I’ve just watched the pilot of the NBC series “The Blacklist” starring the incomparable James Spader (love that guy). I called it “The Agony and the Ecstasy”. The plot and star are riveting. The application not so much. Okay. Here’s the deal.
It opens with a well-dressed guy stopping beside a bench where he sets down a briefcase. On the bench sits another man, dressed in a hat, overcoat, and sunglasses. After an exchange of words on the order of “It must be good to be home”, the seated man picks up the briefcase and walks away. Spy vs. Spy 101.
They might as well have entered Boris and Natasha. I suppose the heavy-handed opening was to hit their audience between the eyeballs so we wouldn’t miss the fact that this was a clandestine arrangement. Like, “let’s do this as a transparently obvious cliche for the great unwashed”. Huh? Hey. Don’t forget, guys. We read John le Carre, too. And I shower as often as you do.
What was so agonizing about this pilot was that I couldn’t get settled in. Just as Spader began to absorb me into his great character, the FBI’s Most Wanted Ex-Agent “Red” Reddington, something totally inane would crop up and I’d be dropped from the loop in exasperation. Okay. Heads up. Spoiler alert, here.
It’s the first day of work for FBI Profiler Special Agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone). Her alarm doesn’t go off and she’s late. Husband and wife do a marathon rush job getting dressed, grabbing toast and coffee on the run, tossing keys for the final sprint, then stand on the stoop for ten minutes discussing upcoming familial interests. Now the former marathon makes no sense whatsoever.
They tried to pull us into their little family dynamic by the stoop talk as she kept repeating, “I’m late”. Well, of course you are, doll. I know getting across the family thing was important, but not after you’ve just done a Speedy Gonzales to make it to work not-quite-so-late on a FIRST day with the FBI. You’re not working for McDonalds, kiddo.
Reddington has given himself up to the FBI because there is a “blacklist” of very dangerous people he has been cultivating for 20 years in order to get them on the agency’s radar. He reveals a plot to kidnap a general’s daughter by a terrorist whom the FBI has marked as deceased. Reddington gives no details, just that the terrorists will try to snatch the child that day. Okay. So Liz and other top agents pick the child up and are transporting her in a cavalcade of black SUVs when they are turned around on a bridge over a river by a roadblock. There is a chemical spill ahead.
Okay, guys. Give me a break here. Wouldn’t the FBI check out the route beforehand? Wouldn’t that raise the hackles on the backs of their highly-trained government necks? It did mine, and I don’t “belong” to the government any more or less than anyone else in America does. Maybe I’ve just read more spy novels than the makers of this TV series. But, in my book, they made the agents STEW-PID. I want my good guys to be every bit as smart as the bad guys. Otherwise you have a lame plot.
Also, when the shooting starts, the bad guys walk around to the back of their van, which is full of gasoline cans, like they are on a Sunday stroll. No worries. They trust their gunmen to be able to shoot straight. The FBI agents are either held down by the gunmen’s bursts, or they’re taking a coffee break. They don’t appear in the gunfight near enough, and then only one guy and Liz actually hit anyone.
When the gasoline is lit, Liz is still in the overturned SUV and the fire is headed her way. The male agent sprints away from the blast and dives over the bridge rail into the river. Special Agent Liz crawls out of the vehicle and strolls to the rail, looking down at the wet agent. Not a hair on her auburn head is singed or even out of place. Maybe it wasn’t in the budget for their female star to get her hair wet and have to hire a stylist. Who knows.
Okay. I’m not going to rant about this all day, but just let me say this. I liked Megan Boone in the character of Elizabeth Keen, but some of the dialog they had her doing was inane to the point of nausea. Spoiler alert, again. When her husband was bound to a chair and bleeding profusely, and the bad guy kept stabbing him as she watched, all she could say was, “It’ll be all right. It’ll be all right”.
I hate these hackneyed lines. Everybody does them. Lines like, “I won’t let anything happen to you.” How can any finite human being make that claim? There are many realistic things to say that can be comforting. She could have said, “I won’t leave you. I’ll do everything I can for you (but this jerk is holding a gun on me). You see what I’m sayin’?
Anyway, I loved/hated the show. I hope the writers/producers get their act together in the following ones. DON’T MAKE THE FBI AGENTS SO STUPID, OKAY?
The Blacklist is an ongoing NBC hit series I’d never heard of. It was such a hit that Netflix bought the rights to it (for mucho dinero) and that’s how I’m watching it now. I’m giving it a go, that’s all I can say. Love James Spader.