NBC’s new drama series The Blacklist stars James Spader as Raymond Reddington, a notorious criminal on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, and Megan Boone as Elizabeth Keen, a newly recruited FBI profiler.
The pilot episode of the series hit the ground running, as the very first scene has Reddington strolling casually into FBI Headquarters, turning himself in, and offering up information on another wanted fugitive – so long as he has Keen as his go-between.
“Criminal mastermind helps/manipulates the police” has been done before with varying degrees of success. There’s a fine line between the believable and the ridiculous, between engaging character conflict and the overly predictable, boring kind. Here, Raymond Reddington’s know-all, see-all, do-all nature seems to be effortlessly puppeteering everyone he comes across, which leads me to believe The Blacklist is heading for the precarious shores of “ridiculous” and “predictable.”
Reddington definitely comes across as the weakest point to me, so far. There were quite a few scenes where I got strong “James Purefoy in The Following” vibes – not a good comparison, as Purefoy’s Joe Carroll overreached his supposed charismatic personality trait and ended up somewhere in the territory of smarmy, trite, and unlikable – and it would be a shame if Reddington’s character throughout the series follows suit.
That said, James Spader does well with his acting. I just hope there’s going to be much, much more to Reddington than the Suspiciously Helpful Criminal trope. I’ve only seen fifty minutes of The Blacklist so far, and already the “steepling fingers and chuckling evilly” shtick got old fast.
Megan Boone’s Elizabeth Keen, as the newcomer with the obligatory dark and mysterious past, was the high point of the cast of characters, on the other hand. The pilot establishes her character and motivations well – she’s intelligent, driven, and capable, flustered under the unexpected attention that Reddington gives her but determined to use it to her and the FBI’s advantage. Keen describes herself as having a “deep yearning to understand and relate to the criminal mind,” which can be attributed to her massive parental issues (a dead mother and a career criminal father who scarred her badly as a child).
Keen is pretty likeable; it’s not hard to root for her when she starts the episode off with a cutesy “getting ready for work” montage, only for it to end with her saving the day at the cost of her personal life.
Because most of the pilot’s focus was on Keen and Reddington, the other characters – Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix), Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff), and Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold) as Elizabeth Keen’s boss, co-worker, and husband, respectively – feel very one-note, though this will undoubtedly be rectified in coming episodes.
The case-of-the-week was also surprisingly compelling, even with the ham-fisted symbolism (the episode’s emphasis on Keen’s desire to start a family via adoption coinciding with a case involving a child). The last conversation between Keen and the little girl was a heart-breaking one. (Alternatively, I found their first conversation where Keen almost broke out into Liam Neeson’s Taken monologue inappropriately hilarious.)
Overall, The Blacklist had quite a few enjoyable moments, but its predictability and boringly untouchable antagonist bogged it down heavily. Still, the pilot’s (also very predictable) cliffhanger intrigued me enough that I might give it another chance or two; hopefully the show will find its footing in subsequent episodes.
The Blacklist airs on Mondays at 10/9C on NBC.