For decades, ex-government agent Raymond "Red" Reddington (James Spader, TV's "The Offi ce," "Boston Legal") has been one of the FBI's Most Wanted fugitives. Last season, he mysteriously surrendered to the FBI but now the FBI works for him as he identifi es a "blacklist" of politicians, mobsters, spies and international terrorists. He will help catch them all... with the caveat that Elizabeth "Liz" Keen (Megan Boone, TV's "Law & Order: Los Angeles") continues to work as his partner. Red will teach Liz to think like a criminal and "see the bigger picture"... whether she wants to or not.
After a hugely successful first season, NBC's 'The Blacklist' took a significant ratings hit during its second year, despite putting up nice numbers during a post-Super Bowl episode. Many fans blamed the network for moving the show to a new night of the week, but the real problem is how Season 2 comes out of the gate…trotting when it should be running. By the time Season 2 found its footing, many viewers had already abandoned the series.
Before I dive into what's wrong (and what's right) with Season 2, a fair warning: while I don't plan on giving away any major spoilers about this season in the body of this review, it's almost impossible to discuss the events of Season 2 without making reference to Season 1, so unless you've watched all those episodes (or have no plan to), you should really stop reading at this point and/or make the jump to the rest of the review sections below.
As Season 2 gets underway, there are a number of loose threads remaining from the first year, not the least of which are the questions of who Liz Keen's (Megan Boone, finally sporting her real hair instead of that Season 1 wig) father is and what's become of her husband, Tom (Ryan Eggold), who not only was revealed to be a spy but was suffering from a gunshot wound the last time viewers saw him. However, instead of jumping right back into those mysteries, the showrunners make the horrible error of deciding to pile on more questions before answering the old ones. We've seen TV series do this before, and the result is almost never good. It's not good for 'The Blacklist', either.
The first several episodes of this sophomore season falter by revealing that Red Reddington (James Spader) has an ex-wife (guest star Mary-Louise Parker) and no sooner do we find out about her than Red's arch nemesis, Berlin (Peter Stormare), takes her hostage and is threatening to send her back to Red a piece at a time (the same thing, incidentally, that Berlin believes Red did with Berlin's daughter). While there's nothing wrong with the acting here, this is the kind of distraction 'The Blacklist' didn't need, and it takes three long episodes to wrap up this storyline, as well as a fourth episode to conclude the whole ex-wife arc – although at least that fourth episode, 'Dr. Linus Creel', gets back to the kind of entertaining storytelling that made the first year so worthwhile.
But the truth of the matter is that even with some notable guest stars (including a mix of both returning and recurring ones) and a high-profile post-Super Bowl spot (the first part of the two-part entry 'Luther Braxton'), Season 2 of 'The Blacklist' really doesn't start to gel until the second half of the season. Thankfully, the continuing wonderful performance that star James Spader is giving as Red makes even the less-than-stellar entries in Season 2 bearable. The series is at its best when it focuses on his inner angst (is he evil, haunted, or a combination of both?) and should this series have any hopes of surviving past Season 3, it needs to put the focus back on peeling off the layers of Red's personal turmoil.
Thankfully, the showrunners also seem to have recognized the need to provide the viewership with some definitive answers, and Season 2 concludes with (seemingly) a resolution to the whole "is he or isn't he" question of Red's paternal connection (if any) to Liz. But it also places the Liz Keen character in a situation that – if the producers choose to have it play out instead of, say, resolving it in the first few episodes – could dynamically change not only the character of Liz, but the way she interacts with Red, as well as the other featured characters on the show.
Yes, Season 2 is easily the lesser of the first two seasons of 'The Blacklist', but that doesn't mean it's not worthwhile and not worth watching. It certainly stumbles a bit to find its way, but once it gets back on track, it's rewarding viewing for loyal fans of the series.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
The second season of 'The Blacklist' comes to Blu-ray in the same basic design the first season did. The keepcase is an oversized one, which stacks the five discs on a pair of hubs, with the first two discs on the inside left hub and the remaining three discs on the inside right hub. Each of the Blu-rays contain a different image of one of the primary actors on the show. The case also contains a pair of inserts, one containing a digital code for an UltraViolet copy of Season 2, and the other containing an advertisement for Season 3 as well as NBC's new series 'The Player', which is scheduled to follow 'The Blacklist' on Thursday nights. Also like the Season 1 release, the flip side of the keepcase's slick (seen from the inside of the keepcase) contains a list and summary of Season 2's episodes and which disc they appear on. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase's slick slides overtop.
There are no front-loaded trailers on any of the Blu-rays, and each main menu consists of a still of James Spader's character (the same image that is on the box cover), with selections running across the bottom of the screen. Each menu selection moves towards the left of the screen when attempting to select it and, upon selection, each menu option opens up with a list of selections down the left side of one's screen. One of the things that Sony continues to do on these releases that annoys me is listing all of the episodes and bonus materials on the menu of each disc. If you make a selection for an episode or bonus feature that isn't on the disc you are playing, a message will pop up telling you to insert the applicable Blu-ray.
Note: Once again, Target has released an exclusive 'Red Edition' of Season 2, although one's mileage may vary on finding it. The 'Red Edition' contains the same Blu-rays as the standard edition, but includes a different slipcover and a 'Villains Dossier' booklet that covers the different Blacklist bad guys (and organizations) of Season 2.
The Blu-ray in this release is Region A locked.
'The Blacklist' was one of the first network television series to shoot in 4k (using Sony CineAlta PMW-F55 cameras), and – like the Season 1 release – the video quality here is just outstanding. Colors are rich and vibrant without being oversaturated, the level of detail is amazing, and black levels are wonderfully deep and inky. Glitches are non-existent, and I could detect no issues with banding, aliasing, or noise. It's hard to imagine that this 1080p transfer doesn't even quite reflect what these episodes would look like in full 4k, but rest assured you're getting the best that Blu-ray has to offer here.
The only thing distracting about the transfer at all is that when green screen use takes place in an episode, it's usually (but not always) fairly obvious – particularly when characters are driving in vehicles. However, this is because the image is so sharp – not because there's an issue with the transfer itself, which I'm giving a reference-quality score.
Each episode in this release features an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that matches many theatrical releases I own in terms of crispness, clarity, and all-around immersiveness. Even in 'quieter' moments during episodes, there's a lot going on audio-wise, and I often found myself being 'tricked' into thinking a subtle noise coming from the track was actually a real noise coming from the room – a sure sign of a really well-designed audio mix. For a television show, 'The Blacklist's audio goes out of its way to have a lot of ambient sounds, directionality, and LFE effects as part of its aural mix.
One of my complaints about the Season 1 release (and, indeed, about many Sony releases) was that the explosions, action pieces, etc., sounded a bit too loud for what was actually occurring on-screen. That seems to be less of an issue this time around (or perhaps I just got used to hearing it that way), and the overall mix here seems slightly better than those first season discs.
In addition to the English lossless track, each episode also includes a French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, and French.
Note: Before we delve into what is part of the bonus materials, I'd like to take a moment for a slight rant about what's not here. In the Blu-ray release of Season 1, Sony provided these little four to five-minute segments called 'Beyond The Blacklist' for each and every episode, where the showrunners and actors would talk about the important developments of each entry. If such segments were created for the second season, they're absent on this release – and that's a shame, because I found those mini-featurettes highly entertaining and valuable to understanding and enjoying the mythology of the series.
While Season 2 of 'The Blacklist' stumbles out of the gate with a trio of less-than-stellar episodes and has an uneven year in terms of quality – particularly when compared to the stunning Season 1 – the show can still be quite entertaining at times, thanks in no small part to the incredible performance of James Spader in the lead role. While this release doesn't have quite as many bells and whistles when it comes to bonus materials, the A/V quality is still top-notch, and this set is still recommended and worth adding to one's TV collection.