SPOILERS FOR THE BLACKLIST AND AGENTS OF SHIELD BELOW.
About 15 minutes in the season finale of The Blacklist on Monday, one of the series regulars, Agent Meera Malik, suddenly and surprisingly had her throat slashed. About five minutes later, another series regular, Harold Cooper, appeared to have been violently strangled to death. These were two of the the most exciting moments all season on The Blacklist, not because of the deaths themselves (they were fairly generic), but because of what it seemed to portend: The big bad, Berlin, and his henchmen were going to pick off all the agents in Red Reddington’s task force — save for Elizabeth Keen — and the questions we’d had all season long would be answered. Season two would begin fresh with a whole new set of questions. At least that’s what I was hoping would happen.
That’s not how it went down, however. While Agent Malik did die, Harold Cooper survived, and instead of answering the mysteries posed WAY BACK in the pilot episode last September — namely, what the relationship between Red and Elizabeth was, and why had a criminal mastermind been driven into FBI Protection — they punted the biggest questions until season two. Not only that, they built even more questions into the same premise. Ultimately, it was an incredibly unsatisfying finale.
That might have been fine if The Blacklist were a better character driven drama like The Good Wife or Parenthood or Hannibal, but The Blacklist is a mystery driven show that’s only real draw is as a showcase for James Spader’s acting talents. After 22 episodes — with only a handful of them being standouts — we’d barely progressed beyond what we learned in the pilot, save for the fact that Elizabeth’s husband was revealed to be evil (which most of us surmised after one episode). In the end, even he seemed to survive what looked to be a sure death. We could’ve watched four episodes — the premiere, the last two, and the fourth episode, “The Stewmaker” — and known nearly as much at the end of the first season as someone who’d watched all 22.
Agent of SHIELD, on the other hand, finished out its freshman season with what I thought was an outstanding finale that closed out the major season long plotline, gave lip service to one big question (Agent Coulson’s resurrection) that had been played out all season long, and presented a couple of potential mystery plotlines for the second season (the fate of Fitz and the identity of Skye’s father). Still, despite a strong finish, the first season of Agents of SHIELD was uneven at best, and downright unwatchable during long stretches.
Both The Blacklist and Agent of SHIELD shed viewers over the course of their first seasons. Agents of SHIELD lost well over half of its premiere episode viewers, while The Blacklist suffered around a 20 percent drop from its premiere and a bigger 30+ percent drop from its peak ratings last November.
Why did two shows capable of great episodes shed so many viewers over their first seasons?
Twenty two episode seasons, that’s why. It’s enough to ask viewers to watch a great drama for three months of uninterrupted episodes, but it asks way too much of us now to watch a series for 9 months and suffer through mediocre, filler episodes and long stretches of weeks without any new episodes. It’s almost impossible to ask that of us without giving us any satisfying answers after all that investment.
Is anyone that excited about watching another nine months of The Blacklist in the hopes of maybe finding out a definitive answer by the end? Do we really want to wait what will likely be a full year before the storyline surrounding Skye’s father finally plays out?
Both series, I think, could’ve benefited greatly from 10-13 episode orders (or even 15 episode orders broken up into half seasons, like The Walking Dead). It would’ve allowed them to introduce and wrap up storylines in shorter periods of time, there would’ve be fewer filler episodes, and it would’ve ask much less of our patience.
Had Agents of SHIELD, for instance, been able to premiere a few weeks before Captain America 2, build up its universe, and jump straight into that Marvel universe storyline, I think that SHIELD instead of losing more than half its viewers, would’ve grown them. It’s an event show — like The Walking Dead, and like Game of Thrones — but it needs to have more event episodes and fewer stalls to keep it going.
It’d be one thing if the filler episodes were better — and The Blacklist had a few stellar ones, like “Anslo Garrick (No. 16)” Parts I and II — but in most cases, the viewers know exactly what’s going on: These shows are trying to string us along as long as possible by doling out tiny hints and reveals in the middle of otherwise bland monster-of-the-week episodes. It’s not working. If we wanted procedurals, we’d watch Longmire or Castle (both of which actually develop characters about as well as SHIELD and The Blacklist). We want action-packed, plot-chewing episodes that consistently move the plot along, and over the course of their seasons, neither The Blacklist or Agents of SHIELD managed to do that with any consistency.
Unfortunately, for all the good that’s in both shows, if they continue do what what they’re doing — try our patience for extended periods of time — they’re only going to run the risk of losing more viewers instead of doing what both are capable of: Building their audiences. There’s a difference between suspense and stringing us along, and both shows lie firmly in the latter camp.