“The Blacklist” Season 1 Retrospect – A High Stakes Crime Drama With Consequences and Loss

The-Blacklist

     “The Blacklist” is a show that quite a few friends have recommended to me, and after finishing Season 1 I find that recommendation well worth it. I’m curious to see where future stories go, I felt for the characters we lost…and we got many compelling one-off villains as well as some good overarching game players too.

     Jon Bokencamp created the show in 2013 and he clearly has an idea where things are going as we get a good arc throughout Season 1 and even all the villains of the week are connected in such a way that we get an overall narrative arc which is a difficult thing to pull off in a 22 episode structure. It is for this reason that after I finish this series when it has finally ended I’ll look at doing individual episode reviews.

    The story involved Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) turning himself into the FBI in order to bring down a mysterious organization that is at war with him. He does this through the rookie FBI agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) who he is connected to in some way as he provides her and the Special Task Force with a list of names of the Blacklist.

This review does contain spoilers.

The Pros: The Villains – This is a show with a lot of complicated villains, which is why I’m giving them their own section. These were the villains who stood out the most on the Blacklist who weren’t game changers or players in a larger game.

The Courier – This is a guy who doesn’t feel pain and is introduced wearing a mask. He is the one criminals use since they don’t trust each other as if either goes back on the deal he will kill them both. He is also still human too as he ends up opening up about who hired him and who he works for in order to lessen his brother’s sentence in prison. He also grew up in a family of abuse.

General Ludd – Ludd is an organization that is trying to bring down Capitalism and has a very V for Vendetta feel to them. They succeed in their attacks and it is only at the very end that their leader is finally caught and killed.

Anslo Garrick – Garrick was betrayed by Red and gets revenge by killing Zheng and nearly killing Zuma. He’s ruthless and is only a tool of the larger players but he is a good Dragon as he and the Wild Boys easily take out the Task Force.

The Good Samaritan – This is a killer who targets abusers and kills them the way they abused their spouse or child. He was a complex villain who was at the end of the day a vigilante and his way of dealing with abuse showed how he had become the abuser.

The Judge – The Judge like the Good Samaritan targets corrupt officials who put away innocent people. She is a fascinating character as she does have some semblance of justice and is celebrated by the criminals when she is brought in as she was one of their only advocates. She’s a character I’d like to see again.

Support – The support I’m speaking of is that they are Red’s bodyguards with Zheng in charge of finances while Dembe is the contact and deliver of information. They are both fascinating characters who I wish we had more time with this season.

Luli Zheng – Deborah Craig is awesome as Zheng who is one of Red’s bodyguards and in charge of his finances. We get a lot of small moments with her as she helps Red destroy his past and plan for the future. Sadly Garrick is the one who kills her in the end.

Dembe Zuma – Dembe manages to escape Garrick and is Red’s shadow following leads to unravel Berlin’s organization and bring him out into the light. He is tough and it is great whenever he’s around. Tawfiq does a wonderful job in the role.

The Special Task Force – The Special Task Force involves both the CIA, FBI and Reddington in order to bring down the names on the Blacklist. All the characters are interesting, even the ones who are weak (the closer they are to a main character basically a la Ressler and Keen).

Agent Aram Mojtabai – Aram is the hacker and tech. and is the one who helps them find the members on the Blacklist. He also has a close relationship with Elizabeth and works with her one on one often times behind the Task Force’s back. Amir Arison gives great sensitivity to the role as we see him have to use his training for the first time during Garrick’s assault when he kills his first person. We also see him stand up to Reddington when he is framed and work to catch the real mole in the agency.

Harold Cooper – Cooper leads the Task Force and has to walk a fine line in all he does as the Task Force could be destroyed at any point by the government or all the different forces that want it destroyed. He keeps others at arms length while advocating for the existence of the organization. When the season ends he is in critical condition from Berlin’s attack. Harry Lennix is fantastic!

Agent Donald Ressler – Ressler is one of the weaker agents as he is all about revenge and lives only for the job. He is a stock character but he is still compelling in his own way even though he is the least interesting member on the Task Force. He is saved by Reddington at one point and was the man sent to hunt him down back when the search for Reddington began before Red turned himself in.

Agent Meera Malik  – Parminder Nagra is my favorite member of the Task Force and the CIA representative. She is sadly killed in the finale but before that we see her help take down or take down many members of the blacklist as well as learning about her balancing her role as a mother and how her clear conscience is why Reddington trusts her. She also has a darker side too being CIA she’s tortured and we see her do so on the show.

Elizabeth Keen – Keen is our protagonist who is being used by Berlin’s organization via her fake husband Tom and by Reddington trying to bring Berlin out and protect her and of course the FBI who is her boss. Her arc is finding balance and eventually committing again to the fight and her relationship with Red after she forgives him for putting her adopted father out of his misery. She isn’t bad and is good, but she was never as interesting as Red or Malik to me.

The Manipulators – These are the game changers and manipulators whose names we receive and who we see easily walk over the Task Force at different points this season. Some are connected I think but more on that next season I think.

Diane Fowler – Fowler was the mole and Red ends up killing her even though she knows things about the past that he seeks. She is a smooth operator and the Task Force trusts her even up until the end since she covered her tracks so well.

Alan Fitch – Alan Alda is awesome as Fitch! He is the one who sets the Wild Boys and Garrick on Reddington to make a point that you don’t double cross him and the organization he is a part of. He also has an Alliance with Reddington still though and advocated his organization helping when it looks like Berlin will be on the scenes. Sadly he isn’t able to which means when Berlin comes for him and his organization he won’t have Red’s help.

“Berlin” – Berlin is the one who was using everyone on the Blacklist to his own ends. It is when they are killed that he finally comes out of hiding and reeks havoc on the city and Task Force. He is free at the end having cut off his own hand to escape and letting another be his stand in as he goes underground to plot his revenge against Red. How he knows Red is still a mystery as Red does not know him as far as we know.

Raymond “Red” Reddington – James Spader does an amazing job as Red and is the Moriarty character driving the plot as he prepares for war against Berlin and whomever Berlin maybe working for. In this we see he is a sociopath but also cares deeply about some people, whether they are Dembe, Zheng or Elizabeth and that he will go to any length to avenge those who have wronged him or the people he cares about. He is still a criminal but he is complicated as his hiding information is usually for a reason and he ends up being right about most things. I’m curious to see how he uses the tools at his disposal in the war against Berlin. He is most likely Elizabeth’s dad.

The Reveals – There are quite a few reveals. From Tom being a fake and working for Berlin to Red most likely being Elizabeth’s father as we see burn marks on his back and the one memory Elizabeth has of her father is him pulling her out of the fire. The fact that her adopted father was a criminal connected to Berlin is also another reveal.

The Cons: Fridging  – Both Zheng, Malik and Ressler’s ex were all killed over the course of the show. This very blatant fridging, especially of some of the more compelling characters is a con I can’t ignore, especially since the kills in many cases came out of nowhere from villains of the week. For characters of such importance, they deserved more than that if they had to be killed off.

   I can’t wait to keep on watching and I do plan on reviewing individual episodes in the future. Tom wasn’t on here as he was kind a plot device in my opinion and never felt like a full character. Everyone else on the other hand had great motivations for the things they did which made them compelling to watch as the world of the “The Blacklist” is a grey world where friends can be enemies and vise versa and you never know who is pulling the strings in the end or who will live and die.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great.

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“Narcos” Season 1 Retrospect – Colombia, Politics, Drugs and a Powerful Story

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     Netflix just keeps making gold…”House of Cards,” and “Daredevil” are already two of my favorite shows and now I must add “Narcos” to the list…though the fact that it didn’t end after this season is troubling. We are caught up to the year that historically Palbo Escobar died…where does the series go from here if it is going to take the 10 episode format? Do Murphy’s and Pena’s story really have that much steam left? Their arcs felt complete at the end of the story. Suffice to say though, season 1 is great with one of my few criticisms only being the ending.

     The series was created by Chris Brancato, Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro and directed by Jose Padilha.

SPOILERS ahead

     The story involves the Rise and Fall of Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura) and the drama within the Medellin Cartel and the DEA agents Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) and Javier Pena (Pedro Pascal) and what they and the Colombian Government do to bring him and the Cartel down.

The Pros: The History – The history that takes place through the 80’s of the politics and drama between the political groups and gangs in Colombia is fascinating, especially in relation to United States involvement as it is the United States backing of Pinochet which lead to the drug trade being exterminated in Chile but spreading over to Colombia when “Cockroach” escapes to the Escobar’s and sells them his trade helping them start their Empire. We also have the war between the Colombian Government and the Cartels and the United States and the different Communist movements in South America…it is fascinating and awesome and made me want to read and study more.

The Cinematography – The cinematography captures the beauty of Colombia and the dark underbelly of the gangs and the corruption in the government as well as the grey line our characters are always walking.

The Soundtrack – Pedro Bromfman did a wonderful job incorporating traditional and modern Colombian music to make this show truly about Colombia. We get personal moments and the gritty reality of all our characters through his amazing art.

The Characters  and Organizations – The characters are all flawed and have to make hard choices and the organizations have clear goals as well and all are a mixture of fear and idealism in order to meet their ends.

The CIA  and U.S. Government – The CIA is great as we have a military guy who is all about catching the communists but another agent played by Richard Jones who is always helping our guys go after Escobar and the Cartel. It shows how complicated it is especially as they walk a grey line of looking after their own interests but not losing the goodwill of the people. Ambassador Noonan is the one who has the most difficulty with that given the United States’s legacy in Chile next store.

The Communist Rebel Groups – The rebels are all based in idealism but are presented as being cut off from the reality of the people as they are willing to kill innocents to meet their end and still claim the high ground. This eventually leads to one of the leaders surrendering to Escobar to protect his men that the Cartel are killing off. M-19 is the one that gets the most airtime as their kidnappings bring the Cartel against them though Pablo Escobar eventually defeats and uses them to his own ends.

The Colombian Government – The government is in the Cartel’s pocket for a long time until the option of extradition comes up where the caught drug deals will be sent to a U.S. prison rather than the vacation and influence they’d have in a Colombian prison.

President Cesar Gaviria – Cesar is given a lot of tough choices and we see him eventually make peace with Escobar letting him make his own prison so that the bloodshed will stop. He isn’t a coward though and we see him avoid an assassination attempt and always walk among the people, calling the Cartel out for their crimes. He is definitely flawed but you see a man faced wit the dilemma of losing sovereignty and granting the U.S. more power or letting the Cartels have more power but have sovereignty respected.

Colonel Herrera – Herrera deals with the Escobar at first but becomes a mortal enemy after this rise as he becomes obsessed with him after an assassination on his wife and himself at a cafe. This eventually leads to him setting his men on Pablo’s cousin, ending in his death.

The Medillen Cartel – The Cartel is fascinating and the gangsters are complicated monsters as we see them humanized and love and lose and make hard choices in order to survive and to grow their business.

Gacha – Gacha is unhinged and is fun to watch as Pablo Escobar is able to keep him in line even as his killings of the politicians and prostitutes is slowly getting the government to act. He is the one who is all about taking what he wants, though he has a son (who is a monster like him) who he loves. He is eventually taken out by Pena.

The Ochoas – The Ochoas make a deal with the government and Cali Cartel to leave Pablo isolated which eventually leads to Pablo’s cousins death and makes it so the sister is no longer connected to the Escobars. They win in a way as they get the prison deal they wanted and stay under the radar.

Pablo Escobar – Escobar drives the story as we see he and his cousin but the Medellin Cartel making them some of the richest people in the world. Their bond is  core connection and it is after Pablo’s cousin is killed that he loses it and eventually kills the men he put in charge of the Cartel leading to an eventual assault on the Prison he made for himself in order to keep the government off his back. He rises and in the end his love of Colombia and desire for power and respect lead to his downfall as his escape from his prison cannot prevent him from the death that is already in the history books.

The DEA – The DEA like Escobar are the main drivers of the story as we see Murphy and Pena have to make difficult choices and sometimes act on their own and for or against one another in order to stop the Cartels.

Javier Pena – It is great seeing the Red Viper again! Pedro Pascal is one of my favorite actors and I’ve missed him since the only season he was in “Game of Thrones.” He plays a womanizer in this but he has a good heart as he looks after all of those he has a relationship with, even if it means his job and life. It is this love of the people that a lot of them reject as they see him as a DEA Gringo who only cares about American interests and not those of Colombia. He proves that assumption wrong on multiple occasions. He was my favorite character in this.

Steve Murphy – Holbrook does a good job as the mustached 80’s cop who gets hardened by Colombia and addicted to the chase and war. In the end it is his home as he is driven at taking down the Cartels as he no longer cares about his life and we see his detachment from his wife as she wants to return to the States while for him, this War is all he has as home and he has nothing in the States to go back too (his partner having been killed by the Medellin Cartel prior).

The Cons: Women Sidelined – Women are very much on the sidelines in this with a reporter being the few women with power. I get that this reflects the society, but even Pablo’s mother’s influence isn’t really shown. The exception I can think of is Connie Murphy but even she feels like a side quest to the main narrative and is only really in the story because of her marriage to Steve and she isn’t needed to drive the story.

Leaving the Story Open – Escobar should have died at the end and the point about violence always being there could have been. In the end Escobar wasn’t the point of the story, the point was Colombia and how it had shaped our characters are Murphy sees it as home even after his partner sold him out to the Cali Cartel to catch Escobar. This theme is powerful but is undercut by Pablo’s escape and not death in the final from the Search Bloc.

I recommend this story, it is overwhelmingly good and the few cons don’t take away from that. It is gives Colombia respect and also goes into quite a bit of depth with all the different players in the game that the Governments and Cartels played. I’d highly recommend checking it out, even as I’m worried about what Season 2 might bring.

Final Score: 9.3 ./ 10

“Hannibal” Retrospect – A Masterpiece of Beauty, Terror and the Psychology of the Human Mind

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     What a fantastic ride this was. Very few shows manage to keep up great quality consistently through all their seasons, more often than not they will jump the shark, repeat storylines that have been done before, lose focus, change cast or try so hard to be deep that it just comes out a muddled mess. Suffice to say “Hannibal” did not have that problem.

    This was a show that gave us the chance to get to know nearly every character, be they serial killer, cop, psychiatrist or other…the episode they would appear in would give us a glimpse into their mind and motivation and ask us to question it. This was a show that liked to present horror as beautiful as well as remind us of the potential for good and bad within us all or even to question that paradigm all together. This is truly Bryan Fuller’s masterpiece.

SPOILERS are going to be ahead.

     The show’s story involves the relationship between Will Graham and Hannibal as Graham is someone who hunts killers by seeing their perspective through empathy as Hannibal both guides and attempts to corrupt him through it leading to an eventual confrontation and a fallout that occurs all through season 3 eventually leading to a final reckoning between them as around them other characters deal with the consequences of how they have been changed by Hannibal and from it how they relate to one another and the world.

The Pros: The Cinematography – James Hawkinson and Karim Hussain were great at this series creating stunning visuals throughout this season. From bodies made to look like trees and pieces of art to the use of shadow and light to show us the shadow and light within all of our characters. These two truly capture the amazing visual medium that is the art of cinema.

The Soundtrack – Brian Reitzell does a great job on the soundtrack throughout the series, giving us a haunting score that captures both the thriller and horror themes infused with an element of a tragedy.

The Writing – Bryan Fuller and his team did a great job on this series. From the characters, to the arcs, to the themes and the tiny details of showing us character motivation rather than telling us it. This writing also managed to breathe life into minor and one shot characters who managed to make an impact.

The Arcs – Season 1’s arc involved those who knew Hannibal was a serial killer getting killed off leading to the eventual framing of Will Graham and Will becoming more isolated from the people in the force as Hannibal becomes his only friend before he is framed for the murder of his adopted daughter Abigail Hobbs who he had rescued from a killer. Season 2 is freeing Will Graham from prison and Jack and Will’s hunt for Hannibal eventually leading to Hannibal and Bedelia escaping to Europe. Season 3 involves the capture of Hannibal by Jack and Will and Wil land Hannibal’s self destructive relationship coming to an end in the final confrontation with the Red Dragon.

The Characters – The characters drive the story and none of them are the same throughout the series. They change and we see them transformed by events to become much darker than the people they were before or in some cases more empathetic.

Dr. Abel Gidion – Eddie Izzard plays a fascinating killer who is obsessed with Alana Bloom and ends up being framed to have been killed by Chilton when he was really being held hostage by Hannibal and fed to himself. Izzard is savvy and even though he is a monster his rebellious nature against Hannibal is great as he promises Hannibal that he can’t wait for Hannibal to get his reward and be eaten too. Raul Esparaza does a good job.

Dr. Chilton – Chilton is corrupt and out for fame but he does have a noble side as we see him try to help Will as he does want to capture Hannibal. This leads to him getting shot and eventually him being burned alive by the Red Dragon and losing his tongue. He goes through a lot and in the end is the truth teller to others as in losing his skin he can see through the illusion of others.

Beverly Katz – Hetteine Park does such a great job. Beverly Katz is Will’s friend and she is one of the first to find out the truth about Hannibal, sadly is killed in the process but we see her help catch multiple killers as her, Will and Jack make a great team hunting the serial killers through Season 1 and her time with Will in Season 2 gives him hope of getting justice and Hannibal’s eventual capture. R.I.P. She was missed and one of the best characters on the show.

Bella Crawford – Gina Torres is wonderful as Jack Crawford’s wife. She has cancer and is a woman who wants to die for a lot of it but is able to connect with Jack and give him hope to fight on after Hannibal nearly kills him. She is there to show us the potential for good in Hannibal and to show us Jack’s tender side as she in many ways is harder than he is because of the constant suffering she is in because of her cancer. Her death means something.

Abigail Hobbs – Hobbs is the daughter of a serial killer raised by a serial killer (Hannibal) she is his partner in crime and sets up her fake death with him to frame Will Graham, but we see that she never stops caring for them both and truly wanted to spend the rest of her life with them as they could relate to her darkness and otherness she felt towards others. Will feels her death to the point that he hallucinates her being alive when he is in Italy hunting Hannibal.

Margot Verger – Margot Verger is awesome. Her brother is a sexually and physically abusive ass and seeing her get her revenge as well as find connection with both Will and later Alana Bloom show her recovery as she gets to get revenge on her brother and inherit the Verger fortune. She lives a horror story and manages to grow and endure through it…her’s is one of the few hopeful endings in this story.

Alana Bloom – Alana Bloom is the one who is a bit more detached than Will but still feels even after Hannibal nearly paralyzes her and Mason Verger continues to harass her. She is powerful and a great character as she never breaks her integrity even as she becomes more ruthless as her philosophy truly becomes one of survival and growth. Caroline Dhavernas does a great job.

Bedelia Du Maurier – Gillian Anderson is awesome! Bedelia is in many ways as sociopathic as Hannibal as she uses people for her gain and survival though we see her vulnerable as Hannibal tries to make her more than just an observer. She is great though as she navigates each of her escape and is still safe from the FBI at the end and possibly Hannibal, that is still a question as it depends what he did after the Red Dragon rescues him and before they face off against the Red Dragon. Her arc is realizing how dark Hannibal’s darkness goes, stepping away from it and setting down boundaries in turn forcing him to leave her.

Francis Dolarhyde/The Red Dragon – This guy is the best of the serial killer antagonists. He is sympathetic as he protects his blind girlfriend from himself faking his own death so she won’t have to deal with the Dragon and even giving Hannibal and Will a fighting chance before together they finally take him down as he finally becomes the Red Dragon as he ends the Angel of Darkness (Hannibal) and Light (Will) and in turns dies and becomes the Dragon as he chose death on his own terms. It’s horrifying to think about and shows just how well this character was handled. I didn’t care about this guy at all in “Red Dragon.”

Hannibal – Hannibal is a fascinating character as his arc is becoming more like Will as he saves Will’s life from Mason Verger after trying to kill him on multiple occasions as he and Will’s co-dependence leads them to destruction. He loves Will and from it hurts him as Hannibal is someone who never knew love because of the Nazi guard having him eat and kill his sister. This leads to Hannibal dealing by embracing delusion where he is always in control but it is built on a lie as he denies the humanity of others and in doing denies the humanity in himself that is always reaching out to Will and in some ways to stop (he stops killing for a while in Italy), showing there is some good in this broken monster. Mad Mikkelson might be the best Hannibal.

Will Graham – Will is awesome! He is the hero whose very ability to empathize with others makes him realize how deep his shadow goes. This show is about exploring Will Graham’s shadow as he realizes how similar he is to Hannibal in both his otherness in how people can’t relate to him and his need to hunt and stop killers in the same way Hannibal hunts victims (not eating them of course). This leads to his final choice as he realizes his self-destructive love for Hannibal will only lead to ruin as Hannibal is already ruin to all those around him and from there he makes the last noble choice to end them both. Hugh Dancy is awesome.

Good, Bad and Paradigms – Another theme is that of good and bad or good and evil. We are dealing with sociopaths and killers and the darker side of human nature is presented with different characters like Alana, Will and Hannibal attempting to upset the paradigm as we get the practical point of view of ends justifying the means through Jack Crawford, the surivalism of Alana Gram, the empathy and focus on the individual relationships of Will and the law of predators and prey with Hannibal.

The Shadow in People – The Shadow of people is another thing, with Dolarhyde and his becoming the Red Dragon that he is fighting to control, Will and his empathy and becoming the killers he is trying to avoid. Hannibal embraces his shadow making him the corrupting figure to those around him as he knows he is a sociopath and doesn’t care except in relationship to Will.

Empathy – Empathy is a theme of the show, for better and for worse. Will’s empathy leads to him being manipulated and Alana’s empathy leads to Hannibal using her. Empathy is shown to be dangerous but important as it is the only way people can truly relate and grow together. It is empathy for Will that shows that Hannibal is capable of being more than a monster with honor.

Love and Relationships – Love and relationships are a major theme. From Margot Verger and Alana Bloom escaping from their abusive ex-partners (Hannibal and Mason) and rising up as powerhouses and rulers of the Verger fortune…from Bedelia and Hannibal and Bedelia setting boundaries and surviving in the process, Jack and Bella with letting go, (which also happens with Will and Alana and them going from lovers to friends) and Hannibal and Will who become reflections of one another and is the only person Hannibal truly loves leading to their final suicide together as Will realizes that he could become Hannibal as he enjoys the rush of survival and the kill.

    The only con I could think of in this series is sometimes it gets too meditative rather than letting the action drive forward it will sit in a character’s head for a long period of time, which is fascinating but at the same at least in regards to Season 3, it held back the final confrontation between Crawford, Will and Hannibal and the Red Dragon Arc, which without a doubt was my favorite arc in the series and an excellent close to an amazing show. This is the kind of show that took it’s audience and story seriously and let them change and grow giving us character arcs and consequences to create one of the greatest and most beautiful shows on television.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 A nearly perfect show.

Preparation for “Hannibal” Finale – These are My Designs

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      What a glorious ride and morbid ride this show has been. Rarely have I seen television keep up this consistent of quality from beginning to end, as it was not lack of quality that lead to this show getting canceled. As of right now I’m watching the Finale and a review will be upcoming later, but first I wanted to show some of the dishes I made in honor of the show. Here they are.:

001

   Chilton’s Lie or Gift from the Red Dragon. Inspired by events that happened this season.

Made with bacon, cabbage, beans, okra and onions.

004

Alana Bloom. Steak with an assortment of veggies for Alana Bloom’s blooming heart.

Steak, onions, tomatoes, pepper, red wine, green beans and carrots.

005

Verger’s Death, inspired by the mid-season finale.

Pork, garlic, red wine, peppers, Tilapia.

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For Dessert – Will Graham

90% Dark Chocolate, graham cracker, homemade strawberry syrup and a fresh strawberry on top.

  Upcoming reviews will be of Season 3 of “Hannibal” as well as an overview of the show as a whole. Curious to hear your thoughts as well and if your a fan dishes you might have made too.