Revisiting my initial faint praise for ‘The Blacklist’

Dave Bartlett
Published on June 25, 2014
James Spader stars as Raymond (Red) Reddington and Megan Boone as Elizabeth Keen in the NBC/Global show “The Blacklist,” returning this fall. — Submitted image

I finally found time to finish the first season of “The Blacklist” (Global/NBC) and have to say it improved as the story went on and absolutely deserves its second season this fall.

But when I went back and read my initial review of the show from October, remembering only I loved James Spader and it was good enough to let it stack up on my PVR, I was surprised at how little credit I gave the show for setting up a very well done season-long arc that will possibly turn into a series-long one.

If you haven’t watched it yet, Spader plays Raymond (Red) Reddington, a former federal agent turned criminal mastermind, wanted for decades and linked to a variety of terrorist groups. He turns himself over to the FBI to help them catch the worst of his contacts on the conditions of immunity from prosecution and that he work only with Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), a new FBI agent who no one has heard of before.

Back in the fall, I said “The Blacklist” was fun, but not to expect brilliance, and I admit I largely wrote the series off as a good way to kill an hour. But I think it’s better than that now.

The show still has moments of overly obvious dialogue, and the writers aren’t going for any real degree of realism. This is a serialized action movie with everything you expect from the violence to the corny one-liners.

But Boone has also grown on me as Elizabeth, much like Anna Torv won me over as Olivia Dunham before the end of the first season of “Fringe.” Of course, I now view Dunham and that show as top tier.

I’m not ready to consider “The Blacklist” for such an honour at this point, but I do look forward for the new season.

I liked the fact that the show wasn’t above killing off some minor characters — at least three — and wounding two others to the point where at season’s end, you weren’t sure if they were alive in one case, or will survive in another. The deaths were surprising and add to the intensity and dark tone of the show, and up the action stakes.

I don’t think I need to say more about Spader, who is superb in the role. The only episode where Red loses his cool, and then only briefly, was where I picked up the series in my recent marathon. The two-part episode called “Anslo Garrick” was a big step forward for the show and made me care about some of those other background players enough to become invested.

It also gave Red some time with Elizabeth’s partner, the man who’s been hunting him for five years, agent Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff). To this point, Ressler was just the one-dimensional hunky agent. He still really doesn’t add much, but he is growing on me.

In my earlier review, I also wrote I hoped the show would just hurry up and reveal that Reddington is Elizabeth’s father, as it was either too obvious or there was a cheap twist coming. Shortly after, she confronted Red, and asked him directly if he was her real dad. He denies it, yet admits he owes her father a debt. I’m starting to buy that and, in fact, hope it is true. If it turns out later Red lied to Elizabeth to obfuscate such a transparent story hook, I’ll be pretty miffed.

Finally, I noted in my first column on “The Blacklist” that Elizabeth’s elementary school teacher husband possibly being a spy and keeping tabs on her was a much better story arc than a long-lost father-daughter. Of course, the story of Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold), starts to intersect and the result is a solid first season network drama. I won’t reveal how it all plays out.

Looking forward, the addition of Peter Stormare as the real bad guy behind most of this past season’s cases — and who I hope will be the focus of all of next season — makes me love “The Blacklist” just a little more.

Stormare is the imposing Swede known for running Steve Buscemi through a woodchipper at the end of “Fargo” (the movie; I haven’t seen the TV remake yet). You almost don’t recognize him when introduced in the finale, though I saw his name in the credits and was on high alert. There’s something about his stoic presence and cold eyes that make you cringe.

I have to admit that “24” is another one of those really popular shows I never got into. I’m suddenly curious how “The Blacklist” stacks up.

Now that “24” is back for a short mini-series, I’ve been curious about it. I’ll have to add it to my old shows list.

Dave Bartlett muses about watching habits, TV shows — new and old — and anything related to whatever he may be watching at the moment. You can get in touch with him at