There is no doubt that the television landscape is cluttered with crime dramas. Some of these dramas have been going for at least half a decade with no signs of slowing, while others have only recently appeared and are already giving audiences a reason to change the channel. With all of these shows already in play, was it necessary for NBC to provide viewers with The Blacklist? The answer, in short, is a resounding “yes”.
After being on the run for years, Raymond “Red” Reddington turns himself in to the FBI but provides one condition: he will only speak with an agent named Elizabeth Keen. Considering that this man is wanted for selling classified information to the highest bidder and has been selling the government’s secrets for years, it is a given that the feds would want to get as much information from him as possible and he knows that his demand will be granted. The audience is quickly introduced to the series’ other main character, Agent Elizabeth Keen, a profiler who is starting her new assignment on the day that Reddington surrenders. Through an interesting device, viewers quickly learn all about Keen and her imperfections, as well as a few clues as to why Reddington would want to work with her in the first place. Through the course of the pilot, the relationship between Keen and Reddington is shown to be very similar to the Hannibal/Clarice dynamic in Silence of the Lambs. She feeds him personal information that he may or may not already be privy to, and in return he provides her with information that can lead to the capture of the real criminals that are on the street, not just the ones that the authorities know about. Of course, as the story continues, Keen learns that her life is not at all what she thought it was and that Reddington may know more about her life than she does.
From the opening scene of the pilot, audiences are already guessing as to Reddington’s true motives, even before it is shown that he is a wanted criminal. Every step he takes, every word he speaks is calculated and manipulative. While he is the one that is in FBI custody, he is still fully in control of his situation and it is easy to see how this man could be the criminal that he is accused of being. James Spader never disappoints and his track record continues with The Blacklist. Much of Red’s personality was actually created by Spader and that personality is one of the strongest reasons to watch the series. Red is clever, charming, witty, deliberate, and extremely likable. Yes, according to the FBI, he is responsible for mutiny and murder but, while he never denies the charges, he does imply that everything that Keen knows about him is a lie. Is this simply another diversion to keep Keen from the truth? Is he really simply a pawn in a bigger game? Obviously, these questions are not addressed in the pilot, which gives audiences a reason to keep coming back.
Megan Boone does a fantastic job as Keen and she is every bit as likeable as Reddington himself. As the audience is introduced to her character, she is waking up late for her first day on a new assignment but still manages to wake up, eat breakfast, and get fully dressed (make-up and all) within seven minutes. This lets viewers know that she is pretty much ready for anything at a drop of a hat and it also provides a chance to show audiences a sweet scene between Keen and her husband. She is just as confused as everyone else as to the reason that Reddington has requested her specifically but once she gets to work, it is obvious that it was a great choice. Boone seems to love this character and watching her enjoy herself on screen is something that audiences will quickly love about the series. She plays the role of Keen perfectly, expressing both the strength and vulnerability of the character with ease.
As always, the actors are only a small portion of what makes a series wonderful. Without great writing or direction, the talent behind the stars could easily fall flat. Instead, writers Jon Bokenkamp, Brandon Margolis, and Brandon Sonnier have come up with a story not only worth telling but worth following through to its conclusion. Director Joe Carnahan is no stranger to action, adventure or drama, having written and directed Smoking Aces and the A-Team reboot to name just two. His previous experiences have taught him how to handle a scene perfectly and the audience is treated to some wonderful shots. For instance, a rollover accident involving an SUV is shown from the inside, adding to the tension of the scene. Anyone who has ever been involved in this sort of accident can vouch for the authenticity of that scene and it was only one of the many great choices that Carnahan made. Another unique scene was witnessing Keen profile herself for her new commanding officer and audiences will appreciate that they don’t have to wait through several episodes to learn about Keen, so they can get right into the action.
The Blacklist is another success for James Spader and there is a reason that his celebrity status has never faded. He is a strong actor who understands his character completely. Megan Boone will undoubtedly receive accolades for her portrayal of Keen and it is likely that audiences will be seeing her on the big screen much more often. This is a series that will no doubt snag viewers from the get-go and will have them coming back for more week after week. If it can keep up its momentum, The Blacklist is sure to be a hit for NBC.