Book Review: The Blacklist: Elizabeth Keen’s Dossier by Tara Bennett and Paul Terry: A Reminder of the Show’s Original Vision

“If you are reading this, then something has gone wrong” are the first words we encounter in the new book The Blacklist: Elizabeth Keen’s Dossier (2016) by Tara Bennett and Paul Terry. Those handwritten words appear on a piece of notebook paper which seems to have been hastily added to a collection of FBI files, which document the first two seasons of The Blacklist. There is a mother lode of information in these files, including aspects of cases that were never even revealed in the program.. The attention to detail is so thorough that you can practically smell the coffee stains on the Post-It notes that have been added. In every way, this book is like a dream come true for serious fans of The Blacklist, or at least of what The Blacklist once was.

When The Blacklist debuted on NBC in 2013, viewers were introduced to FBI agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), and one of the Bureau’s Most Wanted, an unforgettable criminal named Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader). In the pilot episode, Reddington turned himself in and offered to help the FBI stop a terrorist bombing plot that was in the works. His stipulation was that he would only speak with Agent Keen. After their collaborative success in averting the bombing, Reddington revealed his “blacklist” of criminals, which doubled as his personal enemies list. His offer to work with the Feds (but only speak to Keen) was accepted on what was supposed to be a completely hush-hush basis.

For the next two years, we watched in fascination as the world of The Blacklist unfolded. The criminals/Red’s enemies were some very nasty people. There was what amounted to a pregnancy farm located in a hospital, a domestic violence advocate who took the mission a little too seriously, a fella with Mommy issues beyond compare, and many, many more. There were also Red’s “friends” or contacts, connections…whatever you chose to call them, these were people who could get or do literally anything he (or the FBI) needed instantly. None of these people held a candle to Reddington however. Raymond Reddington seems to be the role James Spader was born to play. His scene-stealing charm has been a thing of beauty to watch, and it has allowed his character to literally get away with murder, many times over.

The only troubles I had with the first two seasons were the occasional lapses into soap-opera territory. I didn’t care about the husband, and I didn’t care who her father was. But those were the stories that someone wanted to tell. It began with the downright paternal attachment Reddington had to Keen, and all too quickly the question of whether or not he was her biological father was all that really seemed to matter. So much so that this business threatened to overwhelm the series, although smarter heads prevailed, for a while at least.

It was her marital situation that actually destroyed the show. .Season Three brought the staged “death” of Elizabeth Keen in a desperate ploy to make The Blacklist gang seem more human (or some such nonsense). Rather than breaking new ground, The Blacklist became the escape story of the Keen family (new baby in tow) from big, bad Red. A nadir of sorts was reached during the extended crying sequence that Spader was reduced to. Who in the world had the bright idea that what The Blacklist needed was some Hallmark Channel appeal? Ugh! The first half of season four has been even more pathetic – with some jackass coming out of the woodwork claiming to be Liz’s daddy. Naturally Red was there to save the day, and that was just about all she wrote as far as this once-rabid fan is concerned.

It is kind of fitting that this book comes out, just as I (and many others it seems) are ready to give up on The Blacklist. Fitting because if there were one thing I could point to as the reason I am no longer interested in the show, it is that these files – the original basis of the series, no longer exist. It might as well be called The Blacklist, Part Deux now. So looking through this book is kind of a bittersweet reminder of the original vision of series creator Jon Bokenkamp.

The Blacklist: Elizabeth Keen’s Dossier is a marvelously detailed piece of work. The authors call it “a labor of love” and it shows. The book has also given me an excuse to play my DVDs of the first two seasons, to refresh my memory while reading the corresponding files of Elizabeth Keen. I must say that this is one of the finest and most detailed companion books that I have ever seen.

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Greg Barbrick

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