No one would ever accuse The Blacklist of being a sandal-wearing, granola-eating, tree-hugging endeavor, but this week’s episode, and its titular Blacklister, came with a conscience. In an interesting departure, “Ruslan Denisov” wasn’t some pretty criminal, or tyrant, or nut case that likes to kill in freaky ways. No, Denisov had altruism on the mind as matters of oil wealth, imperialism and corporate greed were all the real Blacklisters of the week, which had Liz and Ressler deal with jurisdictional issues while having to negotiate with Red acting as Denisov’s proxy.
I admire The Blacklist for breaking the mold in this new episode. True, the basic outline was the same as ever, but the case of the week threw up a number of compelling turns of the plot that, although not exactly original, are at least a new twist for The Blacklist. It’s not a new idea to tell the story of a man seen as a villain yet fighting for a cause greater, and it’s not unusual for the real villain of the affair to be a greedy corporation, usually an oil company. This may be the bias of so-called liberal Hollywood, but on The Blacklist, such charity is usually a smoke screen for selfishness (see “The Front” from earlier this season).
Red describes Denisov as an “abduction magnate,” which not only has the usual wicked Red turn-of-phrase, but immediate conjures images of ISIS and their proclivity for kidnapping foreigners in Syria and Iraq, and profiting on the ransom made from the governments and corporations that pay them. Also, if you immediately distrust Denisov, it’s because he’s played by Faran Tahir, who’s no stranger to playing a goon and is just vaguely foreign enough to cover a wide-range of nationalities he might be called on to play. (For the record though, in real-life, Tahir’s parents were from Pakistan.)
Tahir was shrewd casting. In the first scene where he leads a raid on a church and captures a priest who turns out to be a CIA agent, you know he means business. When it’s revealed though that Denisov is fighting to address the injustice of a village poisoned by a leaking oil pipeline owned by an American company, Tahir’s thuggery becomes passion and a steely determinism. It’s not often we’re asked to empathize with a Blacklister, and although I was prepared for the other shoe to drop and for it to turn out that Denisov isn’t the hero he seemed, it was nice that he turned out to actually be quite genuine. Of course, the same can’t be said for Red…
Last week’s episode saw Liz question the degree to which Red cared for her so far as she was the key to the Fulcrum. The matter isn’t settled this week, although Red certainly laid on the usual charm, but it doesn’t help when a) Red injects himself into the case as Denisov’s negotiator, and b) it turns out he got involved to arrange a nice pay day for himself by selling the oil rights to a French company once the malevolence of the American company is revealed. If he was trying to get on Liz’s good side, perhaps making a side buck on her hard work wasn’t the way to go.