The Blacklist Season 2 Premiere Review
NBC’s The Blacklist is a show that I really like, but has a lot of story elements that I have trouble defending. On the one hand, some great, fun performances and a lot of dark, paranoid plot points in the storyline make it intriguing and fun to watch. On the other hand, the tendency to towards “monster of the week” episodes and the fact that the villains tend not to be as interesting as the series key component, James Spader, tend to make individual episodes somewhat forgettable. Still, Season 1 ended on a strong note, and the Season 2 premier does a lot to make me want to keep watching. Spoilers for Season 1 are ahead.
The basic setup of the show is that Raymond Reddington, the man at the top of the FBI’s most wanted list, turns himself into the FBI and offers to assist them on arresting major criminals, but he will only speak with rookie FBI agent Elizabeth Keane. From then on, Keane and a team of FBI agents work with Reddington to arrest a series of strange colorful criminals. So an aspect of this show, which can be considered a positive and a negative story-telling wise, is James Spader as Raymond Reddington. On the one hand, Spader is phenomenal on this show; he’s charismatic, funny, intelligent, and has all of the best dialogue in the series. He’s so much fun to watch, and he provides a lot of the most fun moments of the series.
Unfortunately, this can become a problem because without a strong plot and some other strong characters to work off of it can just turn into, as my friend Kora put it, “James Spader James Spadering across the James Spader.” This does happen a bit in Season 1 because the show’s titular Blacklist is a list of various kinds of criminals that, in season 1, Reddington has some unexplained problems with. By the end of season 1, it’s shown that all of these people have either been sent to undermine Reddington or assist the return of a vile, sadistic criminal named Berlin, who has a very personal grudge against Reddington. It doesn’t become a show-breaking problem for two reasons. One is that Agent Keane, played by Megan Boone, is actually a really good character with some interesting elements to her and Boone gives a consistently good performance throughout. She has to be the straight man to Spader’s not giving a shit craziness, so she doesn’t often get to be as much fun as Spader, but a lot of her plot elements are the most interesting stuff in the series (particularly the crazy bullshit with her husband Tom).
The other big reason Spader’s performance doesn’t overwhelm the show is that they FINALLY got a villain who is just as smart, charismatic, ruthless, and far more violent than Reddington. Berlin is a great villain. He has a cruel, relatable back-story. He’s violent, calculating, and relentless. He also has just as much great dialogue written for him as Reddington. Of course, you also need an actor on the same level as Spader to make him as much fun to watch. Lucky for the show, and especially for me personally, Peter Stormare plays Berlin, and when you let Peter Stormare devour scenery and act as crazy and violent as possible, you get great stuff.
Unfortunately, the stuff that doesn’t have Peter Stormare in it falls back into the trends that bothered me in Season 1. The villain of the episode, Lord Baltimore, is not particularly interesting in execution, and her back-story is SO heavy-handed and emotionally manipulative that I felt myself sighing as they were explaining it. The plot stuff involving her doesn’t warrant much attention. The only part worth mentioning is that Lord Baltimore is an information broker who finds Reddington’s ex-wife (played by Mary Louise Parker) and kidnaps her for Berlin to start a battle of wills and wits between Reddington and Berlin that looks to get bloody and violent. Another major element of this episode is Keane dealing with the fallout of her husband being an undercover operative for Berlin sent to observe her and manipulate her to trap Reddington. At the end of Season 1, Elizabeth and her husband Tom had a violent falling out and Tom was severely wounded, but his body was never found and Elizabeth is trying to deal with the paranoia and the sense of betrayal that followed that experience. At the end of the episode, she seems to have decided to try to move past it, even though we as the audience know someone is still keeping her under surveillance (with a sniper rifle).
All in all, I still like this series and I still want to keep watching it. I’m hoping that the inclusion of Peter Stormare will focus the plot away from “monster of the week” trends and turn it into an all-out war between two intelligent, ruthless criminals. Also, the subplots with Keane should continue and hopefully there’s plenty of tense action, which got me through a lot of the plot boredom in Season 1. This premier is worth viewing, but it requires viewing Season 1. If you like the show, like I do, it will keep you hooked for more.
Season 2 of The Blacklist starts out a lot like the first season: Spader is awesome, but the villain of the week is boring with a heavy-handed backstory. Luckily we finally get to see Peter Stormare act like a villain and destroy the scenery around him, which makes him as fun to watch as Spader. Megan Boone as Keane is still good, and it looks like a serious ongoing plot is about to commence.