Ah Silent, a pleasure to meet you at last. I understand that you're a fan of my little escapades with Agent Keen. I recently had a rather thrilling adventure in the Bering Sea with her and would really like to know what you think. Now be nice... but also be honest. Your life may depend on it.
It is said that demons run when a good man goes to war. They also run when Raymond Reddington is in town.
For those of you not familiar with the show (which this two-parter allows for) let me give the general gist of it:
For over 20 years, one of the FBI's most wanted men is one former US naval officer by the name of Raymond "Red" Reddington (James Spader). Known as the "Concierge of Crime", he is a master criminal with a fine line in fedoras, snappy suits and dark humour. One day, for some unknown reason, he suddenly walks into FBI headquarters and surrenders himself. He then proposes the immunity deal to end all immunity deals: he will give them information on a 'blacklist' of criminals that they don't even know about and help bring them to justice. There's one condition: he will only talk to rookie profiler Elizabeth "Liz" Keen (Megan Boone), who he seems to have some mysterious connection with. A special task force is set up to work with Reddington, who as each of the Blacklisters rears their (in some cases seriously messed-up e.g. The Stewmaker) head in some form, assists them in stopping them; a move that more often than not results in said crook ending up dead. As Liz Keen heads into the darkness (and gains several levels in combat skills in the process), other questions emerge:
- Is Raymond her dad?
- What is going on with her husband?
- What's Raymond's real agenda?
- Whose idea was that, now mercifully consigned to whichever foetid hole it came from, wig?
In this two-parter, the first part of which aired after this year's Super Bowl, Reddington is suddenly captured in Hong Kong, which allows for a brief info-dump via news reports of this for those just tuning in after the Patriots won 28-24. He is then taken to a CIA black site in the Bering Sea known as The Factory, where detainees trained to resist torture are 'broken'. Now, Reddington doesn't do things for no reason - and the reason he's allowed this to happen is because the facility holds one Luther Braxton, a master thief who has crossed elegant swords with Red before... and is after something else the facility prevents. He breaks out of his cell and takes control of the facility, just before Liz and two of her colleagues arrive. Things are about to get very shooty-shooty.
It's entirely fair to say that this show wouldn't be anywhere as good as it is without James Spader, a man with three Emmy wins and three Golden Globe nominations (two of the latter for this show). He imbues Red with a considerable charm - and also a considerable ruthlessness; in one case in this episode, he casually shoots a guy dead without compunction because of his cartel's actions against him. And that's not even the most dark thing he does, oh no. Do not hold him up unnecessarily - he does not like that at all.
Liz Keen is, if we're being honest here, your fairly standard Action Girl (she's kicked more backside than she's done profiling by a long chalk) with a Mysterious Past. She's not a bad lead (Boone is very much a Marmite actor among the fandom - I'm on the 'like' side) and serves as audience surrogate well here. In the second half, Boone gets a chance to show off her range a bit more via some water-boarding and hypnotherapy to attempt to recover some massive key piece of information that is possibly buried in her subconscious. This type to Bad Convulsive Fits results in some more answers about said Mysterious Past (but also far more questions) and some general trippy stuff. Must say that Keen rocks the black leather jacket well too.
The FBI Task Force of course consists of other people, most notably fellow Fed Donald Ressler and Mossad operative Samir Navabi, who with the departure of Ziva David from NCIS, along with the cancellation of Covert Affairs, takes the title of "Best Current Israeli Character on US Television" quite easily. Ressler's job is general suspect intimidation, but we get a rather jarring moment when he reveals knowledge of dipole antennae. Samir spends much of the first episode literally hanging around and doesn't do much of note in the second.
Luther Braxton is played by Ron Perlman, best known for his role in Sons of Anarchy, which I've never actually seen. He does a decent enough job as the titular villain in this two parter, but as Blacklist members go, there have been considerably better. I wouldn't want a return for him anyway.
We do get some good support - the members of an international sinister group do well, but best guest performance goes to Janel Maloney (aka Donna Moss from The West Wing) as a rather callous government official willing to let people die in the name of plausible deniability; not to mention kill a few as well.
The action is largely confined to the first half of the two-parter and if we're being honest, is by far the best thing of a rather dull episode. Reddington is very much a silenced pistol kind of bloke and Liz spends most of episode two tied to something, so we don't get much action out of those two.
One final note - obvious CGI in the cliffhanger. Seriously, with few exceptions, model making for television is a lost art...
A rather dull opener is made up for by a well played second half that moves along the overall arc nicely. Hopefully the rest of the run is a bit better, but this is still a good show - it has been renewed for a third season and the Syndication Gods Rule (every US network TV show at 66 or more episodes at close of its third season has gotten a fourth) means we'll be seeing a good deal more.