With so much packed into The Blacklist’s first season, it’s hard to believe the series is only on its second — but we’re here to catch you up before the big premiere tonight, September 22 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
The Blacklist’s focal point is Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader), a mysterious family man turned international super-criminal who waltzes into the FBI headquarters to spill all his secrets. Red claims that, as a super-criminal, he knows where all the real bad people are — the ones not on the “popularity contest” most-wanted list, but the people behind the scenes (three guesses as to what this list is called). There’s a catch, though: He’ll only talk to profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), which raises eyebrows since it’s her first day on the job.
Here, the show dangles one of the plot threads that still hangs loose over the entire series, no matter how many times it’s addressed: Red abandoned his family, and Liz is the daughter of a “career criminal” who walked out on her and her mom. Yeah, we know — Coincidence?! — but whether or not Red is Liz’s father, as he denies throughout the first season, he does make it clear that her dad has something to do with his attachment to her. (Speaking of, Liz’s adoptive dad died midway through Season 1, but we learned pretty quickly that guy knew Red. One point for “Red’s the dad”?)
And it’s good she at least has someone attached, watching out for her survival; it turns out her marriage to her husband, Tom, was all a clever ruse for him to get close to her so he could carry out a contract on our heroine, despite a very sad subplot permeating throughout the first season where the pair attempts to adopt a child. Neither the contract nor the adoption come to fruition — Liz shoots her husband three times in the stomach during a standoff in the finale — but Tom’s current whereabouts are unknown, if he’s even still alive. One thing’s for sure: He’s not a mild-mannered 4th grade teacher, as he somehow led Liz to believe before she married him.
Anyway, since Red saves the day in the pilot episode, the FBI starts trusting his tips a little more, although it becomes increasingly clear that Red is the one calling the shots in this partnership. Working out of an old US Postal Service sorting facility, now appropriately known as “The Post Office,” he develops his own little Scooby Gang that includes Liz, special Agent Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff), Assistant Director Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix), computer technician and ex-NSA Aram Mojtabai (Amir Arison), CIA agent Meera Malik (Parminder Nagra), and Red’s bodyguard, Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq). Not all of the FBI is totally on board; while Harold recognizes that Red’s been important to apprehending bad guys, he certainly has his doubts.
Together, the team takes down members of Red’s Blacklist, including a human trafficker posing as a human rights activist, sadistic body-disposal expert Tom “The Stewmaker” Noonan, the underworld’s aptly-named The Courier, and various other underworld figures — and that’s just in the first half. While some are obviously joined to an intricate network of behind-the-scenes shot-callers, othersappear to be monsters-of-the-week… until Liz finds a pattern to trace them all to a Big Bad called Berlin.
Notably, Red’s version of “taking down” is less “taken into FBI custody” and more “killing them, very quickly,” although his methods escalate as the season drags on. For example, in the mid-season premiere, “The Good Samaritan,” Red kills a dude by dousing him in vodka and stuffing a lit cigar in his mouth. But he’s only doing it to the super bad-dudes, so his particular brand of manic anti-heroism marches on!
If you perhaps suspected that Liz’s family situation — not to mention having a contract on her life — maybe means that her past isn’t as straightforward as her position in the FBI might imply, you get a gold star. We know a few things about her past: Her mom died before Liz reached adulthood (“of weakness,” says Liz) and, since her father left while she was young, she says she “raised herself.” Her past is pretty plagued with mysterious circumstances, though, like “a fire” that happened when she was fourteen — resulting in a scar that Liz says her dad gave to her. She also tells Red that she remembers her dad pulling her from the flames… and Red has a pretty complicated web of scar tissue across his back. Huh.
The main couple of loose ends we expect will be explored in Season 2? Liz’s past, obviously — and her connection to Red, be it biological or otherwise. The history between Red and the mysterious Berlin should also be a strong thread. We’ll see how the two intertwine.