I had such high hopes for this show when it first started. James Spader stars in it. James freaking Spader! I’d been waiting for that since Boston Legal started circling the drain a couple of seasons before it was finally put of its misery.
The premise of the show looked promising, really: a criminal mastermind on the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted list strikes a deal with the Bureau: I will help you catch the most evasive criminals ever, but I will only talk to young new recruit Elizabeth Keen.
Spader’s familiar cadence and deadpan delivery is captivating, especially when portraying the anti-hero Reddington. As soon as the premiere aired, it was obvious that he was the entire show.
Elizabeth (Lizzy) Keen is a fresh-faced, idealistic, happily married young woman who does her best to live up to the expectations thrust upon her by her FBI colleagues (and to disprove their reservations about trusting their operation to the unlikely pairing of a newbie with a world-famous criminal). She’s sweet and perfectly likable, and – in theory – a good counterpoint to Red.
Sadly, the two have no chemistry.
As the series plot slowly unfurled, we watched Spader hand deliver a criminal per episode to the FBI task force specifically created for this purpose. Snippets of plot twists were dropped here and there as the series progressed. Liz’s husband, Tom, might be shady; Red’s own involvement in her life might predate his collaboration with the FBI; some of the criminals he helps them catch are not just old acquaintances of his, or even mere associates; their schemes are weaved through the plot, their activities interlinked with the lives of the show’s protagonists.
A few episodes in, some of the plot points started becoming convoluted. When watching a whodunnit or a spy movie, this is not unwelcome. It’s fun to hypothesize about the culprit and come up with your own theories. After all, a couple of hours later, all your questions are answered, your theories either vindicated or disproved.
But when you have a whole season to slowly build towards the cliffhanger that will pull the audience in and keep them there for the new season to follow, convoluted becomes confusing, ultimately lame and, well… boring.
It’s not just the unrealistic chain of events that did me in. I have no problem with suspensding desbelief – hell, I enjoy a show about zombies.
But it seems as though there’s not even a point to the show any more. After a series of complicated plot twists, we still have no idea if Tom really was a bad guy or a good one. Meanwhile, it was a matter of time before circumstances brought Liz over to the “dark side”. Now we somehow have to watch her and Red go on the run together, setting criminals free instead of catching them. Maybe “reversing” the roles between good guys and bad – at least to the outside world – was meant as a last ditch attempt to blow some life back into the show. Two episodes into Season 3, I’m not sure it’s succeeding.
The big story arc of previous seasons (her husband’s connection to Red and their mutual connection to a ruthless criminal) now resolved, I forget what that entire storyline did for the plot, other than confuse us. This season’s plot, along with the revelation – finally – about Liz’s mother, does nothing for me. Neither does the new villain (and a new supervillain organization out to get the good guys), who I’m sure has some back story making him ultra-evil and with an ax to grind where Red is concerned, but I either forget or paid no attention to whatever explanation was given as to their sudden appearance.
What does even less for me, though, is the fact that Red has disappointed and lied to Liz on so many occasions, she has vowed to cut him out of her life just as many times before, and yet here they are back where they started, helping each other out, building a meaningful relationship that is as yet undefined.
The writers might be trying to force this bond on us, but it’s awkward to watch when there’s no chemistry between the two. James Spader is perfectly capable of carrying his protagonists, but he does need a good script to do that. I’m afraid this one is terribly lacking. Not even Spader can pull a rabbit out of this hat.
So maybe it’s too early to call, but as far as I’m concerned, two episodes in, I am obliged to pronounce season 3 DOA.