I’ve watched all of the Blacklist that’s available on Netflix Australia right now, which is to say up to the end of Season 4, and I did so only, I can assume out of some sense of ridiculous obligation. Blacklist is a TV series that establishes itself with a strong premise, a robust opening, a promising cast of initial characters, and stands back, arms spread, saying watch this unfold.
I have now after all this watching, some information for you which must come after the fold, because somehow someone out there might be fancying No, I want to watch this show, without that knowledge, so it can surprise me. If that’s the case, friend, please, first of all, brace for disappointment, but, for your sake, here is the fold:Oh my god this series is stupid.
Okay, okay, I’m being glib, but here’s the big twist of Blacklist, the answer to the question the series clearly had no actual clear approach to when they started: Reddington is Liz’s biological father and everything – not some things, not most things, every thing he’s done since her conception has been one large, elaborate super-contrivance to ensure she is safe from her father, and also some other people, and also also also some other other people, and –
That’s the germ.
That’s the story that the series spent a series more or less deliberately kiboshing, the story that they presented, then pulled back from, saying no, it’s too easy. That’s the story that took them four seasons to get around to, and what makes it worse is that the opening seasons even explicitly said that it wasn’t true.
There’s this turn of phrase, Finding the story in writing it, where you don’t know what a story is going to do, or where it winds up, but you have a premise so you go for it and you make it up as you go along and see what the story shows at the end. This works out okay for books, because they’re easy and cheap to revise and really badly for movies, because you often need to have a few thousand people involved in making an extra thirty seconds of someone scratching their butt.
In the case of Blacklist, they didn’t seem to have a clear image of what they were making in mind until they were halfway through. Then they had the arc of what a season had to do, and then they made that happen, outlining the shape of a mystery. But each mystery lacked for something it was about, and when they were completely exhausted, they had only one option left: Go back to the plot they’d already thrown away, and say oh it was this.
I don’t have special insight into this, by the way. This is me interpreting the text based on the text; it projects a lot of incoherence and inconsistency, which means that I’m jerked from considering the diegesis and start considering the meta – this is work that’s full of continuity nods, suggesting they want you to pay attention, but then breaks continuity on some of its most basic features. How basic?
Episode 1 Liz introduces herself talking about a criminal history and a host of complaints about her hostile, aggressive, mannish behaviour. This is of course, literally never followed up on. Tom Keene kills Jolene and the Cowboy and that makes sense until you remember literally all three of them were hired by Reddington. This has a bonus side order of colouring Tom Keene’s character forever and when he slots in with the Neo Nazis they even do a little scenelet to try and say he was going to blend in as one of the not so bad Neo Nazis, which, whoof. The Cabal, the Fulcrum, these huge complications in Liz’s life are mostly a byproduct of Reddington’s organisation building around her – he creates the problems that he has to solve. It’s not even presented very seriously like this: The narrative is of Red as a hypercompetent planner who has accidentally repeatedly fucked things up.
So why the hell did I watch all of it?
Well, one, the music is great.
Second, for all of its bah-humbug bad plotting it has a bunch of characters I really like in it, even if they’re given some of the stupidest stuff to work with. I like Samir until they have him talk about technical things, because I know just enough to know that they’re talking nonsense. I really liked the first season’s badass women of colour until they went away. I like Tom Keene because half the time he feels like he wasn’t the character who murdered Jolene and hung out with Nazis. I also really properly like Mr Kaplan, who had this wonderful arc of an evolving, expanding character, where learning backstory didn’t actually contradict what you already knew. Also, Dembe is a great comic foil of a character.
Third, I realise, this show is basically X-files but instead of Conspiracy Theory Wizards, it has nothing but Crime Wizards. It’s full of these characters with super-arch, pointlessly useless names – They call him The Courier. Oh, so the courier’s on his way? Well, yes, but – do you, do you mean the Courier or the courier. Oh damn. But they’re always full of ridiculous superpowers meant to be justified with the most ridiculous of science – oo, the troll farmer is … a troll with a harrassment sweatshop? This dude doesn’t have a nose, and –
(There is a super awkward question of why the Blacklisters are inevitably ugly, deformed, or people of colour.)
And of course, Aldis Hodge shows up – and I will watch almost any show with an Aldis Hodge moment in it.
Anyway, I don’t have much to say beyond wanting to go on public record somewhere that The Blacklist is a really, really stupid series.