If you find yourself swayed by the well-justified rumours of this being the Golden Age of Television, where you bounce and binge-watch from one show to another, season after season and realise if it was any good after having watched it, The Blacklist is predominantly a safe bet. That’s not to say it’s without flaws. But, they hardly get in the way. I am not naturally drawn to big guns and explosions fare, so I am not, by far, the best judge for this genre. But, I am a huge Al Pacino fan, and have seen enough good cop and bad cop movies (that don’t correspondingly have good cops and bad cops) to represent the median in the target audience. Sure, there are too many pointless, even glamorous blows to the head. Sure, the main characters miraculously bounce back in a Chaplinesque fashion everytime they’re in the premise of a bomb blast. Sure, the twists happen much faster than you can logicise them and even when you do, they still don’t make sense. It never makes sense that a show with apparent realism can show a rookie FBI profiler appearing unscathed in the midst of a dozen trained assassins and snipers too many times, but I’m gonna let that pass. Plausibility is the least of your concerns as long as you have great characters. Or in this case, one great character, rather actor, who keeps you absolutely riveted, so much so, you never want it to stop. Ever.
Raymond “Red” Reddington, FBI’s 4th Most Wanted Fugitive, surrenders himself, but demands he shall only speak with profiler Elizabeth Keen, on her first day on the job. An endlessly interesting, mysterious, pseudo father-daughter relationship ensues between the two where, as seasons and episodes pass, the latter realises her life was never peaceful and the very one whom she blames for causing havoc in it, her possible father Reddington, may have been protecting her all along. This is the core of the show, that finds well-explored continuity week after week, despite a strong supporting cast and a Blacklister-of-the-week to be hunted down in order to help in the grand scheme of things. The grand scheme of things has all to do with Reddington, also known as the “Concierge of Crime” and even if it involves international governments, espionage, history as well as futuristic science, he is the keeper and knower of everything. He has faster and better connectivity than the internet, except that he is sentient. He is the real life Ultron, except he doesn’t want to wipe out an entire species – humans – though there is one such episode where he is faced with an eco-terrorist who wishes to do the same.
The actual blacklist is one where the only copy is found in Reddington’s memory, a list that contains people on both sides of the law who sometimes survive, and rarely, join hands to obey Reddington’s will. They seem to even be ordered in terms of importance as every episode name verifies. However, being higher up on the hierarchy doesn’t necessarily make a captivating menace. Berlin, the one driving all blacklisters of the first season to lead well into the second season, is by far the most boring of the lot. His motivations are not well-developed enough to warrant such overarching interest. But, as I said, all of this doesn’t affect the loyalty that you feel as a viewer almost instantly towards Reddington.
Without Spader, this would have been a standard cop show. With Spader, it is propelled into quite different territory, which you can feel in the change of tone in the second season. Many viewers blame sub-par performances by some of the cast members but, that only happens because of the overwhelming charisma Spader himself exhibits. Sometimes, the stage seems too small for him and there aren’t enough bullets shot, enough mayhem caused, enough blacklister eccentricities shown to match with a head tilt and a snarky little comment by this man. He could read the weather report and make it sound like a Shakespearean anti-hero. He also provides the only genuinely light moments in this show. The interactions of, arguably, the most powerful man in the world with a DMV officer (who can make a man of this stature wait in his office. There is justice after all.) is hilarity on the level of the best of comedy sketch shows. I wish The Blacklist explores more on this comedic line in the next season.
Ultimately, though The Blacklist has so far not aspired for universal dramatic significance like the cream of the crop of this Golden Age, it makes a fine blend of drama and well-paced crime procedural. It is, despite flaws, totally bingeworthy.