Not the most watched TV show in America (somehow it's impossible for any series to compete with everyone's guilty pleasure aka the NCIS franchise), The Blacklist, nevertheless, draws respectable numbers of viewers: Between those who must watch every episode when it first airs (out of fear that they will be assaulted by the spoilers at the water coolers, no doubt) and those who are grateful for the opportunity to do things on their own schedule (i.e. DVRists and On-Demandists), about 16 million people watch every episode of the show within 3 days from its original airing (if you prefer accumulating new episodes and then watch them 6 at a time or you just binged on the entire first season on Netflix, you don't count). The episode that aired after the Super Bowl had a record of 30 million viewers.
Impressive! Of course, the show's creators keep hooking and reeling in the audience with secrets and vague hints about the main characters' pasts, futures, connections and disconnects, the overall story arch, and the possible endgame. Plus, it's an action thriller, so there are plenty of twists and turns, car chases, shootings, tortures, and "suspenseful" misadventures in every case. Except that we can get all that through so many other media outlets, don't we?
There is no doubt in my mind that the main draw of the show is its chief protagonist - the former Navy officer ("he was groomed for admiral"), now one of the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives, Raymond "Red" Reddington. We know it and so are the designers of all printed-media ads. And, some part of it may be attributed to James Spader's offbeat charm and subtlety, that almost shy smirk in the corners of his mouth, that hidden trauma deep inside his eyes (or to our memory of the charm and subtlety, the smirk, and the trauma as he finessed them as Graham Dalton). But the real truth is that, James Spader or not, we LOVE the hard-core criminal, the ruthless, the calculating, the self-righteous, the snobbish know-it-all, the flawed, the mysterious hero that is Red Reddington.
Look, we live in bizarre, degenerative times of perpetual futility and failure, with dubious future prospects and shifting moral standards. Everybody (and I mean, EVERYBODY) does illicit things, lies, steals, cheats, covets.
And I'm not even talking about big-time thieves (like corporate moguls) and liars (like politicians), arms and drug dealers, rapists and molesters, or even that CFO who stole $7 million from his employer.
I'm sure you, my reader, consider yourself a fairly decent person. So, I invite you to examine just one day in your life and I guarantee you will find something that, strictly speaking, is not moral.
Start small and "innocent": half the time when you take a sick day off your aren't sick at all, right? Of course. And what's wrong with that? As far as you know, everyone does it. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do... to survive: resumes, interviews, taxes, drugs, office supplies you bring home from your place of work, your expense account, that last drink you took before you got into the car, that little tryst with a hotty from marketing, 99% of the bullshit that comes out of your own and everyone else's mouth, etc., etc. - just the basics of an average person's somewhat moral existence.
All that matters is how slick and seamless you are when you do it and whether you can get away with it. As long as you don't get caught, fired, kicked out of your house, or sued, you will continue doing what "everyone else does."
When we see wrongdoings we don't speak up because we are afraid of the consequences; and we don't express our opinions because we don't want to be ostracized; we hide our own sins and look away from those of others.
But most of us are not sociopaths: while on the surface this behavior goes unpunished, our buried in bullshit subconscious is nevertheless secretly troubled. As a result, we suffer from unexplainable fears, anxiety, and anger.
Yep, we are very-very angry; you may even say wrathful - pretty much at everyone and everything: our governments, generations of people who destroyed our planet and those fucks who still do, overpopulating nations and individual families, domestic animal abusers and wildlife killers, the dwindling quality and escalating prices, our bosses and subordinates, parents and children, spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, exes, neighbors, customer services and customers, people who don't think like us; every single motherfucker who takes advantage of us; everyone who we blame for who we are, including ourselves; our own cowardice and impotence.
We are livid watching the worst sinners reaping life's rewards and those untalented idiots who, by some fluke of fate or flourishing nepotism, are recognized as cultural icons. Sometimes it overwhelms us to the point when we just want to grab people by their collars, lift them up, and smack them against the wall real hard.
And in this condition of perpetual moral sacrifices, bewilderment at the state of things, intense disappointment, and the pent-up anger, how can we not be drawn to a morally flawed character, who confirms that the world is fucked and we are not crazy, that we are justified in feeling the way we do?
Practically in every episode, he exposes every branch and every agency of every government as thoroughly corrupt and incapable. He confirms that money and the corporations behind them rule the world and us; that a handful of people possess virtually unlimited powers and can destroy fates of nations by raising their hands in some treacherous vote. And, given a chance, he will try to hurt those devils or at least to interfere with their evil plans.
He walks into the most dangerous situation with a surety of an invincible superhero. If it's necessary, he coolly raises his hand with a gun in it and squeezes the trigger with an air of a vermin exterminator. He will lie, scheme, and take advantage of every opportunity to reach his goals. On top of that, he prefers animals to humans!
Even more impressive is his sober understanding of the faults and weaknesses of those to whom he is personally attached. Just because he cares about them, it doesn't mean that he has any illusions about who they are.
We marvel at the way Reddington stands out against the background of powerless and defective schmucks, oh, so similar to us. Cause (did you notice?), whether they are on the side of the "law" or on the criminal side, there are no good, honest, decent people in the show's vast cast of characters - everyone is ethically deficient and either confused about their selfish motivations or knowingly hide them. In contrast, Red's immoral clarity is incredibly refreshing.
To tell you the truth, I don't think that the show's creators had consciously cooked this up as a marketing ploy. They are not different from us - just as ethically corrupt (maybe even more so) and anxious. They simply follow their instincts and realize their dreams of justice through their fictional creations. And by making these apparitions public they allow us to participate in the experience as well. Such has been the prerogative of writers for over 4000 years.
What I do have to give the creators and producers credit for is the targeting of wide slices of viewing demographics. First of all, they got the most relevant age groups covered: 20-somethings who like shows with hot FBI/CIA/Mossad chicks and ugly foreign dudes with big guns; 30-somethings still preoccupied with cool jobs, career advancements, and scarred-forever hearts; and middle-agers who fucked up their own lives and those kids' futures to the irreversible point, yet still hope that they can "fix things."
Then they got the important interests groups: people of both genders who are interested in guns and explosives and those who are into politics; women who put their jobs ahead of everything else and those who still dream the American dream. And they got nerds with cutting-edge tech stuff and conspiracy theories! Plus, they keep uncovering domestic and world-wide social boils, thus appealing to people with at least some ability for progressive thinking.
Bravo! They get them interested and then Red keeps them hooked. Let's just hope that the show-runners have an actual sense of direction and that they will not let the seductively successful character drown in some muddy bullshit. Maybe James Spader's new co-executive position that his reps negotiated for him after the first season's success will prevent commonly destructive tendencies.
And look what happened: He just got the executive power and two episodes in the first half of the second season were directed by Andrew McCarthy. Nepotism, of course, but still, honoring old ties, supporting old friends - it ranks pretty high on our contemporary degraded morality scale. All we need now is a guest appearance by Jon Cryer (now available after 12 seasons of Two and a Half Men) and Molly Ringwald as agent Keen's presumably dead mother. The Pretty Pinklist, anyone?