May 14, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “The Blacklist”


Hit dramas rarely go south as quickly as THE BLACKLIST.  In November 2013 it was earning a 3.0 rating, one of the highest rated 10PM shows on TV.  In May 2014 it was still at 2.6.  In November 2014 it was almost as strong at 2.5.  2 weeks ago?  A new series low of 1.2.  That’s a 60% ratings drop in less than 2 years, more than 50% in 6 months.  Much of the blame, of course, goes to NBC for its hubris in moving Blacklist not just out of its safe post-Voice home but to the wreckage of the network’s Thursday night, where the series was expected (after the boost of a post-Super Bowl berth) to kick-start the whole line-up with the uncommercial The Slap on one side of it, and the terrible Allegiance on the other–and do it against Scandal.  Instead, all those factors dragged The Blacklist down to the point where it was practically a bubble show.  Network scheduling moves don’t come worse than that.

But there was also the series itself.  The Blacklist, even at its best, was violent silliness that relied on the perverse charms of James Spader as Raymond Reddington, the smugly imperturbable FBI’s Most Wanted who walked into the Bureau’s offices with an offer to help them solve crimes they didn’t even knew existed–but only to newbie agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone).  The episodic plots were over-the-top and often incoherent, and unlike shows that develop dense mythologies over time, The Blacklist only had one mystery:  Why did Reddington insist on using Lizzie as his conduit?

That mystery, as it’s turned out, just isn’t all that interesting.  Even worse, although Spader always puts on a fun show, he has very little dramatic chemistry with Boone.  (Neither does anyone else on the series.)  The scripts have tried to muddy Blacklist‘s own waters with nonsense about shadowy evil cabals–the latest, helpfully, is called “The Cabal”–and with what’s supposed to be the dark romance between Lizzie and her former husband Tom (Ryan Eggold), who she eventually found out had been hired by Reddington to spy on her intimately, but whom the show has tried to subsequently redeem into being her love interest, an effort that’s failed miserably.

Some of this came to a head in tonight’s Season 2 finale, written by series creator Jon Bokenkamp and showrunner John Eisendrath, and directed by Michael Watkins.  The Cabal, in its usual convoluted way, had framed Lizzie for the murder of a US Senator by infecting her with a virus that was specially engineered to kill only him.  Fleeing to prove her innocence, Lizzie contacted Reddington and Tom, and along the way she uncovered the fact that her FBI boss Cooper (Harry Lennix) had been falsely convinced he was dying of cancer to convince him to leak secrets to the Cabal.  Meanwhile, Reddington played his little “History of the Cabal” movie (watchable, for some reason, only with a device called The Fulcrum, although YouTube could have done just as good a job) for a bunch of journalists, who immediately exposed the Cabal, making one wonder why he hadn’t done this in the first place.  Lizzie killed the Cabal-corrupted Attorney General, putting her on the run for real, but she and Reddington nevertheless paused in the middle of a public park for the night’s big mythology reveal:  a secret Reddington had been hiding from Lizzie by literally wiping her memory clean was that as a child, she had killed her abusive father while he was beating her Russian spy mother on the night that their house burned down.  Which, you know, certainly isn’t nothing, but wasn’t exactly the kind of jaw-dropping surprise that makes Shonda Rhimes lose any sleep.

With Spader reduced to repeating the same mannerisms every week, Boone a less than memorable presence, and the rest of the regulars mere stick figures, with the show’s romance a ridiculous one and its master plot far less than thrilling, The Blacklist has become no more than a dumb action show.  And on that level it sometimes delivers, with well-edited shootouts and the occasional effective torture sequence.  But there’s nothing at all to make it what its network used to call must-see TV.

NBC hasn’t just renewed The Blacklist, it’s leaving the show where it is on Thursdays, and although the new(-ish) Heroes Reborn and The Player look somewhat stronger than The Slap and Allegiance, the problems of The Blacklist start with The Blacklist.  The series desperately needs to reboot itself in Season 3, because if it keeps going in the same direction as it did this year, even NBC will have to admit that its would-be savior was merely a fraud.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."