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Egg Timers Are Always Running for Main Characters
November 16, 2017  | By David Hinckley

[Editors Note: Plot spoilers about last night's 'The Blacklist are revealed below.]

After Wednesday night’s Blacklist, it just got a little harder to argue that prime-time TV isn’t becoming Game of Thrones.

Getting hired as a main character just isn’t the immunity card that it used to be.

NBC’s crime drama killed off Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold), who had been a critical character and an even more critical plot link since the show began in 2013.

Keen’s death didn’t come as a shock in one sense, because from the beginning he was a man walking a tightrope in a hurricane.

Still, he was a valuable dramatic asset, and prominent enough that in the second season he landed a prestigious commercial designed to look eerily close to the show itself.

We’d finish an action-packed Blacklist scene and suddenly there was Tom, er, Ryan Eggold with a glistening red 2015 Ford Mustang. Hold on a minute, did he switch wheels? Oh, no, wait, this is an ad.

Still, despite being endorsement-friendly, Tom Keen’s egg timer was always running. 

Jon Bokenkamp, the show’s creator, reiterated at the start of this fifth season that Tom was almost erased at the end of the first, when his wife Liz (Megan Boone) found out he’d been lying to her about pretty much everything, possibly including his name. Annoyed, she chained him up and waved a gun at him. Thanks, Hon. 

He’s been kidnapped, beaten, threatened and left for dead on multiple occasions, though to be fair those things all seemed to be part of his job description.

He was a shadowy character from start to finish, and The Blacklist dropped regular hints that anyone who thought they’d figured him out, or even knew if he were a bad guy or a good guy, might not want to bet too heavily on it.

In 2016, as The Blacklist launched its fourth season, Tom snuck out the side door onto a show of his show, the spinoff Blacklist: Redemption.

It was a pretty cool show, wherein Tom was forced into an hilariously uneasy alliance with Matias Solomon (Edi Gathegi), a fellow Blacklist veteran. The idea was that a bunch of criminals, reprobates and con artists had somehow come together to fight even worse guys.

Alas, it only lasted a season, so this year Tom came back to the mothership, where he and Liz got married again and seemed blissfully content.

Except he was secretly involved in the pursuit of a briefcase filled with apparently ruinous information about the show’s lead character Red Reddington (James Spader, right). 

“I think,” Bokenkamp said at the beginning of this season, “that Tom and Red would both be just as happy if the other were gone.”

In the end, Tom’s quest put both him and Liz in mortal danger. She seemed to have survived at the end of Wednesday’s episode, barely, which should set up an interesting second half of this season in the new year.

Bokenkamp said in a statement Wednesday that the return episode “will be like nothing we’ve ever done before.”

What’s not entirely unique these days is killing off a prominent character, in part perhaps because Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, in particular, do that as matter of factly as the rest of us salt our French fries.

Random death has always been an occasional factor in prime-time shows, either because an actor actually died or, more often, wanted to leave. From Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey to McLean Stevenson of M*A*S*H, it has often been convenient for writers to terminate a departing actor with extreme prejudice.

Those departures have rarely killed a show, with a few exceptions like Training Day earlier this year following the death of Bill Paxton, or 8 Simple Rules after the death of John Ritter.

But major deaths can change a show, which can be risky or can be good. The Blacklist, it’s safe to say, is thinking this will deliver a shot of adrenalin.

Kind of firing up a new Mustang.

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