In season full of mediocre (or worse) new shows, NBC's The Blacklist has been a nice surprise. When I saw the pilot, I thought it had no business being as rock-solid as it was, but I wrote off the show's long-term prospects because I didn't think James Spader was enough to carry the show on a weekly basis, and the ongoing story about Red and Elizabeth seemed pretty obvious. However, after catching up on the series this past weekend and watching Monday's "General Ludd," I realized that I was only partially correct. Spader is mostly up to the challenge as The Blacklist's centerpiece, and the ongoing story is pretty obvious, but the show has done quite a bit of legwork to keep ...view middle of the document...
The main characters work for the FBI, but the seemingly never-ending diversity of the criminals who populate the list allows the show to tackle different kinds of cases every week. One week, Elizabeth, Red, and the crew are dealing with master decrypters; the next, they're chasing a family man who turns people into chemical ooze.
3. ...especially the more recent weirder stuff
Interestingly, the show also seems willing to dabble in slightly odd pseudo-science territory, which gives the cases another tinge of speciality from week to week. "The Stewmaker," "Frederick Barnes," and "The Courier" introduced us to characters who weren't necessarily implausible as far as reality goes, but they certainly verged on the weird. The opening scenes of "Frederick Barnes" and even this week's "General Ludd" could've easily been Fringe teasers. That's kind of cool.
4. A solid platform for good character actors in guest spots
Finally, The Blacklist has done what every procedural-heavy show should do, especially in its early episodes: Hire good performers to show up, chew some scenery, and be weird as the weekly villain. It's such a simple idea, but I appreciate the way The Blacklist has embraced it thus far. Tom Noonan, House's Robert Sean Leonard, and Prison Break's Robert Knepper were all really strong in their work as the aforementioned "The Stewmaker," "Frederick Barnes," and "The Courier," respectively. These villains-of-the-week are often just big ideas that the actors then have to fill with personality and particular ticks, but in those cases, the character on the page matched the resulting performance quite well. Although the show might be pushing the weekly villains' families too much, that's something that often comes with the procedural framework. All told, the procedural stuff here isn't amazing by any means, but The Blacklist is at least trying to make its baddies interesting, and sometimes it succeeds for an entire hour.
5. Ongoing mysteries that aren't yet overwhelming the show
The question marks surrounding Elizabeth, with regard to both her real connection to Red and whether or not her husband is a deep-cover operative, have been fairly successfully integrated into the weekly proceedings. Neither concern ever totally disappears, and the show continues to provide little nuggets of pertinent info without them seeming like a lame tease. After the pilot, it seemed SO OBVIOUS that Red was Elizabeth's father, that Tom was a spy, and that those things were probably somehow related. But one thing I've enjoyed about the seven episodes we've seen since is that The Blacklist hasn't really shied away from those initial, very clearly telegraphed endpoints. When "Gina Zanetakos" a few weeks back fully interrogated Tom's allegiances and delved into what he did or did not know about the Keenes' trip to Boston, the show "proved" his innocence, only to almost immediately have Red suggest that the proof was bull. This week's episode gave us the first big...