Raymond ”Red” Reddington is a man not unlike the recently departed Walter White. He was once a good man, a patriot who became a Navy honcho. Then he broke bad. But The Blacklist is not about a diabolical brainiac wallowing wicked — it’s about a Despicable Me bending back to good. Maybe. Even though Red (James Spader) now helps the FBI snare shadowy monsters like himself, the feds suspect he’s running a long con. The Blacklist represents a provocative post-Breaking Bad cultural enterprise: It plays to our cynicism about ”heroism” and turns redemption into a paranoid conspiracy thriller.
None of this is reason to watch The Blacklist. You should watch because it’s a slick action-adventure tale with knotty plotting and zeitgeisty villains. You should watch for the intriguing mystery of Red’s FBI handler (and…daughter?) Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone). Most of all, watch for Spader. He creates a larger-than-life persona with effortless charisma; if the writers haven’t figured out Red’s endgame, then damn if Spader doesn’t ace the faking. He brings out the best in Boone and makes the bit players more interesting with loaded gestures — a nuanced question, a lingering kiss — that suggest histories and possibilities. You might doubt the series’ long-term viability the way its agents doubt Red’s sincerity. I’ll wait for the show to betray — or bore — me before deciding. Here and now, The Blacklist is top-of-the-list escapism. B+