Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Blacklist

The Blacklist
Episode 1: Pilot
By: Carlos Uribe

The Blacklist is about the most-wanted criminal helping a rookie criminal profiler catch criminals. I will be covering this show weekly.

Spoilers Ahoy!

The Blacklist is not the most original show. The whole idea of a criminal helping the police has been explored by White Collar and Breakout Kings. The Blacklist is slightly different because the criminal in this case turns himself in for the sole purpose of helping them. I'm sure that anybody familiar with pop culture can also point to numerous other inspirations that the creator had when crafting this series. Of course, we don't necessarily need our television series to be original. That's an almost impossible task in today's culture. We've heard almost every single kind of story that we can tell. What matters is that the Blacklist manages to offer something fresh and that it's entertaining on it's own right. The pilot is able to do both. It's able to set up a series with a weekly mystery that provides a formula for every episode. It's not surprising that this will behave like a normal cop show but it also provides a serialized mystery for the show. The biggest question is Red's motives for helping the police, and specifically the criminal profiler he insists on talking to, remain up in the air. The criminal profiler also finds out that her husband has a secret stash of fake passports, money, and a gun. The weekly cases provide the viewer on what to expect every episode but the serialized aspect basically helps hook the viewer into tuning into every one. The structure of the series is sound. As for the fresh perspective, I think it's there. Red's desire to help the police catch criminals might be mysterious but this helps to add a fresh layer into the idea. He wants to be there which makes it look like he's having fun. It's no surprise that this sense of fun is able to permeate through the television set into the viewer. It helps that Red is a pretty unique character but that's partly due to James Spader's performance. The Blacklist might not be the most original show but that doesn't mean you shouldn't watch. It might offer a weekly case but it's serialized nature should help to win over skeptics of the procedural aspects. Overall, the Blacklist is a strong, fun new series that has the potential to become something great.

The pilot of the Blacklist is pretty strong. I'll admit the weekly case isn't that interesting. There's this Eastern European who seeks revenge on the United States for bombing a chemical factory that wiped out his hometown. He's using the kidnapped daughter of the general who ordered the attack to bomb a zoo. Red Reddington tries to help the police to stop the bombing from taking place and saving the girl. It's a pretty typical case that does nothing new. This is disappointing because the pilot is the first showcase a writer has to present what they're able to deliver. At the same time, the pilot's concentration is less on the weekly case and more on setting everything up. It'll be interesting to see what the series is able to deliver when it's figured everything out. The weekly case might not be that strong but everything else is. The serialized portions of the Blacklist is basically what helps the pilot sell itself to the audience. It's able to set up the actual premise in strides, the questions it sets up are intriguing, and the relationship between Red and Keen is already turning out to be pretty interesting. The dynamic that the series went for is starting to work so that one is interested even in the pretty standard weekly case. It is in fact because of this that the pilot of the Blacklist is not only able to entertain but even stand out. It helps that the pilot employs a pace that never allows the action to slow down. It goes from one plot point to the other in rapid fashion. This helps build the tension and build enough narrative momentum to keep even the most skeptical viewer engaged. Overall, the weekly case could have been stronger but everything else is already working like gangbusters.

The most interesting character in the Blacklist is Raymond “Red” Reddington. It's a role that James Spader is clearly having a lot of fun. Red is an anti-hero. He's a career criminal who had a reputation of being a concierge. This has allowed him to develop a network of criminals. That puts him in a perfect position to help the police catch the bad guys that they might not even know exist. His sneering attitude, criminal background, mysterious motives, and James Spader's performance helps to create an instantly compelling character. He insists on only talking to Elizabeth Keen. Keen is a character that's going to need to be developed in the next couple of episodes because she's a bit underdeveloped at this point. What's worse is that what we're told about her doesn't necessarily mesh with how we meet her. When we first see her, she's a loving wife whose worried about her first day at work. Confusingly, she's also chosen that day to have the final interview with the adoption agency. You'd think she'd space them out so that she would have some breathing room but she clearly likes to multitask massive moments of her life. Anyways, she's basically presented as a normal person who is in a happy marriage. When she's forced to profile herself to her new boss, she tries to sell herself as an abrasive whose difficult to manipulate. Red seems to agree with her assessment. It just feels like the first meeting is inconsistent with what the creator actually wants us to think who the character is. Granted, she does later stab a pen into Red's neck and finds out that her marriage is a lie. The former is a move of desperation that at least sells the idea she's tough. On the other hand, her husband's secret identity clearly shows she's not immune to manipulation. The main character, Red, is a strong anti-hero who is basically the reason you'll be watching the series for. His interactions with Keen is strong which helps create a strong dynamic. The thing holding the dynamic back? Keen's character needs to become more consistent and better developed. Once that happens, the dynamic will become a classic.

The side characters of the Blacklist are basically one-note at this point. This really isn't a big surprise. The Blacklist pilot had to set up the premise, the main characters, their dynamic, and a weekly case. This left absolutely no room to properly develop the side characters. Keen's husband is Tom. Tom is basically presented as the typical loving husband but the pilot establishes that he has some secret life. This helps make him slightly more intriguing. The pilot establishes an FBI agent named Donald Ressler. That's basically his character: FBI agent. The boss is Harold Cooper. Cooper is basically defined by his job as well. The first priority of The Blacklist should be to sort out Elizabeth Keen's character but the second should be to develop the side characters.

The Blacklist is a show with a lot of potential. It's not the most original show but it's able to offer a fresh and fun perspective. It's weekly case reveals how every episode will work while the serialized aspect will keep people tuning back in. The pilot does have some problems: the side characters are undeveloped, Keen is presented inconsistent and is underdeveloped, and the actual weekly case is average. On the other hand, the dynamic between Keen and Red is strong but that's partially because of James Spader's performance and Red is a strong character by himself. The pilot is very entertaining. Overall, the Blacklist has a strong opening but it's going to need to sort things out as it goes along to truly be a great show.

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