WARNING SPOILER ALERT:
This will now be my tenth attempt at writing this column, which has changed in tone and format throughout this past week. This writer became hooked on the NBC veteran series “The Blacklist,” the moment James Spader, doffed his fedora and dropped to his knees in the Hoover Building in September, 2013. Beginning in September, 2014, we have faithfully recapped the last four seasons of the series.
Returning readers to these pages are well aware that we are not afraid to share both bold opinion, as well as speculation. There have been times when these pages expressed disagreement with series creator Jon Bokenkamp, and his staff of writers. Despite those disagreements, this viewer kept faith that the writing staff knew exactly where they wanted to take this epic tale. After watching the two-hour-premiere of Season Six, this viewer now doubts that premise.
It’s been almost nineteen-months, since Tom Keen picked up a battered old suitcase containing a skeleton, per the last request of Kate Kaplan. The contents of that valise would lead to the demise of two beloved characters, and stood the show on its ear in the process. The man who said “criminals are notorious liars,” shortly after meeting FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen, turned out to be living an existence built upon a foundation of falsehoods. Although the man we know as Raymond Reddington IS the “Concierge Of Crime,” he’s not the former United States Naval Officer, who decades before had a torrid affair with Katarina Rostova.
After surviving a near-apocalyptic battle against his former “better-half,” in the series fourth season, season five started out on a lighter note. Nearly penniless, Raymond was reduced to living in the seedy Terra Vista Motor Lodge, wearing borrowed clothes. Rather than being crushed by the loss of his empire and many long time associates, the situation seemed to energize Reddington. He knew that it was just a matter of time before he’d be back amongst the criminal elite, as they had left him with his greatest asset. He still possessed the mind of a chess player, who had deduced the next ten moves he’d make on the board.
Despite the lighter tone throughout the first episode of season five, our evening concluded with what proved to be a flash-forward, giving us a brief glimpse of a horrific event that took place later in the season. After a surprisingly brief period, Raymond’s financial coffers filled quickly and the comedic tone of the first few episodes receded into the background.
When the series went into it’s Fall hiatus, the show-runners’ ended the romance of the star-crossed-lovers Tom and Elizabeth Keen, killing off Tom, for getting too close to the truth. We also met the “BIG BAD” of the season, Ian Garvey, a corrupt Federal Marshall who had personal reasons for going after Reddington. Garvey took possession of the bones, after he and his goons invaded the Keen’s home, and then beat up the couple so severely that Tom died and Lizzie lapsed into an eight-month coma.
We fast forward to May, 2018. We’re introduced to a woman claiming to be Jennifer Reddington, Red’s long lost daughter, living under an assumed name thanks to the witness protection program, and the aid of Garvey. A showdown takes place in a Baltimore bar, concluding with Garvey shooting Reddington, and Keen killing Garvey. However the location of the knapsack containing the bones remained a mystery.
Season five concluded with Raymond and Elizabeth receiving what they wanted. Reddington reclaimed possession of the skeleton, and then burned the remains with Dembe, and Dom, by his side. However Elizabeth attained the knowledge she’d been seeking for months, the secret that Red refused to share with her. The man that Garvey sent the bones to Sutton Ross, revealed to Keen, and her half-sister Jennifer, that the bones were the last remains of their biological father, the actual Raymond Reddington. Sutton would not live long enough to share that information with the authorities, as Reddington snuffed out his life, while Sutton was being arrested.
Renewing “The Blacklist,” became an eleventh-hour decision for NBC, and it came with a caveat. Although season six would run a complete 22-episode schedule, the network wouldn’t air the episodes until January, 2019. So began the interminable wait, replete with rabid fan speculation, including a faction that refused to believe that James Spader’s character wasn’t a man who had taken on a new identity decades earlier.
Reading that the series would kick-off the season with a two-hour premiere, I hoped that the fan’s patience would be rewarded by transporting us back to the 20th Century, revealing the true story. Although we’ve seen that era through the perspective of four-year-old Masha Rostova, as well as Kathryn Nemec, that gave us only glimpses colored by perception. The origin story of the man we’ve come to know as Raymond Reddington, would have made for a powerful premiere, and set the tone for the season.
Instead of providing answers Bokenkamp and company, decided to venture down a new path. In the midst of a rather convoluted mish-mash, that had it’s share of highlights, every thing suddenly ground to a halt. While stopping to pick up three pretzels from a street vendor, a uniformed officer walks over to Reddington and asks for identification, and notices Raymond’s packing. The cop’s soon informed by some other uniforms, that he’s captured the man atop the FBI’S Most Wanted List. Welcome to our new adventure “Raymond Reddington Goes To Prison.”
In a nod to our current political atmosphere, Harold Cooper’s informed in no uncertain terms by Cynthia Pannabaker, that the Justice Department will deny any agreement the Task-Force has with Reddington. Cooper arranges a meeting with the prosecutor from the Southern District of New York, hoping to persuade her to kick Reddington loose. The woman who has political ambitions and her eyes on the Governor’s mansion, scoffs at the suggestion. Upon returning to New York City, she holds a press conference announcing to the planet that she’s got Raymond Reddington in custody, and intends to prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law.
While Keen and Donald Ressler attempt to track down the Blacklist member of the week, The Corsican, they receive a call from Aram Mojtabai, informing them of Reddington’s arrest. Keen’s overcome by emotion and rushes to the holding cell Raymond’s in. He tells her not to worry about his imprisonment, however he wants her to find out who tipped off the cops. He tells her he believes that it’s somebody close. She asks if he wants the person’s identity in order to kill them, and he responds, that depends.
Keen returns to her apartment, where Jennifer informs her that she’s the one that tipped off the police. After an earlier conversation, when Keen expressed second thoughts about going after Raymond, Jennifer decided to take matters into her own hands making certain Liz couldn’t back out. Despite the betrayal by her half-sister, Keen takes responsibility for Reddington’s arrest, and fears the results of Raymond finding out she’s to blame.
Although the premise of Raymond, running a maximum security prison’s somewhat intriguing, if they introduced this story-arc during the series’ fourth season, I’d likely be far more receptive to it. If the speculation’s correct that this could be the final season for this show I’m so emotionally invested in, I don’t want episodes wasted going down this rabbit hole.
Once again James Spader proved that despite the lack of recognition, he’s turned Raymond Reddington into one of the medium’s most iconic characters. The “cold-open” for Dr. Hans Koehler, may have been the best the show’s ever produced. While Reddington and Dembe case a bank they plan to rob the following week, a masked gang break into the facility carrying heavy artillery. Raymond then precedes to dress down the would-be robbers, and offers to help them escape for the lion’s share of their take. The group escape in a dump truck Reddington’s arranged for, and when the police start pursuing the vehicle, Raymond dumps the crooks, their weapons, and their money onto the street and into the officer’s arms.
Spader used his added girth to his advantage in these two episodes. The weight that he’s gained the series’ run, makes him look far older than the svelte man we were introduced to in 2013. The image accompanying this piece, evoked the aging Don Corleone, brilliantly portrayed by Marlon Brando, in my mind.
His journey to the maximum security prison was wordless, but there was no need for dialogue, as Spader’s face told us exactly what he was feeling. Despite his bravado, a primal fear gripped him, a fear that he’ll keep to himself in order to survive this ordeal. It’s just a matter of time before all the gangs within the facility, start reporting to him on a daily basis.
This won’t be Raymond’s last stand, switching from the chess analogy to poker, Reddington’s got at least two or three Aces hidden up his sleeve. It would not surprise me in the least if the POTUS from the Blacklist Universe, Robert Diaz, who of course has a history with Reddington, enters the mix. Let’s keep in mind that it’s sometime in October, 2019, in Raymond’s world, making it that much closer to Diaz entering a reelection campaign.
Raymond’s address to the empty chamber of the General Assembly at the United Nations, ranks with some of the best soliloquies Raymond’s ever performed. A long and rambling speech starting off with depreciating remarks, including tales of Cary Grant and LSD, making it sound that “Our Raymond’s” found solace through use of the chemical. We know of his taste for opium, it’s not that far a leap to surmise that Raymond’s had his share of acid-trips.
That scene lead to Elizabeth’s revelation about the man we know as Raymond Reddington. Yes, the man who assumed the identity of her biological father 30-years-earlier; is a cold-blooded killer, capable of committing heinous, unspeakable, inexcusable, acts.
However, he’s not soulless, and is indeed just as capable of showing kindness. Whether that be to a young boy born with birth-defects he buys three ice-cream sundaes for, or saving the lives of those in the United Nations Building. Reddington got nothing in return by getting Max to disarm the bomb, nor will he ever receive credit for it.
There was another nice exchange between longtime partners Keen, and Ressler, as Donald told Lizzie that she wasn’t fooling him that she was “fine” still working with Reddington, after Raymond killed Sutton Ross, and walked away with the skeleton. He told her he was willing to accept her explanation, but he wasn’t buying it. She thanked him for backing off.
There’s no doubt in this viewer’s mind that Raymond realizes Keen knows the truth. The fact that she’s yet to question him about his actions, wouldn’t get by a grade-schooler. That knowledge lead to a script hammering the viewers over the head with puns. There were variations throughout the two-hours, on I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours. The episodes also contained several versions of Raymond stating that he felt like a different person.
I’d also venture a guess that we shall soon encounter Bastien Moreau, and the shadowy organization that hired him to plant the bomb inside the United Nations building. The series has utilized the art of stunt-casting, quite successfully since the first season. Christopher Lambert, whom this writer hasn’t seen since Highlander, portrayed the assassin with a nationalist agenda. What purpose did the organization have for the man known as the Corsican to plant the explosive device inside the UN?
“The Blacklist,” has bounced back before from less than stellar episodes, and story-arcs. I’m willing to give Bokenkamp and company time to improve from a rather disappointing sixth season premiere.
The Story Continues Friday Night, at 9:00 pm, on NBC.