Recurring Cast: James Spader, Megan Boone, Diego Klattenhoff, Ryan Eggold, Parminder Nagra and Harry Lennix
Out of all of the new shows that arrived this Fall, The Blacklist was easily the most interesting.
‘Red’ Reddington is one of the most wanted criminals in the world and one day, he strolls right into the FBI and surrenders himself. New taskforce, the Post Office, take him into custody, only for Red to turn around and broker a deal. He has a Blacklist, crammed with dangerous individuals that the government don’t even know exist. Red is willing to sell information for immunity, but he has one non-negotiable condition. He will only talk to a FBI agent, Elizabeth Keene. Keene has no idea why Reddington is so obsessed with working only with her, but before she has time to question it, the Blacklist’s occupants come into effect. Realising that Reddington, despite seeming more treacherous with every passing mission, is true to his word and that they are making more progress with international crime than ever before. However, as Keene gets deeper into the conspiracy surrounding her invisible connection with Red, it becomes clear that the Blacklist has very severe consequences.
Before I even start breaking down the Blacklist and where it went right, I have to commend the two leads here. James Spader is phenomenal as Reddington, the master criminal at the forefront of the show. This is the typical television network routine of giving the audience a lead character who is far from the good guy, but making him so unconventionally charming that we cannot help but side with him all the time. It is a tried and tested trick, working with Dexter, House, Breaking Bad… yet Reddington finds new ground with the formula. He looks the part of the modern gangster too, camping it up at moments, but pulling back his creepy atmosphere with a fedora, pulled straight from the 30s and the wits of a Bond villain. However, the show doesn’t let Megan Boone’s character slip into obscurity. In fact, Elizabeth Keene is one of the best female figures we have seen in an action series in quite some time. The plot almost drops the character, seeing as the majority of the series sees her kept in the dark and needing to pander to the narratively superior male figure, Reddington, almost constantly. However, she never becomes helpless, often delivering the best action sequences, putting Diego Klattenhoff to shame as the tough federal agent.
In fact, these two leads put the supporting cast into the dark entirely. Klattenhoff and Nagra are strictly two dimensional and Harry Lennix is playing the same character he has in Dollhouse, Man of Steel, Matri… well, everything he has ever been in. Ryan Eggold’s Tom character is a little harder to write off, although the less said about his character the better. Some of the guest stars fare better, having a small amount of time to impress us and working wonders with that small space of time they are given. We get some creepy figures pulled out of the woodworks and, at times, you could be forgiven for assuming you were watching a watered down version of Hannibal. There were times, when the Blacklist stole a plot device from another show or a movie, but they often made it count, by trying something new. I have no problem with shows copying ideas if they make those ideas worthwhile and relevant to the overall story.
The first half of the Blacklist plays around with the conspiracy theory, revelling in the mystery it has clouded the season in. Who is Red? Is he the good guy or the bad guy? The formula the Blacklist gives itself (we deal with a new criminal from the list every week), is very varied. One day we could be tackling an international terrorist, the next an assassin with a creepy twist… the limits are pretty endless and only nearer the end does the steam start to slow right down to a crawl. The second half of the season is a much more fast-paced one. Suddenly, we start getting answers to all of our questions and sooner than we think. The Blacklist isn’t bothered about waiting for the finale to impress us; out of the blue, big plot arcs come to a sudden end with gripping results. The only downside to this is that the Blacklist starts to get fed up with its own formula. The weekly criminals on the Blacklist start getting in the way, rather than appearing interesting. Episodes get a little too tightly wrapped and even if the pay-off is often good, the delivery is a tad messy.
Final Verdict: The writers know exactly what they are doing here, making the Blacklist one of the more exciting shows this Fall. Bonus points for use of the phrase: Jimmity Crickets!