on March 20, 2014

I have a confession.

Whenever a new show is a huge hit out of the gate, I don’t watch it. I don’t know why, I think I get overwhelmed by the hype. I figure if it’s really that good, I’ll get it on DVD.

You know the problem with drawing lines in the sand? With a breath of air, they disappear. You may not like me. You may not understand how or why I do what I do. But I’m here because you want answers to questions you haven’t even thought of yet. ~ Red

I had a problem with the premise of BLACKLIST. When I first heard about it, I thought, “Been there, done that.” I mean, rookie female FBI agent is the ONLY person a mastermind criminal will speak to? Ho, hum.

Plus, I write FBI books (Lucy Kincaid series) and one reason I stopped watching Criminal Minds was because I had done so much research into criminal psychology I could name the real-life cases they’d read to write their scripts. And I didn’t love the characters, I felt the writers didn’t dig deep enough into the people, focusing instead solely on plot. But friends of mine (cough *Barbie* cough) tell me I need to go back and watch it again.

I’m the first to admit when I’m wrong.


resslerI know why BLACKLIST is a hit and the only thing I regret is that I’m all caught up with watching the series and I have to wait along with everyone else for the next episode.

I bought the season on iTunes, as I often do when I want to watch something that I suspect I’ll watch again. Plus, we live in the country and our internet connection sucks so streaming through Netflix or Hulu or a network is rough and slow. I also like to watch my shows on my iPad late at night, when I’m in bed and everyone is asleep.

The concept of a Last Stand sounds so heroically romantic, doesn’t it, Donald? But there is a good reason why we didn’t see what happened to Butch and Sundance – being riddled by bullets and left to rot under the scorching Columbian sun. It’s not a sequel maker, and if you surmise nothing about me by now, know this: I am going be around for the sequel. ~ Red

Ten days ago I watched the first episode. I couldn’t get to sleep, so thought I’d bite the bullet and see if the show was as good as all my friends tell me it is. (Mariah Stewart has been posting about it from the beginning — and I love and trust her.)

Not only was it good, the show blew me away. This is rare because I watch so much television. The last time it happened was five years ago when I watched the pilot of JUSTIFIED. Usually it takes me a few episodes, but this one grabbed me out of the gate and I glommed on all the episodes I’d already downloaded, finishing with the most recent airing.

I’m now going through withdrawal. I wish I’d waited until the season was over so I wouldn’t have to WAIT for the next episode!

Why does this show work?

Did you hear me? I said I need his new name. Give it to me or I’ll have the Miami Field Office tear your practice apart faster than you can say tummy tuck. ~ Liz


The-Blacklist-TV-Series-HD-WallpaperWithout the right casting, this show could have been a dud. James Spader is one of the all-time best casting decisions on television today. He plays Reddington pitch perfect and absolutely makes me believe. I had never seen Megan Boone in anything, but she has truly surprised me in her confidence in the role if FBI Agent Elizabeth Keen. And then my favorite character … Donald Ressler, played by Diego Klattenhoff. Who? Yeah, I’d never heard of him before, but he’s exactly what I want in a hero. He’s tortured, smart, attractive, brave, and conflicted. The last few episodes where he’s battled with his anger were so real. I honestly believed he would shoot the corrupt agent in the last episode. When he was shot and Red saved his life … one of the most intense scenes in a show filled with intense scenes. The actors have truly made this show pop.


I was wrong about the premise. Keen isn’t a rookie agent. She’s been an FBI agent for four years; she’s new to profiling having gone through additional training. OKAY! I can buy into that. Because she does many things with a confidence that a rookie agent wouldn’t have.

I’m not a bubble gum machine, Lizzy. You don’t get to just twist the handle whenever you want a treat. ~ Red

So the main premise … a world-wide criminal on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List turns himself in and agrees to help the FBI only if allowed to work with one agent: Elizabeth Keen. It starts on Keen’s first day as a profiler, and she’s brought into the “blacklist” facility (code name: the post office) to liaison between the FBI and Red. Red brokers an immunity deal that might take a bit of willing suspension of disbelief … but since the actors are so pitch perfect, I bought into it. There are only two things that I had trouble buying into … this and the fact that no one asked the question as to HOW and WHY Tom’s passports, gun, etc got into the floor of his house after he was “cleared” by the investigation. But I digress …

The premise works because James Spader brings his character alive.

Red’s Driver: Did he take the bait?
Red: Like a trout to a butterworm.


Character is different than actors. You need good actors to make good characters great. The characters in BLACKLIST are multi-layered. They’re conflicted, they’re REAL. The creators did an amazing job in giving them depth without overkill. There are so many questions, and partial answers, and while I THINK I know the answers, I’m not 100% certain … Well, I was right about Tom, but I think everyone knew he was a bad guy from the get go. Characters go hand in hand with conflict and story. As my friend Toni says, “Story = character + conflict.”

Harold Cooper: You killed two people.
Red: I’m not perfect.


The writers of this show should win awards and raises because it is top notch. They’ve created complex story lines that are not simply plot, but character. Meaning, the characters are driving the stories. We have complex plots with multiple layers and always, in the back, the question of why does Red want this person stopped? What does he gain from it? Because Red doesn’t do anything without dual motives. He’s using the FBI as much — more — than they’re using him. And the writers have been able to really push that through the stories they’re telling, both individually (each episode) and collectively (the story arc.) For every question they answer, two more are raised. We know some backstory, but not all of it. We know Lizzy was in a fire as a young child, but we don’t know how or why that fire started. We suspect that Red is her father … but is he really? He talks about losing his family … but how and why? Why did he really commit treason … or did he? He is certainly a criminal, and a killer, and he is ruthless … but he’s far too complex to put a label on. He’s truly the perfect anti-hero, and the writers are to be commended for creating him, and Spader commended for making Red believable.

Liz: You’re not telling us everything.
Red: Let me put your mind at ease. I’m never telling you everything.

blacklist-52Akin to the writing is the direction … the pacing of the show is perfect. A lot of action, and every “quiet” moment (conversation) is important in what is said and unsaid. There are no slow spots. The actor’s timing is perfect. Some of the flaws in ALMOST HUMAN and even my favorite GRIMM come from timing that isn’t quite there. But BLACKLIST timing is just right, in action or dialogue.

The suspense is killing me. ~ Red


Because of the writing and acting, the conflict is so strong and believable that I’m completely sucked into their world. The inner conflict of whether Lizzy can trust her husband; Ressler’s conflict over being forced to work with the man he once hunted (for five years!); and as the director Cooper explained after Red helped them save more than two dozen young women being used as breeders: he’s a criminal, he’s treasonous, but without Red, those girls would never have been saved. This over-arching conflict drives the story and gives context to why the FBI is doing what they’re doing by working with him. The constant tension makes the series work.

elizabeth-keen-reddington-the-blacklistBut there is also conflict within each episode, and even within Red himself. The external and internal conflict keeps me riveted each and every episode. The scene after Lizzy’s father dies, and Tom is at the hospital and he looks sad but you know that he really wanted information from Lizzy’s father (well, it’s not SAID, but I figured it out — and you realize that Red really had no choice by to kill her dad in order to protect her, because if Tom learned whatever the truth was … well, that would be bad.) ANYWAY, that scene where Red sits down next to Tom and you know that Red doesn’t trust him and thinks he’s a bad guy, and Tom knows who Red is but can’t say it, and what Red says about how Lizzy will survive, and there’s a double meaning to his words … wow. Best scene ever.

There are a lot of scenes where I think, “Best scene ever.”


Because BLACKLIST is so violent and dark, the levity that James Spader brings to the role through his wit and dialogue gives us just enough comic relief. It’s not out of place, it works with the story and his character (Really, it ALL goes back to character!) The scene where Red needs to rescue Lizzy after she’s caught breaking into a safe in an embassy and he pretends to be her gay best friend/date and makes the comment about the guard’s cumberbund being all wrong and upside down and makes the guy look, then hits him and knocks him out and takes his gun … classic.

Ressler: But Lorca got away.
Red: The cost of doing business.
Ressler: No. You’re not going to just let him go. He was offensive. You didn’t like him.
Red: He is on my jet.


The production values are high for the show, making it pleasant to watch. They don’t skimp, which I appreciate.

In summary, if you haven’t seen BLACKLIST, watch it from the beginning. As soon as the season is over, I’ll be re-watching it. It’s that good. If you’re a writer, you must watch it to see the mastery of storytelling in action. You won’t regret it.

Red: There you are! What the hell happened to you?! You just leave me stranded with that awful Algerian?! He’s been hitting on me for 20 minutes!

Guard: Sir, this is a secure area!

Red: Well, not secure enough if you ask me, sister. You know what? Why don’t you ask Rasil? We wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for that troublemaker. Always an agenda with him. Cultural attache. Culture my ass. The things I do for this one. Gallivanting around the globe for your little assignations with you-know-hmm-hmm, carrying her furs and bikinis as if I wouldn’t rather be back in Dutchess County with my shelties. Hey, don’t take anything for granted! Everything you have was bought and paid for by your boyfriend! Do you have any idea whose horn this tramp is blowing? Let’s just say it starts with Bashar and ends with Assad, gassing you faster than a sunni. So, let’s get her out of the hot seat and into a limo — good God! – Crumbs up! – What? Your cummerbund. Pleats up! You look like Bob Yoshimura in 8th-grade swing choir. It’s upside down! Aah! God, that hurts! Ohh!

Liz: What the hell was that?

Red: I don’t know. It just felt so right in the moment.

Have you watched this show? What do you think? Favorite episodes? Scenes? Quotes?

Now, if only they’d put TRUE DETECTIVES on iTunes so I can watch that, too …