Raymond "Red" Reddington, one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives, surrenders at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C.. He claims the FBI and he have the same interests, that is, getting rid of dangerous criminals and terrorists. Reddington will co-operate, but insists he will speak only to Elizabeth Keen, a rookie FBI profiler. Keen questions Reddington's sudden interest in her, despite his claim she is very special. After the FBI brings down a terrorist he provided information on, Reddington reveals that this terrorist is only the first of many. In the last two decades, he's made a list of criminals and terrorists he believes matter the most; a list the FBI doesn't know exists. Reddington calls it "The Blacklist".
I've heard a lot of good things about 'The Blacklist' over the past year or so, but this Blu-ray release of Season 1 was actually my first exposure to the show, having never caught an episode before now. Knowing how much mediocrity is praised on television these days, I must confess to not expecting much going in, and to being delightfully surprised by the quality of this series. Is it at times preposterous and stretching believability? No doubt. Is it nevertheless entertaining and enjoyable? Absolutely.
Far and away the main reason to get hooked on 'The Blacklist' is for the highly watchable performance given by its star, James Spader. Spader plays the FBI's most wanted fugitive, Raymond 'Red' Reddington, who surrenders himself to the Bureau in the opening moments of the pilot. He claims he's turned himself in so he can assist the FBI in tracking down notorious criminals, which Red has compiled a list of ('The Blacklist' of the title). He only wants one thing in return: he insists on only speaking with FBI newcomer Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone).
A big chunk of one's enjoyment watching 'The Blacklist' comes from trying to figure out Red's real agenda. There's obviously some reason he wants to deal solely with Elizabeth…but what is it? Red seems to know a lot about her background, but is it because he's just really good at what he does or is there a closer bond? To add fuel to the fire, Elizabeth has a husband, Tom (Ryan Eggold), who may be hiding some secrets of his own. A second thread that runs throughout the first season is the question of why exactly Red is doing what he's doing. Is he helping the FBI track down these criminals because he's trying to redeem himself? Or is he doing it because he's trying to eliminate a list of enemies/potential competitors? Or is it something else entirely?
One of the very smart moves the producers/writers of 'The Blacklist' have done with Red is to make him edgy without painting him as a true monster. There are other shows on TV right now with premises not too different from 'The Blacklist' – with the two most obvious ones being NBC's Hannibal and Fox's The Following. The difference between those two series and this one is that the main bad guys in those other series are psychopathic killers that are beyond redemption. While Red may ultimately prove to be similar, Spader plays him in such a way that one is never quite sure of his true feelings or motivations. You believe this guy is not beyond rehabilitation, and that makes him so much more interesting to watch.
Although 'The Blacklist' develops an interesting mythology for itself in Season 1, it's also important to note that – for all its serialized elements – each episode is also very much a procedural, with each new show introducing another criminal off of Red's Blacklist (in fact, each episode's title includes the number of the person's place on the Blacklist, the highest of which ranks as No. 161 in the first season, assuring that there's at least seven seasons' worth of bad guys to track down!). The bad guys on the Blacklist range from serial killers to white-collar criminals, so there's a nice variety of scenarios that develop, giving the show a freshness to it each week. Another smart move by the creators was the decision to not keep Red behind lock and key for the majority of Season 1. He's granted his freedom to move around on his own while working with the FBI, which – while rather incredulous in concept – makes for a much better series.
The biggest question after watching Season 1 is how long the show will be able to continue following the format that it does. How long can you keep secrets from an audience before they become bored with the show, and when you do start to unravel the mysteries, can you come up with enough new and interesting ones to keep viewers from tuning out? Of course, all those answers will come in time…for now, 'The Blacklist' is one of the freshest, most watchable series on the air, and definitely worth picking up on Blu-ray.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Blacklist' makes its mark on Blu-ray in a slightly thicker-than-usual keepcase, which stacks the five 50GB dual-layer discs on two hubs, with two discs on the inside left and three discs on the inside right. Each of the five discs contains a different promotional shot of one of the main characters on the show (with Disc 5 featuring two, so all six primary actors can be featured). The reverse side of the case's slick (seen from the inside of the box) contains a list and short synopses of each of Season 1's 22 episodes. Also included in the case are an insert containing a code for a UltraViolet copy of Season 1, along with an additional insert advertising the upcoming Season 2. A slipcover matching the slick's artwork slides overtop the keepcase.
There are no front-loaded trailers on any of the discs, just the standard Sony logo, followed by the main menu – which is a still of the box cover photo with menu selections running along the bottom of the screen.
Note: There have been a couple of retailer exclusive releases, if you can find them. Best Buy is offering a set that includes a 'Blacklist' T-shirt; while Target is offering an exclusive 'Red Edition' (for both the Blu-ray and DVD release) with a different slipcover that features a 'Villains Dossier' - although this is simply a printed booklet that comes inside the set, and not actually an extra bonus feature on the discs themselves.
This Blu-ray release is Region A locked.
'The Blacklist' is shot digitally, using primarily Sony CineAlta PMW-F55 cameras, which are a high-end 4k product. The result on a 1080p Blu-ray is simply stunning, providing a wonderfully detailed and sharp image rich in color and with deep inky blacks that is nothing less than reference quality. There's absolutely no defects to the image (at least none that my eye could detect), meaning zero instances of banding, aliasing, haloing, or the like.
The only downside to the wonderfully pristine image is that any glitches or defects in the actual production are glaringly evident. The most notable issue on these episodes is in terms of the CGI special effects. While the effects in the pilot are of motion-picture quality, the remaining 21 episodes of the first season show the limitations of a TV budget, as almost every special effect is glaringly low-end and noticeable. Even the green screen used when the actors are travelling in vehicles is quite evident. Of course, this has nothing to do with the transfer itself, but it can be a bit distracting and take one out of the 'realism' of each episode.
Overall, this is probably the best-looking TV release I've had the pleasure of viewing this year. Fans of the series certainly won't be disappointed and newcomers should be wowed by just how good each of these episodes look.
The English 5.1 DTS-HD MA track (the only audio available for each episode, other than the three bonus commentary tracks) is certainly well done, with a lot of noticeable rear-speaker use, plenty of directionality, and some nice low-end 'oomph' for many of the series' explosions and action pieces.
While most tracks from television series seem to disappoint somewhat, 'The Blacklist's actually rivals some of the audio I've heard on big budget movie releases, with a nice sense of immersiveness to each episode. Dialogue is also crisp, and thankfully never drown out by other noises, even during the bigger action set pieces.
If there's a downside to the audio here, it's a nitpicky one, and it's this: sometimes the explosions and gunfire seem a little too loud or 'showy' for what's actually happening on-screen. For example, a car will blow up, yet it will sound like an airplane just did. Or a character will get in a shootout that sounds like he or she is being attacked by a battalion. So, there's a slight lack of realism to the audio, but it's hard to argue against how fun at times it is to listen to.
In addition to the lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA track, subtitles are available in English, English SDH, and French.
If you're a fan of James Spader, you're going to love 'The Blacklist'. His 'Red' Reddington is one of the most interesting anti-heroes on television right now, constantly walking a tightrope between redemption and villainy. While some of its plot points stretch believability, there's little doubt that this is one of the more entertaining series you'll find, and this Blu-ray release of the first season is worth adding to one's collection. Highly Recommended.