The Blacklist, Season 1, Episode 7: “Frederick Barnes”
Directed by Michael W. Watkins
Written by J.R. Orci
Airs Mondays at 10pm ET on NBC
The Blacklist has proven over seven episodes that it excels at being consistently inconsistent from week to week. Some episodes make the show look like it’s a lost cause that should never be viewed by anyone ever. If that’s all the show would ever be, not a problem. Just pack it in and move on to the next thing. The problem is that The Blacklist reaches moments of actual excellence. It somehow tricks the viewer into thinking that they’re watching something of value until the next episode, where the show will likely spin around and smack you for thinking such silly thoughts. That’s just the way it is with The Blacklist: some reach pretty high on the quality scale and others fall well below that mark.
That being said, “Frederick Barnes” is neither good nor bad. Instead, it settles into being a mediocre episode that manages to not leave a bitter taste by the end. The episode follows a basic terrorist plot, featuring House‘s Robert Sean Leonard, a format that the show is likely to follow for most episodes, given the type of villains they’ve dealt with so far. While Leonard’s Frederick Barnes might have an interesting and different motivation for the reprehensible and genocidal acts he’s committing, as a villain he’s rather unremarkable and immediately forgettable.
One thing the episode does do intriguingly is point out that Keen (Megan Boone) is still very green as an agent and, like any new agent, makes very real and honest mistakes. A choice made by her halfway through the episode in a hostage situation is one that any person would make. The “correct” response is one that only comes with experience, a fact perfectly demonstrated by Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff), toolish as he may be. Only someone like Ressler, who has worked on the job for many years, would have the wherewithal to make the kind of tough call that needs to be made. Keen, as an agent and certainly as a character, simply isn’t there yet.
The acting in this episode is as uneven as ever. James Spader continues to be the man scene from scene, stealing the spotlight regardless of who’s in the room with him. He remains the driving force of the show and a lesser actor might crumble under that sort of pressure. Spader seems to live off it and is almost able to have more fun on the show as a result. Leonard is also great as the villain-of-the-week and is equal parts menacing and empathetic, with an obsessive glow that is nothing short of fascinating. It’s interesting to see him go from the very caring oncologist Wilson on House to a near-sociopathic terrorist in “Frederick Barnes”.
The Blacklist overall doesn’t feel like a show that quite knows where it’s going yet or what it wants episode to episode. Even if it and the writers do know where the show is headed, the viewers need a glimpse of that if The Blacklist wants to sustain its audience base. It can, at the very least, be a decidedly good or bad show. Right now it’s both and neither, which we can all agree is just irritating.