First Watch: The Blacklist – “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)

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 DonovanLow 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.

James Spader as Raymond Reddington.

Raymond Reddington turning himself in to the FBI in 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-Nines 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)

The Blacklist airs Mondays on NBC at 10 PM PST. If you missed out on this week’s premiere, you can catch up on Hulu.

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.

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About Daniel

I'm a guy who spends way too much time playing board games and watching television with his friends. View all posts by Daniel

2 responses to “First Watch: The Blacklist – “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)

  • Morisan

    It was nice watching the full episode and knowing there will be meatier back story and intrigue in store for the season ahead. I was rather disheartened when I initially watched the four minute fifteen second trailer, released by NBC back in May, which told me the entire plot of the pilot before it aired. I too feel like the show has a lot of potential and I cannot wait to see how it fairs in the long run. NBC has had it hard these past few years when it comes to new shows. I hope Blacklist ends up being their saving grace.

    • Daniel

      I tend to avoid the long trailers (as well as next episode teasers) because it seems like television series nowadays like to giveaway too much before you watch the episodes. This tends to leave me a little in the dark when I walk into a pilot, but I also think I walk into pilots a little less disappointed than I might have been if I had watched the trailers.

      I have high hopes for The Blacklist. I love James Spader in the “mastermind” role because he just owns it whenever he delivers his lines. Sure, he might be a little self-indulgent in his gravitas, but I think it really works when he is supposed to be the smartest man in the room.

      I forgot to mention my theories for the future in the post, but I’d be interested in hearing what you think motivates Reddington. I have a feeling that he might have flipped to the dark side as a sort of going deep undercover — knowing one day he’d flip back to the good side and turn in all the people he found. It’s a bit far-fetched, but I think it’d be interesting. It’s also possible that maybe he became a criminal at first just to be a criminal, but really stepped up his game when he saw his daughter (speculation) heading towards a career in the FBI.

      Any thoughts, Morisan (or others who want to join in)?

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