The Blacklist was one of the breakout television hits when it premiered in September 2013. Excitement levels were high for season two due to the number of questions that were left unanswered by the two-part finale that aired earlier this year. Season one revolved around master criminal Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington, played by the excellent James Spader, who turns himself into the FBI and promises to help them find people off their most wanted list in return for his freedom. However, for an unspecified reason, he will only speak with agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone). As well as a particular member of ‘the blacklist’ being the focus of each episode, a mysterious figure known only as ‘Berlin’ became a threat to Red and Keen as the season came to a close. Surprisingly, and somewhat frustratingly, there was very little in terms of a resolution and the threat posed by ‘Berlin’ has carried over to the second season creating a muddled first episode.
Episode one’s opening showcased part of why the first season was so appealing as ‘Red’ is lying in the back of a truck, bleeding from his forehead, somewhere in Africa, whilst a fire-fight breaks out above him. He then manages to blackmail himself out of being held captive by an African gang by offering them three million dollars in cash, only for hellfire missiles to interrupt, leaving Spader to walk away looking as cool and calm as usual. The opening credits roll and ‘Red’ is back in Washington D.C and is introducing ‘Lord Baltimore’ to Keen without any suggestion that he was recently close to death and the typical structure of episodes in the first season is continued. The opening highlighted how excellent the character Raymond Reddington is and how perfectly he is played by James Spader; The Blacklist would not be the same without him.
‘Lord Baltimore’, this weeks Blacklister, is played by Krysten Ritter (Don’t Trust the B—- in Appartment 23). Her character, a woman diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, is an information broker who has hired a hitman to kill Reddington. However, she is taken in for questioning early in the episode and although Ritter plays the two sides of her characters identity excellently, Lord Baltimore is never a substantial threat. Instead of revealing how she intends to harm Spader’s character, her screen-time is limited to interrogations at the FBI base. Instead, time is spent detailing how Lizzie, Cooper and Ressler are tying to overcome the traumatic events of the previous season and this is where the episode’s problems lie.
Lizzie has clearly not overcome her ordeal with her fraudulent husband Tom (Ryan Eggold) and she is jumping between hotels due to her fear of being followed. Meanwhile, Cooper (Harry Lennix) is recovering from his injuries at home, considering whether or not to return to the task-force and Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff, Homeland) is refusing to see a psychologist after the death of his wife. These are all potentially interesting and important sub-plots but its a shame that so much of this episode is focused on them, limiting the amount of time that can be spent on The Blacklist’s main story arc.
Also, Berlin has now become more of a threat to Red as he kidnaps his ex-wife (Mary-Louise Parker). We begin to learn some more about Red’s past and more will surely be revealed as Parker becomes a season regular but, unlike in season one’s finale, there are no more hints at his motives for becoming involved with Keen and the FBI. It is also disappointing that Mary-Louise Parker and Peter Stormare (Berlin) are relatively under-used in the episode, only to be seen in short, typically entertaining and well-produced, action scenes. Berlin was introduced over the course of two episodes at the end of the last season so that the character could be adequately developed and it is clear that the writers have struggled to successfully fit everything they wanted into the beginning of this new season.
In short, this is a disappointing return for The Blacklist as the amount of plot progression the writers have attempted to squeeze into one hour has created a disjointed and cluttered first episode. Lets hope it improves over the coming weeks.
6/10- The Blacklist can be seen on Sky Living, every Friday at 9:00pm.