Pilot: Wanted criminal Raymond Reddington (James Spader) has turned himself in to the FBI. He has with him a long list of terrorists that he promises to help the FBI either kill or arrest. What’s the catch? He will only talk to Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), an FBI profiler with a troubled past who is late for her first day of work.
For reasons that are completely unknown to me, NBC has a sudden fascination with Hannibal Lecter-esque programs. First Hannibal premiered earlier this year to rave reviews and directly follows the early career of the cannibal killer Hannibal Lecter as he works with FBI profiler Will Graham. The Blacklist doesn’t feature a cannibalistic monster but does follow in line with the classic film The Silence of the Lambs which stars Sir Anthony Hopkins as Lecter who helps Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) catch fellow killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). Instead of catching one killer, Reddington seeks to help the Keen and the FBI catch a whole list of killers. It’s a classic premise that leads to a very interesting hour of television that is primarily hampered by how the show feels like a total mess in terms of structure and tone.
Spader is without a doubt the true star of this show. From the first minute of the premiere he absolutely owns every scene that he is in. The best part is that it looks like he legitimately enjoys playing the role of the “all knowing, all powerful man.” It’s as if NBC nabbed Robert California right from The Office and gave him a criminal twist. It was just a lot of fun watching him control the FBI as if they were a bunch of inexperienced children. The chemistry between him and Boone is great too. Their relationship is the primary focus of the show after all and if that doesn’t work we have absolutely nothing. Thankfully that works really well and becomes a definite highpoint for this new series.
I also loved how this premiere episode set out to ask a lot of huge questions and to get us interested in what the answers might be. Why did Reddington suddenly decide to turn himself into the police? Why is he so interested in Keen? Who exactly is Keen’s husband? Is Reddington actually Keen’s long lost father? These are the real dominant questions that we’re given to ponder. In regards to the possible father/daughter relationship between Keen and Reddington, the idea that they are related is so blatant it might as well have been shouted at us with a megaphone. It’s so apparent that Reddington is Keen’s father based on the clues already given that I legitimately hope it’s not poised to be a “big reveal” later on. Please, please let this be the case. Nothing is more annoying than being forced to suffer through a mystery when the answer is so damn obvious.
The entire scope of the show is appealing as well. The killer tonight was an ailing man named Ranko Zamani (Jamie Jackson) who wants to get revenge for the death of his family. His plan is to kidnap a child and send her into a zoo with a ticking time bomb, putting everyone in the immediate vicinity at risk. Yeah that’s pretty freaking sinister. Apparently Zamani is a small fish on the list of “whales” that Reddington has handy and I’m curious enough to find out what exactly constitutes as a “whale” in this show. Hopefully we can have a singular huge killer be the focus of a season with smaller threats to human life thrown in once and a while. The last thing I want is a revolving door of bad people dispatched every week.
Structurally, The Blacklist is all over the map. First of all, the tone is an absolute mess. There were as many tense scenes where human life was in danger as there were upbeat moments with dancing characters. Seriously, the introduction of Keen is filled with such sunny and happy music that I almost forgot I just watched a wanted fugitive surrender in the middle of an FBI building. Then we have Spader enjoying some nice upbeat Jazz in his fancy hotel room, right before we watch Keen fight for her husband Tom’s (Ryan Eggold) life at hands of Zamani. There was just no uniformity. Plus, the show is just WAY too ridiculous to really take seriously. Do you actually expect me to believe that a building full of FBI Agents wouldn’t immediately recognize a most-wanted man the moment he strides through their front doors? That the FBI is so inept they can both let a child get captured and have that very same wanted man simply escape custody with ease? Speaking of losing a child, the scene where Beth (Delphina Belle) gave Keen her bracelet just screamed that something was going to go wrong. Keen needs information from Reddington too so she stabs his fucking jugular. I mean, what is this. I can’t even.
The Blacklist is anchored by both a strong premise, an excellent performance by James Spader, and beautiful chemistry between the two main stars. It has enough mystery to make me come back once a week to get some solid answers. However, the fact that its tone is completely haphazard really damages the shows quality. It also really needs to take down the absurdity level a few notches. It’s obvious that absurd is what they writers are going for but belief can only be suspended for so long. But all things considered, The Blacklist is a pretty decent show that has a good chance of surviving the fall and into another season.