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Season 7 of 'The Blacklist,' and it Still Feels Fresh
October 4, 2019  | By David Hinckley

As long as there has been television, this has been standard practice for serial dramas: Keep viewers intrigued by a long-arc backstory while also satisfying them with a case of the week.

That makes it sound simpler than it is, as thousands of discarded dramas can attest. One that has beaten those odds is The Blacklist, which returns for its seventh season on NBC this Friday at 8 p.m. ET.

Creator Jon Bokenkamp has said he does have an endpoint in sight, and the next season or two is likely to be it. Like most long-running dramas, The Blacklist has shed some viewers over the years, and a Friday timeslot is often seen as a bridge to the end.

Speculation aside, Bokenkamp has kept the show creatively sharp. He keeps finding fresh weekly cases and doling out the backstory one factoid at a time, with the occasional misdirection to keep viewers on their mental toes.

As Season 7 begins, Red Reddington (James Spader) has been kidnapped by shadowy KGB agent Katarina Rostova (Laila Robins), an old friend and sometime adversary. It's complicated. Okay, it's very complicated. 

Once he has disappeared, Red becomes the object of an intense search by his loyal friend and assistant Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq), perhaps the only person with whom Red's relationship is not multi-layered and shadowy.

Red is also sought by the FBI team with whom he has been working for the show's previous 133 episodes. Most significantly, that includes Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), in whom Red has taken a strong paternal interest.

There has been suspicion, some of it by Elizabeth at times, that Red is her biological father. We know for certain that Katarina is her biological mother, and that factoid forms a key corner of the foundation for The Blacklist's long-arc backstory.

For instance, it would not be irrational for viewers to think that Katarina kidnapping Red could have something to do with Liz.

As we join the story, Liz is simply trying to find where Reddington is held and how he could be liberated. The rest of the FBI team, which has grown quite fond of Red over the years, includes Assistant FBI Director Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix), agent Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff), and ace tech guy Aram Mojtabai (Amir Arison).

Agent Samar Navabi (Mozhan Marno) left the team and the show last season, much to the chagrin of Aram.

Since Reddington's specialty over the past six seasons has been leading the FBI team to particularly smooth and powerful criminals, it's safe to say that anyone who could turn the tables on him must be an A-lister.

On the other hand, Katarina may not be smarter than some of the previous miscreants and would-be mass murderers to whom Reddington has led the FBI. Not all his targets have had superpowers, but Bokenkamp has done a superb job of creating cunning, sleazy bad guys (and women) who often still have recognizable sparks of humanity, albeit not necessarily admirable ones.

Even the swarthiest of villains have mostly been dispatched over an episode or two. Katarina has been a long-standing presence, albeit an unseen ghostly one. Liz has spent multiple seasons wondering about her mother, whom she long had thought was dead, and trying to sort out Reddington's relationship to both of them.

Some of this gets sorted out in the season's first episode, through conversations that long-time fans may find curiously humorous.

Mainly, though, Bokenkamp still does what every TV writer everywhere strives for. He has created characters whose stories we care about following, and despite heading toward 150 episodes, which is a lot, The Blacklist has never felt like it's recycling the same handful of plots.

The end of this trail may be in sight. We haven't reached it yet. 

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