The Blacklist: series review through Season 4

So, I finished the final episode of season four of The Blacklist early this morning. This was “Mr. Kaplan: Conclusion.”  As expected, Mr. Kaplan [SPOILERS] is dead at the end of the episode, because of jumping off a bridge and not by Raymond’s hand this time. She had become my favorite character—second only to Reddington himself—this season, and I will miss her.

In an earlier post, I had mentioned that I was considering bailing on this series. No spoilers here: I’m not bailing yet. This final story arc has rekindled my interest in the series. After four seasons, the creative forces behind The Blacklist have built up enough credit with me to keep me watching. I was especially intrigued by how this episode ended, with Elizabeth Keen finding out that Raymond is her biological father. Of course, I thought this was disproven early on, but maybe that’s a false memory implanted by some nefarious blacklister. The assumption was that this was the big bombshell that Mr. Kaplan was planning to explode to finish off Reddington, but that was just misdirection. She had unearthed an old suitcase that she placed in a bus locker somewhere. At the end of the episode, Tom Keen re-emerges from his own failed spinoff series to get the suitcase from the locker. He opens it and there appears to be skeletal remains inside. Cliffhanger ending. Mr. Kaplan is still apparently a threat to Reddington’s empire from the grave.

So, yeah. I’ll continue watching.

But, how can I convince you to watch this series, if you’re among the many who’ve never seen a single episode? I’ll give it a try.

Reason #1: James Spader. Maybe, like me, you enjoyed Spader and his relationship with Denny Crane on Boston Legal. Or any of his roles over the years, from Sex,Lies and Videotape to the voice of Ultron in that Avengers movie. His voice somehow turns any line of dialogue, from the ridiculous to the sublime, into art. Maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic. Let’s just say I like James Spader and I think you should, too. I can’t imagine another actor who could make Reddington as engaging or sympathetic as he does.

Reason #2: Mystery Boxes. This show is all about mystery boxes, sometimes literally, and even to the last episode of this season, with the suitcase. I was surprised only by the reveal of the human remains instead of holding on to that until season five. It doesn’t dampen the mystery, however. Whose remains are they? What is the connection to Elizabeth Keen?

The reason I’m drawn to mysteries is because too much of television is predictable and boring. When you have a show that manages to keep you guessing, as this one does, it keeps your attention. Well, it keeps my attention. Am I presuming too much to think that you may be like me in this regard? There have been other series that have accomplished this for me, notably Lost, Alias (for a couple of seasons), Fringe, Person of Interest, and the first two seasons of Fargo, to name-check just a few. I don’t believe I would rank The Blacklist at the top of the list of these notable shows, but it’s certainly in the mix.

And the reason why? Mystery boxes. I’m happy to see that Tom Keen will be back in the picture next season. I’ll admit I didn’t watch any of the spinoff series and don’t feel as if I missed anything.

Reason #3: Supporting characters. This is the yardstick that helps to make or break most shows for me. The Blacklist has assembled a supporting cast that I genuinely like. With some shame, I have to admit that Elizabeth Keen, who is supposed to be the raison d’etre of the show’s premise, is not one of my favorite characters. She is marginally interesting at best. Dembe and the now-late Mr. Kaplan were far more interesting to me. But, that list would also include Tom Keen, Aram, Samar, and Cooper. This season, I think even the notoriously whitebread Boy Scout Ressler moved higher on the list than Liz. I don’t dislike Liz, I feel I must add. I just don’t find her as compelling as some of the others.

Reason #4: Premise and Structure. The premise of a show will draw me in. It’s happened a lot in the past. The premise alone won’t keep me in, but that’s where it has to start. The first mystery of this show, why notorious criminal Raymond Reddington turned himself in to the FBI and helped form the task force only if Elizabeth Keen was involved intrigued me. And the notion of a list of criminals to capture—the eponymous blacklist—provided a structure for the show (as well as episode titles).

I compare every show that I watch to others I’ve watched and liked (or loved) in the past. One series that has heavily influenced my thinking, at least in regards to structure, is The X-Files. That series had monster-of-the-week shows, on one hand, and mythology shows, relating to the central mystery of Mulder’s sister’s alien abduction, on the other. The monster episodes could be fun and interesting, and often were, but it was the mythology shows that kept me watching. I intend to finish watching The X-Files at some point, but I’ll admit now that I bailed on the series when the mythology began to unravel in unsatisfying ways. I know that’s approaching heresy in some quarters, but that’s my opinion. By “finish watching” I’m referring to the original series. I watched the continuation last year and enjoyed it. I think it’s coming back. I forget when I stopped watching the original, so I may begin watching from the beginning again. Something to look forward to.

The Blacklist is similarly structured. There’s the overarching mysteries, Reddington’s mythology shows, which continue to grow more convoluted and intricate, and the blacklister-of-the-week episodes. I like the non-mythology shows okay, but they sometimes feel like filler. The middle of season four especially felt this way. But, when they mythology shows are cranking, I’m fully engaged. Enough so that I’m looking forward to season five now.

That’s my argument for why you should watch this show if you’re not. And, it’s my thumbnail review of the entire series to this point.

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