THE BLACKLIST (2014): Season 1 Review
Every TV season, hoards of new shows are released, and the not-so-good ones are dumped even before they pick up any steam. So it’s wholly refreshing to see a new dramatic thriller series succeed amongst the rest and come out on top with a full season. Not only that, but add to the fact that the lead is James Spader in an amazingly complex role, yet so much so like Spader himself, it’s only given that there’s a Season 2.
THE BLACKLIST is a moderately well done thriller, the opening sequence of which sees one of the most wanted men in the world, walk into the FBI Headquarters and surrender himself to the authorities. What follows is a flurry of authoritative action, with handcuffs and a lot of pomp and circumstance as he is taken into super high secure custody. The wanted fugitive only has one demand: to speak to an Agent Keen, a fresh out of the academy rookie profiler, who apparently has no ties whatsoever to this man. Suspicions arise and are pushed aside, as the man speaks to Keen and states his true intentions. He plans on working with the FBI, to reveal a Blacklist of the most heinous criminals in the world, most of whom the authorities are not even aware of, in exchange for his immunity and freedom to go about his business as he pleases. This is the premise of THE BLACKLIST, and its made that much more believable and endearing by the amazing performance of James Spader as Raymond Reddington, the man with the Blacklist.
The show works startlingly well, due to some tight writing and good use of the procedural format while still keeping things fresh and interesting. Every week Reddington introduces a new criminal or terrorist that has to be brought to justice. Each of the listers are unique and dangerous, and the episodic proceedings never get old, because they don’t follow the same formula every week. The show may benefit from some better-known guest stars as the villain of the week, simply to get better recognition in the mainstream. Hopefully Season 2 of the show will see this trend. Another element of the show that keeps it from getting stale is the personal sub plot that runs through out the season. Reddington’s insistence on only working with Agent Keen raises many questions, especially when he claims to know secrets about her husband. Things get even more close to home when it’s realized that Reddington may have personal ties to Keen herself, although it is never confirmed, at least until the Season Finale. With an acquaintance with her father, intimate knowledge of her past, Reddington’s connection to Keen is left a mystery that unravels very slowly through out the season.
Amidst being a typical TV Drama, THE BLACKLIST adds some international flavor with elements of secret underworld spy rings and other mysterious happenings, which never border on being too vague to lose interest, but just exciting enough to keep the audience engaged. Reddington’s intimate knowledge of criminals comes from being an underworld facilitator of any and all kinds of crimes, affording him a huge network of terrorists, criminals and masterminds to exploit to give up to the FBI. However, as the show continues on, it becomes clear that there are other reasons to why Reddington organized this arrangement with the FBI. Including the harboring of some secret for a cabal of powerful men, one of whom is played by the brilliant Alan Alda, a top dog in the government. Their personal history suggests that there is a lot more at play in Reddington’s life than what he lets on.
Megan Boone plays the rookie Agent caught up in the middle of all this, as Elizabeth Keen. I always complain about shows with a female lead bordering on the hysterically emotional as a means of ‘female drama’, however, despite what the character goes through, the show never once treats her like a clichéd female character or undermines her ability to handle her shit. Keen goes through intense emotional trauma, betrayals, has her life turned upside, and in the same hour she beats down terrorists, does her job and returns home to, at times, literally pick up the shattered pieces of her life… and she does so wth impeccable strength and determination. The makers behind the show respects her ability as an FBI agent first, and never once shows her as a fragile woman, while still being able to maintain her femininity all the same. It’s an admiring balance in the character that’s hard to see in mainstream TV Shows.
Season 1 does a very good job of introducing the characters, and putting them through the wringer. Keen finds out that her husband is a spy whose entire reason for being with her was a lie. Her father dies, with a suspected connection to Reddington. One of her colleagues and leading the supporting cast, Donald Ressler, loses his fiancée, almost dies and crosses the line into being a jaded cop. And it’s finally revealed that Reddington’s reason for unveiling the Blacklist is connected to his own survival, while all the members on the list throughout Season 1 are connected somehow. It’s an interesting concept that provides some closure by the end of Season 1, while revealing some of the answers at the end, like hardcore proof of Reddington’s connection with Elizabeth Keen.
THE BLACKLIST may seem like an underwhelming average show, but Spader’s performance urges the audience to keep watching and truly discover the nuance of the story. The show misdirects, tricks and always keeps us looking in the wrong direction. Its subtle and often, the twists and turns are right out in the open, however it`s never revealed until the last moment. The twists aren’t exaggerated or drastic, but provide subtle tension and an engaging drama top keep coming back to week after week. Season 2 premiers next fall.