A long, long time ago, I, like a lot of people, thought that the NBC series Heroes was going to revolutionize network TV dramas. By the time that Heroes went off the rails, sometime around when the girl whose tears made people die showed up, NBC debuted the quirky spy series Chuck that also looked like it had a ton of potential to be clever and charming, while allowing an unknown actress named Yvonne Strahovski to become a star. Despite lousy ratings, the show’s die-hard fans managed to keep Chuck alive for third and fourth seasons, but between the revolving door plot and increasingly annoying supporting characters, Chuck soon went the way of Heroes, and NBC’s void for a quality dramatic series only grew bigger and deeper.
Last year, though, NBC experienced a significant reversal of fortune. First, in April of 2013, the network debuted the wonderfully bloody serial killer series Hannibal, which has received plenty of critical praise amid decent ratings. Then, on September 23, NBC finally hit pay dirt – at least for NBC’s standards – with the premiere of The Blacklist, a pseudo-thriller that stars James Spader as a charismatic-but-mysterious “Most Wanted Man” and American traitor named Raymond “Red” Reddington. Spader was nominated for Best Actor in a Television Series Drama at the Golden Globes earlier this year, and as the ratings (and DVR viewers) remained consistently strong throughout the first season, it seems that NBC finally found the show that will, in February, take its place at the head of the network’s table in the Thursday 9 PM ET time slot.
The biggest question about The Blacklist, though, is why, if this show is so good according to Average Burnsys like me, aren’t the ratings higher? After all, Netflix thought the show was good enough to pay $2 million per episode to stream (available now, so start catching up if you’re new to the party), so why isn’t it pulling in NCIS-like ratings of close to 20 million viewers per episode? Well, the easy answer to the question that I asked myself is that it’s still a young show, and people need time to realize that they’ve been missing out on something fun. The Blacklist’s first season ratings are actually very comparable to NCIS’s first season, so the much more important question is – does this show have enough creativity in the tank to survive beyond a few seasons? We know there are more than enough people on Red’s list, but will we get tired of seeing them picked off one-by-one? So far, I’m very optimistic.
While reviews for The Blacklist have been mostly positive, common points of criticism have been understandable. For example, when you have an idea that features an older male master criminal in FBI custody and he’s helping a young female agent solve serious crimes, you’re going to draw a lot of comparisons to – guesses anyone? That’s right, White Chicks. Also, Silence of the Lambs, but those movies are mistaken for each other all the time. Additionally, people might not necessarily like that there’s a feeling of formula from week to week, as Red gives Elizabeth a name, the FBI hunts the person, Red uses the distraction to take care of personal business, Elizabeth’s personal life unravels a little more, someone’s life is threatened, and in the end the bad guy is caught, or more likely killed. But that’s what a first season does – it sets up the characters and preps us for the bigger picture. But my counterpoint to both of these complaints is that The Blacklist has not only been fun and clever, and especially led by a fantastic main character, but it also broke the mold and tossed quite a few curveballs at us in the first season. The key to success is for the show to add a new pitch in Season 2.
The second season of The Blacklist debuts on September 22, and it will presumably pick up with Red and the FBI looking for “Berlin,” the man who pulled a Keyser Soze on the FBI and is now on the loose in the U.S., seeking revenge for the death of his daughter. In fact, family plays a major role in this series, as the biggest mystery continues to be the real identity of Elizabeth’s father. Is her dad actually Red? Is it Berlin? Were Elizabeth and Berlin’s daughter playing together when the house caught on fire and they’re half-sisters from the same mother, who is probably also some ridiculously powerful master criminal, and Red chopped Berlin’s daughter into pieces as he rescued Elizabeth?
Instead of just rambling on about this show that I love, let’s break down everything you need to know about The Blacklist’s main characters heading into Season 2, and then speculate like there’s no tomorrow.
(You should know that there will be spoilers in these descriptions, so if you haven’t watched, I have no clue why you’d still be reading, but I appreciate you stopping by.)
Known to the people who trust him enough to help their criminal enterprises as Red – since he doesn’t exactly have friends – Raymond Reddington is a former Navy man who turned against America and became the crime world’s ultimate middle man. He’s the ghost between the ghosts when it comes to brokering everything from arms deals to counterfeiting, and that’s why he’s the man in possession of the titular log of all of the world’s worst criminals, as they’re so good at what they do that they can only be caught with Red’s help.
So why did such a successful criminal turn himself in to the FBI? Well, for starters, he has some strange connection with special agent Elizabeth Keen. A lot of people think that he’s her dad, but if it’s all really that simple, why the hell would the show’s writers insult us by dragging it out for so long? There are obvious clues staring us right in the face – the scars and the music box, for example – which usually means that we’re in for a huge twist at some point. Additionally, as we saw during the first season, Red is in a lot of danger now, so hooking up with the FBI to take down his enemies was more about survival than protecting Lizzy.
An FBI special agent given the task of hunting the world’s most dangerous criminals, Elizabeth Keen is pretty clueless to most of the stuff happening around her. For example, she thought that the next step in her life was to have a baby with her husband, Tom, but then she discovered his box of cash, passports and a gun in the floor, and that’s the kind of secret that can really make things awkward in a relationship. Meanwhile, she has this stranger named Red practically running her life, because he seems to know everything about her, while she knows absolutely nothing about him, except that he’s in possession of the Blacklist.
Elizabeth is played by Megan Boone, who gets a lot of crap from fans of the show for not being the best actress, but she deserves to be defended because there are plenty of worse actors out there.
This guy was Elizabeth’s terminally-ill adoptive father. I say “was” because Red killed him in his hospital bed by smothering him with his pillow. The reason for this “assistance” was because Sam wanted to tell Elizabeth the truth about her father, so Red was like, “Dude, it’s the first season, we can’t let her know already!”
Tom was Elizabeth’s seemingly normal, loving school teacher husband, who tried so hard to be a patient man as the woman he loved was suddenly thrust into the world of terrorism and global crime. Again, we talk about Tom in the past tense, because he’s dead, too. OR IS HE??? Elizabeth shot him three times in the stomach, but his body was either taken by Red’s cleaner or he somehow escaped alive. Either way, Tom was a man with a lot of mysteries still hanging around him, like who he was working for and how he knew so much about Red, and mostly how he knew that Red would be coming for Elizabeth long before Red even turned himself into the FBI. I mean, this dude was so dedicated to his job that he married and planned to start a family with the woman he was either protecting or watching.
If I had to guess, Tom is somehow still alive, because he was just getting interesting, and his recovery from seemingly fatal gunshots would probably shed some light on who he was working for. At the same time, Ryan Eggold isn’t listed with the cast of the first episode of Season 2, so Tom is either dead or they’re being super sneaky.
The assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism task force, Harold reluctantly believes that working with Red is the right thing to do, even if they don’t trust each other at all, because they’re still putting some serious bad guys away for good. Poor Harold almost ended up on the DEAD list in the Season 1 finale, but it appears that he’s going to live to disagree with Red another day.
Diane was the Assistant Attorney General, but she was also a mole and traitor. Obviously, Red didn’t really appreciate that she was double-crossing him or the FBI, so he put a bullet in Diane, even though she could have shed some light on his own family. Nobody really seems to care that Diane vanished off the face of the Earth, but it’s important to remember that Red murdered her, because he doesn’t give an F-word about who he messes with.
Played by the always wonderful Alan Alda, Alan Fitch is a pretty big badass on an Illuminati/New World Order scale. We still don’t know much about what he does or why he’s so powerful, but we know that Red has a ton of dirt on him, and that’s why they’ve been coexisting peacefully for some time. Unfortunately, Red fell from good graces with Fitch’s organization, be it the U.S. government or something larger and more sinister, so Fitch sent a man named Anslo Garrick to the FBI’s secret location, AKA “The Post Office,” to kill him.
Fitch ultimately realized how much of a threat Red poses to everyone in his business, so despite the fact that the league of shadows still wants Red dead, Fitch remains one of the few “allies” that Red still kind of has ties to.
Like his partner, Elizabeth, Donald is an FBI special agent whose personal life is pretty f*cked up. Originally, he and his fiancée, Audrey Bidwell, had broken up, much to his dismay since he was still kind of obsessed with her. He also almost died, or at least lost his leg, after he took a bullet in the shootout with Anslo Garrick’s men at the Post Office, and it was Red who actually kept him alive and in one piece. But as Donald was recovering (at a shockingly fast pace) in the hospital, Audrey came to visit and they fell in love all over again…
… until she died. She was murdered by a man named Mako Tanida, who came in at No. 83 on the ol’ Blacklist. While Donald didn’t get to exact revenge on his own, Red showed his appreciation for the special agent by delivering Mako’s severed head in a box to him.
He’s the FBI’s computer genius, as he can hack into anything and access any information that anyone needs, all with a little sass and sarcasm. Maybe it’s because everyone already raised an eyebrow at him when they were hunting for a mole, but there’s something about this dude that makes me think he’s either going to turn out to be working for some bad guys, or he’s going to bite the bullet in the worst way.
She was personally assigned by Diane to join the FBI’s team and keep an eye on Red, because Meera was a cold, calculating CIA agent that shouldn’t have been messed with. She ended up being a good teammate for Elizabeth until one of Berlin’s men sliced her throat in the season finale. So she’s dead, too. See? This isn’t such a formulaic show after all, because nobody really saw that one coming.
Also known as Grey, Newton was Red’s right hand man until Red discovered that he fed information to Fitch and Anslo Garrick about the location of the Post Office. Obviously, Red killed him for his betrayal, and Newton was pretty cool about it for a guy who stopped breathing.
Red rescued Dembe from something called the Eberhardt Cartel, which trafficked the former soldier as a sex slave. By the season finale, Dembe was also the only employee that Red still trusted, while he was also the only one who was still alive.
Luli and Red might have had a stronger relationship than meets the eye, but we’ll never really know now, because she’s dead. While Anslo was trying to convince Red to open the impenetrable box that he sealed himself in during the raid on the Post Office, the terrorist shot and killed her.
Played by the awesome Lance Reddick, the Cowboy’s role on The Blacklist was very disappointingly short-lived. Red hired him to keep tabs on Elizabeth’s husband and Jolene Parker, the woman that Tom was “cheating” and working with (in various capacities) until Tom ended up killing him and Jolene. Maybe the Cowboy has a twin brother that is a little better at not being caught.
Jolene Parker/Lucy Brooks
The extent of her role was never revealed, but we know that she worked for the same “employer” as Tom, at least until he murdered her. And now they’re both possibly dead, so who knows what the hell they were trying to accomplish? Interestingly, I stumbled across some Blacklist fan conspiracy stuff on Tumblr the other day, and there are people who think that not only is Lucy Brooks still alive, but that she’s going to somehow come back as Audrey Bidwell, thanks to some stellar plastic surgery. Holy crap, if that happens, I will jump ship.
Mr. Kaplan is actually a woman who cleans up all of Red’s messes. More specifically, she disposes of the dead bodies once he does his thing, as she made Diane, Lucy and the Cowboy vanish forever.
Ranko simply appeared to be a homicidal maniac bent on revenge in the pilot of The Blacklist, but he ended up revealing that there was more than meets the eye to Tom Keen, in that Red wanted him dead from the start. While Ranko really doesn’t warrant mentioning, the fact that he stabbed Tom in the stomach in an attempt to kill him lends some evidence to the theory that Tom will certainly still be alive.
The Blacklist So Far…
He might be No. 8 on the list, but right now he’s Red’s top enemy. Played by the delightful Peter Stormare, Berlin is a mysterious man who went as far as to chop off his own hand to avoid being recaptured. He’s now on the loose and ready to get revenge on whoever chopped his daughter up into pieces, and apparently that has something to do with Red.
16. Anslo Garrick
Anslo was hired by Fitch to capture Red from the FBI so he could interrogate him about what he actually knew. Fitch didn’t really plan to kill Red, but Anslo was a charming psychopath so he gave him the order to kill. Red, of course, is always smarter and stabbed him in the neck with scissors. This was a very fun scene.
42. The Kingmaker (Dead)
47. Frederick Barnes (Dead)
57. The Judge
Ruth Kipling (Dianne Wiest) helped wrongly convicted prisoners get “justice” on the people who put them behind bars by thinking up clever and ultimately f*cked up ways to take away the same amount of time from their lives. In Harold’s case, she wanted him dead because he had beaten a confession out of a prisoner who was just executed for his crimes. Except, whoopsie, that prisoner was actually guilty, so Ruth is off to prison.
64. The Cyprus Agency
Owen Mallory (Campbell Scott) ran an adoption agency that seemed squeaky clean up front, but he was actually kidnapping and perpetually drugging women so he could use them as baby farms, while impregnating them with his own sperm.
73. Madeline Pratt
She’s a master thief who made off with one of Red’s paintings after he and Elizabeth stopped her from selling some old nukes to the Russians. Madeline is also the closest thing that Red has to a romantic interest.
83. Mako Tanida (Dead)
Wujing is a master hacker for hire, but he’s a little locked up right now.
85. The Courier, AKA Tommy Phelps (Dead)
An elite Russian hacker who once stole $5 million from Red, but after a case of mistaken identity, he ended up as an ally and paid Red back with interest.
101. The Alchemist, AKA Eric Trettel (Dead)
106. The Good Samaritan, AKA Karl Hoffman (Dead)
109. General Ludd, AKA Nathaniel Wolff
Wolff (Justin Kirk) is the leader of the General Ludd terrorist group that wants to destroy the value of the dollar. And he would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for Red!
119-122. The Pavlovich Brothers (All dead)
135. Milton Bobbit (Dead)
145. The Freelancer
The Freelancer was just a patsy used by Red to distract the FBI from his vengeance against Floriana Campo, who ran the same sex trafficking cartel that he rescued Dembe from. Naturally, Red killed her.
152. Gina Zanetakos
She escaped after she was stopped during an attempt to detonate a dirty bomb. She and Red have a history and she was somehow connected to Tom, so we’ll probably hear from her again.
161. The Stewmaker, AKA Stanley Kornish
He was the creepiest of the first season’s Blacklist members, and he definitely died in the most bizarrely enjoyable way possible. I’ll miss you, flabby old dude!