The best entertainment makes you feel like something you know can't happen is about to happen, or at least can't happen in the way it appears.
"Bastien Moreau" is all about The Blacklist coming to terms with Raymond Reddington's (James Spader) impending execution. With the messiness of last week's harried affair out of the way, the clock is ticking on Reddington's life. Harold (Harry Lennix) made his plea to the government's highest officials, including the White House. Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq) and Liz (Megan Boone) raced to trade intel on Moreau in exchange for Red's life. And the man himself was forced to consider the reality that, for once, his scheming wasn't going to help wiggle out of a precarious scenario.
The clock nearly ran out. Harold, Dembe, and Liz failed, insomuch that the White House didn't budge. Reddington accepted his fate. He was given his last meal and hooked to the chair for his lethal injection. Then the episode ended.
There's no way that Reddington dies. The cliffhanger promised something that won't come to pass. And yet this was one of the best episodes of the season.
Though the plot machinations leading to Reddington in the chair were compelling, it was really the intimate conversations between the man and those in his life that buoyed the episode. The show has dropped the ball a little on Liz's supposed rogue investigation into her fake father's identity but baked that fact into the proceedings here. Liz desperately wanted to ask Reddington about his identity swap, knowing the end could be near. But when it came down to it, all she really wanted to say was "I love you."
That emotional payoff, illustrating the complexities of this relationship, was far more satisfying than any major twist related to the identity could be. Both Boone and Spader were phenomenal in the scene, with the latter delivering a kind of gobsmacked reaction that truly only he could do — half-opened mouth and shocked. At that moment, Reddington grew comfortable with his fate.
There was a less impactful but similarly constructed moment much earlier in the episode between Red and Harold, only this time it was Red offering up a concluding moment of grace. Red telling Harold that he was great at his job and a great friend was a legitimately moving moment, again sold masterfully by Spader.
The emotional turmoil caused by Red's theoretical execution forced characters to speak clearly, which is an exception in this universe. Sure, they didn't deliver hard truths about decades-old secrets or evil cabals, but these moments indicate that none of that stuff matters compared to relationships — to the characters or the show.
That's not to say that "the real Blacklist is the friends we made along the way," but... it kind of is. This is how all long-running TV shows operate. They ultimately become about the connections between the people above any plot details, to the point where the audience can go along with a death penalty cliffhanger because they want to see the people react to that moment.
Compare that to the episode's other big reveal, which is that the U.S. president is directly involved in the cabal conspiracy. Like, actively involved in it. It suddenly felt like an episode of 24 up in here. There's no payoff to that reveal that can be anywhere as compelling as some of the emotionally charged conversations in this episode. If only The Blacklist could find more of those conversations amid the cabal conspiracy once Reddington doesn't die, or comes back to life.
The Blacklist airs Fridays at 9/8c on NBC.