The Blacklist has always felt more like a big-budget Hollywood thriller than an episodic crime drama, and the premiere of season 2 doesn’t suggest that’s changing. Season 2 picks up at an indeterminate time after season 1 — a few weeks at least — and keeps the action going at a great pace. And though the premiere works well for returning viewers, it also serves as a decent introduction to the series that gives a nice introduction to the characters and their relationships.

Plus it was a lot of fast-paced fun where you’re encouraged to root for the bad guy — Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) — simply because he’s better than all of the other bad guys… at least as long as you stay on his good side. If you’re a fan, this season is shaping up to be good fun. If you’ve never watched, then this is a good jumping on point. So what are you waiting for? Get watching!

Missed the premiere? You can catch The Blacklist on NBC Monday nights or watch it online on NBC.com or Hulu. If you missed the first season, you can watch it in its entirety on Netflix… or if you’d just like a crash course, this YouTube video will get you up to speed fast.

Now, let’s dig into the premiere episode, which starts right in the middle of the action with Raymond “Red” Reddington waking in a car in Cameroon in his first kidnapping of the episode. (He gets kidnapped twice: it’s a busy day.) Of course, because it’s Red, this is all part of the plan: he wanted to meet up with the leader of the group in order to find out who arch-enemy Berlin has sent to hunt him.

Red offers $3 million in exchange for the information, but there’s a time limit: Red’s already arranged to have the compound struck by Hellfire Missiles, and soon everything’s ablaze. In the end, Red gets his information, sets the cash he’d brought on fire, and walks away. If you’ve watched the series before, you know this is Red’s style at its best, but for newbies it’s a great introduction to the character… and it gives us our target for the episode, a hacker called Lord Baltimore who has a talent for finding people by mining their online data.

What is it with people on this show and location-based names? I don’t know.

Red’s FBI friends are none too happy about his methods, but his information is good and they set out to hunt Baltimore, starting with a lead that sends them to a data analyst named Rowan who puts on an excellent innocent act. How does she pull that off — considering we’ll later find out that she’s Lord Baltimore? She has two distinct personalities and one of them is Baltimore…. but the other doesn’t know it. Her accomplice Marcus knows how to trigger the shift, causing her to change from Rowan to Baltimore and helping her execute her plans while remaining above suspicion.

But there’s one big question here: why would Berlin hire a hacker to track down Red when Red avoids leaving any kind of online trace of himself? He avoids computers, social networks, and only uses burner phones. So who would a hacker be attempting to find? The FBI team working with Red speculates that it might be one of them, but after sorting through some of the data Baltimore has stolen Red realizes it’s a woman in protective custody named Naomi Hyland… who used to be his wife.

This is an interesting wrinkle. There’s already plenty to suggest that Red is FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen’s father — or, if not, at least knew him well — but could Naomi be her mother? Naomi mentions her former life going up in flames and we already know that Elizabeth was in a fire when she was young and Red has burn scars on his back. While the whole thing seems a little too obvious for the show’s subtleties, the idea has been stressed to the point that it’s hard to believe Red isn’t her father despite his denials… and now we might have found her real mother as well. Unless it’s all a smokescreen and Naomi and her daughter were in a completely unrelated fire.

But there’s no tearful reunion. Elizabeth shows no sign of putting the pieces together while talking to Naomi and soon Baltimore and company sweep through the assembled federal marshals and take Naomi to Berlin. And though Naomi tells Berlin she can’t do anything to help him find Red, but Berlin doesn’t care… because he intends to send her to Red piece by piece by way of revenge, believing Red did something similar to his daughter.

Does Red deserve this? With Red being a pretty bad guy himself, the series sometimes struggles with the problem of who viewers are supposed to root for — so it helps to paint an even worse villain in Berlin. And presumably we’ll get the satisfaction of seeing Red and company hunt him down… hopefully before Naomi, who’s already missing a finger, dies for it.

Bottom Line: The Blacklist is a thoroughly entertaining thriller with plenty of action. If the rest of season 2 can keep up with the pace set by the premiere, it’s going to be a very solid season of television. However, while the series has a decent ensemble cast, moments Spader is off the screen remain the least entertaining — and Elizabeth Keen, the lead “good guy,” still isn’t that interesting. But the rest of it is good enough to watch despite this.

Recommendation: Though it isn’t perfect, The Blacklist is pretty good television. Fans of action and thrillers will find it fun, if not always particularly deep. For fans of Spader, this is a must-see: he’s great in the role of Red and gets a lot of screentime… and most of the show’s memorable moments.

[rating=3.5]

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