I had this teacher in high school who taught a Government and Economics class and he had this way of taking what was tedious and unexciting to a teenager (i.e. a Government and Economics class) and making it a little more interesting. He was lively, opinionated and intelligent–excited to teach a bunch of unappreciative kids a bunch of things they thought wouldn’t matter.
Some days were more interesting than others–some could get downright dull–but one of things I remember most about him, one of things I remember most about his class, was his inkling for the darker parts of our society and way of life.
We’d be cranking through a lesson about the Civil War or Civil Rights or a war off in another country that we had no apparent stake in and everything would screech to a halt when certain subjects came up: the Lincoln assassination, the JFK assassination, Watergate, international, political uprisings and conflicts, etc., often times leading to someone leaning up, raising their hand, and speaking a thought about whether or not there was more going on.
Most of the time the teacher and everyone else would talk in circles. The political ignorance of a 17 year old kid would rear up, someone else would get angry, and no one–at least student wise–made any sort of sense in regard to the issues presented.
Regardless, those were the best class days.
There’s a natural inclination we have toward the secret parts of our society, the things we know are there, lurking in the shadows or hiding in plain sight, and knowing more about them. Or settling for knowing just anything at all.
That’s what makes The Blacklist interesting.
For the uninitiated, The Blacklist revolves around a character named Raymond Reddington, a man who is–and has been for 20 or so years at the start of the show–firmly placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitives list. Inexplicably, he turns himself in, after all of that time, for two central reasons (at least that we’re given): to work with the Bureau, unofficially, to hunt down the most dangerous criminals in the world, and to speak, and work closely with, an agent named Elizabeth Keen.
The show’s set up is interesting in and of itself, but it’s the criminals and the dark underbelly that it all exists in that really makes it shine.
Not every crime drama has the pedigree of Law and Order or CSI, so many of them have a “thing” to set them apart. Richard Castle is an author, Shawn Spencer’s a “psychic,” but when the clever variances are stripped away, all the way down to the bare good and bad, the crimes and those that stop them, it all becomes relatively normal; and that isn’t a bad thing.
There’s something to be said for the normality of the formula. Sometimes the scariest things, the scariest people, are the people hiding in plain sight, committing crimes, leading lives, that are completely and totally hidden, and are appearing 100% normal. Most crime shows play off of that base and build up from there, but what The Blacklist does is take that dark side and unravel it, through the criminals themselves and the various side story arcs that branch off from them, to create what is a considerably different tone and environment.
One man dissolves his victims, leaving no trace of their ever having died. One man transforms people into others by altering their DNA. There’re families masquerading as investors and businessmen who moonlight as auctioneers for kidnap victims and cults whose facilities double as storage sites for military-grade weaponry. The criminals aren’t normal–and that’s kind of the point. They are the far-flung parts of our society, the twisted things that no one will see–and by taking these people and their arcs, as well as the other arcs presented, The Blacklist manages to create a story that is thrilling and resonant and genuinely thought provoking too. James Spader as Reddington is absolutely brilliant and Elizabeth Keen is a great lead too. The cast in general, at least the main ones anyway, take charge of their roles beautifully and rarely are there points where the screen isn’t being commanded by someone who deserves to be on it.
Now for the weaker points: The cast, aside from the top billed and cover folk, can feel a little flat. While Elizabeth’s relationships and dramatic happenings feel fairly fleshed out and important, some of the other members of the task force she’s a part of don’t get the same treatment. Yes, this is her story and Reddington has a supposed part in it, but it would be nice to see some of the more minor characters get some additional screen time too to fill out a bit more of their lives. Speaking of–The Blacklist, as we’ve covered, is host to a number of very interesting, well thought out villains who take control of what’s going on and make the conflicts their own, but there are some that don’t do as much–that just feel like filler.
It’s sad to see in the instances it occurs because you know that sandwiched on either side of the episode is another madman who ramp the intensity and the emotion back up again, but it doesn’t detract too much from the show as a whole–just those episodes in particular.
The Blacklist is a crime thriller that is both unlike anything I’ve seen before and so much like what’s coming on today. It fits so well into the age we’re in where the darker, more threatening, large-scale, at home catastrophes are a fear wedged to the forefront of our minds, but it does this and displays this through interesting means that other shows don’t necessarily use. The characters, when utilized well, are fascinating and magnetic. The arcs they inhabit seem well fleshed out. And though it can get a little flat at times and the character’s motivations, a little unbelievable, the show, in what it does well, does really well and is a must-see for any fan of the genre.