TV Recap: The Blacklist, ‘The Troll Farmer’

Written by Liz Dircks

The Blacklist - Season 3

SPOILERS AHEAD

Troll Farmer PLOT SUMMARY:

After killing the U.S. Attorney General, Elizabeth Keen is a fugitive on the run from her own FBI taskforce. Aided by Raymond Reddington, the two must go to ground to evade authorities as Washington D.C. is placed on lock-down.

Things just keep going from bad to worse for Elizabeth Keen.

At the end of Season 2, Liz faced off against Tom Connolly, the U.S. Attorney General pulling strings in the Post Office black site, and made the desperate decision to kill him before he could harm those close to her. (Being set up as a Russian spy to distract from the shady Cabal’s influence, understandably, has its burdens.) She escaped custody with former boss Harold Cooper’s help and unloaded some emotional baggage before piling into a getaway van with Raymond “Red” Reddington. Now, with any chance to clear her name gone in a puff of Red’s cigar smoke, we find Liz exactly where we left her: trying to find a way out of D.C. as the net slowly closes.

Photo Credit: Sandro/NBC
Photo Credit: Sandro/NBC

The Blacklist dutifully provides bite-sized thriller stories on a weekly basis, and while this season opener doesn’t quite stand out enough to be an instant classic, it’s still unabashedly fun to watch in a “man, am I glad I’m not in that situation” way. Realism isn’t a priority here; even as Red’s carefully-concocted path to Liz’s freedom begins to implode, the pair manage to correct it a little too neatly as they struggle towards an uncertain conclusion. But this show excels at keeping the stakes consistently high, whether they’re plain as day or simmering ominously under the A-plot. With the director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Services (also a Cabal leader) publicly naming Liz a terrorist and daughter of a KGB operative, there’s no doubt that relative safety is a thing of the past.

If nothing else, “The Troll Farmer” charts a course for at least the first half of Season 3, and that means determining where each character stands on Liz’s alleged betrayal. Players for her team include techie Aram Mojtabai, in whom Liz has often confided, and Cooper, who won’t drink the Cabal’s Kool-Aid after Connolly tried to subdue him with a fake cancer scare. Samar Navabi, formerly of Mossad, seems more skeptical of Liz’s innocence and content to do her job free of biases. It boggles the mind that she’s not the one in charge of this operation — I’m pretty sure one look from Samar could sideline a guy from fifty feet. No, that honor falls to Liz’s former partner, Donald “Lawful Good” Ressler, who is in the unenviable position of reconciling his trust in Liz with his mandate of bringing her (and Red) to justice. He faces intense scrutiny from his colleagues, former and current, depending on whether or not he decides to give Liz the benefit of the doubt. Methinks Ressler has a bit of soul-searching to do.

If there’s one thing I can’t get enough of, it’s how effortlessly James Spader and Megan Boone appropriately ramp up or dial back the tension that defines the Red/Liz dynamic as an emotional centerpiece. Liz has been famously conflicted about letting her informant poke around in her personal life, but her future now leans heavily on both Red’s machinations and her own ability to think clearly in a crisis. Though high-strung initially, Liz becomes energized by Red’s haughty confidence as unforeseen circumstances threaten their plans. I’m pumped at the prospect of Liz taking charge of her predicament but apprehensive about the impact it could have on her relationship with Red. Once Liz figures out why her mother, Katarina Rostova, was so crucial in his life, will she still have a reason to keep him close? Or will the emergence of her darker qualities foreshadow the student surpassing the master?

Photo Credit: Peter Kramer/NBC
Photo Credit: Peter Kramer/NBC

For once, a Blacklister is not the focal point of the episode, but rather a useful stepping stone for confusing the FBI whom Red discards when his usefulness has run its course. The titular “Troll Farmer” is a cool concept among antagonists that have ranged from cartoonish to snuff-film creepy: a computer whiz, along with his crack team of lesser geniuses, creates false news media to cover up criminal enterprises all over the world. But the real terror here is new bad guy Mr. Solomon, a senior Cabal operative who isn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty (or, for that matter, threatening an infant). A cruel, calculating scoundrel, Mr. Solomon may soon collide with the Post Office team, but it seems more likely he’ll encounter Red after the Concierge of Crime learns his right-hand man Dembe has been neutralized. And God help him, because Red’s retribution is swift when people he cares about are harmed.

The episode concludes with a brief foot chase and Liz showcasing her impressive upper-body strength by hopping the fence of the Russian Embassy to seek asylum. All in all, this premiere was a solid start to the show’s new direction, but it remains to be seen how the core premise of hunting down Blacklisters will be preserved amidst Liz Keen’s personal toil. As frustrating as The Blacklist’s slow reveal of information can be, especially concerning the nature of Red and Liz’s shared past, duplicity continues to be the hook that keeps audiences returning to NBC week after week.

RATING: 8 OUT OF 10

The Blacklist airs every Thursday night on NBC

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