The Blacklist: 2.01 Lord Baltimore, 2.02 Monarch Douglas Bank
Forget Marvel's Agents Of SHIELD, it was The Blacklist that was the surprise hit of the 2013/14 television season in the US. It also gathered a strong fan base over here in the UK. Looking back now, its easy to see why. A riveting performance from James Spader as Raymond "Red" Reddington, fascinating list of villains week after week and plenty of shocking twists and turns that made for great TV.
Many shows that had an amazing debut season often struggle with the second season follow-up - Homeland I'm looking at you - but judging by the first two episodes of The Blacklist season two, there is no sign of that happening here. Audiences were thrown back into the action, the intrigue and the drama as the story of Red took an interesting new direction.
If Lord Baltimore and Monarch Douglas Bank are anything to go by, then the story has become far more personal for Red, now that he has an arch villain in Berlin to contend with. Peter Stormare is having a blast as the man out for revenge for the death of his daughter and he will do everything he can to stop Red, even kidnapping his Red's ex wife and sending her back to him piece by piece.
Berlin is a far bolder character than we've seen in the villains previously, many of which bordered on darn right sinister and as dastardly as he is, Stormare is no match for Spader. My one bit of criticism is that Berlin doesn't seem enough of a challenge for Red but maybe that is because Spader has created such a mesmerising character it would be difficult to find any character or actor that could truly push him.
That said, the introduction of Red's ex wife is an interesting development and the always great Mary-Louise Parker plays Naomi as a woman with such great energy and intelligence that you easily imagine her being Reds partner in better days. I suspect we haven't seen the last of her either, not least because I want to see Parker bounce of Spader and that has happened yet. Plus we've still got his long lost daughter - Agent Keen's sister? - still to enter the fray. I can't imagine that Berlin won't target her at some point too.
Yes, Agent Keen. Shes a bit of a lost soul now that her husband-turned-spy Tom is supposedly dead. The 'is he evil?' part of their relationship was one of the highlights of the first season and we haven't seen evidence of an equally mesmerising story line for her yet. But it is early days. For now, she's taken on the role of competent FBI agent who has thrown herself into her job, just like kindred spirit Ressler.
The FBI unit doen't shine as much in these two episodes, but against Red that's always a challenge anyway. There is the sense that Keen and Ressler are very much broken by death and / or betrayals of their partners last season and it will be interesting to see where that goes. The mysterious new Mossad agent Navabi also proves to be an interesting player in this whole affair and I'm looking forward to the eventual discovery that she works for Red too.
And what about the episodes themselves? Lord Baltimore served as a strong season opener and it was interesting to see a female in the 'villain of the week role with Krysten Ritter playing very different characters - good and evil twins - the evil of which takes on the titular villain role to track down Red's wife. Lord Baltimore is an interesting baddie but does get a little lost in the plot, particularly as the audience spends half the first episode trying to remember just what exactly happened last season.
It did have an epic opener though, with Red forcing the hand of his African soldier allies in his search for Berlin. Spader plays it as cool as ever, even when hes surrounded by child soldiers and missiles are blasting the ground around him. Plus we have the most pointless destruction of a huge wad of cash in TV history!
Episode two is stronger and interestingly doesn't have the classic Blacklist villain. Instead the title refers to a bank that holds the secrets of numerous global criminal enterprises, Red's included. Keen and Ressler get to travel to Warsaw to uncover the bank's secrets and there's plenty of gripping action, particularly the assault on the safe house which leaves their source injured and the thrilling escape the city as Red helps them escape local police forces.
It's also an episode with plenty of twists and turns, from the big reveal that Red has used the attack on Monarch Douglas Bank just to get access to Berlins accounts to the reveal that the new Mossad agent who has agreed to work with the FBI is in fact in Red's pocket. As always he has his hand in a lot of pies and we're still left clueless as to the bigger picture, but that is half the fun with The Blacklist.
Overall a great opening couple of episodes with the promise of another cracking year of television. There's still plenty of mystery and we're certain that the war between Red and Berlin is far from over. It has become a very personal journey for the series' lead and it will be exciting to see just how far he draws Agent Keen and her fellow agents into his twisted web!