Pop Rocks: James Spader's "Red" Makes The Blacklist Worth Watching
The concept is ridiculous. The world's greatest criminal mastermind, a man wanted by every government agency in the United States, gives himself up in order to work with a rookie FBI profiler in capturing some of the most heinous and deviant criminals on earth, many of whom no one even knows exist. His motivation is a mystery, but clearly has something to do with his obscured relationship with the FBI newbie.
James Spader as Raymond "Red" Reddington in NBC's The Blacklist.
In many ways, NBC's The Blacklist is a mess. It is overly complicated, difficult to follow and completely unbelievable -- and not in an "aliens live among us" way, but rather an insane web of conspiracy theories so implausible they collapse in on each other practically every week.
Then there is the idea that the FBI would let a known terrorist run loose, even access their computers and give orders to a cardboard cutout of a division commander simply because he promises them bigger fish in the frying pan.
Like I said, ridiculous, yet I keep watching and the reason is simple: James Spader.
Spader plays Raymond "Red" Reddington, the aforementioned semi-fugitive who is as sharp-tongued as he is brutal, part killer, part dandy. He's quick with a laugh and filled with stories about crazy former acrobatic lovers or wild parties in a parts of the world we know nothing about, but wish we did. He's the most interesting criminal in the world and Spader is perfect.
While much of the rest of the cast -- including the regularly weepy, doe-eyed Megan Boone as the agent (Elizabeth Keen) Red is working with, protecting and keeping in the dark simultaneously -- runs the gamut from stereotypical to downright boring, Spader's Reddington is something different. He's not just a terrorist with a heart, but an impossibly layered personality viewers are just beginning to unravel.
It would be nice to credit the story arc as the reason why I keep coming back to the show each week if it weren't so bizarre and often nonsensical. Much like any good serial drama, it carries an overriding plot line throughout while keeping the stand alone episodes interesting for the casual one-off viewer. (In the series X Files, the episodes not dedicated to the often tiring pursuit of aliens were referred to as "creature features," which, considering the atrocities perpetrated by many on The Blacklist, is an apt moniker here as well.) But, the reason it is ultimately successful is because Spader is so damn compelling. When he is on the screen, it is 100 times more interesting than when he is absent.