Shows like The Blacklist need episodes that help move the story along. Episodes where nothing capital-M major happens. Episodes where characters have a realization or learn a new piece of information but don't make bold choices. "The Third Estate" was one of these episodes.
That's not a criticism.
Every key ongoing story on the show progressed in small, meaningful ways. The task force case of the week was compelling and featured a nice, if predictable, twist to increase the stakes. This was a low ceiling, high floor kind of episode.
The case carried over from last week's episode. The Third Estate vowed to capture the wealth of the 1 percenters and redistribute it back to the 99 percent. All of this has been done before — including The Third Estate's plot of kidnapping and ransom of the 1 percenters' children. But The Third Estate served as a cool little group mostly because of their newspaper-mâché masks. That's one of those simple-but-creepy flourishes that The Blacklist does well. The kicker, which revealed that the children were not hostages but actually the ones trying to extort their awfully wealthy parents, was good too.
The Third Estate's connection to Anna McMahon was ultimately revealed to be a misdirection, however. That turn exhibited McMahon's ability to be one step ahead of the task force. Eventually, though, the show will need to add some depth to the McMahon character and make her manipulation of the task force — and the president of the United States — mean something.
On the "people lying to one another" front, "The Third Estate" was a busy affair. While Reddington (James Spader) continued his revenge tour on people who could have possibly dropped a dime on him, Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq) took a timeout at his favorite place of worship to think on his eventual difficult decision. Liz (Megan Boone), meanwhile, continued to awkwardly reference Reddington's anger over his prison stint, without making much of an effort to hide her obvious guilt.
Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) isn't so much as lying as he is working an independent investigation. Nonetheless, his extended deep dive into the real Raymond Reddington and Katarina's past paid dividends this week, sort of. An interview with Katarina's would-be step-father led Ressler to a P.O. Box, which eventually led to a photograph of Dominic Wilkinson (Brian Dennehy), Katarina's birth father and the KGB agent code-named Oleander. The last we saw Dominic, he was reminding Reddington that Liz would never give up her search for the truth about her past. About that!
Something has to give here. Dembe made as much clear to Liz before returning to Reddington's side. The show has gotten good material out of Reddington's rekindled anger, including two fun scenes this week that saw him torturing one guy by driving a Mercedes really fast and screwing with another by shooting his pillow, centimeters from the dude's face. Dembe might be inherently "good," but he's also too loyal to keep up the lie for too long. He won't let dozens of more people get killed so Lizzie can act as nothing happened a few months before.
As usual, unfortunately, the problem lies with Liz, who is so much of a non-factor in episodes at the moment. Reddington is investigating who screwed him over and trying to uncover Anna McMahon's plot against him (and the country). Dembe is struggling with his conscience. Ressler has taken up the Reddington investigation. Liz just seems to want to do her job and act like most of this season's events — and really everything dating back to Tom's death — didn't happen. Worse, the show isn't interested in exploring that apathy or regret in any real way, so Liz's perspective comes off poorly. This episode was a perfect example. Totally fine hour of TV, forward momentum everywhere. And the co-lead character had very little involvement in any of that momentum.
The Blacklist airs Fridays at 9/8c on NBC.