'Blacklist' Delivers Perfection, 'Bates Motel' Follows Suit, 'Vikings' Preps for Mid-Season Send-Off

The Blacklist: Season 3.Episode 18 – “Mr. Solomon (No. 32): Conclusion.”
What Happened: Mr. Solomon’s (Edi Gathegi) relentless hunt for Liz (Megan Boone) led to a car accident that triggered the premature birth of her and Tom’s (Ryan Eggold) daughter. A series of health complications ensued, resulting in Liz’s life hanging in the balance and a mind-blowing fate for our heroine.

The Rundown: There is nothing quite like when you see a series deliver an episode of absolute perfection. In the case of this enthralling installment of “The Blacklist,” fans were treated to riveting excitement, soaring sentimentality, hyper dramatic stakes, tender comedic flourishes, beautiful performances, and one jaw dropping ending.

Its storyline's tension was believably taut and gave every character's relationship with Liz, a huge payoff. There really are not enough positive adjectives in the English language to describe how stellar this episode was. “The Blacklist” is officially better than it has ever been.

The conflict between Tom and Red took a somber sidestep, and the two shared a moment by episode’s end that seemed to signal a significant turning of the tide between them. Red -- overwrought and pained beyond belief -- continued to withhold the truth about his real connection to Liz. It was another interesting decision from a complex character.

So why did he not tell her he is her father (the prevailing theory) if he is? Perhaps he did not want to stress her out any worse than she already was. Alas, he remained silent on the subject. No matter if he admits it or not, Liz clearly knows it deep down and her interrupted “I love you” spoke to that.

The cast deserves major kudos for their turns in “Conclusion.” Every single actor was simply superb, and James Spader closed the episode with a definitively Emmy-worthy performance. Everything he did in this episode has been three seasons in the making, portraying the always confident Red with a poignantly internalized torment as events spiraled outside of his control.

What was so good about how this was written is that the show gave viewers the sense he was upset and concerned about Liz without having him fall into an uncharacteristic heap over it. He remained strong and determined but not disaffected, and it was incredibly moving to watch.

The investment in these characters has been so masterfully earned by the ensemble, the writers, and showrunner Jon Bokenkamp. What he pulled off with this episode was of cinematic quality.

Side Notes/Burning Questions: Was anyone else hoping Tom and Liz would name their baby Ruby? Mr. Kaplan (Susan Blommart) and Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq) are two of the best compatriots a series lead has ever had. With this episode, Tom and Liz soared up the ranks of TV’s all-time top couples. Tom’s apt selection of Paul Anka’s parental theme song was adorable. Mr. Solomon is quickly becoming one of the best villains in “Blacklist” history, thanks in large part to an elegant turn by Gathegi.

As hard as Red was on himself and others; it is not his fault for everything that befell Liz. Her life before his entrance was a mirage. The cards were already in play before he ever got involved. The truth is she was a target for danger the minute she was born, and if it is her mother that is after her, Red is not to blame for the way she has gone about it or doing it in the first place. Do you believe Liz’s fate? Personally speaking, no.  Episode Rating: 10/10

Bates Motel: Season 4.Episode 5 – “Refraction”
What Happened: Norman’s (Freddie Highmore) first round of serious therapy with Dr. Edwards (Damon Gupton) brought the depths of his illness to light. Dylan (Max Thieriot) and Emma (Olivia Cooke) continued growing closer, and he went on his first job interview in preparation for their move. Norma (Vera Farmiga) worked to clean up the mess made by Romero’s (Nestor Carbonell) vengeful ex (Jayme Ray Newman). Chick (Ryan Hurst) set his plan for payback against Caleb (Kenny Johnson) in motion by getting close to Norma with a sly ruse. 

The Rundown: Another brilliant episode cleverly gave viewers a glimpse into Norman’s reality: the unsettling feeling of not knowing if what you have seen is, in fact, real. During his imagined visit with his mother, nothing set off any alarms that he was not talking to her. So when Dr. Edwards dropped the bombshell that she never came, it was an utter shock. It is a feeling that Norman suffers from all of the time, and though we have seen him react to it before, it was the first time the audience got the chance to feel a simulated prick of what it would be like to live with his form of mental illness.

Another commanding performance by Highmore, who oscillated between boiling frustration to all-out hysterics, before turning into his “mother,” allowed the actor to astound yet again. Still, it was the scene where Norman called home to Norma, his eyes brimming with tears that served as the real piece de resistance. The small moments never cease to amaze me.

How much of a wacky and delightful treat were the scenes between Norma and Chick? She tries to do a good thing by helping out a downtrodden guy, and he turns out to be a psycho. She really does have the worst luck. Having enjoyed their interaction immensely, it was sad to know it was doomed to end badly. A familiar feeling was experienced when watching this show.

The last scene between them set up the next episode's action and gave viewers a fireworks show between Farmiga and Hurst. Farmiga’s performance was seamless as Norma reacted to the quicksand of Chick’s words with a sense of defiance, trickling fear, and, finally, massive conflict. While Hurst matched her inch for inch with a monologue that started out friendly before morphing into slightly ominous terrain and then concluding with an unmistakably menacing tone. The tension in that scene was downright electrifying.

Side Notes/ Burning Questions: Dylan's honesty, even in the face of losing a job that could secure his future, spoke volumes about his character. Emma’s father is fortunate his daughter has found someone so true blue, although, given his advice to Dylan, it may not be as impressive to him as it should be. Yes, Emma and Dylan (Dylemma) are the best young couple currently on TV. Episode Rating: 10/10

Vikings: Season 4.Episode 9 – “Death All ‘Round”
What Happened: As Ragnar’s (Travis Fimmel) plan neared fruition, tragedy trailed behind. Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) lost her child, Bjorn’s (Alexander Ludwig) daughter Siggy died in Kattegat, Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) continued pouting over Harbard’s (Kevin Durand) promiscuity and little Ivar displayed signs of full-blown psychopathy.

The Rundown: It was a slow penultimate episode that set the stage for a climactic mid-season finale. For those attuned to history, it is unlikely either Rollo (Clive Standen) or Ragnar will perish in their face-off. On the home front, the Lothbrocks were dealing with too tenuous times. Lagertha pushing Ragnar away when he was trying to comfort her was one of the more frustrating moments of the episode. She probably spurned him because she was punishing herself.

Which leads to a question for fans: did the Seer say that Lagertha would never give Ragnar another child or that she would never have another child, period? This has been difficult to recall and completely changes the meaning if misinterpreted. The former is my personal recollection.

Thankfully, “Death All ‘Round” wrapped up the tiresome plot of Torvi (Georgia Hirst) having to assassinate Bjorn at Erlendur’s (Edvin Endre) request. Not surprisingly, it was resolved in a minute’s worth of time. Why it took her so long to come to that conclusion and why she could not confide the assassination plot to Bjorn remained a baffling plot point. While Bjorn lived to tell the tale, he also lives to learn the heart-wrenching news that his daughter drowned and that his stepmother did not even care. 

After her lack of attention almost cost her own two sons their lives and cost Siggy’s namesake hers, you would think she would have learned a lesson. Even though she has always been a despicable person, Aslaug had never registered as a horrible mother until this episode. The callousness she displayed about Siggy and her cruel jab at Ivar proved indicative of an evil woman, not previously revealed. Apparently, Ivar’s inherited his mother’s disposition.

Side Notes/ Burning Questions: If, or when, Ragnar returns to Kattegat, it would be hard to imagine Aslaug remaining his wife much longer. Is Harbard just a homeless Casanova? By the time the Vikings carried the boats from one shoreline to another, couldn't they have built new ships on the shore's desired side? Note: thanks for pointing that out, dad. Episode Rating: 7.3/10

Photo Credit: "The Blacklist"/NBC, "Bates Motel"/Official Twitter Page Promo, "Vikings"/History Channel