Monday, September 30, 2013

REVIEW: 'The Blacklist' - 'The Freelancer' Stages a Train Crash & Sex Trafficking but Most Importantly Has More Pens to the Neck

NBC's The Blacklist - Episode 1.02 The Freelancer

Red predicts an impending catastrophe from an assassin, called "The Freelancer." With Liz, they go undercover to prevent his next target, Floriana Campo (Isabella Rossellini) from being killed. Elsewhere, Ressler and CIA agent, Meera Malik (Parminder Nagra) keep an eye on them from a distance; and Liz considers what she should do next concerning Tom and the mysterious box under the floorboards.

Two hours down and James Spader is still dominating The Blacklist. His presence and performance is electrifying and downright devious. He is the reason why to watch this show. But that is also a big problem for the show as a continuing series. It has been so dominated by Spader that the other stuff on the show barely registers. It's the typical case of the more villainous role being the more interesting, fascinating and entertaining thing to watch. The FBI and CIA characters are all bogged down by rules and structures. Red can move willingly and can organize the best hidden meetings. That gives the character a near superhuman edge. He can pull off whatever he sets out to do. He has outsmarted the FBI and CIA at every turn. While that's fun and exciting to watch now, very quickly it will prove to be tedious and annoying. How can Red always be right? How can he always maneuver himself to be at the better end of a deal? How can the FBI never wise up to his true actions? The easiest way to solve this is to make Red dead wrong about something that will have lasting complications for all of the major characters.

But these all are concerns I have for the series to come later on. I can't realistically ask for the show to offer up that right now in this moment. I could ask for Red to be a little less superhuman or for us to see how he is able to make all this crafty maneuvers. But I'm still largely satisfied by "The Freelancer" because of Spader's performance. The show is building trust. Trust in this world and trust in these characters and who they fundamentally are.

But I also enjoy Megan Boone very well too. I'm very less certain on her own serial plot though. The mystery surrounding her husband is the only thing that makes that character interesting. But Tom is still just an idea or a construct and not a real character. That will perhaps change now that he has been released from the hospital seemingly all cured up already from the injuries sustained in the pilot. Her discovery of the box underneath the floorboards pulled a lot of focus. It was the end of the pilot twist after all! But in order to sustain that mystery for a prolonged period of time, the show simply had her confused and frustrated by it with Red as the devil on her shoulder. She could turn him in or she could confront him. Both impossible choices to make. So instead, she does nothing! She puts the box back and gets new carpet to cover it up. She welcomes Tom home and pretends that everything is just as it was. I like how that's not easy for her. She can't sleep in the same bed with him. Her discovery of that video seems like the show building up Tom as a good man. So when, it's finally revealed that he's not is even more gut-wrenching.

And the case of the week was good evidence that the show knows what it does well. Of course, it is expositional but it also knows when to put its characters - mostly just Red and Liz - in a scene and have them talk about stuff. Red and Liz in the restaurant was a replay of the profiling scene from the pilot where Liz tries again to understand the psyche that is Raymond Reddington. She again can't quite solve who he is or his true motives. But in the end, he gives them just what they need - two criminals exposed by the use of some minor trickery.

I also like the show's brief nods to itself - in the moments like Red getting the clue in his hat, his most distinguishing costuming trait, or Red's line about Liz sticking pens in people's necks. That is pure evidence that the show's creative team has a good sense of how their show is coming across and reassuring the audience that it doesn't take itself too seriously. It can have fun and can have a sense of humor. The show will leap from good to great when it can build on those qualities while also creating some smaller character moments. Until then, Spader is giving a great performance and the show around him is slowly but surely changing as well - hopefully for the better.

Some more thoughts:
  • That train crash sequence was a great set piece. And the chase sequence as Ressler tries to catch the Freelancer was very shaky and claustrophobic. In a good way.
  • I also loved Jane Alexander and those sequences where the people in charge were trying to decide if they should enter into this deal with the devil for the sake of the larger good. Please, bring back Alexander frequently.
  • Why would Liz so easily let Red slip out in the Montreal restaurant?
  • Ilfenesh Hadera is still listed as a series regular and yet I still have no clue who that is.
  • Also, Parminder Nagra joined the cast as CIA Agent Meera Malik. She was capable of delivering the material but the character was pretty bland despite her torturing a guy!
  • But I'm still looking forward to seeing what Cooper and Ressler's lives are outside of work. Seeing that soon will make me connect with them better.
  • I'm also really loving this show's soundtrack. It's not just continuous, very-ominous and cliche music and sound cues - like a certain CBS time slot competitor. It's fun and a contrast to the stuff happening on the screen.