The Blacklist April Premiere Review: “Dembe” and “Requiem”

The Blacklist

The Blacklist is back, folks, and I can’t decide how I feel. Certain aspects of the show still feel fresh and exciting as they always have, while others feel stale, predictable and anti-climatic. However, at least for these couple of episodes, the good outweighs the bad. The return was exciting, and incorporated all of their best characters (Hooray, Dembe!) in a compelling way. As it went on, the stale pieces of the story fell off into the cracks and the compelling nature of the show took over, turning this premiere into a powerful force to drive the remainder of the season. It took my concerns from the start of the first episode, and completely quieted them by the end of the second. The Blacklist is back, baby.

This week on The Blacklist: Dembe resurfaces and kidnaps Aram to help him track down the person ruining his reputation, which in a twist that surprises no one, turned out to be Mr. Kaplan. Aram helps him, which surprises the rest of the task force. Red and Liz hunt down the final pieces that lead them to Dembe. In the next episode, Mr. Kaplan’s story is told through flashbacks and in present day, in which she met Raymond and helped raise Liz.

These two episodes were drastically different, but they worked to the same end. The first was long overdue in getting Dembe and his family involved in the story for a change. Hisham Tawfiq does such a marvelous job as Dembe that I always find it criminal when they misuse him. But his search for the person attacking Reddington (who we all knew was Mr. Kaplan) brought Dembe to the forefront in a compelling, exciting way. This was an exciting way to explore Aram’s nobility and sense of right and wrong, and Samar’s sense of loyalty and justice. Opening up this episode to Dembe further opened it up to character study on the others, which was compelling to say the least.

The following episode starring Mr. Kaplan was a masterfully executed character study. I never believed that I would be so interested in the story of a character like hers, but the writers and director made me. They commanded my attention at every turn. Mr. Kaplan was once nanny to Elizabeth and best friend to her mother, Katarina Rostova. After she moved on from there, she met the love of her life, Annie Kaplan. This episode told the story of how her character’s nickname came from a homophobic crack made by a lunatic. There was no task force, minimal Red, and minimal Dembe, and yet I clung to every moment. I could barely look down to take notes because of how masterfully this story was told. Susan Blommaert (present day) and Joanna Adler (Young Kaplan) brought fascinating depth and emotion (or lack thereof) to the role. I am still, almost an hour later, absolutely stunned at such a breathtaking episode and performance.

I spent weeks rolling my eyes at the build-up to the twist, because I thought that the Kaplan reveal was going to be overplayed and trumpeted as a big surprise. Instead, I got a shock to my system when the show didn’t try to sell me on the surprise, and rather the betrayal and hurt and tragic backstory to the Mr. Kaplan and Reddington saga. This week’s episodes added a whole other layer to the story, making it infinitely more compelling.

A few other thoughts:

  • Can we be done with Samar and this other chick already? I like Aram too but dang.
  • I have always liked the Tom Keen character, but if these episodes prove anything it’s that it’s time to move on from him. With Tom getting his own show, the other characters get more screen time and tell rich, compelling stories. All of the plots felt tighter and more focused because they didn’t try to force Tom into them.
  • Was the Kaplan story just time jumping a lot, or was there a distinct possibility that Katarina Rostova could still be alive?
  • It was great to see some of these former characters, but Grey may have been my favorite. Skinny Pete for the win!

All in all, I found this to be much more like The Blacklist that I fell in love with. It was focused, compelling, and incredibly dramatic. The concerns I have about long-terms sustainability still exist, but they are much quieter after these two episodes.

What did you guys think? Did you enjoy the episodes? Let us know!

The Blacklist airs Thursdays at 10/9c on NBC

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