The Blacklist, Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Written by Jon Bokenkamp
Directed by Joe Carnahan
Airs Mondays at 10 P.M. ET on NBC
The Blacklist‘s first episode, Pilot, begins with former government agent Raymond Reddington (James Spader) walking into FBI headquarters and promptly gives himself up to the powers that be. Promising information on famed terrorist Ranko Zamani, the only catch being that he’ll only speak to one person: Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone). Clearly that’s a high-ranking federal officer, right? Wrong. Elizabeth Keen is a green agent who has yet to work a single day at the FBI.
Why pick her, you may ask? This is one of the shows biggest mysteries moving forward and potentially the most rewarding. Reddington is a renown terrorist who is mentioned more than once as working for whoever best suits his interests. Keen could simply be a pawn, someone he can get to do his bidding as soon as it benefits him personally. Of course, the other option is that Reddington has some unknown connection to Keen that will reveal itself in time. Either way, it could make more very interesting television. The other mystery surrounding The Blacklist is just exactly what Reddington’s motivations are and what he hopes to gain from his cooperation with the feds. It’s revealed at the end of the episode that Reddington has a list (a Blacklist, if you will) of some very important criminals around the world, making himself very valuable to the Bureau. The question is: why give that list up or, even better, why walk inside the FBI headquarters at all? What does that gain Reddington in the longrun?
Mysteries aside, the plot that “Pilot” is working with is very much a formulaic, cookie-cutter storyline for any plot of this ilk. If you’ve seen five minutes of television or film ever, you can likely predict the twists and turns that this episode will take and how it will take it. Almost every element is tropey will somehow not being cliched. There is one good twist right at the end of the episode, but it’s drowned in the sea of forgettable plot points. The only thing truly pushing the momentum forward on this show is the waiting for Spader to pop up again handcuffed, who is not in nearly enough of “Pilot”.
Any success “Pilot” has rest solely on how engaging the two leads, Spader and Boone, are and the instant chemistry they have whenever they’re in the same room together having a conversation. It’s not quite Lecter/Starling, but it’s close enough for this show. Both performances are great, but “Pilot” clearly suffers from focusing more on Keen instead of Reddington. It’s understandable why the writers did this, so that the audience would have this relatable presence to latch onto, but Reddington is far more of an interesting character than Keen. Plus, watching Spader talk is a real treat, no matter what is coming out. Spader could probably read tax records for an entire hour and audiences would still be totally engaged. The other performances are not quite as great. The senior agent on the show, Harold Cooper (Man of Steel‘s Harry Lennix), exists solely to be disapproving of Reddington and for Reddington, in return, to insult repeatedly. The other male, Donald Ressler (Homeland‘s Diego Klattenhoff) is just a complete rube. He serves no actual purpose besides being a pain to Keen and having an absent look on his face. Hopefully The Blacklist will expand on Ressler going forward into something a bit more three-dimensional going forward.
The direction is for “Pilot” is really quite good by The Grey director Joe Carnahan and continues to prove that he has an amazing eye for action beats that are just off-the-wall crazy. One highway scene comes to mind when blood splatters all over Keen from headshot and the lighting and camera work is just superb capturing the whole event. He showed us in Smokin’ Aces and proved it in The A-Team, but the man truly knows how to stage and shoot action, as well as a calm scene with two characters simply talking that suddenly turns violent. It’s all great and Carnahan deserves serious credit for it.
“Pilot” is far from a perfect episode of television, but there’s enough shown in this opener to give hope that things will improve from here and hopefully lessen, if not drop completely, some of its more trope-filled moments.
– Drew Koenig