In the Tonight’s Watch Fall draft, The Blacklist was my second pick (The Legend of Korra snagged my first). Why? Well — other than the fact that I am a sucker for crime-related dramas and my (well deserved) lack of faith in premiering comedies — I believe The Blacklist has the ingredients for a successful series. Some might argue that the time of the anti-hero will come to an end with the passing of Dexter and Breaking Bad this year, but I see no reason for that to be true. With the tremendous success of series such as The Wire, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, it is clear that the complex motivations of the anti-hero is much more compelling than the black-and-white good and evil of old. Series like Ray Donovan, Low Winter Sun and, tonight’s watch, The Blacklist, are banking on the fact that the trend continues — and I am pretty certain it will.
So, let’s talk about the pilot of The Blacklist.
The episode begins with the FBI’s most wanted criminal, Raymond Reddington (James Spader) turning himself in to the FBI at their headquarters in Washington, D.C. This, of course, leads us to wonder: why would he do this? Reddington has eluded capture for decades, building himself up to be a criminal mastermind — complete with title (the “Concierge of Crime”)! Obviously, he is turning himself in to the FBI for some gain of his own, but what? Reddington chats a bit with his new FBI friends (Harry Lennix is a welcome surprise) about how they have a goal in common — catching some of the most notorious criminals that present a threat to national security. But, Reddington shows his true motivation when he brings up his catch: he will only speak with first-day FBI agent, Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone).
The Blacklist gets us up to speed on our female lead in a similar fashion to the rundown in Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s pilot. After a quick scene that introduces Keen’s struggle to balance work and family (who allows for a final adoption interview to occur on the same day as their first day working for the FBI?), Keen is brought in by Harry Lennix’s Assistant Director Harold Cooper to profile herself — effectively giving us the basics of her backstory in a few minutes time. While her background doesn’t reveal much to the FBI (how?) about why Reddington wants to speak with her, I’m fairly certain the majority of the audience picked it up: Reddington abandoned his wife and daughter to be a career criminal while Keen was abandoned by her criminal father and raised herself after her mother died.
Coincidence, right? Probably.
The meat of the episode deals with Reddington assisting Keen track down a man who plans to kidnap a high-ranking official’s daughter — but only if Keen gets him a transfer out of his prison because he can’t stand Chilton. No, wait. That’s the wrong motive. Reddington wants to transfer out of the “black site” (aka the Post Office) and into the rooms that he is used to staying in because … well, he likes those better.
Like Reddington and Keen’s first collaborative bust, I thought the pilot went “swimmingly”. The actual solving of the case is all well and good, but it brings the least amount of draw to the series. What the The Blacklist may (arguably) lack in originality is easily carried on the backs of Spader and Boone. Spader owns every scene that he is present in and the relationship between Reddington and Keen will be the key reason people tune in to this series. The problem with that is this: if they are really father and daughter, it needs to be revealed soon. If the show-runners leave this ‘mystery’ for an end-of-season reveal, I don’t see much longevity for this series. However, it is possible (though, not probable) that this is a misdirect. Maybe Reddington knew her father and/or wanted to amend for what he did to his own daughter? I’m not sure, but I’d like to find out.
While it is still a little early to tell, I think The Blacklist will be a strong contender for the best new (network) drama this year. The series managed to capture my interest and I will follow it without too much fuss, but that could all change if the relationship between Keen and Reddington falls flat and we’re left with the episodic “baddie-of-the-week” storylines that Reddington’s blacklist promises.
- Rating: “I thought that went swimmingly.”
- Comment: Spader and Boone carry the pilot of this “serial procedural”, but creative choices will determine how long they are able to.
- You might like The Blacklist if you like: serial dramas, crime dramas, kind-of procedurals, James Spader channeling Anthony Hopkins, the Hannibal Lecter series (specifically The Silence of the Lambs)
PS: If you’re interested in hearing the full version of that awesome cover of “99 Problems” at the end of the pilot, you can find it here.