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WashingTelevision: The Blacklist, Season One, Episode Eight, “General Ludd”

Justin Kirk and Andrew Dice Clay make an appearance, but nobody can save this heavy-handed bomb.

A blond Justin Kirk guest-stars as domestic terrorist/rich person hater Nathaniel Wolf. Image via NBC.

I can’t tell whether The Blacklist’s constant references to other television shows are meant to be winkingly clever, or whether the writing room is operating under the belief that a good show can be made by patchworking together seminal moments from superior programs, the whole thing adding up to some sort of quilt of watchability. This week’s episode begins with a father son playing catch in a field when, all of a sudden, pieces of an airplane start falling out of the sky. It’s like Lost’s season one got together with the climax of Breaking Bad’s second season and had a really dumb baby. 

We see a video from the group responsible for blowing up the airplane—their clunky name is General Ludd, after the folkloric, tech-eschewing fellow from the 1800s. They’re here to take down the rich dude oligarchy, the video explains. Ludd’s creepy masks and post-apocalyptic stylings recall the real-life vigilante group Anonymous, except Anonymous makes better videos and hacks Twitter accounts instead of detonating explosives. The Ludd leader turns out to be Nathaniel Wolf, played by Justin Kirk, puckish brother-in-law from Weeds. Seeing his twinkly eyes gave me a moment of hope, but the show has no use for Kirk’s considerable comedic talents and has bleached out his sex appeal with a tragic blond dye job. 

Agent Keen goes to see Red at the Fairfax County house, where he runs a counterfeit operation with a NoVa housewife. There Red tells our pie-eyed heroine two valuable things: 1) Her dad, who told her he had to go to the doctor for some routine tests, NBD, is in fact very ill. 2) Nathaniel Wolf has managed to change his face into Justin Kirk’s with the aid of a plastic surgeon named Abraham Maltz (Andrew Dice Clay—I hope you’ve learned by now not to get your hopes up). Off to Miami! Via a clever ruse, Red and Keen trick the Doc of Darkness into giving up Nathaniel Wolf’s new identity. He’s now called Bradley Holland.

Wolf/Holland heads to Reagan International to blow up a Denver-bound airplane with the FBI in hot pursuit. His pilot outfit convinces an airplane attendant to put his bomb-filled bag onboard before the flight takes off. The Ludd leader then chats with a hedge fund fat cat about the recent explosion. “You’re like the poster child for everything they hate,” Holland tells the fat cat. Did you get that? General Ludd hates rich people. This scene is here because The Blacklist thinks maybe you forgot that from when it was last explained ten minutes ago. 

Arriving at the airport, Liz and Ressler drive, like, right up to the plane and within seconds they are diving through the air. Once again, this ambiguously qualified duo are within spitting distance of an enormous explosion, but end up without a scratch. 

In Nebraska, Red visits Liz’s dying dad (William Sadler) at the hospital. The two men, clearly old pals, dance around the topic of whether Red is Liz’s biological father. When the adoptive parent threatens to reveal “the truth,” Red smothers him to death with a pillow. Tom arrives at the hospital, and a nurse hits him with the bad news. He heads to the coffee cart for some soul-searching, where Red joins him and delivers a creepy speech about how Tom will always be there for Liz, “watching in the shadows . . . laughing in the light.” 

A long-ass chase in New York City culminates in a General Ludd protest, where Kessler and Keen finally break out the firearms and deploy them in typically haphazard fashion. I’ll spare you the play-by-play; suffice it to say that Wolf’s plan was to ground the airplanes so he could steal the blueprint for the new $100 bill and make a bunch of counterfeit money to devalue the US dollar. Somehow Red can still fly his plane around willy-nilly despite the imminent terror threat, and he manages to intercept Wolf/Holland as he attempts to escape. Before the FBI comes crashing onto the scene, Red steals the blueprint because, remember, he’s in the counterfeit biz. For once, he opts out of stabbing the Blacklister in the neck with a needle, and Wolf/Holland is arrested.

At the end of the episode, Liz has once again accepted Red as a confidant, sharing memories of her dad on a swing set at the home of Red’s counterfeiter.

In a pleasant surprise, The Blacklist didn’t work in some stilted dialogue in order to explain to us explicitly that the swing set symbolized the father-daughter role here, allowing us to figure that one out on our own. Progress?

Lingering questions: When Tom and Red were in Nebraska, did Tom know who Red was and just stayed in role anyway? Did Red kill Liz’s dad simply so he wouldn’t tell her “the truth”? Or is the smothering somewhat excusable since he was suffering so much anyway? Also, if he doesn’t want Liz to know he is her father, why is he hinting that fact to her every five minutes?