‘The Blacklist’ Season 6 Raises the Stakes by Putting Its Criminal Mastermind Behind Bars

The Blacklist” survives more than ever on the appealing charm of its main character. Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) keeps giving this show oxygen as it enters its sixth season. He’s like a nice version of Hannibal Lecter, if Lecter had been a mere master crook as opposed to a serial killer. This new season begins with two episodes that offer two different ways of bringing us back into this world. First we get a typical caper involving Reddington helping catch another criminal, and then we get a story that ends with the mastermind himself in the jaws of the law.

At this point the main storyline has become a rather confusing affair as Lizzie (Megan Boone) and her new half-sister are still trying to figure out the actual identity of Reddington, who as they found it in earlier seasons, is not the real Raymond Reddington (if you have not been watching you will be lost). Raymond remains the world’s most wanted criminal, even as the FBI secretly uses him to help solve cases under the noses of local authorities. Lizzie begins to suspect that Raymond may have received plastic surgery from a notorious Dr. Hans Koehler (Kenneth Tigar), who is known in the criminal underworld for his exquisite services. Raymond actually offers to catch Koehler. But the doctor is currently being held against his will by an assassin named Bastien Moreau (Christopher Lambert) who also goes by the nom de guerre The Corsican. Moreau needs surgery for a new, major scheme. Once the face tucking is complete, Moreau shoots Koehler, who dying tells Raymond where his USB drive with important information is hidden. Raymond will of course wipe his name off before giving it to Lizzie. The Corsican has of course escaped, which leads the plot into the next episode where it turns out he’s planning on blowing up the United Nations. Raymond again helps Lizzie and the FBI track down the bomb, in fact he knows the bomb maker. But someone is preparing to pull the ultimate trick and turn Raymond in to the cops.

As is the tradition of most episodic TV, the storylines of “The Blacklist” have spun into countless avenues, some absurd, others quite entertaining. If you have missed the previous seasons all that can be offered is that Raymond apparently took the identity of Lizzie’s real father, and now she is trying to figure out exactly who this is. Not exactly an easy task, especially when the suspect in question is a criminal genius. The first two episodes of season six thrive on Spader’s cool deliveries and eloquent gestures. The season premiere opens with Raymond strolling into the middle of an ongoing bank robbery, lecturing the robbers on their amateurish ways. When the FBI task force he assists raids the UN building looking for The Corsican, Raymond decides to take a tourist’s stroll through the building. The best scene is when he stands before the General Assembly podium and delivers a hilariously snobby speech, reenacting the Khrushchev shoe stomp and going on about Timothy Leary and LSD. Or he will call Lizzie from an airplane, casually revealing that he is sitting next to the man who made the Corsican’s bomb. Spader plays all of these absurdities with a liquid charm that makes it all so entertaining and believable. He seems to walk on air and another crook can’t help but be astounded at how the FBI treats Raymond “like Elvis.” Highlander himself, Christopher Lambert, is a stroke of casting genius as he makes a devilishly fun Corsican, hidden under makeup and dark shades.

But not all is smooth sailing. FBI man Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) is starting to get nervous about the whole arrangement with Raymond, even as it yields excellent results. And yet, it is not Cooper or the other superiors who pull the rug from under us by the end of the second episode. It is Lizzie. After saving the U.N., Raymond is grabbed the cops while buying a pretzel. Now he’s in handcuffs and we are left to ponder what the rest of the season will do with him. It was almost inevitable that the storyline would go down this road. After five years of evading arrest and endlessly catching other fiends, the show must finally put Raymond in an almost impossible situation for the sake of keeping the viewing experience enticing. Even more harrowing, it was Lizzie who made the call to the cops. Maybe it was a last ditch effort to find out who this Raymond really is. We definitely want to keep watching to find out.

Fans of “The Blacklist” get a well-deserved raise in the stakes for this new season of the show. Now that we’ve seen Spader charm the screen as a criminal on the run, we will get a sense of his mastermind character in captivity. More importantly, we might start finally getting some answers as to who this guy is, or more questions to keep us tuning in.

The Blacklist” season six premieres Jan. 3 and  4 and airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.