Warning: Character and storyline spoilers for The Blacklist Season 1 are ahead.
Season 2 is set for a Sept. 22 premiere. If you're still wondering whether or not the first season of The Blacklist is worth a binge-watch catch-up, you bet your fedora it is.
For those who have yet to delve into that binge-watch, the fedora mention is a nod to the preferred topper of The Blacklist's central antihero, Raymond Reddington, the government-agent-turned-criminal-mastermind played so perfectly (and Emmy-worthily) by James Spader.
[Related: Fall TV Catch-Up Guide: 'The Blacklist']
Spader's performance is a whirlwind, as he's a suave, perfectly attired businessman at one turn and a serious, vengeance-minded (though still, and always, meticulously styled) thug the next, while perpetually at the ready with a baddie-thwarting plan and an irreverent quip, even in the most dangerous situations. Some label Red a villain; because we still have so much to learn about him and his motivations, in our book he's on complicated antihero, rather than villain, status.
And that sums up The Blacklist's many charms: It's full of high-stakes drama and the sort of clever storytelling, character development and dialogue — especially for Red — that most often are found only in the best cable dramas. That NBC is willing to have at the center of the show a true antihero and that producers have proven they're willing to kill off major characters along the way, have, along with Spader's performance, put the show on the very short list of network dramas that can hang with their cable counterparts.
Which has us worried: How will The Blacklist avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, which only a few choice shows, mostly on cable networks, manage to avoid each year? We have some thoughts:
1. Continue to Embrace the Badassery
Don't try to temper Red's badassery in a misguided attempt to make him more likable or sympathetic. We like him just fine, and more important, are intrigued and entertained by him. Let Red do Red, first and foremost.
2. Continue to Choose the Choicest Guest Stars
Alan Alda, Jane Alexander, Campbell Scott, Robert Sean Leonard, Lance Reddick, Dianne Wiest, John Glover, Peter Stormare, Charles Baker, Isabella Rossellini, William Sadler, Frank Whaley, Damian Young, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. were among the stellar guests and recurring cast members in Season 1.
Already-announced Season 2 newbies include Mary-Louise Parker as Naomi Hyland, an associate of Red's who is hiding a big secret from her husband, as well as Paul Reubens as the villainous Mr. Vargas, and guest turns by Oz alum Lee Tergesen and Breaking Bad's Krysten Ritter, which suggests The Blacklist producers know exactly which kinds of actors and actresses thrive on their show, and they continue to land them.
3. Give Agent Ressler a Break — With Fewer Bone Breaks
Diego Klattenhoff's Donald Ressler, Lizzie's (Megan Boone) FBI partner, became more and more integral to the show as Season 1progressed, but the writers still seemed to rely on him too much as the go-to guy for when one of the agents needed to suffer some physical fallout from tracking down the names on Red's hit list. If you're looking for a Blacklist drinking game, in fact, here's one: Imbibe any time Agent Ressler is in a scene that leaves him limping.
We know the general framework of Ressler's backstory, what's left him such a loner, but now that he and Lizzie are both single, and because we've noted that there's definitely a spark between them, we hope to learn a lot more about Ressler in Season 2 — and not just what blood type he'll need the next time he's on the receiving end of some violence that a blacklist entry would rather be directing at Red.
4. Step Up the FBI's Game
It's understandable that Red always seems to have a wealth of knowledge about the people on the blacklist — it's his list, after all — and about exactly what methods might be most successfully pursued to round them up. But the one consistent weakness of the procedural aspect of The Blacklist in Season 1 was that it often felt as if Lizzie, Ressler, leader Cooper (Harry Lennix), and the rest of their team were just sitting around waiting for Red to not only feed them names, but also give them step-by-step directions on how to proceed. Meanwhile, Cooper is an experienced, respected assistant director of the counterterrorism division of the FBI, while Ressler is an experienced agent whose past targets included Red; that is, both of them probably have some moves of their own. And then there's Lizzie, an FBI profiler who may be relatively less experienced but presumably would know enough not to aggressively question a mental patient the way she did John Glover's Dr. Sanders in the "Berlin" episode. We know and thoroughly appreciate that Red is always going to be the smartest guy in the room. He just doesn't always have to be the only smart guy, or woman, in the room.
5. Give Us Some Clarity or Closure on Lizzie and Tom
The relationship between Red and Lizzie in Season 1 was far more interesting than the one between Lizzie and her undercover hubby, Tom (Ryan Eggold). In fact, one of the series' few weak points in its freshman season was the pace and tone of the Lizzie and Tom marriage. The fact that their chemistry was, at best, awkward helped set the vibe when Lizzie began doubting him after finding his secret stash of passports and cash, but the chemistry was awkward even before that.
Whatever The Blacklist has in store for the Keens in Season 2 —assuming that Tom did survive being shot by Lizzie in the season finale, of course — here's hoping it's more in the service of the big-picture storyline of the series, and not in the service of continuing the Keens' relationship.
6. Continue to Help Us Build Up Our Playlists
Again, gotta compare The Blacklist to a fine cable drama for the way the show uses music to strengthen the impact of various scenes, such as the versions of Dolly Parton's Jolene that played throughout "The Judge" episode, which focused on the Lucy/Jolene (Rachel Brosnahan of House of Cards and Manhattan) character. And in "The Cyprus Agency," when Red was at his coolest, calmest, and most collected as he carried out a hit on Jane Alexander's Diane Fowler, then waited for cleaner Mr. Kaplan (Susan Blommaert) to arrive, all while Gordon Lightfoot's Sundown accompanied the action. "Sundown, you better take care/If I find you been creepin' 'round my back stairs," was spot-on as the Red warning that Fowler didn't heed. The use of the Lightfoot classic made it a tune that suddenly needed to be moved to your current iTunes playlist.
The Blacklist executive producer Jon Bokenkamp told TV Guide he already has a big song in mind for the episode that will air in the post-Super Bowl spot in 2015. Even if it's a song we've heard a million times, we're pretty sure it'll have a whole new meaning.
7. Keep Us Guessing: Who's Her Daddy?
Is he or isn't he? Is Red or is he not Lizzie's dad? That is a question to which it often appears the answer is obviously yes, but which the writers cleverly continue to keep open-ended in various ways. The scars on Red's back in the finale point to yes, but he keeps claiming he's never lied to Lizzie, so that says no, but then he killed the man who raised her to prevent him from telling Lizzie the truth, which suggests… which all suggests that the writers kept it ambiguous enough to keep us watching, but not so ambiguous that we've become annoyed with the question.
Our one bit of advice here is to cautiously stay the course. The father-daughter mystery has plenty of drama left in it, especially as the backstories of Red, Lizzie, and all the new characters likely connected to them, continue to unfold. But without some particularly clever and believable twists and turns, the mystery could also become a gimmick if it drags on too long, and The Blacklist is too good to let that happen. So, Blacklist writers, don't let that happen.
The Blacklist Season 2 premieres Monday, Sept. 22 at 10 p.m. on NBC.