The Blacklist is always at its best when the villain-of-the-week is a compelling presence with an easy to understand motivation and paired with an actor with the right kind of talent to draw you into the character. “T. Earl King VI” was a great example of all of that, as it featured a number of outstanding guest stars, an easy to understand mission, and a solution that didn’t call for the dumbing down of the FBI in order to highlight the smartiness of Red.
This week, the mission was Red. Or more to the point, a mission to save Red from the one of a kind auction put on by the titular Blacklister and his unique method of estate management.
The Kings, according to legend, steal things great and small, but all objects are, to a degree, priceless. Whether the object is a piece of art or a person of high value, the two King sons, Francis and Tyler, procure the items, put them up for auction, and when the results are tabulated, the loser must play one round of Russian Roulette, presumably until only one son stands. Let’s call this game “Warren Buffet’s The Deer Hunter.”
Red becomes one of the King’s prizes for their latest auction, and Liz goes undercover to try and find him. The Kings’ careful management of their affairs gets her cut off from the rest of the FBI, but she’s able to carefully navigate the party guests under the guise of a proxy bidder looking to purchase a rare Van Gogh painting. Things go south when Liz is made after the Kings are tipped off that she’s an imposter, but on her own, Liz is able to stay ahead of security and at least save a boy that’s up for auction before going back for Reddington.
But how did the oh-so-smart Concierge of Crime get caught with his pants down? Good choice of words, because Red’s lured into the King’s trap by Madeline Pratt, which is a supreme waste of Jennifer Ehle‘s wonderful character, who was introduced in season one. Hopefully this was just a taste of an expanded part for Madeline later on, bringing back into the show early to tease something more substantive. Her Blacklist episode showed that she was more than a match for Red in terms of wily criminality, and using her as a tool to get Red in the custody of the Kings is just a wasted opportunity all around.
Fortunately, the T. Earl King VI himself wasn’t wasted at all. Frank Darabont regular Jeffrey DeMunn played Earl King very well, practically oozing evil and revulsion. His look was complete with a creepy voice box and confinement to a wheelchair, which helped to give him a kind of gross, rich bastard version of Stephen Hawking kind of vibe. When he kisses Liz’s hand, one can’t help but think of the Slave Leia scenes from Return of the Jedi with Jabba the Hutt.