Over three years ago, I wrote and published one of my mini-tirade pieces listing the television series I had decided to stop watching.
Three of these series—Gotham, Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.—I abandoned for only a short while, returning to watch them only as their final seasons were announced. I have since watched all of the episodes of these shows, for better or worse. It’s the collector’s curse.
Two of these—DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and The Walking Dead—I haven’t returned to since I called a break, although I’m planning to return to TWD soon, again because its final season has been announced. Also because I’ve finished reading all of the Image Comics compendiums. I’m leaning towards not returning to The CW series: It just never gelled for me.
The last series on this list was, perhaps fittingly, The Blacklist. I was bummed when Mr. Kaplan died, and thought about self-cancelling the series then. After Tom Keen died in the following season, I stopped watching for a while. During the thirteen months my wife and I were self-quarantined, I was lured back to the series by Netflix. I began watching Season 6 as Season 8 was airing on network television.
I was drawn back into the series by the things that attracted me to it in the first place.
James Spader, as Raymond Reddington, is without a doubt the star of this show. He commands the viewer’s attention in every scene that he appears. He also makes me consider wearing a fedora. I enjoy how he manages to seem both heroic and villainous with equal facility. The air of mystery which surrounds him has grown only more complex over the seasons. This, along with the deaths of Kaplan and Keen, had been a factor in my hitting the pause button on the series for a couple of years.
I had trouble following the series-long mystery arc about Raymond Reddington and his connection to Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone). We had been surprised by various revelations over the years, and whenever I’d try to make sense of all of the various twists and turns in the Reddington backstory my head would begin to ache.
The other thing that drew me back to The Blacklist was that time and absence had increased my objectivity to the point I could successfully invoke Hodgson’s Law: It’s just a show; I should really just relax.
I’ve somehow managed to convince myself that the answer to the mystery box that is Reddington is not important. The episodic content of the series—the Blacklister-of-the-Week stories—is what I find to be the most entertaining. The overarching mystery is mostly just a Maguffin that exists to throw an occasional twist or turn into the story.
Maybe the backstory of Raymond Reddington will make sense after the final season of this series, when all the disparate clues are reassembled and explained in a clear, logical manner. Maybe not. This series already has a Season 9 on the way. It seems like they’ll keep making these episodes as long as James Spader keeps showing up on set. Meanwhile, I’m playing catch-up.
And mostly enjoying the series again, which was a pleasant surprise.
To briefly recap, at the conclusion of Season 5, the big reveal was that the real Raymond Reddington was dead, his remains in the mysterious suitcase. The new mystery box to be opened holds, in theory, the answer to this question: What is the true identity of the man we know as Raymond Reddington?
My answer? I don’t care. I refuse to allow myself to get sucked back into a labyrinthine puzzle that has no answers yet.
Nationalist assassin Bastien Moreau (Christopher Lambert) figures prominently in the first two episodes that kick off the season. Moreau is obsessed with keeping his true identity a secret. Of course, Reddington has ulterior motives for bringing Moreau—and his plastic surgeon—to the task force’s attention. He wanted to get his own file from the surgeon, further protecting his own identity, which is important to some people for some reason.
This first Blacklister case of the season results in Reddington’s arrest in New York City, after three decades on the run. Reddington was betrayed by Elizabeth Keen, but he’s not initially one-hundred-percent certain of this. Reddington spends half of the season in prison, while he is on trial for treason. Reddington remains a boss and a puppetmaster, even from behind bars. He is ultimately convicted and sentenced to be executed. I know this is a spoiler, but I won’t tell you what happens next.
Okay, Reddington is executed and the series ended suddenly ten episodes shy of the end of the season. Of course that didn’t happen. Watch the series.
Meanwhile, the FBI Task Force is threatened by another widespread conspiracy. This one involves the President of the United States, Robert Diaz (Benito Martinez) and his adviser Anna McMahon (Jennifer Ferrin). My pleasure at seeing an Hispanic president was tempered by the fact that he was corrupt, but it was great seeing Martinez on the screen again. I’ve been a fan of the actor since his days on The Shield.
This conspiracy, moreso than Keen’s obsession to uncover Reddington’s secrets, is what drives the plot of most of the season. While it was great watching James Spader take charge of a courtroom again (I miss Boston Legal), there was never any real suspense because some version of the ultimate outcome was easy to predict. The real seasonal plot doesn’t begin until this phase of Reddington’s character development is past us.
Along the way, there are several fascinating episodes. There’s a bio-scientist performing unauthorized human clinical trials that kill many of the subjects. Another mad scientist who infects people with lethally altered insects (creepy effects). A drug kingpin using women as mules by filling their stomachs with illegal drugs and making them look pregnant. A heist episode involving a hidden pirate treasure and a Reddington mentor who betrayed him. An anti-capitalist terrorist group kidnapping the children of the One-Percent.
In addition to the always-interesting episodic content, we get our share of character drama. There’s always the Reddington-Keen dynamic, of course (though, in many ways, Elizabeth Keen is one of the least-interesting characters on the show).
Meanwhile, Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq) investigates the identity of the person who betrayed Reddington (which is Elizabeth, of course). Dembe, Red’s loyal factotum, uncovers this truth, of course, but keeps Elizabeth’s secret while encouraging her to come clean to Reddington. Which she does, eventually. But, the relationship between Red and Dembe seems damaged by all of this. In some ways, this was the most emotionally-charged development in the series. There is a real love between Red and Dembe—heterosexual, I believe, but who really cares?
When these two characters were separated in the story, it caused real stress. Did I think Dembe would return to stand at Red’s side? Yes. But, I was wary after what happened with Mr. Kaplan.
I am aware that breaking up relationships is Drama 101. That’s why we suddenly find a wedge between Red and Liz, and between Red and Dembe. It’s also why Aram Mojtabati (Amir Arison) and Samar Navabi (Mozhan Marnò) had to be broken up.
They had become too happy as a couple, and happiness is the enemy of plot. Samar experienced medical issues following her near-drowning that made her a security threat to the Mossad. To prevent her own assassination, she had to go into hiding. Initially, Aram was leaving everything behind to join her, but she used Reddington to double-cross her lover and disappear alone. While this is a tragedy from Aram’s point-of-view, it is the perfect opportunity for further character development.
Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) and Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) are still on-hand as well, hitting their marks and acting their asses off, but both characters seem relegated to less meaty storylines. I often find all of the other members of the FBI Task Force more interesting than Elizabeth Keen. This includes the now missing Samar, by the way.
Not as interesting as Raymond Reddington, whose interest in Keen is the main thing that makes her character important at all.
The presidential conspiracy storyline eventually fizzles out to be about something unlikely and not really interesting. A failed punchline to a long joke. Elizabeth apparently learns Reddington’s true identity from her grandfather, Dom (the late Brian Dennehy). But, does she? Really?
All of this Reddington’s Big Secret stuff is the set-up to the season finale, a cliffhanger in which Red travels to Paris to warn Katarina Rostova (Laila Robins), Liz’s mother, about the KGB. Katarina drugs and abducts him. Exciting stuff.
I’m still unclear about everything going on with Red, Dom and Katarina, and why it’s something that Red has to go to such lengths to keep secret. It all seems contrived. As I’ve said, not my favorite part of the series. I still think the writing staff is making it all up as they go along.
But, I’m back in the game. I enjoyed this season and plan to continue watching the show, no matter how many times it tries to confuse and anger me.
Firewater’s You-Can-Spill-Your-Guts-or-Your-Brain-I’m-Good-Either-Way Report Card: A
Of course, it’s an A. Blacklist, I just can’t quit you. The next two seasons are already complete, and I’m on board ’til the end. After which, I’m sure I’ll bitch about the final reveal, Red’s “big secret,” whatever that turns out to be.