Raymond "Red" Reddington is one bad dude. He oozes felonious activity. His wardrobe (complete with black fedora) exudes fashionable evil. His I-know-ever-so-much-more-than-you attitude would make James Bond's adversaries at Spectre prickle with jealousy. Even his nickname—Concierge of Crime—seems to channel comic book villainy.
So what, pray tell, is Red doing working with the FBI?
Turns out he has a list (that'd be the blacklist, naturally) of the world's most dangerous criminals—guys so good at being bad that the FBI doesn't even know about them yet. The names on the list are criminal whales, Red says, and he wants to play at Ahab for a bit.
But do brilliant criminal masterminds really wake up one morning and say, "You know, I'm done with this black fedora. I want to be known as the Concierge of Conscientiousness from here on out"? Moreover, Red still seems awfully friendly with some of the folks he's helping the FBI bring in. So the Bureau's pretty sure Red's hiding something. What? Well, they don't know, and Red's not about to color in the picture for them.
He is in the mood to make demands, though. "If you want the whales on my list, you have to play by my rules," he says. And the biggest rule of all? He'll only work with newbie criminal profiler Elizabeth Keen. He's obsessed with Liz for some reason, and seems to know an awful lot about her past.
The Blacklist is both a clever and contrived crime thriller. It seems predicated on the predator-prey dynamic between Red and Liz—a relationship built on mutual respect and distrust. It has some serialized elements to it—a long-game mystery that will be doled out episode by episode, season by season. But it's also something of a pedestrian episodic drama along the lines of Person of Interest, with the FBI dutifully pursuing, each week, a new man on Red's nefarious list.
If The Blacklist feels, at times, a little like Silence of the Lambs, with the interplay between the good-girl detective and the very bad-man criminal, it does not indulge that movie's serial killer depravity. Red is a wicked white-collar criminal and agent of global terrorism, but he's no up-close-and-personal serial killer. As such, we do not suffer the same level of grotesquery we do in Hannibal, Dexter or The Following.
But this is still a violent show, and sometimes extremely so. Extras die by the dozens. People are shot, sometimes spraying blood as they die. Others are beaten or even tortured—with none of the resulting pain and gore hidden from viewers. Innocents, including children, are put in grave peril.
When a U.S. general's daughter is kidnapped, a whole bunch of people are killed, and the kid is wired up with chemical explosives. Liz's husband nearly dies at the hands of the terrorist who tapes him to a chair and is seen beating him and stabbing him in the leg and gut with a knife. (Blood is everywhere.) The terrorist is later shot twice and falls to his death from the top of a building.
We see Liz with blood streaking her face. She suffers through a smoke bomb/tear gas attack. She stabs a guy in the neck with a pen as a way of making him talk. (We see the blood stain the man's neck and shirt, as well as a close-up of the pen.) Vehicles crash. People die in hails of bullets. Evildoers pour gasoline on a bridge and set it on fire. We see a picture of a supposed corpse.
Liz is shown in bed in her underwear. Characters say "h‑‑‑" (four or five times) and "b‑‑ch" (three or four). They misuse God's name once or twice. They drink wine and champagne.
We hear that Red ran out on his own family, years before, at Christmastime. But Liz and her husband are in the process of adopting, and she's elated when she learns that they might be bringing home a little girl. "Our family is the only thing that matters," she tells her husband—though that may change, given her job and the big secret her hubby's been keeping.