There can be lots of reasons why someone might start watching a show. More often than not it’s a certain actor that tempts the viewer. I’ve made no attempt to hide the fact that I started watching Ripper Street because I liked Jerome Flynn in HBO’s Game of Thrones. Sometimes the idea behind a programme creates a unique quality behind the show that depends to be watched. The most popular example is Lost, a television show which grew out of the singular idea of a people stranded on an island. Other times, there is simply hype around the show because of potential. It doesn’t have big name actors or a particularly unique idea but it gets built up so much that practically everyone watches it. Take Marvel’s Agents of Shield for instance.
For whatever reason one starts watching a programme, it usually isn’t the reason that they continue watching. After being lured in by a person or an idea it is the character drama or the intense stories that keep the viewer coming back week after week. For some people the aforementioned shows delivered on those and for others those shows fell flat. However, if there is one show this season that has managed to hook viewers and follow up in terms of character and plot, it is NBC’s The Blacklist.
For me, and I imagine many people, James Spader was the hook. Spader, who is set to play the titular villain in Marvel’s 2015 release The Avenger’s: Age of Ultron, is an extremely adept actor. Go watch the man as E. Edward Grey in Secretary, then check him out as Raymond ‘Red’ Reddingon on The Blacklist and be amazed as he slips effortlessly from a sexually dominant attorney to a wanted fugitive turned FBI informant. He may have lost some hair and gained some weight but he is undoubtedly a very assured, capable actor.
The idea behind the show isn’t terrible but Spader is definitely the main attraction, despite technically playing second lead to Megan Boone’s Elizabeth Keene. The show tells the story of Keene on her first day working with the FBI. However, she’s running slightly tardy and misses Reddington, a wanted fugitive known for putting criminals in touch with other criminals, turning himself in. The catch is that he won’t talk to anyone except Keene. When she finally arrives at work he offers to provide a list of criminals who are truly a danger to society. Of course, this isn’t without benefit to him and in fact, to keep up the illusion that Reddington is still active in the criminal world, they can’t keep him behind bars or continuing to commit crimes.
The rest of the show is structured like your typical crime/procedural television show. A crime is committed and the FBI is called in to investigate. They usually hit a dead end, at which point Reddington will show up with vital information or a possible lead. What sets this show apart from most crime shows is that the offences themselves usually have to be quite major in order to warrant the time of the FBI and Reddington. Hilariously, there have been a couple of episodes where Reddington has been reluctant to help because the perpetrators aren’t on his list or the cases simply just don’t interest him.
So the idea behind the show isn’t entirely original. Comparisons have been made between The Blacklist and The Silence of the Lambs, though Spader’s Reddington is presented far more affably and benevolent than Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter. And yet, that is a part of the story’s charm. It would be a flaw if the show simply informed us of Reddington’s unethical and immoral approach to dealing with problems and never showed us but instead we get glimpses here and there. Flashes of the hidden evil, such as when he deals with the Stewmaker in episode four, create a sense that show is building towards showing exactly how appalling the character can be.
Similarly, there is a clear, underlying feeling that Keene isn’t being told everything in pretty much all parts of her life. The FBI was unaware of her father’s criminal background but even she is unaware of her adoptive father’s connection to Reddington. A popular theory is that Reddington is actually Keene’s birth father, which certainly seems possible. Reddington’s family was said to be murdered shortly before he went rogue but he also pilfers a photo of a little girl from the Stewmaker’s collection. It would certainly explain why Reddington is so interested in Keene, especially her personal life. While it does seem a little too obvious, sometimes the obvious answer is the correct one.
Outside of Reddington, Keene’s husband Tom, played by Ryan Eggold of 90210 fame, may or may not be a trained killer with connections to corporate terrorists. There is some evidence that he was set up but, and this is what is good about the writing of this show, the viewer is allowed to remain suspicious of him. Tom may wind up being a red herring, designed to distract the viewer from a bigger plot, but the programme is written in such a way that it allows the audience to decide for themselves whether they believe he is innocent or not.
Meanwhile, an unknown group have set up surveillance of Keene’s house. So far it is uncertain whether they are tracking Elizabeth or Tom but they don’t appear to be working for either the FBI or Reddington, suggesting that a third party may be involved in whatever is going on between Keene and Reddington. Not to mention, that the FBI don’t trust Keene. With all of these storylines, one might expect the show to seem busy but it doesn’t. The structure and pacing comes off as poised and methodical. The Blacklist is as refined and volatile as Reddington. The time will come when both will drop their calm demeanour and just unleash. I suggest you get on board now.