‘The Blacklist’ Season 8 Opens With a Riveting Cliffhanger Where Sides Are Switched

NBC’s “The Blacklist” returns after undergoing the numerous sorts of delays and pauses many shows have endured because of the ongoing pandemic. Season seven was even forced to provide a half-animated season finale before the show’s production was put on hold. It was a longer hiatus than fans have been used to between seasons, but now it is back and delivers several punches. In a sense they are delayed punches finally landing, considering the season 8 plot developments were meant for the latter half of the last round. No matter, it was worth the wait. Woe to those viewers who have not been devoted followers of every archaic twist and turn of this series. If you are barely coming in for this episode, titled “Roanoke, No. 139,” you will be lost in its mazes.

The episode opens with a raid on a Russian oligarch awaiting trial while watching porn in a grungy hotel room. A fake paramedics’ crew bursts in and whisks him away. We then reunite with our key players. Red (James Spader) informs Liz (Megan Boone) that it was the work of a mysterious figure known as Roanoke, who enjoys busting out criminals. But when it comes time to get moving with the task force, they let Liz know Roanoke might also be involved with plans to help her spy mother, Katarina Rostova (Laila Robins) make her own escape. Liz eventually goes behind the task force’s back and meets with Katarina, who it turns out, is trying to get to a comatose Dom (played by Ron Raines who is replacing the late Brian Dennehy), in order to find out who framed her as KGB mole. She also reveals that Dom trained her as a spy at the age of 15 and ordered her to sleep with targets. With Red trying to hunt down Roanoke and Liz playing both sides, what side will she eventually take?

That question is answered in spectacular fashion in the final moments of the episode. It’s a fitting cliffhanger to open the season and also a welcome break from the earlier sections, where your head can spin from all the information being dropped. It looks like the showrunners are going to drag out for as long as possible the real identity of James Spader’s always entertainingly charming Red. For much of the episode the theme is the peeling away of more layers (except Red’s). Katarina reveals her past with Dom, describing a “Red Sparrow” past and if true, harboring an understandable resentment towards Dom. Liz continues to have television’s most complicated family-work situation. She works as a federal agent, yet has to keep promising task force head Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) that she won’t let issues like her mom and her grandfather, Dom, get in the way of work. It is all absurd but very well-directed. Liz stares at a photo of her and Dom, weighing her options.

The jaw-dropper that keeps the season going full blast while putting aside concerns about Red occurs when Liz finally decides to switch. Last season hinted at her turning bad, now it actually happens. Liz meets with the task force and tells them she has to move Dom because he’s in danger. Red gets suspicious, especially since he is the one taking care of Dom. She will move the ailing man to a safe house. It all then crescendos into a climax where Red finds out that Roanoke is actually a senile old man in Puerto Rico. By then the big revelation comes that Liz has Dom in an ambulance, but she isn’t taking him to a safe house, she is essentially abducting him. The question in every viewer’s mind is if she’s taking Dom to Katarina. Maybe not since she stops at a parking lot and meets with the only confidant she seems to have left, fellow agent Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) and informs him she just wants to get answers from Dom.

“The Blacklist” thus begins its eighth round by turning everything upside down. Now the FBI task force is after Liz and Cooper berates an obviously hurt Red, accusing him of influencing Liz’s sudden turn. The larger question should be how much longer can “The Blacklist” keep this going. Two more seasons and it will be hitting the one decade mark. Once you’ve turned the lead into a semi-villain you start running out of plot threads. Holding it together are good performances, including James Spade who seems to be so at ease by now as Red. He just floats through scenes with his sophisticated approach. At least he milks it for all its worth, in this episode particularly, looking genuinely pained by Liz switching over to possibly aiding Katarina. But eventually, like many who have tried to hold secrets for too long, this show will have to just let it all out.

The Blacklist” season eight premieres Nov. 13 and airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.