TV Review: Reddington and ‘Luther Braxton’ Battle for the Fulcrum in ‘The Blacklist’ Midseason Premiere

Liz Keen Looks for Red in Midseason Premiere of

Liz Keen Looks for Red during the Midseason Premiere of “The Blacklist.” Photo belongs to NBC.com.

“The Blacklist” returned last night after the Super Bowl, bringing an installment that is arguably one of the best this season. Reddington has been nabbed by military forces and gets transported to Blacksite, a prison where spies are tortured for intelligence. It’s not exactly a warm welcome. Unfortunately, Luther Braxton (a very convincing Ron Perlman) is about to break out, a warning that the warden ignores.

Agents Keen (Megan Boone), Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff), and Samar Navabi (Mozhan Marnò) rush in via a chopper for a rescue attempt that quickly goes sour for the latter two. Liz teams up with Red, who has assembled a team of sketchy allies to help them reach the server room. Red already knows that Braxton wants the Fulcrum, finally explained in greater detail as the file to bring down the government (juicy blackmail material). Reddington needs to maintain the appearance that he has it in order to stay alive. However, other DC agents and baddies (David Strathairn and Janel Moloney) have worked out that Red doesn’t have the Fulcrum, ordering a airstrike to blow up the Blacksite. Strathairn is quite chilling as the Director and seems to be setting himself to be the new Fitch in town (Alan Alda).

For the moment, Braxton is closer threat to Red and the others, killing hostages ruthlessly to get a code from Cooper for access to the Blacksite’s servers. Red’s counterattack is to disable the servers by overloading the pressure in the boiler room. Perlman’s coldness, brutality, and straight talk work in tandem to give him a strong presence here, yet it’s not overdone at all and serves to present Braxton as quite the threat to Red and Liz. There’s also an underlying brawn versus brains juxtaposition at first, as Braxton turns out to be an old adversary. However, we know Reddington to be extremely dangerous and violent when he’s provoked, particularly when there’s the possibility that any harm will come to Agent Keen.

Not only was a strong cast in play for the evening, but the episode brought great focus to the things that make “The Blacklist” a compelling and addictive show. James Spader shines again as Reddington, switching effortlessly between the two extremes that viewers may be so familiar with but of which never come across as old. First, there’s charming Red as he tells yet another bizarre tale (the vase thief) to entertain Lizzy while his temporary henchmen examine the boiler. But Red also reminds us that he’s still a monster, as he delves into the metaphor of the cave fish that have become blind and hideous in the dark. It’s fully revealed when he comes swinging with the big gun to save Liz, who is almost certainly the ray of light shining in his dark cave, to continue with the imagery.

It’s rather astonishing how much “The Blacklist” teases out in hints. Braxton is more than just brawn; he’s made a careful study of Reddington and recognizes at the end how important Liz is. According to Red, she is the key to getting the Fulcrum. But from Braxton’s words, “She was there,” referring perhaps to the incident of the fire, we may get closer to the answers when “The Blacklist” airs a new episode this Thursday. Oh, and what a cliffhanger that was with the airstrike looming! Overall, “Luther Braxton” brought an intriguing chapter for viewers new and old to enjoy, setting up a few good points for followup in the second part and other ensuing installments.

“The Blacklist” airs on Thursday evenings at 9|8c on NBC.

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