The Blacklist: Pilot, Review

James Spader is a master criminal with an agenda in The Blacklist, the new show from NBC that sets itself apart from the traditional procedural drama.

The pilot episode of NBC’s new drama, The Blacklist, managed to do something almost unheard of for a network procedural. The trick is, the first episode of The Blacklist is as compelling as most shows get by mid-season, and it does it all in under an hour. Smart, taut, and with a handful of action scenes that wouldn’t be out of place in a Hollywood action flick, The Blacklist aspires to be much more than your typical network procedural. If this first episode is anything to go by, it has succeeded.And how could it not? With James Spader starring as the show’s primary protagonist/antagonist, Raymond “Red” Reddington, a criminal mastermind so formidable that, were it not for the lack of a brightly colored costume and ridiculous nickname, would be right at home in the pages of DC or Marvel comics, matching wits with Batman or Spider-Man. Oh, wait…that’s right…Spader IS going to be a supervillain soon enough, playing Ultron, in 2015’s Avengers sequel. Something tells me that Red Reddington is going to be a little more nuanced, though.The Blacklist opens with the urbane Reddington marching into FBI headquarters and immediately surrendering himself. Reddington, an incredibly well-connected international criminal who sells secrets and weapons to the highest bidder, offers to share all of the information he has with the FBI, on the condition that he deal directly with Special Agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), an FBI profiler who is balancing her suddenly eventful first day on the job with her plans to start a family with her husband. To prove he means business, Reddington reveals a plot by a former associate of his to kidnap a General’s daughter in broad daylight in Washington, DC.What follows is a remarkably bullshit-free 40 minutes of high-octane television, including one action sequence involving a car accident, a firefight, and a daring escape that is as impressive as anything you’re likely to see on network TV anytime soon. Spader carries the show, hooking his fish (and the audience) with deadpan humor and signature charm. It doesn’t matter whether he’s handcuffed in a high-tech cell or living it up in an expensive hotel, he is always perfectly at ease and in control, and it’s difficult for the viewer not to fall under his spell. Even his foil, FBI Assistant Director, Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix), seems to be as charmed as he is intrigued by episode’s end. Of course, Reddington has a whole list of friends and associates that he’s all too willing to hand over to the FBI, although his reasons for doing so are unclear. But it’s that list which gives the show its name that will fuel the rest of the season. These aren’t just criminals, they’re super criminals, just as Reddington is, and a focus on exceptional villains should set this show apart from the pack in future episodes. The mysterious connection between Reddington and Keen seems awfully obvious. So obvious, in fact, that there’s absolutely no way that they’re actually going to go down that route. Red Reddington is immediately too smart, too cool, and too compelling a character for the showrunners to waste our time with obvious hackery  such as that. No, like much of Reddington’s grand scheme, there are sure to be layers and twists and turns, and hopefully, the show won’t get too precious about them. “This was fun. Let’s do it again,” says Reddington at one point. He’s absolutely right. A fantastic cast (how can you go wrong with Spader and Lennix?) and a premise that offers a nearly limitless supply of interesting villains means that The Blacklist may be around for awhile.Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!


4.5 out of 5