Explosions and hellfire open the second season of “The Blacklist,” which seems appropriate given how action-packed the plot has become. “The Blacklist” follows Raymond “Red” Reddington, the FBI’s most wanted man, who now works with Elizabeth Keen and a special FBI taskforce to fight against “blacklist” villains, criminals who are virtually invisible and highly dangerous.
For those looking for a new show to watch or fans on the fence about continuing into season two, “The Blacklist” has much to offer despite a too tightly-packed first episode. While the season premiere is over-crowded with new plot points, “The Blacklist” utilizes the qualities that made it the best new show on TV last year, and certainly offers a lot to look forward to.
The show immediately gives the viewer a taste of James Spader’s Golden Globe-nominated performance as Reddington. This focus is well-deserved, given that Spader’s performance is what elevated season one from mediocre to great. In one of the opening scenes of the episode, Red calmly negotiates with an African warlord while held at gunpoint. In typical Red fashion, he reveals he has had the upper hand the entire time by having his men target the militants with three hellfire missiles, which he swiftly uses to extort the African militant for critical information.
Within the opening minutes, the writers of “The Blacklist” remind viewers of what makes the show unique — its anti-hero, or villain (depending on your perspective), who is constantly a pleasure to watch at work. Spader’s performance is almost reminiscent of a villain like Hannibal Lecter in the sense that even when behind bars or at gunpoint, viewers still get the feeling the villain is in charge. But unlike a pure villain like Lecter, who exudes power and evil, Red is a much more human and scarily relatable character filled with mystery and complexities regularly revealed by the show.
The second season also continues building the mysterious conspiracy and intricate plot that surrounds Reddington and his fellow cast members. It develops the conflict between Red and his mysterious nemesis Berlin, whom viewers first meet when he emerges from an ice bath and swiftly almost drowns one of his own workers. After waiting for the entire first season for Berlin to be revealed, fans will not be disappointed by the viciousness of the former gulag prisoner. But Berlin adds another dimension to the show by finally being an adversary equal to Red. With Berlin able to beat Red at his own games, it makes Red seem all the more human and adds more drama to the show.
The series also expands on the “good” guys of the show, giving more depth to the somewhat stock characters of Agent Donald Ressler and FBI Assistant Director Cooper. Last season, Ressler and Cooper had relatively limited roles in terms of advancing the plot, but now the writers have actually given some new depth to their characters. Ressler is struggling with the trauma of last season and refuses psychological help, while Harold Cooper has a mysterious conversation with Reddington that I cannot spoil for viewers.
The only character that gets a surprisingly small amount of attention in the premiere is main character Elizabeth Keen, whose role remains constant. However, this is probably because the writers had to sow the seeds of too many new plot points over the 43-minute runtime.
While the premiere certainly squeezed a lot of new developments into a limited amount of time, it still maintained its police procedural aspect. Although not a great episode, the show continued its structure of having the FBI try to hunt down a secret “blacklist” criminal while working with Red. While this structure is quite traditional, it draws excitement from a host of villains that are not just ordinary crooks, but rather criminals that are capable of the impossible. Despite the show’s usual effectiveness at walking the line between improbable and absurd criminal actions, in this particular episode, the villain Lord Baltimore is a little too absurd, which takes away from what otherwise is an exciting season opener.
Even though the first episode of season two certainly was not “The Blacklist”s best, it sets the show up for continued success with expanded character development and the ever-intriguing mystery of the criminal underworld.