Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Blacklist

I’ve been making a concerted effort to remain unglued from my TV and keep up my summer-built reading momentum. In year’s past, you could’ve easily found me glued to the boob tube for at least 3 hours per day (the entirety of the primetime lineup, 8-11 pm), but I broke the nasty habit over the summer and took great pride in my accomplishment. With the hope of, if not maintaining my two books a week rhythm, at least not dropping it all together, I promised myself to not get lured in (because TV is an evil siren in my house) to every new show in the Fall TV lineup. I had succeeded in narrowing the viewing to strictly The Voice on Monday and Tuesday and X-Factor on Wednesday, but alas, thanks to my younger brother, I’ve fallen off the wagon, maybe not fallen off completely, but it feels like I’m dragging my foot outside the wagon for sure.

During my regular weekend visit to see the knuckleheads, my brother introduced me to NBC’s The Blacklist, and I’m definitely hooked. After watching all four of the episodes which have already aired, I’ll go so far as to say it’s the best show I’ve seen on TV in quite a while; heck, it's probably the best show airing right now.

So, let me tell you a little about the show. From NBC’s The Blacklist website:
"For decades, ex-government agent Raymond "Red" Reddington (James Spader, "The Office," "Boston Legal") has been one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives. Brokering shadowy deals for criminals across the globe, Red was known by many as "The Concierge of Crime." Now, he's mysteriously surrendered to the FBI with an explosive offer: He will help catch a long-thought-dead terrorist, Ranko Zamani, under the condition that he speaks only to Elizabeth "Liz" Keen (Megan Boone, "Law & Order: Los Angeles"), an FBI profiler fresh out of Quantico. For Liz, it's going to be one hell of a first day on the job.

What follows is a twisting series of events as the race to stop a terrorist begins. What are Red's true intentions? Why has he chosen Liz, a woman with whom he seemingly has no connection? Does Liz have secrets of her own? Zamani is only the first of many on a list that Red has compiled over the years: a "blacklist" of politicians, mobsters, spies and international terrorists. He will help catch them all... with the caveat that Liz continues to work as his partner.”

The pilot definitely sent off a “Silence of the Lambs” kind of vibe, but as I watched the rest of the episodes my feelings definitely changed. First of all, I don’t see Red as this evil or sinister villain ala Lecter. He’s a bit of an enigma; while he might not be Snow White - pure as the driven snow - he's definitely gotten his hands dirty, I get the sense that there’s definitely more to his backstory. In the pilot episode, we learn Red was originally in the Naval Academy and was being groomed to be an Admiral, when he abandoned his wife and daughter and dropped off the face of the earth until he, himself, started leaking information about his exploits. Maybe I watched too many episodes of Alias, but I’m thinking double-agent, maybe working undercover to help his country. It’s kind of a stretch, because he’s definitely abetted criminals and none have gotten caught until now, but there’s something there. I guess it’s a little too soon to figure out the puzzle just yet. At one point in the pilot though, Red says to Liz “I’m a criminal; criminals are notorious liars. Everything about me is a lie, but if anybody can give me a second chance, it’s you.” I think that statement is telling and probably very close to the truth in that everything we have been told to believe about him is a lie. As to the why he chose Liz, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself yet again, but I would bet ANYTHING that she’s his daughter. It was in the simple smile and sort of look of pride on his face when she’s first brought in to meet him; and definitely in his calm fury in the last episode when harm was done to her.

The show is great because while you get a new, standalone story in each episode, as a new member of his blacklist is targeted; there’s also the larger, big picture thread woven into every episode: 1) the conundrum of figuring out Red himself, 2) his relationship to Liz, and 3) the mystery surrounding Liz’s husband (a plotline introduced in the pilot). James Spader is brilliant in the role; he brings the same charm and dry wit to Red which he brought to Alan Shore on Boston Legal. He is in all ways the star of the show.

I wouldn’t be so bold as to believe you’ll watch the show just because I say so, but I’ll take a shot anyway. Watch this show! It is a compelling, gripping, and sometimes a little creepy (in particular, I’m referring to Episode 4, The Stewmaker…wow, they should give that guy an Emmy as Best Guest Actor.) hour of television. If like me, you are arriving late to the party, then visit The Blacklist, where you’ll find all four episodes from this first season.