Staying current on more than three concurrent ongoing television shows is a humongous task, especially if you have other things to occupy your time as well, like me with my reading and writing. I didn’t have a problem staying current with Arrow and Agents of SHIELD but with Intelligence, The Blacklist, Black Sails and Dracula thrown in the mix, I found it progressively harder. Thankfully, The Blacklist has been an extremely good show packed with great acting and great story/characters, as the first six episodes of the show’s debut season have proven to be. Elizabeth Keen, Raymond Reddington and others are characters I love to tune in for, and I recently finished watching episodes 7 through 10 in an effort to catch up to the show before the season finale next month.
Much as I expected, the show really amped up the tension in these episodes. The previous episodes served to introduce us to the characters and establish where they all are in the grand scheme of things, but with these episodes things go further. Now it is not about introductions but sustaining and maintaining the viewer’s interest. Chemical attacks, potential economic disasters and assassinations, it is a heady mix indeed and Team Keen is right in the middle of it all, as always.
Despite the serial nature of the show, what with every episode being a standalone effectively, there is still a story here that is developing over the length of the season. And this story is tangled in mysteries. Mystery of why Red chose a rookie like Elizabeth Keen to be his FBI liaison and contact. Mystery of just who exactly Tom Keen is and whether or not he is himself some kind of an agent. And other smaller details here and there. These four episodes (“Frederick Barnes (No. 47)“, “General Ludd (No. 109)“, “Anslo Garrick (No. 16)” and “Anslo Garrick (No. 16) Conclusion“) taken together do a good job of furthering along these mysteries while telling their own stories as well.
Episode 7 deals with a chemical attack on a DC subway and the team is called in to investigate the how and they why as the FBI is put on high alert following the disaster. Through Red, Elizabeth learns that the man behind the attack might be on his mysterious blacklist and so begins another phase of the show as the team races to stop the man before he kills any more people. What I liked about this episode was how… humanitarian it was. The man behind the attacks has a seriously good reason for why he does what he does. His reasoning is twisted, but it is what it is.
Episode 8 deals with an impending economic disaster that could ruin America’s financial stability. It all starts with a plane crash and then spinballs from there as Red and Elizabeth get on the road to find out the identity of this so-called General Ludd before he does something irreversibly drastic. This episode also makes a big twist when Red goes on to meet with Elizabeth’s dying father and talks to him about her. There are a heck of a lot of twists in this episode and the ending is also one of the most emotional ones on the show because of how Red and Elizabeth’s meeting ends.
Episodes 9 and 10 take the action in the show to a whole new level. A private mercenary group basically attacks the black site where Team Elizabeth is based out of and for two whole episodes we see an intense story where characters are killed in cold blood, where Red is tortured half to death and where he seeks out his revenge on the people that did that to him. Anslo Garrick is one of Red’s former associates and with the rumblings in the terrorist underground that the great Raymond Reddington has turned informant for the FBI, he is the one who is called in to bring Red in for… questioning. These two episodes expose a very emotional and perhaps even caring side to Red’s character, something that was first hinted at in episode 4, “The Stewmaker (No. 161)“, when Red killed the so-named Stewmaker because he was about to make an acid stew out of Elizabeth, And we already know that Red is quite attached to Elizabeth, in a manner that is even borderline creepy. But really, these two connected episodes, tell a very focused and intense story that leaves you reeling with everything that is revealed about the various characters, especially the fact that Elizabeth has been under surveillance by an unknown group and that her entire home is bugged as a result.
If you take these four episodes together, then you start to see a lot of patterns emerge, patterns that have to do with the larger mysteries of the show. I didn’t particularly care all that much for episode 8 and think it was the weakest of all the episodes so far, but it still furthers along the subplot that Red knows more about Tom Keen than he is letting on, something that frustrates Elizabeth quite a bit. Tom has already been given the clear-all by the FBI and so has Elizabeth as a result, so Red’s persistence is quite grating. It all just makes you wonder: just what does Red know, and how?
Even if the story in these episodes might not be up to the mark, as in the case of episode 8, the character development is second to none. Characters like James Spader’s Red, Megan Boone’s Elizabeth, Diego Klattenhoff’s Agent Ressler, Ryan Eggold’s Tom Keen, Harry Lennix’s Harold Cooper, Parminder Nagra’s Meera Malik and Amir Arison’s Aram Mojtabai are all developed with an eye to over-arching detail that becomes clearer with each episode. The most significant of these is the ending of episode 10, once the ordeal at the black site is over.
A character like Red, when paired with a character like Elizabeth, well, there are a ton of possibilities which direction the show can go. Over the previous episodes, we’ve seen evidence that the two have a lot of history, but that only Red is aware of such while Elizabeth has an absolutely zero idea. This is all furthered in episode 8 during the conversations between her father and Red, which all hint at what kind of an actual relationship Red and Elizabeth have, but is never made explicit, which is just as it should be.
Partly because of the wonderful performances by Spader, Boone and the others, The Blacklist is one of my favourite shows on prime time television right now. It combines intelligence agency plots with some really interesting and even non-traditional characters to some extent to create something new and different from the rest of the shows that belong to the same subgenre. It is incredibly nice to see that the show’s writers haven’t given in to the unspoken urge to go along the typical routes with these characters but instead have been doing their best to make each episode an entire different experience, which they all are, even the ones that I don’t like all that much, if I’m honest.
I would love to go on in more detail about how good (or not-so good) each of these episodes were, but at that point I would just be needlessly repeating myself. And all that really matters is that the show has pretty much everything I could ask, in terms of the content and presentation. It is a great thriller and I would recommend it quite highly to you, the reader of this blog. Shows like this don’t come often, especially not one where James Spader plays an arrogant and egoistic terrorist who is turning out to be one of the best things that ever happened to the FBI and is taking down some of the worst villains of global terrorism, and more besides.
If for nothing else then James Spader and Megan Boone’s acting alone are worth it to watch the show.