In recent years I have increasingly stopped watching a lot of the network shows I used to favour such as Law and Order and CSI in favour of the much more nuanced fare available on the cable providers who tend to be far more adventurous, imaginative and interested in really creative storytelling and character interactions.
It was not in any way a snobbish choice – the network shows have their place and are absolutely enjoyable in their own way; they simply didn’t keep pace with my increasing need to watch television that matched the cleverness and narrative complexity of the books and movies I routinely read and watch.
One show, The Blacklist, has however bucked this trend despite its often formulaic tropes.
Granted it has the whole villain-of-the-week, existentially-challenged protagonist (Liz Keen played by Megan Boone) and mysterious antagonist/protagonist in the form of Raymond “Red” Reddington play with enthusiastic joie de vivre by the incomparable James Spader, but there is also a depth to it, a willingness to tell a far more expansive long-term story arc that grants it far more complexity than most other network shows.
And over its three seasons to date, it has only grown more daring, more willing to push the narrative boundaries and play havoc with the once-calmly-ordered fate of its characters.
At the end of season 3 – SPOILER ALERT! – we found out that Alexander Kirk (Ulrich Thomsen) might be Liz’s dad Constantin Rostov – c’mon just because he says he is doesn’t mean it’s true – saw Red uncharacteristically a step or two behind the main game, and witnessed Tom (Ryan Eggold) being reunited with his mother Scottie Hargrave (Famke Janssen), although neither person knew had happened or recognise the other (a backdoor pilot of sorts to spinoff show The Blacklist: Redemption).
And so to season 4 where Tom and Agnes are missing, Red will maintain Kirk isn’t the father, Liz won’t believe him because, let’s face it, after all his lies and omissions he has a massive credibility deficit and yet somewhere, somehow, Liz and Red will grow closer as she comes to appreciate, so says the show’s creator Jon Bokenkamp, just how deep their connections goes.
Yet for all that and the fact that Red comes riding to the rescue, there’s a big pall hanging over their relationship – the deception that led her to – SPOILER ALERT! – fake her own death in season 3, a conspiracy that went as far as including Mr. Kaplan (Susan Blommaert), one of Red’s most trusted accomplices (not so much anymore).
But as Bokencamp told Deadline, the relationship between Red and Liz is The Blacklist and long will it endure:
“Here’s what I love about this arc and her death — our fans, the really die hard fans, they were pissed when Liz died! They’re smart enough to know that Red and Liz are the show. The questions of who Red is to her, why he cares so deeply for her, what he wants from her — that’s all that ultimately really matters, and when we took Liz away from them the fans were rightfully upset. Hopefully, they see we’re not going to abandon that relationship, no matter how strained it becomes. And believe me — it will be strained. But that relationship is everything.”
The Blacklist season 4 premieres 22 September on NBC.