Incredible writing, fantastic music and a toe-to-toe showdown between Perlman and Spader. This is why we watch The Blacklist; it's for moments that blow us away.
Ample screen time for Perlman, Boone and Spader, but the rest of the cast pretty much filled in the gaps between. Not because they didn't perform well, they just weren't the focus. We missed Dembe and Tom.
The Blacklist — Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader), captured and delivered to a highly secret CIA prison facility, The Factory, seems too far-fetched to believe. Even the FBI Task Force at the Post Office can’t believe it. Because Red never does anything—even get captured—without a reason and a plan. Case in point, Luther Braxton (Guest Star, Ron Perlman as Blacklister, No. 21), a thief with a penchant for violence and high-profile heists, held at the same facility to which Red is delivered. Coincidence? We didn’t think so either. Red immediately informs Warden Mills (John Ventimiglia) that Braxton has a plan and a team ready to take the facility—and Red’s intel is hardly ever wrong. When Braxton and his team do exercise a violent takeover, Red is exactly where he intended to be from the beginning. He’s in the one place he can stop Braxton from stealing the second most valuable thing in Red’s life—the damning information he holds over Fitch’s (Alan Alda) international Cabal—the leverage known only as The Fulcrum. Convinced that Braxton’s only motive is the retrieval of The Fulcrum and that Red doesn’t have it, The Director (David Strathairn), with intimate ties to Fitch’s secretive group, sets in motion an air strike on the facility to eliminate all threats at once.
Meanwhile, when FBI Assistant Director Cooper (Harry Lennix) sends the Task Force to retrieve Red, he unknowingly delivers them directly into Braxton’s waiting hands. With Agents Samar Navabi (Mozhan Marnò) and Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) captured and bodies dropping around Braxton at his every whim, Cooper has little choice but to deliver Braxton the codes to infiltrate the most secret files under U.S. lock and key. Only Agent Elizabeth “Liz” Keen (Megan Boone), Red and a handful of prisoners with favors owed to Red stand in Braxton’s way. When Red and Braxton square-off in a, who’s bravado is bigger contest, the cat and mouse game results in a destroyed server room that ends Braxton’s plans. The ensuing chaos creates one perilous impasse however—the capture of Liz by Braxton. With time running out, a shotgun toting Red goes on a one-man spree of destruction to save her. When the dust settles, it becomes clear that Braxton knows much more about Red’s past than we do. With truths about to come out, the incoming missiles interrupt, saving information we’re dying to know for another day. With deadly ties to the past, swirling secrets and international conspiracies to discuss, let’s hack our way into the shocking and explosive Winter Premiere of The Blacklist to sort through the carnage and consequences this week!
Did we just hear Hellboy versus Ultron? Oh yes!
Not exactly, but if you channeled your inner geek just a bit and closed your eyes, you could almost hear it as James Spader and Ron Perlman exchanged testosterone-charged verbal barbs. We’ll hand it to The Blacklist. They don’t seem to be slowing down one bit and have no qualms with pulling in A-List guest stars capable of dominating a scene all on their own. The beautiful thing The Blacklist has done so well is balance those heavy-hitting guests with the presence James Spader creates by himself. Spader, and the larger arc of the show itself, is never overshadowed—only made better.
It takes a certain gravitas and presence to bring equal weight to a scene with Spader and Perlman lived up to the hype that’s been swirling since news broke of his casting. Not that we really had any doubt. Perlman has made a career of unique and defining roles on both television and the big screen. Let’s just say we hope we get the same (or more) mileage out of these two that we did from Berlin (Peter Stormare) and Red. We’re already petitioning for Luther Braxton, at the very least, to become a recurring character that plays a significant role in the second half of this season. Make him a series regular and we’ll be giddy. Let’s face it boys and girls, the bravado sizzled and crackled when these two icons went toe to toe. That makes it plain and simple; we want more of them.
“You’re such a snob, Red. Always considered yourself above the fray with your handmade suits and your fancy wine, your private jets. Do you even drive? You got everybody convinced you’re so hard, Red, but I know better. You’re soft.” ~ Braxton
“You’re not getting the Fulcrum.” ~ Red
“And how you gonna stop me, Red? Bore me to death with Beethoven? Put me to sleep quoting Nietzsche? Come on. We both know that in order to stop me, you got to have balls. You got to run the gauntlet. And after Belgrade, well…that’s just not gonna happen.” ~ Braxton
The pure cool, calm and collected swagger Perlman oozed throughout every scene was dripping with the confidence of an invincible man with a plan. Even the surprise arrival of Red didn’t phase him until the end, and then only for a second. Perlman was perfect for this part and Luther Braxton can now be added to his list of memorable roles. In just one episode he’s become a Blacklister to remember. We’re feeling lucky we’ll see him again in the next episode and can’t wait to learn more of his history with Red. And based on Luthor’s knowledge of Red’s past, perhaps even more about Red’s true connection to Liz.
A lot of praise has to be given to Director of Photography Michael Caracciolo for the very intentional framing of Braxton on the far left and Red on the far right in their respective moments of banter between each other in their initial conversation by phone. Though they weren’t in the same room, great mood lighting to set a somber tone and focus on the two actors switching from left to right through solid work by Editor Nathan D. Gunn made it feel like these two men were staring each other down. All that effort set up a great moment between two veteran actors that have mastered their trade. Perlman and Spader left us with geeky goosebumps and we can’t wait to see what happens in the continuation of this story in the second half of the Winter Premiere.
Red and Liz are a partnership forged of growing acceptance. These two are each influencing the other and it’s a beautiful thing to watch.
It may be a long time before we know the true nature of the relationship between Red and Liz, but one thing emerged loud and clear in this episode; they are both willing to go to great lengths to help and protect each other. That wasn’t always the case, but after the Fall Finale’s last emotional scene between them, things look to be a bit different. We suspect Red has felt this way from the beginning, but Liz is starting to reciprocate without being shy about it and that’s creating an interesting partnership dichotomy between the two.
Spader and Boone have done an outstanding job of helping us to no longer feel like these two are the mysterious and the innocent thrown together. They’ve both got battle scars and have been through a lot in a short period of time together. And through all that, their actions and words would seem to indicate that they both genuinely care for one another when the chips are down.
When Red discovers Liz is there to extract him, he seems dismayed that she’s put herself in danger on his behalf. Even the rest of the Task Force being in peril seems to hit him unexpectedly. His reaction almost gave us the feeling that the Task Force is “his” team and he’d put his life on the line for any of them. Whether that’s true or not, Spader made us believe he might in his assurance he’d get to Samar and Ressler and certainly later as he cut down nearly all of Braxton’s men to save Liz.
It’s in his quiet moments with Liz, his storytelling moments, that Red always shows us the unexpected. When confronted with direct questions, he seems to deflect the truth with his parables, but somehow we suspect they nearly always veer into his deeper thoughts if we can interpret them. He’s such a gifted actor that the transition between the serious and his stories simply feels like a natural shift for this character he’s built.
As he poignantly lamented his life for a brief moment and recalled the story about the fish that became hideous to survive in the black, Spader once again hit his stride in this character’s shoes. Some of his stories take wild tangents, but this one was painfully clear. The life you choose and where you thrive changes you. And for Red, there may be no going back. We couldn’t help but think of Berlin and his last moments with his daughter. He too, knew that he’d gone so far down a dark path that he couldn’t ever return. We wonder how often that thought rattles in Red’s mind. His story of the fish seems to indicate that at least on occasion it hits him.
“I’ve rarely thought about what I once was. But I wonder if a ray of light were to make it into the cave, would I be able to see it? Or feel it? Would I gravitate to its warmth? And if I did, would I become less hideous? I didn’t want you to come here, follow me here. Because the truth is if I don’t stop Braxton, what he’ll discover is that he can’t get the Fulcrum without you.” ~ Red
We’ll have to wait right along with Liz to find out what her connection is to The Fulcrum as all hell broke loose directly after. Spader and Boone have shared a lot of scenes in the last year and a half and both have found their comfort zone playing opposite each other in the quiet and crazy moments like this one. They feel more natural together than ever, but this revelation caught us off guard just as it did Liz.
Both actors have embraced small things that have bled over from the other character without losing anything of themselves. Red is a bit more reserved in his acts—unless perhaps they involve a vicious Cartel member—and Keen is a much more willing to skirt the rules to get things done. That melding is a combination of great writing and exceptional performers that know how much the small things matter as a kinship and odd partnership begin to form.
Music, writing, editing—and Red with a shotgun. Yep, we’ll be watching that sequence over and over again.
Is there a show that can create ambiance or a moment with music better than The Blacklist? There are many good shows that do it well, but The Blacklist seems to find just the right song for the most important moments. We’d love a compilation album of music from the series—seriously, that would sell and make a mint. NBC, Jon Bokenkamp or John Eisendrath, that’s a request if you are reading along with us here.
We’ve said in the past that we’re big fans of Dave Porter—both his original music and the choices for key moments in this series. This week was no exception. From the first moment with Red’s dramatic capture and delivery to The Factory to the tune of Magic Bus by The Who to the final, kick-ass moments of Red’s assault on Braxton’s team with the haunting Blood On My Name by The Brothers Bright music set a special tone for this Winter Premiere.
Special praise has to be given to the entire cast and crew of The Blacklist, especially Director Joe Carnahan and Editor Nathan D. Gunn for weaving three minutes of some of the best television we’ve seen in a long time to the cadence of Blood on My Name. Almost every line of the song meshes perfectly with the action, mood, and rising tension of the last five minutes of this episode.
After several re-watches, it becomes crystal clear that this entire montage sequence was all very carefully orchestrated and executed to perfection. Every line of the song adds meaning in just the right moments and makes both the peril everyone is in more real. We don’t know about anyone else, but Red’s take-charge assault to this amazingly perfect tune is some of the most re-watchable television we’ve seen. All of it leading to a face-to-face meeting between Red and Braxton well worth the wait.
“I know where it [The Fulcrum] was and I know when it disappeared. I know about the house, the fire, the girl. No wonder you came for her. She [Looking at Liz] was there that night, wasn’t she? She’s the one?” ~ Braxton.
Braxton appears to know much more than we do about that fateful night when things changed for Red—and perhaps Liz—forever. Either out of panic or simply preservation, Red implores Liz to shoot Braxton, but we’ll have to wait a week to find out what happens next as the missiles arrive just in time to interrupt the moment.
FINAL VERDICT: Red is back. Plain and simple—television is better with a little more explosive, ass-kicking Red on its schedule. This week we get twice the Red when The Blacklist moves to Thursday night at 9|8c. Hell yes.
The Winter Premiere was a tour-de-force of action and tension capped with brilliant performances and outstanding execution. Director Joe Carnahan delivered an hour of television so much fun to watch it felt like it flew by and the cliffhanger ending left us wanting more. All that was built around an outstanding collaborative story by Co-Executive Producers J.R. Orci, and Lukas Reiter along with a teleplay by Executive Producers Jon Bokenkamp and John Eisendrath. The Blacklist team brought this show back from hiatus with the level of punch worthy of a post-Super Bowl airing. We really only had a few mild negatives from the night. Most of all, where are Tom (Ryan Eggold) and Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq)?
Ron Perlman as Luther Braxton was an outstanding get for The Blacklist. We don’t know Braxton’s fate, but we are all secretly hoping he’s around for a while to create havoc and trouble for Red. Seeing the two of them banter is gold. They have a rich and sordid history it would seem and we’re itching to know more about what happened in Belgrade. Who gets the best of Red? Certainly not many who live to tell about it. Braxton seems very aware of events that led to Red’s criminal undertaking and we certainly hope the writers will let us in on a few more secrets on how Red and Liz are connected in the episodes ahead.
Red and Liz themselves benefited from the small shift from adversaries to partners. We don’t know how long that can last with Red still keeping so many secrets from her, but for now, we’ll enjoy the sentiment brewing between them. Their acts of protection of each other might be best described as that bond that forms when you survive numerous life and death situations with each other’s help. After the destruction of the boiler, Liz’s quick thinking, despite not knowing if he was still alive, saves Red from discovery. By pulling the metal plate up to cover him and attacking her captors head on, she distracts them from finding him. In turn, Red’s first thoughts upon waking are of Liz. They are both clearly focused on the other and we’re loving that subtle shift in their relationship.
We will be tuning in Thursday night to find out just what happens next and what Red and Luther Braxton have in store for us after this rousing Winter Premiere. We don’t know what connection Liz has to The Fulcrum, but it’s obvious that Red and Braxton know much more than we do and serious players in the background have decided Red must be eliminated. We’re dying to find out more and don’t plan to miss a minute when the show debuts in it’s new Thursday time slot. In the mean time, when we are feeling a little like life has kicked us down, we’ll be re-watching Red’s shotgun spree to free Liz. If that’s not a fist-pumping, bad boy moment to root for, we don’t know if we’ve seen one. Every character on this show has blood on their name, but none is as fun to root for as Red. The good news? We only have to wait until Thursday night at 9|8c to find out what The Director and Luther Braxton have in store next for Red!
Questions, Comments, Concerns and My Reaction on Twitter…
- The #SuperBowl is in the books. Who’s ready for the return of Red & #TheBlacklist? I know I am. Can’t wait for @perlmutations to guest!
- The Factory? Level 10? That all sounds like really sucky to me.
- Luther Braxton is in solitary. Not for long. Snack Luther?
- Get to Reddington. Find out what he’s up to. Um, I think Luther has different plans. That news is a shocker. 😉
- Time for Liz to channel her inner John McClane.
- I don’t think Warden Mills is going to be saying anything else. Damn.
- The Fulcrum. This is getting interesting.
- “Sadly there isn’t a prison on Earth where I don’t know a few guys.” Red has friends in low places.
- Holy Sh*t! Don’t cross Red. He never forgets.
- It’s the scenarios that you can’t imagine that always bite you in the ass.
- “Was that Nietzsche?” ~ Braxton. “No, Bruce Lee.” ~ Red. Much better advice from the 2nd than the 1st in this situation I think.
- That look. I think Aram is about to go into computer wizard mode to give Luther what he wants. #DontTouchMyGirl
- And THAT look from Aram. “For now, you still get to keep all your bank accounts Cooper.” lol
- Am I the only one that LOVED that exchange Between Braxton and Red? No? I didn’t think so. #BadAssBanter
- Looks like it’s down to Liz and Red to blow this ocean cruise party wide open.
- Smudgy Liz is just a pint of blood all over her and a Yippee Kiyeah MotherF&*ker! from going full Die Hard.
- Red, I think Gollum went through that same transformation. That ended really well for him. #Not
- “You’ll be the keynote speaker at their next whoowhoo convention and you’re people will be just a dead.” Damn. She’s cold.
- I’m gonna need that shotgun! How about just one shell bud. #RedIsBack
- Shoot him. W T F?
The Blacklist Review: 2×09 “Luther Braxton”