'The Blacklist': The highs and lows of season 1

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Image Credit: NBCUniversal

Mondays will be a barren wasteland without The Blacklist to fill them. The series was NBC’s breakout drama this year, earning it the prime after-Superbowl slot next winter. With an average of 14.8 million viewers, The Blacklist ranks fourth among scripted series overall and second in broadcast dramas for the young adults category.

The show’s whip-smart dialogue and golden ratio of satisfying answers to suspenseful questions make a solid structure to support its cast of characters. Naturally, James Spader, as the criminal mastermind-turned-FBI-informant Red Reddington is the shining center of this series. But its other regulars can all hold their own: Ryan Eggold as two-faced Tom Keen, Parminder Nagra as the one smart agent, Harry Lennix as the FBI’s den mother, Diego Klattenhoff as the broken-hearted boy scout, and even Megan Boone as the faltering Liz Keen. I think she’s come a long way from her early days of bad wigs and even worse life choices. Jon Bokenkamp should also get a big gold star for his minor characters. Remember Midnight Cowboy? And that little old lady Mr. Kaplan who finds bodies and scrubs crime scenes? Alan Alda? Peter Stormare?? 

When it’s all tallied, NBC’s Blacklist is heavy in the column of highs and light on lows — but for the sake of keeping things even, I’ve chosen three and three. 

High: James Spader
While there are many things to love about The Blacklist, James Spader is THE reason to watch this show. His haughty diatribes (“The Vermeer is breathtakingly unattractive. I got up in the middle of the night for a snack and she absolutely ruined my appetite”), his growled threats (“This is a Colt .45 1911. Once I have it reassembled, I’m going reload the mag and empty it into your head”), his nonchalant violence, his unwavering sense of humor no matter how grisly things get (“God, the suspense is killing me”), and, of course, his poignant soliloquies — all come together to make an indelible character. Spader’s brilliant acting makes up for any faltering on behalf of the other characters (*cough* Liz *cough*).

Reddington GIF

Low: Liz and Tom’s sham marriage and baby plot
Before Tom flipped his Jason Bourne switch and went full merciless killer, we were stuck watching the middle school teacher try to convince Liz to have a baby with him. As husband and wife, Tom and Liz were constantly disappointing each other, and it was such a drag to witness. Liz would make these grand plans, only to cancel them every single night. Why didn’t she ever just say, “I’m a busy saving lives; gonna miss dinner tonight, babe”? But the most inconceivable plot line (in a show of inconceivable plot lines) was Liz and Tom trying to have a baby. Are you serious? They literally can’t manage to communicate over when Liz is getting home from her 24/7 job catching international terrorists, and yet they think now is a proper time to get pregnant? Thank god those days are over.

High: Evil Tom and Vengeful Liz
After suffering through the aforementioned nonsense, it is so satisfying to watch Liz and Tom pitted against each other. Post-fake marriage Liz is finally coming into her own as an agent, taking risks and getting results (blackmail, torture? Yes please!). As for Tom, those Warby Parker glasses have never looked more sinister. He is so much better as the bad guy with ambiguous motives than he is as the good guy with ambiguous motives. Plus, the Mr. & Mrs. Smith fight scene where they literally and figuratively destroyed their home was one of the top five scenes of the season.

Low: Megan Boone’s Wig
We can’t forget the friggin’ wig, which is its own character on the show. Thankfully, that thing is on its way out of the series, and we have it on Jon Bokenkamp’s word that it will be gone by next season. But while it was here, damn was it a distraction. Boone’s wig would dance around on her head like a wild animal, moving separately from her as if it was mocking her expressions. Between her sham marriage and her sham hair, the first half of the season felt like a slapstick farce for Liz.

High: Dembe
Even though Spader is the King, most of The Blacklist’s characters — villains and regulars — are excellent. But we have to give special recognition to a character who has consistently made it count every moment he’s onscreen: Dembe, you’re the man. As Red’s brooding and efficient sidekick, you definitely want Dembe around when things get rough. But don’t think he’s all work and no play: He’ll catch an episode of The Three Stooges or play a round of gin rummy to pass the time between assassinations. Also, he’s thoughtful enough to compliment you on the lovely shade of taupe that you painted your kitchen walls.

dembe gif

Low: The wild incompetence of the FBI agents
Oh, the FBI agents and their well-intentioned buffoonery. Sigh. They’re supposed to be running a special ops black site, and yet they can barely cobble together enough bright ideas to solve their cases when Reddington has already handed them the clues. It’s like watching the Scooby Gang realize the “swamp monster” is really Old Man Grimsby, the greedy Inn owner. Jinkies!


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