Spies, insider information, and betrayal of national allegiance all sell NBC’s new drama-thriller series The Blacklist as an interesting new addition to prime time. Operating with the same dynamic of a seemingly vulnerable female intelligence agent and a former U.S. military officer turned criminal with dubious motives, the show is strongly influenced by Showtime’s acclaimed Homeland. Judging solely by the pilot, there will be a great deal of similarities between the two shows, especially in the treatment of the relationship between these two principle characters. Since his days as a lawyer and creep (not necessarily synonymous) exerting his fantasies over his Secretary, James Spader seems to inhabit and embrace the role quite fittingly. As the mysterious, double-crossing informant, he definitely has the range to do some interesting things with his character, and subjecting fresh young FBI agent (Megan Boone) to his antics.
In Washintgon D.C., elusive criminal Raymond Reddington essentially turns himself in to the Department of Justice. Upon apprehension by the FBI, a full investigation of his background reveals he was at the top on his class while attending Naval Academy and being groomed for admiral, when in 1990 he mysteriously never arrived for a Christmas visit to his wife and daughter. He seemingly disappeared and four years later, classified foreign documents began showing up all around the world, the leaks tracing back to him. He became known at the “Concierge of Crime” by building an enterprise of brokering valuable information to the highest bidder, with no political or national agenda driving him.
He reveals to the investigators that extreme Serbian nationalist, Ranko Zamani, once presumed dead, has entered the country with the intention of detonating a bomb. Claiming to also want Zamani caught for his own reasons, Reddington agrees to cooperation but insists on speaking exclusively with new, unseasoned agent Elizabeth Keen.
Upon reporting to work, Elizabeth insists she has no connection to Reddington, who presumably targeted her as a vulnerable young blood to prey upon and manipulate. They meet face-to-face and he reveals Zamani’s plan to kidnap a general’s young daughter, along with intimate knowledge of Elizabeth’s personal history. In spite of Elizabeth’s attempts to secure the young girl, the Serbian nationals manage to abduct her.
With still no demands from the kidnappers after 24 hours, Elizabeth asks for Reddington’s help in finding Zamani. They reason that since Zamani survived a chemical attack on his home in Bosnia while the rest of his family perished, his motive is revenge and he’s seeking out a chemist to create a lethal bomb.
Elizabeth comes home to find her husband beaten and tied up and Zamani waiting to confront her. He asks her what else she knows about his plan and she claims ignorance. Before fleeing, he asks her to choose between saving her husband or the many lives he’ll endanger by fulfilling his plan. With her husband in the hospital, Elizabeth confronts Reddington in a rage, demanding his help in putting an end to Zamani ‘s plan. Reddington agrees but claims to also know secrets about her husband.
Reddington escapes his guards and he meets with Zamani, who assures him he’s done Reddington’s bidding. The FBI track them to the scene and when Reddington tells Elizabeth that Zamani is targeting children, she figures out he’s going to bomb the D.C. Zoo. Elizabeth rushes to the zoo and finds the General’s daughter waiting there alone, with a ticking bomb strapped to her back. Reddington assures Elizabeth his friend will be there soon to help. Zamani is shot just as he pulls the tracking chip to detonate the bomb.
A friendly Ukrainian arrives to disable the bomb from the young girl’s backpack and she’s returned safely to her father. Reddington is apprehended again, at which time he informs the Chief that Zamani is only the first name on a mysterious “blacklist” of criminals he’s been compiling for 20 years. He makes more demands if his cooperation is to continue, the principle condition being his insistence on only speaking with Elizabeth.
While cleaning her home of the mess from her husband’s attack, Elizabeth finds a hidden chest full of money, foreign passports, and a gun. Confused, she meets with Reddington, who already knows what she’s just learned.
Since the exact direction and scope of the thriller’s premise isn’t yet fully realized, it seems to be familiar territory so far. The comparisons to Homeland may either prove to be too daunting to overcome or a necessary motivator to set it apart, but only subsequent episodes will tell the tale.