Spader Keeps You Guessing on ‘The Blacklist’

James Spader is back on television with NBC’s new drama, “The Blacklist.” He plays international criminal Raymond “Red” Reddington, one the FBI’s most wanted men. He piques your interest immediately as he walks straight into the FBI building and turns himself in after being on the run for 20 years. Later, he is shown in cuffs at a secure site, where Agent Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) has him injected with a tracer and interviewed about his motives. Red wants to help the FBI take down terrorist Ranko Zamani (Jamie Jackson). Cooper says Zamani is dead, but Red asks why Zamani is en route to Dulles, easily confirmed by airport surveillance footage. We find that Red has a penchant for deals and says he will only help if he can talk to Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone).

Across town, Keen is running late for her new job as an FBI special agent. She is eager about her first day, as well as an appointment at an adoption agency with her husband, Tom. However, the good mood is interrupted by the arrival of the FBI agents, who interview her and then take her to meet Red. Everyone wonders why Red would want Keen, as she’s never met him before. Her only answer is, “Because I’m new and he thinks I can be easily manipulated.”

The encounters between Red and Agent Keen are quite riveting. Red plays it cool, brimming with self-assurance that is accented by his amused laughter and grins. Red knows quite a lot about Keen and says she is “special.” Certainly Keen has overcome hardship (her father’s criminal history) but is that the only reason Red is obsessed with her? It’s clear that Red gets under Keen’s skin from her verbal and physical outbursts of frustration toward him during the Zamani case.

Zamani is out to kidnap a U.S. general’s daughter, which Keen and her colleagues fail to prevent during an explosive confrontation. With Zamani still loose, Red makes another deal and moves to a posh hotel with the FBI surveillance team in tow. Seeing Reddington indulge in fine wine and Rat Pack era music may remind you of Hannibal Lecter, but only at face value at best. His information helps the FBI track down Zamani’s chemist, but it takes collaboration between Keen and Red to find Zamani and save the little girl.

Plot twists run throughout the whole episode to keep you guessing. Red slips between interacting with the FBI and figures in the criminal world with ease. He plays by his own rules, but he still refers to himself and Keen as “a team,” a label she seems eager to avoid.

By the end of the pilot, Red reveals to Agent Cooper that he has a “Blacklist,” consisting of “the criminals who matter. The ones you can’t find because you don’t even know they exist.” As part of the deal, he only wants to work with Agent Keen. That leaves two major questions as the show continues: Who is on Reddington’s list? And why is Red so interested in Keen?

With yesterday’s premiere episode, “The Blacklist” is easily on its way to ranking as one of the best new shows of the season.

“The Blacklist” airs Monday evenings on NBC at 10|9c.

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