After a literally explosive fall finale of season two, “The Blacklist” returns to TV on February 1. Many fans will be impatiently waiting to see what mayhem the FBI’s most dangerous informant will stir up next. My personal wish for 2015 is to get through one episode without cringing over bad writing. Ratings for the show dipped slightly this year, so it appears other viewers are done rolling their eyes over weak plot elements.
FBI: Federal Bureau of Incompetence
“The Blacklist” has to show us how powerful, clever, and devious Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) is. He eluded capture for many years, and is usually one step ahead of the FBI on many cases. The problem with the series is the gap between the organization and Red is too large. The bureau makes so many mistakes in judgment, it’s surprising they have ever caught any criminals at all.
It is difficult to take agents seriously when they are four feet away from a suspect and announce loudly into their “secret” microphones they’ve found the bad guy. When the bomb squad runs into a building with full protective gear on, it’s ludicrous to see agents Keen (Megan Boone) and Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) going in first, with only their nice black suits to protect them.
If an important witness needs protection, the FBI will carefully station only two guards they don’t recognize outside the room. When Keen found a hidden door to a secret lair, she shouted “I’ve found it!” loudly to her partner. In “The Scimitar (No. 22),” the FBI must hide the identity of a nuclear scientist from a deadly assassin. Keen takes a phone from a hospital doctor she doesn’t know, and proceeds to give the person’s full name out over the “secure” line. Wouldn’t “the asset” or some other code word be the wiser choice?
Bad Acting Makes Bad Writing Worse
In season one of “The Blacklist,” there was a lot of talk about the horrible wig Boone was sporting in every episode. Her hair was such a focus because there was nothing else going on to distract us. The actress uses the same dead-eyed expression and monotone voice to denote fear, longing, or determination. The best writing can fall flat in the wrong hands, so the weaker elements of the series become severe liabilities when Boone is on the screen.
I thought we were free of the painful interactions between Keen and her fake husband Tom (Ryan Eggold). The marriage never felt like a genuine relationship in the first place. Both actors have fared better with loathing each other in season two, but are incapable of producing any hint of the hidden love the writers want them to feel. Instead of deeply moving emotions from scarred people, we get lifeless verbal battles and laughable decision-making by Keen.
James Spader Makes Everyone Look Bad
It’s no secret that Spader is the focal point of the show, and the writing reflects that. All the intelligence and sound judgment from the writers goes towards his character. He exists in this exquisite bubble, where he is the king of all crime and puppet master of everyone around him. There is a realness to his character and the way he commits acts of great love and great evil, sometimes simultaneously. Unlike many cartoonish fictional villains, Red’s chatter doesn’t distract him and lead to his enemy’s escape. He gets what he wants and then kills without hesitation or mercy.
For now, that fascinating Red bubble is what keeps fans tuning in to the show. The problem is how the good parts of “The Blacklist” conflict so sharply with the weaker parts. James Spader could recite the phone book and make it emotionally compelling, which makes the woeful performances of his costars look even worse. His example sometimes draws out better work from those around him, but they don’t always share scenes. Will the acting peons eventually drag the king down with them? Will the weak writing on the fringes destroy the solid core?