The supporting character spotlight continues on The Blacklist. After Aram’s odyssey into the dark heart of one-percenter death parties in last week’s episode, “Kuwait” pushed Harold (Harry Lennix) to center stage with a quintessential story, told in a quintessential way. A colleague thought to be dead suddenly surfaced very much alive, and very much holding a grudge against Harold for how things went down decades ago. Plus: flashbacks!
The Aram-centric affair had the benefit of using flashbacks to events the audience has already seen. Those brief snippets underlined, perhaps too clearly, Aram’s emotional state during his dangerous mission. In this episode, however, the show had to commit a significant duration of time to new flashbacks with the necessary context. While these flashbacks to Harold’s stint in Kuwait were well-shot — with the patented yellow-ish tint that signals anywhere in the “Middle East” — and Ruffin Prentiss did well as young Harold, they took up a lot of room in the episode. “Kuwait” used the flashbacks to exhibit that Harold once made some questionable decisions but worked too hard to suggest those decisions were truly bad and not just normal Blacklist-style shades of grey, only to “reveal” that he tried to do the right thing in the end.
There is great value to the show sketching out the murky morality of all its non-Reddington (James Spader) characters. The trajectory of the macro-narrative is all about Red’s influence on Liz (Megan Boone) but also the deeper corrosive effect of his presence adjacent to the task force. When you work with the world’s greatest criminal, you start to think and act like him. Harold’s certainly been compromised by Red, particularly as they’ve gotten closer in recent seasons. This episode smartly played with that idea to underline that, simply through the nature of his career, Harold was long compromised before Red joined the team. American military intelligence imperialism, baby!
But The Blacklist wants to have it both ways. Harold can be compromised by Red, or by his time in Kuwait, but there must be people who are more compromised so that Red can give current-day Harold a speech about looking in the mirror and “knowing” he’s a good dude. Harry Lennix is great. Harold’s a solid authority figure. His relationship with Red is compelling. The justifications for screwed up actions just hold up better when the show doesn’t try to rope-a-dope the audience when it’s clear where the action is headed.
Speaking of knowing where the action is headed: Katarina’s (Laila Robins) evil babysitter audition continued unabated in this episode. In a few short weeks, Liz has let a stranger into her home, with her newly returned child, and can’t stop revealing pertinent personal information. On one hand, this is acceptable because Katarina is supposed to be a master manipulator. She falsely impersonated an agent to scare Liz’s top babysitter draft pick into quitting before her first shift with ease. Lying to Liz is of a piece with that approach. On the other hand, Liz is a seasoned FBI agent and supposedly quite good at her job, which requires reading people.
A sympathetic read of this plotline would be that Liz, in fact, knows what Katarina is up to and keeps bringing up mother-daughter dysfunction for a reason. Unfortunately, history tells us that The Blacklist doesn’t mind making its co-lead character look dense or unqualified in the name of a dramatic twist. Still, it’s good that the show is slow-playing this storyline to build tension and to give supporting characters some attention. If the trend holds, it’s Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) season next, right?
The Blacklist airs Fridays at 8/7c on NBC.