05
May
16

🔴 Comments by Jerry

 

🔴 Comments by Jerry

 
Someone I know only as “Jerry” has regularly been posting amazing comments to this blog. They are so good, so perceptive and insightful, that I asked him if I could post them more prominently. I was thrilled when he said “yes.” So I am setting up this column for his comments. WordPress allows you to respond as well, and each comment is linkable and like-able.
 
I’ve said this blog is about serious ( ≃ “academic”) analysis of The Blacklist. Jerry’s comments certainly fit the bill. He may not comment on every episode (I assured him “no pressure”), but when he does, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Feel free to post your comments, too.
 
 


5 Responses to “🔴 Comments by Jerry”


  1. 06/05/2016 at 6:41 pm

    ⭕ Comment by Jerry

    Season 3 ends with the conclusion of the 2-part “Alexander Kirk” episode, and we are presented with Alexander Kirk (Mr. Rostova) asserting that he is the father of Masha (Elizabeth Keen), 28 years past. We may doubt, or believe, his words, but in either case, we must wait for the blizzard of accumulating (and conflicting) evidence that will flood Season 4 from a dozen sources.

    Regular viewers understand that reality is never revealed “by the spoken word” of a character, since, as Reddington warned us, “criminals always lie.” Churchill noted that the “Truth” must be protected by a bodyguard of lies, and this constant, strategic, dissembling by all the characters is the appealing essence of the Blacklist. Some manner of ineffable secret is sequestered just out of our reach and we watch, tantalized, by each revelatory crumb.

    Yes, some weeks we are fed empty calories. Other weeks are substantial. I am aware some viewers can’t stand this glacial pace of unveiling, which is why most viewers record the Blacklist to savor and scrutinize the juicy parts as the inessentials are bypassed. However, with these detail-crazed script writers, nuggets are hidden in the most mundane conversations. There are no inessentials. And isn’t this “obscuring of the relevant” in plain sight “for those with eyes to see” the characteristic torment of human life?

    Cassandra knew this ironic pain about “truth” as she was cursed with pure knowledge of the future, but doomed by the gods to be dismissed and disbelieved by everyone except …foreigners. The truth is all around us, and so often neglected, or worse, misinterpreted. As President Obama has notoriously observed, people spend years clinging to their Guns and their Bibles, and yet, for all their devotions, and inquiries, satisfaction is elusive. Or say our goal is coherent sensibility and (the mysterious) “closure.” But would we know it if we saw it?

    The central delusion of the Blacklist is that, at its center, there is an eternal, resonating TRUTH that we all will recognize and our time spent watching will be eventually validated, as with a New Age religion. (Wouldn’t it be utterly painful to realize, years hence, we are the butt of a Post-Modernist Reddington joke?) Perhaps villains have a different understanding of truth than do heroes with “solid” (respectable) reputations to uphold (such as Ressler, or Navabi).

    But consider: Reddington plugs lead each week into the guts of grandiose “New World Order” schemers and he hardly blinks, while his reputation is cemented. Does each dead villain shroud or expose the truth? Does the enigmatic Reddington want to corner the market on veracity, or does he want a monopoly on lies? Is there a measurable difference? There is no way of knowing. Does hoarding secrets make Reddington wealthier? Yes, he is a madman on the trail of his fixations, and we are along for the ride.

    So, what about this Alexander Kirk who needs transfusions of blood? The Alabaster statue above the enormous fireplace in Kirk’s Headquarters seems revered and significant but remains unidentified. However, there were in Reddington’s “secret” apartment framed photos of the “man who beat the Nazi’s”, renowned Soviet WW2 General Zhukov.

    It is my view that Elizabeth (Masha Rostova) is the offspring of Russian Royalty and a carrier of Haemophilia. Despite what Alexander Kirk says, he only “thinks” he is Liz’s biological father, and he will realize eventually that Masha’s blood is useless for an end to his bleeding. The Rostova’s (deep-cover cold-war Soviet sleeper agents) befriended Reddington while he was at the Naval Academy and attempted to turn him into a Double Agent. A Lover’s Triangle and pregnancy created a crisis that led to a disastrous fire, and Red’s defection to the underworld, where he became a Triple Agent playing all sides against each other.

    The ghostly, whiskey-loving (or Cognac-loving?) Grandfather of Masha, “Dom”, who Reddington visited in the wooded Dacha tells us that Reddington “made a mess of everything” which (we infer) pushed the disgraced grandfather into exile from the living. All this mayhem creates insufferable guilt for Reddington which he expiates by dispatching the villains who do not pay him homage.

    Which brings up the fate of the long-suffering Mr. Kaplan. She is like Prometheus, the fallen angel who thought she could challenge the gods, call the shots and bring illumination to the world, as she made plans to save Elizabeth/Masha. After all, isn’t her janitorial task to clean up the unsavory messes that Reddington creates? She was working within her job description, so Reddington cannot be too harsh with her. Or can he? Mr. Kaplan showed Hubris, and likewise with Prometheus, he was cast upon a stone to have his liver torn out each day, while it grew back each night. We are about to see the merciful side of Reddington, if any. Season 4 is around the corner.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 06/05/2016 at 6:44 pm
       
      Jerry – Your posts continue to flip my aha! switch on again and again. My “Clues” page directive of “Nothing is trivial” synchs with your statement “There are no inessentials.” But then you articulate something I have been mulling over: that the key task is sorting through all the essentials (clues) are going after evasive truths. Some clues may be misleads. Some may even be errors. For the latter we must turn to the writers for answers, which, for the most part they are willing to declare as such. In the various Blacklist Exposed interviews, Jon Bokenkamp has owned these. Some things which the writers may think need no further comment (say, the Presidential limo) fans may may see differently. Others are loose ends, Pepper’s key being an example. This is why I assemble a list of “unanswered questions” at the end of the season (just completed; and acknowledged by Dave Metzger). For those I put as resolved, a few are just things I decide have been elucidated enough, though others may disagree, as when I moved the event that brought Cooper and Red together in Beirut into the resolved category. They may bring it up again. There may be more there. But I’m basically saying the series could end without more development of that bit of background without harming the overall story.
       
      I think one of the mistakes people make with The Blacklist is over-interpretation. There were a handful of commenters on the WSJ site who offered this in spades to the point at which they were serving up entire counter-narratives (which I dubbed “fan fiction”). Often people would neglect important “facts” because they didn’t fit the alternative universe (AU) that they had concocted. This happens on Twitter, too: Agnes is Red’s baby or Ressler’s or Red is Liz’s mother. You step back and describe the challenge:

      “And isn’t this ‘obscuring of the relevant’ in plain sight ‘for those with eyes to see’ the characteristic torment of human life?”

      Yes! I have learned a lot about human nature watching this process unfold. As humans, we look for patterns. In addition we try as hard as we can to make the facts — the evidence — fit into the patterns we are used to or those we need or want to believe. I thought this statement by Red to Cooper is key:

      I know so many zealots, men and women who choose a side, an ideology by which to interpret the world, but to get up every single day and do the hard work of deciding what to believe, what’s right today, when to stand up or stand down… that’s courage.

      The challenge we have is the same as the challenge the FBI has. It’s a form of situational ethics in which the challenge is to find the clues that are the most true and let the others – though not forgotten, rest on the back burner; for the time being; until they declare themselves as part of a new pattern.

      As life is, I was having a discussion with my daughter that relates to this. We were discussing a poem by Rilke that ends:

      When we win it’s with small things,
      and the triumph itself makes us small.
      What is extraordinary and eternal
      does not want to be bent by us.
      I mean the Angel who appeared
      to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
      when the wrestlers’ sinews
      grew long like metal strings,
      he felt them under his fingers
      like chords of deep music.

      Whoever was beaten by this Angel
      (who often simply declined the fight)
      went away proud and strengthened
      and great from that harsh hand,
      that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
      Winning does not tempt that man.
      This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
      by constantly greater beings.
      – Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Robert Bly)

      This is what Aristotle’s “examined” life is, constant death and rebirth. It’s also key to certain view of Christianity. “The Brothers Karamazov” begins with this:

      John 12:24 (King James Version)

      “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”

      If you let a new fact or an observation in, it could very well blow up the world view you’ve grown comfortable with. There is a certain terrifying joy to that. Once you experience that as joy and not only disruption, you can operate at peak performance, you become fully alive. Angels appear to reassure you. You do not feel you’ve lost your integrity because you’ve changed your opinion and will if need be change it again. Yesterday I cited Aristotle in a tweet. Response: ‘But he was a pagan not a Christian.’ My response: “Awesome.” Lol – especially since there’s such a diversity of the Blacklist characters (and the real-life actors) in terms of ethnicity and religion. Yet the team works because they share a process and constantly evaluate their self-definitions in light of each twist or clue. It is hard to let go, yet as Adrienne Rich writes “Transcendal Étude” (The Dream of a Common Language): ‘new language is spoken’:

      … [T]here come times—perhaps this is one of them
      when we have to take ourselves more seriously or die;
      when we have to pull back from the incantations,
      rhythms we’ve moved to thoughtlessly,
      and disenthrall ourselves, bestow
      ourselves to silence, or a severer listening, cleansed
      of oratory, formulas, choruses, laments, static
      crowning the wires. We cut the wires,
      find ourselves in free-fall, as if
      our true home were the undimensional
      solitudes, the rift
      in the Great Nebula.
      No one who survives to speak
      new language, has avoided this:
      the cutting-away of an old force that held her
      rooted to an old ground
      the pitch of utter loneliness
      where she herself and all creation
      seem equally dispersed, weightless, her[s] being a cry
      to which no echo comes or can ever come.

      The shock of the new. Its tendency to shatter and isolate us. But this is how the truth appears, albeit likely a contingent truth. How the characters deal with these shocks is a key theme I think. Obviously, Ressler is the most stubborn. I loved this scene in the finale (episode 3:23):

      Red: I know how difficult this must be for you, Donald.
      Ressler: I will do this.
      Red: You have faith. I envy that. Justice, integrity, faith in humanity… nobody embodies those principles more than you
      Dembe: (Counting down) 20.
      Red: And I know it must be hard for you to believe that you’ll continue to embody those principles even after you watch me do this.
      Ressler: Oh, this isn’t about me. This is about the rules… what’s right.
      Red: When Elizabeth was a fugitive, you played by the rules, did what you thought was right. But Elizabeth’s gone. Alexander Kirk took her away from us, and she’s not coming back.
      Dembe: Raymond.
      Ressler: Take your hands off that trigger.
      Red: What do you think’s going to happen if you stop me, Donald? That you’ll arrest Kirk? That justice will be done?
      Ressler: Let go of the weapon.
      Red: Do you want a bullet in Alexander Kirk’s head or one in mine? Decide now. What’s it going to be, Donald? ♤

      Samar, in contrast, has a perspective from the “other side,” she has long ago compromised her guiding principles but worries it has become too easy, that her integrity has been compromised. Still, she tries to comfort Cooper:

      Samar: Are you all right?
      Cooper: A man got off that plane, and he has no idea that he’ll be dead within the hour. I’ve spent my entire life in the service of stopping people who do what we’re about to let happen. Not so long ago, this task force felt compelled to hunt down Elizabeth Keen for intentionally killing a man. Now she’s gone, and we’re about to do the very same thing.
      Samar: If you’re asking whether you’ll regret it someday… no. I don’t think you will. To be honest, I crossed that line a long time ago… killing in the name of justice, vengeance. After a while, you don’t just get over it… you get used to it.

      John Eisendrath said recently The Blacklist is about “identity.” I think this is true. Aliases abound. Tom is the most extreme example, but all the characters (except, perhaps, Dembe) struggle with who they are, what they value, what they want. Even Kaplan — Kaplan! — broke through the carapace of her prime directive to try to save Agnes, Liz, and Tom. She says she was trying to protect Red “from himself.” But I don’t believe her. I think she “came to life.” Now we get to see how Red deals with her. Were it anyone else, we know she would already be dead. How Red reacts may tell us something new about him.

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  2. 05/22/2016 at 9:44 am

    Comment by Jerry

    ⭕ A Shakespearean Turn

    The Blacklist story has taken a nourishing Shakespearean turn. To understand the last four episodes of season 3, we must adjust our goggles to see Red as the crazed King Macbeth (Murderer of King Duncan, the patriarch) returning (by taxi, and by opium) to his remembered “castle” to offer solace and rescue the besieged Lady Macbeth, Madame Rostova. Of course, ghostly Lady Rostova finally rescues Red by absolving Red of his guilt, telling him he made a hard (but wise) choice whisking Liz away to a “new” father. Have you noticed how Dead People are so forgiving when you conduct one-sided conversations? There is enough anguished hallucination for everyone connected with Red, in this fever dream, as he acts out the last anxious hours (allegedly) of Rostova’s life (beating, slashing, shocking, hacking, shooting bad guys) before she tries surfing in a cardigan.

    Let’s examine some other fascinating and pertinent details to corroborate this Bard upon Avon connection: A security officer named Duncan patrols “Jack’s Shack” Seaside Inn where Red cavorts with his mysterious counterpart fending against silhouetted barbarians. Red charms old Duncan with the idea that Red and “his lady” are not trespassers in this “mansion” that has fallen into disrepair, but rather “old friends” with the owner. “It’s a shame what happened to old Jack!” Officer Duncan agrees with Red’s bluffing about the decomposition of the mortals and the property. With bad guys dispatched, Red staggers off the beach muttering to a beach-comber “there is someone I must see,” after he pockets Rostova’s necklace covered in 20-years of sand. And, he truly means “I must see him” (as in, “figment of my imagination”), just as Lady Rostova-Macbeth is a succubus, a projection, an autonomous psychic construct contained solely in Red’s guilt-ridden collapsing Black Hole of a Mind.

    In the following “Artax Network” we see Red arrive at a vacant house, without electrical wires and without an automobile. These are clues the structure is long abandoned. And yet, Red walks inside this haunted house and whom does he instantly see to greet him? Masha Rostova’s Grandfather, who immediately intuits that his Grand-Daughter is dead and (most remarkably) he does not fly into a murderous rage. Instead, he takes the news well. So well in fact that the only conclusion I can draw is that this “Dom” is the patriarch (Former King Duncan) that Red himself murdered years ago, when he wrenched away Dom’s daughter and offspring at about the time of the fire and the death of Liz’s parents. This is “Dom”, the half-remembered ghost with whom Red must confess (so obliquely) various indiscretions.

    When Aram visits, who answers the door? It is a brain dead Reddington who rejects Aram’s request to return. Dom later tells Red that he “overheard the Arab boy”, yet Dom hid in the shadows looking amused as a disembodied voyeur. The most direct statement Red makes is that “You (Dom) can’t play much Rachmaninoff with this piano key missing!” And what do we see Red doing just before he visits the gravesite of Liz? He repairs the piano key in the derelict workshop covered in decades of dust, so that Dom can sit (with the discarnate rump) on the bench and play a ghostly requiem. At one point Dom says (to paraphrase) that he (Dom) can’t leave, and Red says there is nothing stopping you, Dom. To which Dom says, “You have people depending upon you.” This is Dom saying “I am a dead man, serving no one.” It is also a demand by the ghost that Red avenge this purported death of Liz, if your life, Red, has any meaning at all. In this Artax Network there were two exorcisms.

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    • 05/22/2016 at 10:16 am

      “Dom” also a ghost as well? It makes a lot of sense. Forgiveness from Katarina, “a way forward” from Dom. The visit to Dom did have a dreamlike quality to it. But are these two ghostly interventions sufficient to prepare Red for the utter rejection he receives from “those he holds dear” at the end of the finale? Red has collapsed into rubble for sure. I wonder what will arise from that rubble.

      I hope you will share any additional thoughts you have on the finale. My head is still reeling. I’m glad Liz is back, but wow, whatever can that relationship become now? Will Red go back to the dark side without Liz illuminating the “way home”?

      Thanks so much for your insights!

      Cross-posted at: http://wp.me/pDKwi-2XM

      Like

  3. 05/05/2016 at 5:16 pm

    Comment by Jerry

    ⭕ 3:19 Cape May

    This “Cape May” episode is a palate cleanser, a respite from hostile gunfire and breakneck exfiltrations of previous episodes revealing a deep (turbid) backstory bubbling inside the cauldron of Reddington’s head. It is also a fabulous example of the most moody chiaroscuro cinema ever seen on American television, reminiscent of the frigid and lucid imagery of Ingmar Bergman. This is a pure introspection measuring the feeling and understanding of a man whose batteries are dead who seeks the Greek “nepenthe”, the blessing of forgetting.

    We see, first, a doctor defending his medical decisions, risking a bullet from Red’s overused gun. The audience sees that Red appears to be losing his mind, when he barks an answer we have heard before: “Everyone dies someday” and we feel a new coldness in his voice as if these three words represent the final premise and ultimate conclusion echoing in his head 10,000 times in Liz’s absence, the most recent crossroads in his enigmatic life. From the shadows, we see Reddington roll out of an opium den, his pain numbed by anodyne, told by the proprietor, “It’s too long for you, Mr. Red”, a motherly admonition, as if he were being gently scolded for being late for school. And, perhaps, that is exactly his precarious status.

    He stumbles away and groggily refuses his gun and holster as it is offered to him. For a man who is always prepared, perhaps he knows he is going to an ethereal space where no physical weapon of steel can save him. The proprietor shakes her head and watches him nearly hit by a cabbie who asks significantly, “do you want to get yourself killed?” From the look in Red’s eyes, the answer seems to be a definite “maybe” or at least “Cape May.” Not here will I dissect each scene. But I could, this delicious episode left such an impression.

    Red’s journey to Cape May has one purpose: to find something missing, a relief from pain, a resolution, an answer.

    The mystery woman feels so comfortable around Reddington, presumably a total stranger, that the audience is waiting for a “tip of the hat” of acknowledgement. Half-way through, when Red claims that he does not know the name of the woman whose life he wants to save, she snorts, “Raymond, don’t be ridiculous,” sounding like an impatient wife fed up with her husband after decades together. The look on his face is priceless, astonished that his impertinence was so obvious, his sincerity mistaken for sarcasm, again. This is the look of a husband confirmed as a fool. (Red Skelton said that married men aren’t always wrong, they’re just the first to know about it.)

    Reddington’s first glimpse from his deck chair of “the lady” striding into the surf is reminiscent of the Expressionism of Fritz Lang. Red’s eyes widen with instant recognition, hardly a moment passing before he is bounding into a wave, verifying that it is a supernatural dream-time he has entered to save his soul as he saves this luminous succubus. Another dream-like attribute is her fragile sensitivity offset by her bestial savagery in hand-to-hand combat, both startling and strangely comforting, proving that Reddington has chosen well. Of course, the ending where she absolves him of any crime or misjudgment is the culmination of this most-favored hallucination.

    I love this episode.

    Liked by 1 person


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