The Blacklist: Season 2
When a television series opens with first season that score exceptional well with both critics and fans, there is understandable that the usual trepidation for the second year is significantly more intense than usual. Of course there is the hopeful anticipation for continued success but in fear of the dreaded sophomore slump. There is considerable pressure on the showrunner to perform a task frequently proven to be extremely difficult; retaining the aspects of the series that made it a hit while infusing the show with the need to keep the sense of freshness. So many series fail to reach this crucial goal the cancelation rate for new shows are dismal. As such, it is a fantastic feeling when a series of true merit continues unabated through its follows up season not only retaining its excellence but, more importantly, readily building upon it. There’s a simple reason for the success, showrunner Jon Bokenkamp. He has a handful of film credits predominantly in the psychological thriller genre. Among my favorites, ‘The Call’, that contains one of the most emotionally satisfying endings in a long time. Mr. Bokenkamp understands a crucial point necessary to infusing ongoing television series with such addictive psychological intensity and captivating emotional appeal necessary to create and retain a strong fan base. It’s all in the pacing and he has a down to an art form. It would be impossible, and undesirable, to maintain such a high level of intensity week after week. What Mr. Bokenkamp has so artfully achieved is an incredibly effective balance between two general motifs for television series; episodic and serial. Each episode is named after a person on titular blacklist stating their ranking. The focus of that episode is naturally enough the apprehension, or at least foiling of that dangerous criminal. Each episode then becomes a piece of an overall puzzle that is revealed gradually, providing a commonality for everyone on the list. There is even a twist added to this, that overall picture has a propensity to change as it comes into sharper focus.
The last couple years have been an unexpectedly wild ride FBI Special Agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone). When the FBI’s most wanted criminal, Raymond "Red" Reddington (James Spader), surrenders to the FBI the office to become a confidential informant but he will only deal with agent Keen. Red was known as the concierge of crime, with wealth, power and connections that allows him to expedite almost any criminal endeavor. He was willing to trade numbers on his Blacklist of the worst of his criminal associates in return for his continued freedom. This is really episodic elements of the series are rooted. The list establishes a focal point for each episode but has already alluded to it is the proverbial iceberg, most exist below the surface. Initially Lizzie was trying to understand why Red was so infatuated with her. As that mystery began to resolve another more pressing overshadows it; who is trying to systematically destroy Red. You never realize deeply involved she was until she discovered that her husband Tom (Ryan Eggold), was actually not an elementary school teacher but in fact was a deep, plant infused whole life by Reds arch enemy known by his codename, Berlin (Peter Stormare). During season two the big picture was a struggle between two masters of manipulation playing a game of deadly chests on a global scale. As Berlin systematically attacked and destroyed important pieces of Red’s organization, he used the combined might his own loyal associates and the power of the FBI task force to locate in some cases neutralize agents of Berlin. Lizzie did not take the betrayal by Tom well and after locating him she imprisons him in the hold of an abandoned ship. At one point unofficial become suspicious and during Tom’s escape is killed. Lizzie is charged with the murder and now finds itself an outlaw unable to tell the truth about most of her career. To the help of a boss, Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) a former assistant director for the FBI’s antiterrorism division he now heads the Blacklist task force. He tries to have Lizzie’s testimony band as a potential breach of national security that can only delay the inevitable, at least for a couple of episodes.
There are crucial hospitalizations notable this season. First Cooper is diagnosed with a brain tumor and has to make a deal with a member of the shadow government organization, The Cabal. In return for placement in experimental program that saves his life Cooper was called upon by someone he thought was a friend to break his own code on behalf of the Cabal. Redington always seemed to be made of Teflon is eventually seriously injured and hospitalized. Of course red being the person that he is even that event exhibited his genius for preplanning and panache. A call to Mr. Kaplan (Susan Blommaert) sets things in motion. Despite her male nom de guerre, Mr. Kaplan is a rather nondescript old woman looks more like she’s going to visit grandchildren to make the gory details of the crime scene disappear. Besides being Reds personal (Cleaner), she is the linchpin for his emergency health care provisions. She immediately contacts prearranged doctors, nurses, technicians and transport to extract red and bring them to a prearranged location that has been made into an intensive care facility. Raymond Redington is a force to be reckoned with even when shot to pieces.
There has been the specter floating through the first season that finally begins to manifest here, The Fulcrum. This is the source of ultimate power in the shadowy world of espionage, politics and global crime. It contains details of people places and events that could quite literally destroy some of the most powerful men ribbon on the globe. Considering that is the exact description of the members of the Cabal they are very anxious to get their hands on it. They have long believed that Redington either had in his possession or knew where it was hidden. The crescendo of the season goes to the ultimate revelation of just what the Fulcrum is. Even just examining this one plot device, this single thread that runs through the entire tapestry of the series, it’s evident as to how well-planned this series is. It is quite obvious that the showrunner is much like a chess grandmaster, able to see dozens of moves in the future. What appears to be random, not connected events or people in isolation from each other, begin to pull together as the threads are woven together to present a grand design.
There is another advantage that is well taken that is provided by the episodic component of the show. There’ve been some notable guest stars providing amazing performances. Considering the dramatic abilities shown in his episode, it would be disrespectful to consider this guest stars this best-known persona ‘Pee-Wee Herman. Paul Rubens demonstrates the depth of his dramatic ability in one of the most menacing roles he has ever endeavored. Playing a little closer to his current archetype, Ron Perlman portrays one of Reds most lethal adversaries, Luther Braxton. Having helped orchestrate a tactical attack on the FBI dark site in season one, Braxton now manages to take control of the federal high security prison. In many ways the heinous individuals on the Blacklist peer similar to the rogue’s gallery in a graphic novel. Most have sinister names in the majority perpetrate truly sickening acts of violence. There has been the ‘Stewmaker’, a body disposal expert that liquefies his victim. Another runs an organ transplant procurement operation that specializes in pre-mortem donations. Despite how bizarre some of these things they seem they are presented in such a context that they are terrifyingly real.
Like a finely crafted Old World puzzle box just when you have one piece slide into place you have to contend with others moving in. The series is difficult to categorize the singer genre. There components of police procedural when considering the workings of the FBI task force. The spy thriller is well represented with the myriad of machinations, moves and counter moves that would challenge Jason Bourne. Terrorism is a regularly used plot device that not only brings the story in line with the real world but is examined from a different angle that we are used to. Overall, the connective tissue of this organically grown story is a conspiracy theorist worst nightmare, a clash between shadow governments, the power elite and global criminal organizations, completely unknown by the people lives they control. Going into season three this series is only just scratched the surface of its potential and if it’s permitted to continue along the lines of currently is established ‘The Blacklist’ remain on the top 10 list for television for years to come.