The Blacklist: Are You Happy with Show’s Direction?

Lately I’ve been somewhat dissatisfied by the new and different direction of  The Blacklist. When the show premiered, I think we all saw James Spader’s Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington as an arch-criminal with a decently sized good streak within him.

We liked him immediately because he was smart, clever, and he had a sense of humor. Besides that he was always steps ahead of the FBI. It’s not that we were rooting against the FBI, but wasn’t it pleasant that Red was right far more often than they were. We also liked him because he cared deeply about the new FBI field agent, Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone).

Then there was the over-arching mystery of why Red Reddington turned himself in, and why he was willing to work with only Elizabeth Keen. Of course, Keen’s boss – Harold Cooper, played by Harry Lennix – had doubts about Reddington. The ‘doubting boss’ is a standard character in police/cop/spy stories , so it seems natural to dislike him. Keen’s agent partner, Donald Ressler, didn’t seem too ‘keen’ about Lizzie either. So with those lines of division clearly visible, it was easy to root for Keen and Red.

Red was to help the FBI capture some of serious criminals. Often these criminals were truly bad guys, or said another way – so good at what they did – that the FBI wasn’t always aware of them, hence the Blacklist was Red’s list rather than a list of the most wanted.

The list of criminals that they would seek to capture, kill, or bring down, begins with terrorists, sex-traffickers, a Chinese killer who targets CIA agents, an assassin called the stewmaker who not only kills but makes the bodies disappear, a corporate terrorist, a bomb-maker, and a few others. All deadly in their own way. All capable of doing society great harm. The 2nd episode involving Anslo Garrick, a bad guy for hire who abducted Red, aired on December 2nd, and was the last episode until the show resumed on January 13th, 2014.

Now in 2014, Red is much more violent. He kills often and with alarming regularity. Red is after those responsible for his abduction. He’s also intent in finding the mole within the FBI who, no doubt, had a role in Red’s abduction.

Meanwhile, the The Blacklist villains of the week have become less interesting because they gone from threats to peace and well-being, to just being very, very creepy. The Good Samaritan was a guy who repaid child-abusers in kind. The Alchemist was a creepy scientist so skilled in the arts of genetic manipulation that he was hired to make it appear that certain people had died, when in fact, the dead people were genetic doubles created through science.

The most recent episode was called The Cyprus Agency, and it aired this past Monday. On its surface, this agency was where couples seeking to adopt children could request a specified race and ethnicity, along with certain genetic and hereditary traits.

While the prospective parents may have viewed the Cyprus Agency as a kind of baby boutique, the reality was far more sinister and gross especially when you factor in that the mothers of these babies were stolen from their own lives, the pregnancies were conceived via insemination after these women were put into chemically induced comas, and all of that compounded by the fact that these babies were all fathered by one man.

Unfortunately, neither the one man baby making machine, nor the conception via insemination while in a comatose state, are new ideas. On Law & Order, in the Episode called Seed, which originally aired on February 15, 1995 – the head of a fertility clinic used his own sperm again and again. On Law & Order SVU, in the episode called Waste, which aired on November 15th, 2002. comatose females were impregnated.

As far as a single sperm donor being the father multiple times – we can look no further back than April 20th, 2012 when the Bollywood film called Vicky Donor hit the screens. This was copied by Hollywood with the very recent Vince Vaughn vehicle called The Delivery Man which opened just a few months ago on November 22, 2013.

Okay, the recycling of ideas used previously in either TV or the movies is not a terrible thing. But it is worth mentioning, that the writers of The Blacklist went in that direction.

Naturally it all links back to Red Reddington who handed the Cyprus Agency case off to Lizzie Keen just as she was nearing heading into an adoption herself. This makes me think that Reddington wants to totally engineer what happens to Lizzie Keen. Speaking of which, no one should have been surprised when Keen told Tom that she could not go through with the adoption.

Nor were we surprised, when Tom, immediately reached out to that new woman in his life.

One last fact about why the Blacklist is slipping. Wasn’t the whole business about the mole in the FBI just introduced In The Good Samaritan episode which aired just a few weeks ago. And now it is all wrapped up and over? My question is what was the point?

I think 23 episodes is too long of a season for this type of show. The unique villains are becoming less interesting and more creepy. I also believe that escalating the hands-on violence by Reddington has made him less likable. Finally, can the show sustain viewers interest with the Lizzie and Tom situation for another 10 weeks. I think this is the show’s weakest story line.

What do you think? Is The Blacklist slipping? Got a story line you’d jettison?

Is a 22/23 episode season too long for a show of this type. Homeland has done 3 seasons of 12 weeks each, and The Newsroom did just fine with two 10 week seasons. Any thoughts on that?

And lastly, do you prefer the hands-on Reddington of the last three episodes, or the more cerebral Reddington that was the one we saw in the first 10 episodes?

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5 thoughts on “The Blacklist: Are You Happy with Show’s Direction?

  1. I do agree that the broadcast network tradition of airing 22 episodes per season is gone with the wind. Ever since the producers of ABC’s pioneering Lost series announced in May 2007 that in order to maintain quality the show would end after three more 16 episode seasons and be off the air for six-month long hiatus periods to allow the writers sufficient time for story development, many people involved in creating television content have fought to limit the overall length of a series as well as the number of episodes per season.

    More recently, with the rise of premium cable and streaming programming, we now increasingly watch series with fewer thirteen episodes. This seismic shift is being driven by new technology and viewer preferences. Instead of delivering a consistent weekly audience to advertisers, shows now pop up at different times of the year, and are watched on demand, on multiple types of devices, whenever people have leisure time (similar to how people play recorded music). Today, the number of episodes is being driven more by the creative process and the quest for higher quality than by network’s need to fill their programming schedule.

    In my opinion airing fewer episodes per year will improve all dramatic series including The Blacklist. On television, haste inevitably makes waste. With so many entertainment options available, there inevitably comes a point when viewers get fed up with filler episodes and move on to something novel, regardless of how strong the pilot and season finale episodes may be.

    I agree that The Blacklist is now slipping into a rut. The weekly villains and episodic storylines are becoming too repetitive (and too incredible) to hold our interest. Red’s frequent violence is as unwelcome as the screw turning torture methods devised by the show’s cavalcade of dastardly villains. But, the show does have strong bones. Unlike you, I think one of the best elements is the escalating suspense regarding Keen’s spouse. Is he friend or foe? Lizzy still doesn’t know. And even though we know Red’s motive for helping Keen, she doesn’t have a clue. I’m still interested in these two subplots. If The Blacklist focused more on these two storylines, I’d be less inclined to remove it from my list of “must watch” shows.

    Unfortunately, The Blacklist is too long. Until the networks accept the idea that fewer episodes of better shows can produce more viewers overall, the mid-season doldrums will take the wind out of their flagship shows.

    • I should have made my position on Tom/Lizzie clearer. This is a mystery/thriller show and should not be about couples therapy –
      In my view – their relationship is not so interesting because it is so formulaic.

      Lizzie finds the money/passports/gun under the floor, so she suspects him. But that goes away.
      Lizzie believes Tom went to Boston to kill someone. It goes away.
      Tom says he’s going to Lincoln, Nebraska about a job. Then he doesn’t.
      Tom develops an interest in another woman – not because Lizzie isn’t everything someone would want in a spouse.
      But the thing of it is – she has this job which keeps her away.
      They plan to adopt – then those plans change.

      What we are getting are simply on again/off again moments. That have been repeated again and again.
      I guess, I’m just tired of it. You say ‘is he friend or foe. Lizzy still doesn’t know.’

      A different question might be – why is she still with him.

      • Thank you for the Tom/Lizzie posts. I find their relationship annoying. First it is unrealistic that on your first day of your new FBI job you would also schedule and adoption appointment. ARGJ! I find that idiotic writing. Also the couple appear stupid because they did not see, to properly plan for their adoption. You don’t take a new job with the FBI the same time you adopt. Well maybe you do, but I have a feeling that real life adults handle it much better. Plus either they need to stay together or split, ’nuff said.

        And yes, why is she still with him, much less tolerating Red manipulating her.

        Thanks for writing and giving me a place to rant.

      • Thanks for joining in the discussion.

        While the points you make about Lizzie/Tom and her job are correct, and you do ask why is she still with him,
        I don’t agree about how she puts up with Red manipulating her. Seems to me that she hasn’t much choice, as Red comes and goes as he sees fit.
        In the most recent episode, Red was absent most of the time. He drops in to bring to Liz the Cyprus Agency, then he reappears to shoot Diane
        played by Jane Alexander.

        Lizzie really doesn’t have a choice. On the other hand she should realize that Red will always return – and that she can at least try to gain a better
        foothold in an attempt to not be led around by Red. Of course that would be a different show, as it is Red that is the central character not Lizzie.

  2. Forgive me. I’m still seeing an 800 lb. gorilla on The Blacklist. If Tom is innocent, then someone planted the money and passports under the floor. Was it Red? Why? If not Red, who else might be interested in framing Tom? And what’s their motive? If Tom is an FBI foe, what’s his purpose? Foreign or domestic? Lizzie seems too low level to plant Tom in her life for some counterespionage purpose.

    But, there’s another layer to the Keen marriage. Why does Red insist that Lizzie needs to investigate Tom? If Red cares for her, why is he intent on breaking up her marriage? And why was it so important to keep Lizzie’s father silent? What does Red know that Lizzie (and we viewers) haven’t figured out?

    Perhaps, I’m being taken in by bad writers who simply twist and turn this series for no reason other than to keep us off balance. I agree Lizzie seems naïve and indecisive, but I’m not sure about Tom. If he is a mole, his behavior makes more sense than if he’s just an errant husband.

    Compared to the father-daughter-husband triangle at the center of this series, the comically evil characters who generate the mayhem each week are just window dressing. In the same way the backstory of The Fugitive revolved around the one-armed man, The Blacklist isn’t about the Alchemist, the Courier the Stewmaker or Red Reddington. Reddington’s not a developing character. Reddington is a supporting character. Who gets the most airtime? Not Red. Lizzie is the central character and the show is about her family secrets. And since I haven’t figured those out yet, I can’t call Lizzie (or the writers) stupid.

    I’m staying on The Blacklist until I uncover more answers.

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