice to get a chance to talk with her now and again and hear her opinions on politics or whatever, and it’s cool.

I think she has a wonderful balance of being able to still stay herself but have fun in the way that you would hope a celebrity still has fun. She’s that. She has fun, but there’s no ‘act,’ which is nice. She’ll smile and she’ll goof and she’ll joke, but it’s not an ‘act’ and that’s a pleasure to see.

What have you personally gained from being on ‘The Middle’, aside from job security?

I don’t really have ‘job security’. I do have a following. I do have something more important than job security which is proof that even without job security, I can work consistently on a show that I really value working on and that is very funny and that people respond to. So even without a contract or very solid job security, I can still make that sort of thing happen, which is very nice and a that’s huge thing to be able to achieve because its very difficult to do that, especially coming from that stressful normal place that a lot of actors have to go through.

What will you take away from The Middle to future jobs?

That you’re not always so lucky. What’s kind of a coincidence is that it’s a relatively wholesome family comedy, especially when you compare it to Modern Family, it’s the kind of thing everybody can sit down and watch together and not have to worry about censorship of any kind; you’ve got that and it kind of lends itself to basically the same thing on set, everybody gets along very, very well. It’s not a crazy, stressed-out situation, basically, ever, on set.

It’s not always going to be like that. I don’t learn that from being on the show, but I do learn that from the people with whom I work on the show, they let me kind of know that. If you just took my experience on the show, you’d think that every set was like going to summer camp every day where you’re expected to be prepared. That’s the best way I can put it, “Be prepared. Know your part. Time to go to summer camp.” And that’s hard to get.

What projects are you working on right now, aside from The Middle?

I’ve been doing a lot of stand-up; I’ve been doing a lot of open mics around town, doing my five minutes. It’s tough to get comfortable in front of a crowd, but I’m very happy that of a five-minute set, about three minutes I’m very happy about keeping and making work and just changing in and out that last two minutes, but still, it’s important for the discomfort of being in front of a crowd all on your own.

I’ve done improv with teams before, and it’s a great exercise, it’s a great kind of show, but it’s not as challenging to get up with a team, with a cast and to perform for a live audience. When it’s just you it’s definitely tougher, it’s definitely more uncomfortable, but it’s much more satisfying when you get it to work, so that’s something I’m interested in now.

I’m also writing my own show, with my brother James, based on our lives as caddies. I caddied for 11 summers, starting when I was 12 until I was about 22, every golf season, so there’s a lot of material to bring to a show, so that’s what we’re in the process of doing now.

John Gammon can be found online on Twitter: @_JohnGammon. He’s promised his stand-up will be on YouTube soon. Fingers crossed.

Watch John Gammon on ‘The Middle’ Wednesdays at 8:00 pm on ABC

Tobey can be found at tvgoodness.com

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The Blacklist: The Cyprus Agency

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Let us all give props this week to whomever has the happy job of picking the music for this show, because they are killing it. The use of Johnny Cash’s ‘The Man Comes Around’ in ‘The Good Samaritan Killer’ was an inspired choice, the lyrics echoing Red’s actions of methodically going from place to place, cleaning house.

This week it was the use of ‘Sundown,’ the 1974 folk rock classic by Canada’s gift to the world, Gordon Lightfoot. (You are welcome). And yes, all Canadians really do know some guy named, ‘Gord.’

Red Reddington calling you ‘evil’, is the equivalent of Adele approaching you after a particularly rousing evening of karaoke with tears in her eyes and saying, “Sweetie. I will never sing ‘Someone Like You’ ever again in this lifetime. It now belongs to you.”

‘Sundown,’ with its bad woman in a satin dress and all that creepin’ around all those back stairs, was the perfect accompaniment in the final scenes of ‘The Cyprus Agency,’ in which Elizabeth’s husband, Tom, meets his new substitute teacher friend (in a car. After dark. Oh, you are above reproach, you dog) after a fight with Lizzie and Red confronts and kills Diane Fowler (Jane Alexander), ostensibly because she’s the mole and is messing up his deal with Fitch (Alan Alda) who’s also as crooked as a cricket’s back leg.

One gets the idea, however, that it’s something deeper than that and he just really, really hates Fowler. I say this for two reasons: 1) Why else doesn’t he care that she can tell him the truth about what actually happened to his family? Now he’s going to have to wait and presumably torture that story out of someone else and 2) He’s Red. There’s always something else.

Which seems as good as reason as any as to why he picked just right now to steer Lizzie towards The Cyprus Agency, headed by Owen Mallory (Campbell Scott: Royal Pains; The Amazing Spider-Man; Damages) a placement service that provides designer babies to adoptive parents. At first glance we assumed the babies were being stolen, but no, that’ too simple and not creepy and gross enough.

Considering Elizabeth and her husband Tom (by now, you all know how I feel about Thomas, so from now on, just imagine I’m waving my hand dismissively in the air every time I type his name) are knee-deep in the adoption process, I refuse to believe this is merely a coincidence. Red doesn’t work within the confines of coincidence. Such is his strangle-hold on every possible contingency, he would never allow anything to happen accidentally.

There was real potential with this Blacklister to be gut-twistingly, disturbingly awful. Even Red called it, ‘Evil.’ Red Reddington calling you ‘evil’, is the equivalent of Adele approaching you after a particularly rousing evening of karaoke with tears in her eyes and saying, “Sweetie. I will never sing ‘Someone Like You’ ever again in this lifetime. It now belongs to you.” It means that, as a Big Bad, darling, you have arrived.

And it was evil. Evil and creepifying, as Mr. Tobey so succinctly put it. But the problem was, the extent of the evil wasn’t fully exploited or illustrated. Here we have, not only the kidnapping of lovely, intelligent, educated young women, stolen from their lives before their lives had a chance to really begin, ripped from their families who then had to live through their own version of Hell wondering where their missing daughter/sister/cousin/girlfriend had vanished to.

But then the women were placed into medical comas, forced to endure invasive medical procedures in order to become pregnant, roused long enough to give birth, then had their children stolen from them, before being knocked out again in order to repeat the entire cycle over and over all in aid of Owen Mallory creating his own miniature New World Order with him as the Father of Creation because the system failed his adolescent lunatic ass.

This? Is terrifying. It could have been chilling. It should have been chilling. These are people, stolen from their lives and forced to breed and nobody spoke up once about the abject inhumanity of the entire situation. It saddened me and simultaneously made me angry.

The final reveal of the dozens of pregnant women comatose and hooked to machines was anti-climactic, when it could have been so much more. Nobody so much as batted an eyelid. THe FBI scientist was practically waxing poetic about the medical advances in use, like they weren’t surrounded by women who’d been forcible knocked up and kept sedated for months at a time. I’ve seen more emotion raised regarding veal pens (which are gross; don’t get me wrong). I wasn’t even surprised when Lizzie got a heavily pregnant victim rolled on her during Mallory’s escape attempt, because it was pretty clear that all these women were just props, present to move the story along.

And that story is this: Elizabeth and Tom are not going to be going through with the adoption, and that’s because Red Reddington successfully planted that little seed, that adopting a baby wasn’t going to work. Red managed to creep around the back stairs of Lizzie’s head and she’s decided against having a family, and realized, finally, that maybe she and Tom just aren’t working.

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The Blacklist: The Alchemist

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I think I’ve been pretty clear, consistently, in my love for The Blacklist. Even when I don’t particularly like what’s going on in a particular episode, my appreciation for the series holds strong, and I can play the long game. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, here, kids. I can wait out any weakness.

“Oh. Just take an indeterminate amount of time off from protecting America and chasing murderers and guys who change the DNA of felons. And if you don’t it means you DON’T LOVE OUR BABY.”

That almost changed with ‘The Alchemist.’ It wasn’t the fact the Villain of the Week was less than compelling. (Changing bad guy DNA so they can disappear? Is he a wizard?)

It wasn’t the weak writing (Everyone watching knew within seconds that The Alchemist’s estranged family wasn’t dead; that he had forced them out of their home and he had killed some poor woman and child and left them in their place. For God’s sake, that’s what the man does. Why did highly trained FBI agents not tweak on that immediately upon entering the home?)

And it wasn’t the fact I had to sit through a baby shower. A. Baby. Shower. I didn’t have one of my own when I was pregnant, I hate them so much, why would I subject myself to one on my favourite show?

Nope. It was none of those things. It was the fact that ‘The Alchemist’ actually made me feel sorry for Elizabeth Keen. I know! Usually I just want Lizzie to be quiet in order to free up more screen time for Red to chew scenery and be sarcastic, but, man, Keen has my sympathies this week.

The girl has troubles. And they start with ‘T’. And that stands for ‘Tom.’ And that awful woman at the ill-conceived shower who wouldn’t shut her yap about Lizzie’s choices regarding taking time-off work to bond with a baby they don’t even have yet. You need to stop it, lady. Now. Not your business.

Here’s the thing: Tom actually knows what Lizzie’s life is like. Most people married to secret agents or spies or highly placed officers of the law don’t. Secrecy is in the nature of the business. It’s hard and it’s stressful and it’s made worse when your spouse doesn’t understand why you’re gone all the hours God sends and why you’re really, really cranky sometimes. It can be very isolating, and very lonely.

But Tom should understand; he’s been to The Post Office. He’s been questioned. He’s seen the guns. He’s been under surveillance and been in danger and he knows what the deal is and yet, he still insists on being a jerk about all this. “Oh. Just take an indeterminate amount of time off from protecting America and chasing murderers and guys who change the DNA of felons. And if you don’t it means you DON’T LOVE OUR BABY.” Tom is an ass.

And someone who recognizes this has placed a hot girl in Tom’s path. We can tell, because she’s a previously unseen ‘substitute teacher’ strategically located in the master bedroom’s bathroom, practicing saying her name in the mirror during the horrible baby shower, (that’s not suspicious at all). She invites an unhappy and maritally dissatisfied Tom to an art show, which is about three steps to the left of, “Come on up to my loft and see my etchings.”

And he goes because Lizzie is late for dinner. Keep in mind she was late for dinner because she’d put herself in front of an armed crazy person who’d recently killed a woman and small child so he could kidnap his own family and was holding an entire convenience store full of people hostage, but, you know, Tom has feelings. He made noodles.

Even Red wasn’t there for Liz this week, like he usually is. It’s established that his ‘Blacklist’ project isn’t an altogether altruistic endeavour; he gets as much, if not more out of helping hunt down and capture (kill) the people on the list as Elizabeth and the FBI, but this time he was downright cold about the fact he wasn’t interested in anything other than obtaining the list of clients The Alchemist had accrued.

Leaving Elizabeth by herself in the sanctuary, (even if it was to go bust Meera Malik for being the mole) with the names he wanted emphasized the fact that, this time, she was alone. Having her stand in her empty apartment, while Tom’s phone rang unanswered as he drank and laughed with someone else at an art show just drove that point home, and, dammit, if that didn’t make me feel sympathetic for Elizabeth Keen.