The Blacklist: The Complete Third Season
As season three of the television crime drama The Blacklist begins, its heroine is, rather than chasing after notorious members of the criminal underworld as an FBI agent, being pursued by a number of organizations herself. These include the very task force she'd just been an integral part of during the show's previous two seasons. Agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) was last seen shooting and killing the United States attorney general after already being on the lam as a suspected terrorist responsible for both a deadly explosion and the murder of a senator. Suddenly Liz was right next to her famed confidential informant, series antihero Raymond Reddington (James Spader), on the FBI's Most Wanted list.
To dissect exactly how we got to this point on such an entertainingly convoluted program might be more exhausting than it's worth but a basic rundown of the premise still seems necessary: concierge of crime"Red" Reddington took an unusual and not fully explained interest in Elizabeth Keen just as she began work as an FBI profiler. This lead to a newly-created and top secret task force in which Reddington would provide the name of and information on a top criminal and the FBI agents would track down said criminal, ridding the world of a major threat and thus justifying its clandestine allegiance with a charming but deadly lawbreaker. Keen also, notably, realized her husband Tom (Ryan Eggold) was a sleeper agent deep undercover and working for a man named Berlin. Love is complicated.
The twists and turns are soapily operatic during the course of the show but a willingness to evolve has been one of its greatest strengths. Rarely has such a fluidity between good and evil been on display in what is basically a network procedural. Aside from the dichotomy with Liz, there's the entire task force's frequent subverting of what is legal, what is right, etc. to accomplish a perceived greater goal. There's also the character of Tom, whose arc has run the gamut from benign and loving husband to dangerous threat, bearded prisoner and then back to ally status and who now has the distinction of having his own spin-off series set to debut next year.
At its best, The Blacklist is reminiscent of modern classics like The X-Files - when it tackles an unusual "monster of the week" through the eyes of Liz and partner Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) - and Alias - with its globetrotting female agent protagonist plagued by daddy issues - but with the added treasure of James Spader and his seemingly unbridled eccentricities. The Blacklist is indeed a bit more than just a vehicle for delivering Spader's performance as Reddington but that doesn't marginalize the joy in watching him. Without Spader the show would be far more pedestrian and one-note. His Emmys came already for Boston Legal but one imagines that this might end up as his defining role. He's outstanding and brimming with enough charisma to forgive the ridiculously violent situations in which Reddington so often finds himself.
As Liz and Red continue on the run in the first third or so of this season, the blacklisters that dominated the first year and roughly half of the second take a backseat to the more binge-able device of a plot element with almost weekly cliffhangers. By the time Liz returns to the task force in an advisory role we're back to the episodes dominated by standalone elements but sprinkled with larger, mythology-laced moments here and there. A major shake-up then forces this in a totally different direction - giving the show's third season a fairly defined divide into three distinct sections. This variance of tone and focus across the twenty-three episodes keeps things exciting, making for an unpredictability that plays perhaps better on disc than if watching week to week on television.
Indeed, this was probably the best season yet for The Blacklist. Some healthy suspension of disbelief is a requirement at times but the mix between propelling the main arc between Liz and Red along with each episode's individual, self-contained narrative has never been better. The season hit a three-episode peak with the two-parter "Mr. Solomon" and "Cape May" near the year's homestretch. The former's climax showed a remarkable willingness for violent excess in unlikely places while the latter may have been the best, yet most atypical episode in the show's history. Something about the surreal approaching existential feel of "Cape May" made for an extraordinary viewing experience. It brought to mind celebrated one-offs like the "Pine Barrens" episode of The Sopranos. This isn't the kind of episode that could be done often or, perhaps, ever again, but it was perfect for the moment and time when it did happen.
Other highlights of season three include a Reddington hostage situation manufactured just to free his imprisoned attorney (played by Fisher Stevens) and a peek at an international supervillain island retreat where Red must confront someone claiming to be the real Raymond Reddington. Supporting characters, particularly Aram (Amir Arison) and Cooper (Harry Lennix), also get some nice opportunities to share the spotlight in what has become more of an ensemble show than it once was. The strengths of the cast go a long way in taking some of the pressure off the somewhat bland character of Elizabeth Keen. Still, if there's a complaint to be made about the season it's probably the sputtering last few episodes where we're introduced to Famke Janssen as Susan Hargrave. Designed surely to drum up interest in the upcoming spin-off show featuring her character alongside Tom Keen, it can't help but come across as a watered-down version of the Red-Liz dynamic.
Sony has released The Blacklist: The Complete Third Season on Blu-ray, and this review is for the U.S. edition. It consists of twenty-three episodes spread across five discs. A Digital HD code can be found inside the case.
Video is presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio and registers as a clean, crisp presentation. There's no damage here or artifacts or other issues. The image appears natural and vibrant.
Audio similarly emerges with ease. The English language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks are flecked with ample gunshots and noise effects but also allow dialogue to come through clearly and without incident. Subtitles are available in English, English for the hearing impaired and French. A French language dub track is also included.
An array of special features supplement the set, including several exclusive to the Blu-ray edition. These BD-only extras are Deleted & Extended Scenes, commentaries on a couple of episodes and a pair of featurettes.
The Deleted & Extended Scenes can be found for most episodes (fifteen, by my count) but are often short snippets. The exception is "Cape May" which has over fifteen minutes of these. The audio commentaries are from creator Jon Bokenkamp, Brandon Margolis and Kat Goodson and are offered on both "Cape May" and "The Director" episodes.
"Creating the Stunts: Script to Screen" (11:10) is pretty much as expected based on the title. The primary takeaway here is that the stunt coordinator has a tight schedule and little room for mistakes while working on the show. There's also a deleted clip from a fight between Ressler and Tom in a cabin in this featurette.
"From the Shadows: Villains of Season 3" (14:20) is the other BD exclusive and has cast and crew members discussing the various bad guys and gals found during this season. Expected attention is given here to Mr. Solomon as well as David Straithairn's Director character and even Christine Lahti. It winds down with a non-specific tease about some of season four's villains.
Additional featurettes also found on the separate DVD edition include "Outside the Box: Making The Blacklist Comic Book" (8:42). Here Nicole Phillips discusses the uniqueness of the comic book based on the show, including its production and two of the blacklisters created just for the comic book.
"All About Aram" (10:49) is a look at the deserved fan favorite played by Amir Arison. The optimistic and earnest tech-savvy agent is always one of the highlights of any episode.
"Red's Gems: Favorite Lines from Season 3" (7:04) gives us a refresher on some of the great lines James Spader got to say over the course of the season. These bits of eccentric verbalizing often come off as improvised by Spader but it's apparently just solid writing and acting.