Pilot Review: The Blacklist

Quid pro quo, Clarice

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Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) is a former model military man who disappeared one day, only to pop of a few years later selling government secrets to terrorists and the like.  Now one of the FBI’s top 10 Most Wanted, he walks into FBI headquarters and turns himself in dressed as an Observer.  He has information concerning a thought-to-be-dead terrorist, Ranko Zamani (Jamie Jackson), a Serbian national, but will only work with newbie profiler, Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) for unknown reasons.  Keen suspects he thinks she’ll be easily intimidated, but it’s clear that Red knows all about Elizabeth by revealing personal details that a FBI background check didn’t uncover.  He reveals Zamani plans to kidnap the daughter of an US General, Red knows this because he helped Zamani get into the US.  The FBI takes the threat seriously and takes the general’s daughter, Beth, into their protection.  Zamani counters by rerouting the caravan, and attacking it complete with gas, explosions, and machine guns.  Red only agrees to further help the FBI if he can get his own place, a la Neal Caffrey.  They indulge him, so he helps Elizabeth draw the connection between Zamani loosing his family to a chemical weapon attack, and retribution against the general using his daughter.  Elizabeth goes home, only to discover Zamani has her husband Tom (Ryan Eggold) tied up to a chair and is torturing him to find out how she knew about the kidnapping.  He stabs Tom a few more times for good measure, and leaves.  Elizabeth chooses to save her husband instead of pursuing Zamani. She’s angry and attacks Red with a pen stabbed into his throat, which doesn’t accomplish much, but gives Red an opportunity to escape when he’s taken to a hospital.  He meets up with Zamani, where we discover that 1). Red is behind the attack on Tom, and 2). Zamani isn’t interested in just retribution against the general, but infamy through the sacrifice of many children.  Working with Elizabeth via phone, they determine that the chemical attack is going to take place at the Zoo.  This is where Elizabeth finds Beth.  Red has sent a Ukrainian “friend” to diffuse the bomb, who then takes the bomb for payment.  (Hee!).  All is well that ends well; except, Red reveals he has a whole list of names of people he wants the FBI to help him take down, this is known as “The Blacklist”.  Elizabeth is pulling up the blood-stained carpet in her home, when she discovers a hidden area in the floorboard.  In it she finds money, a gun, and many passports all with her husband’s photo.  Back at The Post Office (the black site where they are retaining Red), Elizabeth demands some answers.

The Good: I really like Elizabeth Keen; she’s one of the best women characters I’ve seen on TV in a long time.  She is tough, intelligent, and level-headed in a crisis, which is what you expect from a FBI agent.  Yet, she’s emotional and relatable, despite a pretty hefty backstory: career criminal father, who may have abused her justified as strengthening her, and a mother who died.  I enjoyed that her husband is the one who announces that they are having a girl (they are adopting, which is a pragmatic choice).  Megan Boone crosses these lines back and forth believably, never becoming too shut-down, or too emotional. The mystery of who her father is ties in with why Red is interested in her (a man who abandoned his own wife and child), and who her husband really is.

The Meh: While I like James Spader, he does like to chew the scenery now and again, and his performance in the pilot is no exception.  The show is also a tad on the over-dramatic side, what with the dun dun dun musical cues, and the helicopters and police vehicles showing up at Keen’s home when a phone call could suffice.  The FBI Case Manager for Red is a stereotypical archetype: the guy who thinks the people getting answers are ridiculously wrong, and that he is right … I’m getting very tired of this conceit, it’s in everything that uses a procedural hook.  For once I’d just like to see a bunch of professional and capable people working together as a team.

Contrivance of the WeekI find it hard to believe that the FBI wouldn’t know who Elizabeth’s father was.

Bottom Line: Somewhere between Meh and I Am Amused

I liked the pilot, but I don’t imagine I’ll continue to recap it.  I will keep watching it though.  I’m interested in the mystery surrounding Elizabeth. Not being a big fan of procedurals, I hope it doesn’t grow stale.

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