Raymond Reddington is my new favorite spy. On the first episode of NBC’s new show The Blacklist, Reddington surrenders himself to the FBI by going into the lobby, taking off his jacket, getting down on his knees (on the seal no less), putting his hands up, and announcing who he is: a criminal on the ten most wanted list, a former government spy turned bad, now turned good. Maybe.
It’s obvious from the first that Reddington has his own agenda. He’s not going to be put in jail. He has his own most wanted list. He will help the FBI catch them, but will work only with newly minted agent Elizabeth Keen.
Who is probably his daughter. Who is married to undercover agent, Tom Keen. Who married her to get to Reddington, we think. Who tells Elizabeth when he’s caught, “You were my job.”
Reddington is quirky. He runs an effective, diverse team of experts and spies. He’s connected to every underworld and terrorist figure worth knowing, it seems. He kills people who betrayed him without blinking an eye. He doesn’t flinch at the most horrendous torture or abuse of people. Yet he has remained human. Loveably, amusingly human.
Reddington delights in life. In the middle of torturing the man who’s pretended to be Tom Keen’s brother, Reddington takes a break to watch his favorite Marx’s brothers stunt on television while he enjoys room service. In the latest episode while his associate copies a book with a secret inscription, Reddington reminisces about a time a man in Pagosa Springs (a hot springs town in Colorado I love) fixed his water pump when it blew out on the mountain. His joy seems real, not a ploy to unnerve his victim.
When one of the FBI agent loses the love of his life, Reddington warns him not to take the path he himself took—revenge. It will not bring you the satisfaction you think it will, he says, and it leads down unexpected waysides that are impossible to turn back from. At the end of the episode, he sends the agent a note that beautifully describes how grief works. He tells him that every day when he wakes up it will be the first thing he thinks about, that one day in the far future, it will be the second thing. Then he goes on to explain how he will heal enough to live again, but he will never be the same.
I love Reddington because he has seen the worst. He became corrupt. Reddington burned out. He got beyond disillusioned. He was more than inconsolable. But he didn’t stay in any of these places. He came out the other side.
Reddington has accepted the world as it is. Corrupt, violent, cruel, unfair, mean. He has accepted the world as it is. Beautiful, wonderful, surprising, miraculous, extraordinary. He goes about his business with a Buddha-like detachment, but a deadly efficiency. He has no causes left—except perhaps to return and be the father he could not be before, to guide Elizabeth through the horrific, marvelous world he helped bring her into. As he ruthlessly hunts down killer after criminal after terrorist, he always stops to smell the roses, enjoy a sandwich, and tell a very quirky story.