The Blacklist Season 1 Eps 1-3 (TV Show Review)
Recently, and starting with Homeland, I’ve come to take an interest in contemporary espionage shows. There’s something quite fascinating about FBI, CIA agents and others of their kind taking down the bad guys, mass murderers and terrorists and more. After having seen the first three episodes of Homeland a while back however, I’ve kind of fallen off due to other shows (not that Homeland is boring or bad or anything, quite the contrary), but watching The Blacklist recently has gotten me really interested in the whole genre once again.
The reason that I started watching The Blacklist in the first place is because of the lead actor James Spader. I’ve seen a lot of his films, especially the sci-fi flick Stargate that spawned no less than three spin-off shows, and have seen him in Boston Legal as well where he was just amazing alongside William Shatner. Spader is a great actor and I dived into The Blacklist last week nothing about the show. It so happened that I loved it, and now, having seen the first three episodes, I can say that the show is really good. Almost all the actors are top-notch and the plots are quite interesting as well, which always helps.
The core concept is that former government agent turned bad guy Raymond Reddington turns himself into the FBI after years of eluding capture. He wants to bring down some of the worst criminals in the world with the help of the agency, while negotiating his own demands, one of which is that his contact with the agency is one of their newest hires, Elizabeth Keen. It is quite an interesting setup that could have gone south quite easily, but thanks to the performances by both Spader and Megan Boone, the show rises above the material and it is really catching.
The first episode sets up the entire stage and deals with a terrorist who is personally known to Reddington. The second episode goes a bit further and deals with a global women trafficking ring. The third episode then comes back to help Elizabeth Keen and her bosses at the FBI bring down a Chinese spy who has been taking down CIA agents across the globe, and the agents of other agencies of governments allied to American interest. So there’s a lot of diversity in the show already, and I love it for that. They try new and different things, and while there can be some weird twists involved that sometimes appear to be cliched, as in the case of the second episode which is a bit tepid in the script department, I am nevertheless enjoying myself. Spader’s performance is definitely the key factor. And Boone is no slouch either I have to say.
A lot of the show’s strength depends on Spader’s performance, since he is the star attraction and the driving force behind every episode, and on his relationship with Boone’s character, which is shrouded for much of the first two episodes and in the third we only get a slight glimpse of what it might be all about. Spader’s performance is near-perfect I have to say. Reddington is a man who has slummed it with the worst of humanity and he is a pretty dangerous and hostile man himself. But he carries himself with a certain aristocratic authority, with panache, and that’s where Spader really excels. You can literally feel his cold indifference towards the activities of the FBI agents and even the agents themselves, and yet when it comes down to it, you also get to see his emotional side. The facade cracks every now and then, and its in those moments really Spader really does deliver. Episode 3 is a perfect example of that I believe because in the second half Elizabeth’s life is in direct danger and Reddington has to step up to save her. And the way he handles it is just amazing.
I had some doubts about Boone’s acting in the series pilot but in the subsequent episodes, I think that she’s really starting to become comfortable with the role that she has. As a profiler for the FBI, she has certain skills that are valuable to Reddington, although he always has more pieces of the puzzles than he lets on, and yet, the scripts give Boone enough time to shine. I find Elizabeth’s character to be quite fascinating since it is something unexpected for me, given that I went in with no idea of what the show was about. There are times in these three episodes where Boone appears to be emotionally cold, when she shouldn’t be, but it could also be that she is someone who is struggling to rein in her emotions. I mean, that’s how I think the script is written to be, but at the same time, if Boone can be more expressive, it would definitely help.
The show establishes in the pilot itself that Boone is quite an emotional person and that she has a certain family history that escaped the FBI’s background checks (which is kind of weird but I can see being worked in to the larger mystery of why Reddington wanted her as his first contact in the FBI), so having that contrast against Reddington’s cold indifference is a good approach for the show to take. I just want them to do more with it, because they definitely can and they definitely should.
The rest of the cast is also great. We have Harold Cooper as the assistant director of the FBI, Harry Lennix, and while we don’t get to see much of him, he does shine in his cameos. He is a great actor, as he showed in the Matrix films, and I would love to see more of him. He presents the more upscale side of the show since he deals with America’s intelligence power brokers and that’s a side of the show that I’m very keen to see more of, especially after the teasers in the second episode. The every-awesome Parminder Nagra plays CIA agent Meera Malik, and I can’t say just how excited I am to see her in such a top-billed show. A woman of colour, an in-show Muslim, no less as an agent of the CIA and someone who is really badass in all her appearances? Hell yeah. She is a great pick for this role and I’m really happy to have her on the show. Just the inclusion of her character shows a very subtle all-inclusive approach to the show with regards to character diversity, so that’s a good plus. Sure, she’s only in a supporting role, but I’ll take that over a cast full of white faces.
Diego Klattenhoff plays FBI agent Donald Ressler and he is the man between Elizabeth Keen and Harold Cooper. He is a seasoned agent who plays up the agency’s reservations against Reddington and provides a healthy voice of disagreement. But he is also great in that he plays well with Elizabeth Keen despite having his doubts about both Reddington and Elizabeth. He doesn’t trust either of him, especially not given all the shenanigans that the former has implemented in the short time that he’s been “with” the FBI. Fair enough. The show can definitely use a cynic like him to keep everything grounded.
If there’s one thing that I find to be somewhat of a letdown is that some of the twists are just plain weird. I touched on this up above, and the fact is that I’m not completely sold on the story in either of the three issues. The show is perhaps reaching too far with how much Reddington knows about all that’s going on and how many mysteries are being introduced, one after the other. The mystery about Elizabeth’s husband Tom is perhaps one of f the most intriguing and also one of the most frustrating. Episode 3 goes to some lengths to develop it, but I’m even more interested.
Still, when all is said and done, I can’t deny that I’m enjoying the show. The villains are interesting at least, especially Chin Han as Wujing in the third episode. He’s always been a good actor, though he doesn’t get as much work as he should be, so its good to see him here. Some better material for him would have been welcome, since I don’t think that the character was given as much to work with as he should have, so there’s that.
Oh and another thing, episode 3 introduces Aram Mojtabai, an FBI tech specialist played by Amir Arison. Its a cool little cameo and one more notch in the show’s belt as far as racially diverse characters are concerned.
Another negative thing that could be said of the show is that suffers from a cliche of the genre, in that the FBI isn’t shown to be all that smart where Reddington is concerned. He basically has them eating out of his hands and the agents make some questionable choices in response. I’m not too bothered by it, personally, and it is somewhat expected but still it is there. I’d love for Reddington to be taken down a notch or few in the subsequent episodes, just so things balance out.
So there you have it. The show has a lot of potential, undeniably, and I’m interested to see how things develop on all the fronts. Where the relationship between Reddington and Elizabeth is concerned I have some reservations about the direction that it is seemingly ahead, so that’s one thing that I hope the show works on.
Posted on January 26, 2014, in Review Central, The Blacklist, TV Show Reviews and tagged CIA, Crime, Diego Klattenhoff, Drama, Elizabeth Keen, Espionage, FBI, Harry Lennix, Intelligence Drama, James Spader, Megan Boone, NBC, Parminder Nagra, Raymond Reddington, Review, Ryan Eggold, Terrorism, The Blacklist, Thriller, TV Show, TV Show Review. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.