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'The Blacklist' is Back With Its Sixth Season
January 3, 2019  | By David Hinckley

NBC's The Blacklist opens its new season with one of the most bizarre bank robbery scenes you'll ever witness on television. 

The bank heist scene is played more for absurdist comedy than for violence, which is consistent with some of the past actions of Raymond Reddington (James Spader, top), the protagonist of our story and one of the robbers. 

The Blacklist is moving to a new night this season – Fridays at 9 p.m. ET, though this Friday is a twofer, with episodes at 8 and 9 p.m. The good news is that its 22 episodes will run continuously, with no mid-season hiatus, and that whatever the time configuration, Reddington remains one of the most shadowy characters on television. He’s charming yet often not likeable. He’s straightforward yet often elusive.

That Spader has managed to bob and weave through five full seasons while maintaining Reddington’s intrigue speaks well both for him and creator/writer Jon Bokenkamp.

The bank robbery scene illustrates the degree of difficulty here. At several points it almost plays like a parody, like a sketch satirizing Reddington’s peculiar brand of ultra-confidence.

At the same time it suggests that as The Blacklist moves along, so does its focus.

For the first couple of seasons it felt primarily like a high-level police procedural.

Reddington, a one-time Naval Intelligence officer turned international criminal mastermind, had turned himself in to the FBI and cut a deal. He would point a special FBI task force toward other international criminals, many far more lethal and immoral than himself, in return for remaining a free man.

The task force became the show’s nuclear family. It’s headed by Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix), with agents Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) and Samar Navabi (Mozhan Marnò) and techno-whiz Aram Mojtabai (Amir Arison).

Reddington also demanded the team include an FBI rookie named Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone, right, with Spader), for reasons that were naturally vague until it turned out he had a very personal connection to her. Like, he was her father. Or, wait, maybe that’s not exactly true.

Very elusive, as we said. The significance of that connection, however, is that while the Reddington/Keen connection was an intriguing backdrop to the early seasons while the team was hunting down extremely bad actors, the emphasis has gradually shifted.

Reddington’s relationship with Elizabeth, compounded by his efforts to define it on his own terms and her efforts to uncover the truth despite his interference, has gradually become the show’s most visible theme.

It’s safe to assume this isn’t an accident, and the fact Bokenkamp has kept our interest with a solid crime drama while gradually filling more of the sky with this intriguing cloud speaks well for his storytelling abilities.

As well as the talents of Spader, Boone and the rest of the core cast, which also includes Reddington’s bodyguard Dembe Zuma (Hisham Tawfiq, right).

Each of the other players has had featured subplots over the years, which has given viewers more reason to keep watching. It’s also spun the show’s larger arc over a longer timespan.

It does feel at this point that we are probably heading for the finish line, whatever that may turn out to be. The Blacklist could doubtless conjure enough awful criminals to keep the team hunting them for 20 seasons, but as noted before, that’s not why The Blacklist has done so well for so long. It’s got its eye on another prize. Red Reddington and all the FBI task forces ever created will not rid the world of criminals. But they can give Elizabeth Keen closure.

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