The Blacklist, NBC’s new drama starring James Spader as charismatic scenery chewer Raymond “Red” Reddington, has never made any bones about the fact that it’s a dark show with no snow-white characters and a penchant for shock value. But since its return from holiday hiatus, the show has taken a turn into even darker territory. In the first half of the season we saw Reddington kill murderers in cold blood and even suffocate an innocent terminally ill man on his way to manipulating the FBI in whatever manner suits him. But two episodes ago, the “big boss” of the FBI team that Reddington has been working with was revealed to have been some form of traitor, and so he simply killed her.
Not only did it mark the first time in the series in which one of the regular characters has been killed off, it was also a change in direction for the show itself. The Blacklist has from the start been centered around the question of whether Reddington was more redeemable anti-hero or irredeemable villain. He may or may not secretly be the father of Special Agent Elizabeth Keen, his family may or may not have been murdered, and his motivations for having gone from a trusted agent to a ruthless criminal decades ago have remained hazy. The mysteries have been very slowly shaded in, or sometimes just twisted around, even as he demonstrates that he’s able to outsmart every agent he works with while simultaneously outsmarting every fellow criminal he goes up against. But is he more Patrick Jane or Tony Soprano?
His killing of Fowler suggests the latter, even if he was merely saving the FBI the trouble of dispensing with its mole. But the twist wasn’t so much that he killed her, but rather that her barely developed character was simply dispensed with for shock value instead of being fleshed out. Why did she leak the info that led to criminals invading FBI offices just to get to him? Was she a pure traitor, or was she simply so desirous of getting Reddington out of the FBI’s hair that she was willing to do something awful in the name of making it happen? And just what was her connection with Alan Alda’s character, who has only been seen briefly but appears to be a higher-up within Congress?
Those answers may still come later. But for now The Blacklist appears to be more interested in targeting the kind of viewers who love being shocked by Fowler’s murder than the kind of viewers who love watching a mystery unfold. Throw in the fact that Keen’s husband is apparently cheating on her, and it makes one wonder whether the show isn’t set on assassinating the character of every one of its characters, if not outright assassinating them.
In the mean time, season-long mysteries such as the true relationship between Red and Keen, why Red is really taking down so many of his fellow criminals, whether Keen’s husband is a traitor, why Keen’s house was being surveilled, who Alan Alda’s character is, and why Keen’s boss Harold Cooper is so bulletproof despite being so consistently incompetent, all remain unanswered. But ratings for The Blacklist are so high as to suggest that the show may get a several-season run, allowing it to take its sweet time in offering answers to any of the above – that is, if there’s anyone left that Reddington hasn’t killed off by that time.
The next new episode of The Blacklist, titled The Judge (No. 57), airs tomorrow night on NBC.