The most lasting impression from the premiere of “The Blacklist: Redemption,” NBC’s new spinoff of its successful drama “The Blacklist,” is that Tom Keen sure seems to be attracted to his mom. At least, we’re supposed to think she’s his mom. Tom (Ryan Eggold), who had a baby with Liz (Megan Boone) in the original “The Blacklist,” encountered Scottie (Famke Janssen) late in Season 3; one thing led to another, and eventually, he attempted to kill her, getting as far as her front door. But then Red (James Spader), that series’ impossibly charming and endlessly enigmatic lead, stopped him at the last minute with a maternal bombshell — a bombshell that apparently Red knows, but Scottie doesn’t.
Now, in “The Blacklist: Redemption,” Tom is working with Scottie, while hiding the fact that he may or may not be her son. It is not possible to tell, from the premiere, how Tom is going to continue to have a loving relationship with Liz and keep up with his daughter Agnes while dedicating so much of his time to Scottie’s splinter group of former blacklisters in New York City who are all now trying to do the right thing.
Of course, this being the second installment in what we are now calling “The Blacklist” franchise, what appears to be true has about a four-episode shelf life before a new set of facts remakes reality. For a bereaved mother who talks about her missing 3-year-old son every few minutes, Scottie doesn’t seem to think that Tom could be her son — or she does, and those smoldering glances are how Janssen delivers “maternal.” And how to explain the climax of the series premiere, “Leland Gray,” in which Tom and Scottie attend a gala: He’s in a dapper tux, she’s in a bombshell red dress. They dance in the middle of a beautiful ballroom, and after a few minutes of meaningful small talk, she guides his hand to her inner thigh — where a key-card duplicate is strapped. They maintain eye contact the whole time, like lovers on the cover of a romance novel.
With all of this confusing cognitive dissonance, it sort of seems like “The Blacklist: Redemption” is about to fall apart any second — and though it doesn’t make for particularly coherent storytelling, it makes for some fun moments. The missions are a little bit more about surveillance, a little more enthused about the mechanics of the operations — “The Blacklist: Redemption” uses an interesting split-screen portioning to show the viewer four different angles of the same plot element at once — which is sometimes useful and sometimes just three shots of the same thing. Scottie’s crew includes a delightful collection of techie helpers and gun-toters, most notably including Edi Gathegi as smooth-talking Solomon.
But the real question for “The Blacklist: Redemption’s” future success is whether or not Janssen and Eggold will be able to carry a title that has been, until now, entirely dependent on Spader’s magnetism. Based on the premiere, it seems unlikely — Tom is not even the second-most interesting character from “The Blacklist,” and Scottie’s mystique makes it hard to feel intimately connected to her character. But the premiere reveals Terry O’Quinn as Howard — Scottie’s presumed-dead husband, and therefore, Tom’s father. This is a less thrilling reveal than one would hope, but “The Blacklist: Redemption” is doubling down on its soap-opera-meets-spy-movie theatrics, where everything is about parentage and terrible buried secrets. Between them, the three actors might have enough brute-force charisma to match just one James Spader. I wouldn’t bet on it, though.