Television: The Blacklist, "Pilot"

I love James Spader because he can be over the top and get away with it. He can make it work. He'll make it sound suave, even when the words are clunky.

Still, he can't save everything. And being directed to kneel on the Justice Department Seal in the opening scene . . . That's over the top. More than that, it's overkill.

Exposition here is also a bit heavy handed. Having FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen profile herself? Um . . . Geez, they gave her the name keen for Christ's sake.

But hey! Walid! (If you don't know what I mean, you clearly didn't watch 24.)

What's the story? Well, Spader plays Raymond "Red" Reddington, a career criminal who surrenders to the FBI, though his motives are questionable. He tips the Bureau off to Zumani, another criminal that the FBI had thought to be dead. Red says he wants Zumani too, hence his coming in. But Red will only talk to Elizabeth Keen, a profiler who is just starting out—in fact, it's her first day.


Motivation is always one of the most interesting things about character.

The other interesting thing is how characters react in stressful situations. So when Lizzie comes home and finds her husband bloodied and tied up, held hostage by Zumani . . . What does she do? (Hint: since the episode is only half over, the answer is not "catch Zumani.") Although she does punch a hole in Red's neck with a pen.

There is some confusing back-and-forth between Red and Zumani, who evidently are friends after all. Motivations become cloudier rather than clearer. And Zumani ends up with the tracking chip the FBI implanted in Red, then ends up falling off a building (with the push of a bullet).

It isn't difficult to imagine James Spader as a criminal mastermind. His hypnotic way of speaking alone can make one believe it. There's something serpent-like about him. (Or spider-like? A kind of Moriarty? He does appear to have quite a network of under-criminals to tap.) And The Blacklist capitalizes on that quality.

At the end of the pilot, Red reels the FBI in with the promise of delivering more big criminals from his "Blacklist." And Spader reels in viewers. The Blacklist is filled with tantalizing tidbits. Hints. But it remains to be seen if anything can be made of them. I walked away with mixed feelings—the desire to know more, and the fear that the show won't be able to deliver on its promise.

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