A man like Raymond “Red” Reddington would certainly be looked upon as a man of questionable morals in our world, definitely not the kind of person to be emulated. In fact, he would be a cautionary tale for those seeking a life of crime and lawlessness.
Of course, Red doesn’t exist in the real world; he exists on television. And, on The Blacklist (screening on Tuesdays, M-Net at 8.30pm), he is extremely likable thanks to James Spader’s wonderfully unrestrained performance. Spader plays criminal mastermind Reddington on the hit drama which was picked up for a second season in December.
The backstory – Red, one of the FBI’s most wanted criminals, agrees to turn himself in on two conditions: one, he will offer up a “blacklist” of evildoers worse than himself in exchange for his independence; and two, he will only work with rookie profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone).
At times, Red is sympathetic, working to protect Liz in some sort of father-figure capacity. Sometimes he is heroic, risking his life to take down the bad guy. Mostly, he is a menacing figure, whom we know has ulterior motives. Still, Spader’s performance is full of such bravura that Red’s actions are often seen as laughable in a nuanced, uncomfortable, yet still amusing kind of way.
Take, for example an episode where Red is threatening to shoot a wayward bank associate. He tells this person’s wife he’s sorry he can’t stick around to sample her delicious stroganoff. In another scene, Red douses a villain with alcohol and places a lit cigar in the guy’s mouth. After waiting a few seconds, Red tells the man he can’t handle the suspense and shoots him in the chest.
You can’t approve of, let alone mimic that kind of behaviour in real life. But on TV, Spader’s performance is so over-the-top in these moments that we can’t help but smile and agree The Blacklist is this season’s best new series.
Speaking of Spader, executive producer of The Blacklist, Jon Bokenkamp, said, “You know, I think he’s brought the sort of strange sense of humour that the character has, that the show has – he tells me he saw that in the original pilot script. I didn’t see it as much.
“But I do think he, Spader himself, has a very strange perspective on the world, and is a funny – a very funny guy. And so, you know, in speaking with him and getting to know him, and starting to get to know his voice, sort of allows us to wonder what this guy would say, what he would do, what he would think is moral or not moral? And so, I do think that sense of humour and that voice is something he’s been helpful in filling out.”
Executive producer John Eisendrath puts it this way, “Morality. We have a lot of conversations, Jon and I, and then with James, as well, about, you know: Where would Red draw the line? What is his view about good and evil, right and wrong?
“And I think he’s very determined that the character not, you know, he’s not a psychopath. He’s not someone who has no sense of right and wrong. I think in viewing him with a sense of right and wrong really protects his character from just becoming evil. And I think he’s very aware of that, and that is another thing. I think that perspective is something I think he has helped to bring.”
Emmy winner Spader said he does not see Red as either good or bad. “He’s a very dangerous man who’s fun to spend time with,” Spader said. “I don’t know if the good in him or the bad in him will win out in the end. “I like the dark places, that’s what I’m curious about.”
One of the biggest mysteries on The Blacklist this season is the nature of the relationship between Red and Liz. Many fans predicted Red was Liz’s father but, when asked an episode ago, Red denied that was the case.
Was he lying? If Red is not Liz’s father, why is he protecting her? Why would he only work with her?
Bokenkamp and Eisendrath promise there is an answer but we’re not going to get it any time soon.
“Yeah. There is a definitive answer, and it is something we’ll take, hopefully, many years to answer. But it will certainly not be something we will lay out upfront here,” Bokenkamp said.
“But we will, you know, as I feel like we’ve done the first couple of episodes, we’ll continue this year to give concrete answers to that and other big questions. They may not be the final answer,” Eisendrath said. – Independent/slate/SMtv