“Let’s say for the moment our interests are aligned.”
On a day just like any other, one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives walks into the Washington D.C. headquarters and surrenders himself to their full custody. The fugitive, Raymond Reddington (James Spader of “Boston Legal” and “The Office”), claims to have an exclusive list of international criminals and terrorists who have managed to avoid the FBI’s detection for decades. Knowing that he and the special agents share an interest in taking down those on the list, he offers to hand the names over, but only if he is allowed to speak to the newly employed FBI profiler, Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone of “Law & Order: Los Angeles”). While not having the slightest idea of who Reddington is or the nature of his interest in her, Elizabeth Keen is brought into a string of cases that will see the take down of many of the world’s most masterful criminals.
Alright, allow me to get the most glaring characteristic out of the way first. Just from reading the description and glancing at the trailer (which is basically the entire first episode condensed into four minutes) it should be no surprise that there’s a very strong Hannibal-Clarice vibe to Reddington’s and Keen’s interactions. He’s the suave, devil-may-care mastermind who always has the FBI bending to his whims, she’s the naive, but strong rookie who’s suddenly been brought into a case that she may not yet be fully prepared for. Such comparisons prove to merely be surface level, however, and very quickly end there as the series goes on to show that it lacks any of the other defining features that originally set the former pair apart, i.e. creativity or the ability to make a bold move.
Although Spader does well as the charismatic, albeit over-the-top Reddington, and Boone equally does well in her role as a person clearly out of her depth, the unwavering focus on their newfound partnership acts as the starting point for this series’ decline. The question of why Reddington has taken such an interest in Keen, and why exactly he has suddenly come forward to backstab his fellow criminals, carries the plot through its first two episodes as we not only begin to get the sense that their pasts may actually be closely connected, but are also very obviously reminded of their shared similarities on a regular basis. There is little room for guess work here.
It’s gotten to a point where I genuinely hope that all the references to Keen’s absent criminal father and Reddington’s initial decision to turn to a life of crime having been made after abandoning his wife and daughter end up being nothing more than a red herring. Otherwise, it’ll soon be made clear that this is a show that has no grasp for non-cliched writing. My hopes are low as, so far, the general unveiling of character flaws and potentially dangerous secrets has largely been carried out in the most obvious and overstated ways. Particularly, in connection to Keen, the writing doesn’t hold back at all in its easy reveal of each of her hopes, fears, and life circumstances. After the first episode, in which she openly summarizes for the audience just what type of person she is, I already feel as though I know everything about her.
“You have my attention.”
Although “The Blacklist’s” strength certainly doesn’t appear to lie in its ability to create empathy or interest in its characters, where it does succeed is in its more episodic plot points. The action never seems to stop as each episode strings viewers along through sequences that always manage to get you just as you’re beginning to think that maybe you’ll be allowed a breather. The music is fast paced, the edits are quick, there are lots of explosions and unexpected twists. It’s pretty par for the course and anyone who has seen an action series before will very easily pick up on the attention grabbing techniques put on display here. Yet, somehow, I can’t help but find the whole thing kinda charming. It’s an exciting show to watch and, while some of the details are silly, the show is so earnest in its attempts to create a wild ride that I do find myself mostly enjoying it.
Given that a great deal of the series’ suspense rests on its ability to keep audience members on their toes over the true motives of its characters, there is a chance that the series could completely throw us for a loop and develop into a story with some interesting twists. If nothing else, NBC’s “The Blacklist” makes for a fun watch and a nice reprieve from some of the more serious offerings that may be filling up your schedule.