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

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??  READ FULL STORY

'The Blacklist' react: Are you my papa?

Well, we wanted answers and The Blacklist definitely (sort of) gave us some. I actually preferred the focused and speedy pacing of “Anslo Garrick, Part One,” but boy oh boy, did it build up to a content-filled Part Two. Monday’s episode gave us at least a few of the answers we’ve been waiting for, re: apple-eating spies and paternity implications. And then it added, like, 1,000 more questions. I guess this thing is a marathon, not a sprint; better stay hydrated.

Last week, we left off with Red finally losing a bit of the upper hand he’s had all season, trapped in the Magneto cage with his own personal Scott Summers, Agent Ressler. The shot that ended last week’s episode turns out not to be for Dembe (I might need to lean those prayers he was reciting), but Aram using his gun on more than just paper still isn’t enough to keep Lizzie out of trouble. Garrick has discovered Red’s Achilles heel and she’s got a hand scar and a precarious haircut.

Red whips around to demand the box code from Ressler at gunpoint before Lizzie’s knees have even hit the ground and right as the cell and radio frequencies unjam. First on the line is Tom, who’s torn himself from the Warby Parker/evil secret agent website long enough to check on his about-to-die wife. Anslo takes the call and says, “I’m the guy who’s about to kill your wife. Hi!” Tom responds, “Who is this?!” He really couldn’t have been clearer on the details, bud.

Ressler relents and gives Red the code after a little broken-leg prodding (it’s “ROMEO,” which is both silly and will probably mean something 30 episodes from now). Once he’s out of his cage, and with Lizzie in danger, Red is truly at the mercy of someone else for the first time. Finally, that “cavalry” everyone keeps yammering on about shows up as Anslo and Wild N’ Tha Gang rappel out of the facility and into an ambulance waiting to transport them to whatever torture Anslo has been planning for five years.

Red remains calm to protect Lizzie, even as a paramedic digs around in his neck to remove his tracking chip. Some excellent eye-acting from James Spader indicates to shock the very inattentive guard with the nearby defibrillator. Lizzie does it, shoots the driver (I’m not saying there’s a Blacklist drinking game that involves a “drink every time there’s gratuitous blood spray” rule, but if there was…), and gets the doors open to escape the moving vehicle, but not before Red gives her a secret code: “The Emissary Hotel in Chicago, Mr. Kaplan.”

Lizzie hijacks a Mercedes (pedestrian driver with previous Formula 1 experience included) and gets Aram to trace Red’s chip, but Anslo gets it out of his neck and into the hands of a Wild One on a motorcycle. Lizzie pouts back to headquarters just in time for Chief Fowler (Jane Alexander) to tell Agent Cooper she’s decommissioning their taskforce. As she should; things have really gotten away from them. Lizzie – whose marriage is in shambles, is more or less being stalked by a creepy fugitive and almost just died approximately 6 times – still wants to keep Red alive, and she’ll disregard all authority, laws and logic to do so. She rings up the mysterious Mr. Kaplan at the Emissary Hotel for some assitance. Meanwhile, Red is chained up in yet another abandoned warehouse while Garrick quizzes him on what makes Lizzie so special. Anslo, if you find out, be sure to let us know, OK?

Lizzie (who gets from place to place in Washington D.C. at a truly impressive pace) goes home just long enough for Tom to be all, “people are REALLY trying to kill you a lot, I think maybe we should move.” Lizzie takes a call from Aram before her husband can start crying and/or try to kill her, who says he’s got a lead on the possible mole: he found a pattern of calls coming in from an address every time Red arrives at HQ. And the call is coming from inside the house! Well, the house across the street, where we know the apple-eating-spy-man lives.

Of course, Lizzie marches over there with nothing but her signature moxie and while she’s checking out the spy’s equipment, he tries to attack her from behind. But as she was recently bitten by a radioactive spider that caused all of her FBI training to kick in at warp speed, she fights him off and shoots him dead. Mr. Kaplan, who turns out to be a no-nonsense librarian type older woman (and I love her), shows up with a mission. “I have two directives: to protect you and find my employer. I intend to do both.”

In the warehouse of doom, Anslo has called in an anesthesiologist to inject Red with something that is terribly painful. Apparently, Anslo, like everyone else on this show, is just doing the bidding of someone above him. And that man is Alan Alda (playing the later-named Mr. Fitch)! I exclaim “WHAAAAT” when he comes on screen in his scarf, because that’s just the effect he has.

Alda uses his little bit of screen time (he’ll be back though) to establish fear and try to uncover how much Red has revealed to the FBI. He says the could have avoided all the torture if Red had just stuck to their “arrangement.” The people he represents expect Red to keep their secrets because they know what he has. If they want to, they can and will kill him. What does Red have? Don’t know. Who does Alan Alda work for? Don’t know. What are their secrets and how does Red play into them? Don’t know.

Kaplan and Lizzie drive off to follow a GPS lead as peeping creepster Tom looks on from their brownstone thinking either, “I wish she’d stop doing that” or “MUAHAHAHAHA!” Agent Cooper meets them there to remind Lizzie that a lot of people whom he’s responsible for died today, and this isn’t all about her. It’s a good point that will be completely disregarded, because apparently they’re standing in a surveillance outpost that has served to spy not only on their taskforce facility, but also Director Fowler. She says their project working with an uncontrollable fugitive is back on. Meera innocently asks Lizzie how many baddies were killed when they stormed the outpost. You know how you’re always concerned with the well-being of your enemy? Please don’t let Meera be the mole. Just let us have Parminder Nagra!

There’s a quick check-in with Ressler in the hospital to remind us that he is a person that exists and to bring in his ex-fiance Audrey who kind of looks like every other brunette woman we’ve ever seen on this show, in person or in picture, so she’ll probably mean something more than “emergency contact” in the future. Alda has done his duty at the warehouse, but says to leave Red alive, so Anslo goes in torture him a little more by threatening Lizzie, and that’s all it takes. Red conjures some sewing scissors from nowhere and stabs that jerk and escapes.

When Lizzie goes home to emotionally stare at her burned stuffed bunny, Reddington rings her up to say that he’s long gone, but if she ever needs him, no matter what, he’ll be there. She just has one question: “Are you my father?” He says he’s not. But he’s got some fatherly advice: “Be careful of your husband.” Oh, man. Do you believe Red’s not the father? Is there any chance Tom is just a bespectacled kindergarten teacher with kind of shifty eyes and a penchant for staring out windows? Just 41 days until we (maybe) get some answers! The Blacklist returns January 13th at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

'The Blacklist' react: Trapped in a glass case of pain

The Blacklist clearly prides itself in being both a mystery and a psychological puzzle. You don’t hire James Spader if you’re not looking for more than your fair share of question marks (and ominous chuckles). But it’s done a nice job so far of laying out enough puzzle pieces to whet the audience’s appetite without really giving us any answers just yet. I just know I’ll figure out soon enough why Tom’s box o’ tricks seems to have the same mark as Lizzie’s burn scar, or why Red is keeping tabs on so many young girls. But tonight is not that night. READ FULL STORY

'The Blacklist' season premiere: Twist! Double twist!

There’s a certain model of TV drama pilot where everything that happens is a twist piled on top of a twist, and every commercial break reorients our understanding of the show’s characters and its world until everyone appears to be a triple agent. When a series premiere feels like that, it can be incredibly thrilling — and also incredibly difficult to tell whether the show can sustain that level of narrative momentum. J.J. Abrams shows like Lost and Fringe came on strong with kinetic premieres, and then found their own unique rhythm — so did Hawaii Five-O, produced by Abrams family members Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman.

Conversely, Abrams-era wannabes like FlashForward or The Event came on even stronger in their opening hour and created a mess that both shows spent their short-lived runs attempting to solve. Last week’s Sleepy Hollow is a more recent example of the kitchen-sink pilot, an opening hour full of mysteries and conspiracies and witch wives trapped in fairy purgatory. And so is The Blacklist, which kicked off with a hyperkinetic episode directed by filmmaker Joe Carnahan.
READ FULL STORY

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