Review: The Blacklist

In the last week or so I watched season 1 of The Blacklist. I got hooked on it and just kept watching. After episode 1, I wasn’t sure I was committed, so I tried episode 2. Before long I decided to watch the whole season.

James Spader in The Blacklist
James Spader in The Blacklist

James Spader stars as Raymond “Red” Reddington, a criminal mastermind who inexplicably turns himself in to the FBI, but only on the condition that he works exclusively with FBI agent Lizzie Keen (Megan Boone). Spader’s performance is outstanding. He has Red Reddington down from the first seconds of episode 1 and plays him with sophisticated grace and depth.

Red’s thing, his deal, is that he has this list of bad guys that he will help the FBI get. He gets immunity for his information, but he only offers information about bad guys that he himself has a reason to want to catch or put out of commission. He calls the shots for a team of federal agents and they run around catching bad guys based on what he tells them. There’s the question of the connection between Red and Lizzie running through every episode.

The Blacklist is an odd combination of the completely obvious plot and the completely surprising and unexpected plot. The characters are never quite what they seem, people’s motives are always questionable, and the action is tense.

Megan Boone in The Blacklist
Megan Boone in The Blacklist

It took me a long time to get attached to the female lead. There are two reasons why this might be. Either Megan Boone plays her character as a stoic personality in control of her own display of emotions, or, Megan Boone is not a particularly nuanced actor. The expression on her face remains the same whether she’s shooting at a bad guy, talking to Red, making love to her husband, or crying over her dying father.

Even though James Spader is the big name, the star, his character is shadowy and mysterious. It’s really Lizzie’s story, her life both inside and outside her work, her marriage, and her early childhood memories. Megan Boone’s lack of affect in this part both put me off and – in later episodes of the season – made me appreciate the internal workings of her investigative mind.

Parminder Nagra is another FBI agent. She is a favorite of mine and I was glad she was in the cast. Gave me a female character that I liked instantly. Her part wasn’t big enough.

Other agents on the team with Lizzie Keen were Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff), and Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix). I can never see Harry Lennix without thinking of Dollhouse. His part in this series is very similar to his part in Dollhouse, which contributed to my frequent recollections of the older show.

Megan Boone and Ryan Eggold in The Blacklist
Megan Boone and Ryan Eggold in The Blacklist

Lizzie Keen’s husband is played by Ryan Eggold. A good part of the personal drama for Lizzie involves Red warning her about her husband but her steadfastly believing in her man. Mostly. Maybe he’s a loving husband and fourth grade teacher. Or maybe not.

Interesting recurring characters included Alan Alda as a Senator, Jane Alexander as an FBI higher up, and Rachel Brosnahan as the mysterious Jolene who tries to seduce Lizzie’s husband.

One of the things I like about the show are the sets or locations. I’m not sure how real everything was but there were locations seemingly all over the world. The sets used for the task force and for where the criminals were caught were excellent. I liked the places where Red hung out, I liked Lizzie’s apartment. Outdoor scenes were plentiful and set in interesting places. The action scenes were very well done, too. There were all the requisite gun battles, car crashes, plane crashes, fist fights, knife fights – everything you could want in the way of excitement and action.

Season 2 of The Blacklist begins next week. I’m sure I’ll be watching to see what intricate plots involving criminals get brought into the story, and if Lizzie ever figures out the obvious in relation to who Red is.

Photos by NBC – © 2014 NBC Universal Media

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Dollhouse: Reality Catches Up with Fiction

I’m a Dollhouse fan, so this tweet from @HostilePoet_17 caught my eye.

The tweet lead me to this story in TIME Magazine : Memories Can Now Be Created — And Erased — in a Lab.  In TIME, the writer talked about the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but I’m with Dara, the story makes me think about the series Dollhouse.

Created by Joss Whedon, Dollhouse was on the air for 2 seasons from 2009-2010. The premise was that the residents of the dollhouse, who were captives, could be remade over and over into new people with new skills as needed for new jobs. Their memories were constantly being erased and rebuilt, depending on what the puppet masters needed them to do. Sit them in a special chair, zap their brains, and suddenly they were skilled surgeons or soldiers or equestrians.

Like Orphan Black allows for virtuoso performances from Tatiana Maslany, Dollhouse allowed the lead characters, particularly Eliza Dushku who played Echo, to be a completely different personality every week. All the actors who played “dolls” had the dream job of demonstrating their chops by inhabiting an ever changing array of personalities and characters.

Eliza Dushku in Dollhouse
Eliza Dushku in Dollhouse

If you are a Whedon fan, you know that Eliza Dushku also worked with Whedon on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Other Whedon regulars who appeared in Dollhouse include Fran Kranz as Topher, the mad scientist who rewired everyone’s brain with aplomb, Amy Acker as (mostly) a doctor who helped take care of the dolls, Alexis Denisof as a Senator, Summer Glau as one of the dolls, and Alan Tudyk as a scary character named Alpha.

Harry Lennix, Tahmoh Penikett, and Olivia Williams were in the cast as characters who ran The House and the dolls. Most of the time these characters would be considered “the bad guys” but that was a bit fuzzy on this show. In addition to Echo, other dolls included Enver Gjokaj as Victor and Dichen Lachman as Sierra.

The conflict and struggle in Dollhouse partly came from the fact that the memory wiping and imprinting process was never quite perfect. For example, Echo always had vague ideas about who she really was and struggled to hold on to that. Victor and Sierra were in love. No matter what personality they had to take on, that basic emotion always seemed to creep back in. The struggle to recall who they really were led the dolls to attempt subterfuge and misdirection in an attempt to save their own memories and to escape from the dollhouse.

Mixed in with that overall story arc of the dolls attempting to get back to who they really were, there were the weekly stories centering around whatever action or job needed to be done by the dolls that week.

You could wipe my brain and make me forget that I’d ever heard of Joss Whedon, but I’d only have to watch one episode of Buffy kicking vampire butt or Echo fighting to retain her true self or or Gina Torres decked out in leather and guns aboard The Serenity to fall in love with his fictional females all over again.

If you missed Dollhouse the first time around, I suggest you watch it now. And if you’ve already seen it, binge watching a second time is a perfect way to spend a weekend.

You can watch both seasons of Dollhouse on Netflix, Amazon or Hulu.

Like many Whedon creations, Dollhouse inspired an obsessive fandom to create a Wiki for the show. If you feel like getting into the details, the Wiki is your happy place.

Images ©20th Century Fox Television