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.
Sexual material has included hookups and partial nudity. And in Season 2, our not-so-good-girl detective keeps her one-time husband and all-time spy illegally captive, hoping to use his intel to find—and perhaps kill—a notorious terrorist. But if Blacklist feels, at times, a little like Silence of the Lambs, 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 little of the resulting pain and gore hidden from viewers. And the lines the good guys are willing to cross to bring the bad guys to sometimes terminal justice seem to grow more gray by the episode.
Samar, an agent from the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad who teams up with Keen and Co., seduces and apparently kills an Iranian nuclear physicist. We see her and the guy share drinks in a hotel bar and make out in a hallway. A short time later he falls from a 12-story window. (We see his lifeless, bloodstained body on the top of a crushed car.) In retaliation, Iran sends an assassin codenamed Scimitar to kidnap and kill a U.S. nuclear scientist.
It's an open question as to what Keen will do with her ex-husband (whom she's holding captive to probe him for secret spy stuff) when his usefulness ends. "Just do me a favor," he tells her. "Look me in the eyes when you do it." Gunfire gives way to a tossed grenade that flips Keen's SUV. She stabs a captor with a syringe filled with sedative. We see some hand-to-hand combat and gunplay. Red drugs and kidnaps a young woman. There's an apparent revenge killing. (Red and Samar are involved.) We hear about previous killings, some of them gruesome. Keen pulls a pair of medical pins up through the skin of her arm.
Keen's partner, Ressler, battles drug addiction; we see him dump pills down a drain. We hear "h---" and "d--n" three or four times each and "b--ch" once. God's name is wrongfully interjected a few times.
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.