The confrontation between the steely Sanders and the ruthless Carlisle is rivetingly taut. But the background intrigue ratchets up Hostages to a truly fierce intensity. Both the FBI conspiracy and the Sanders family are riven with secrets that start unraveling as the pressure builds. Lean and mean, Hostages is an exquisitely heart-pounding piece of work. The only possible criticism is: How do you sustain this over 18 episodes, much less future seasons?
The Blacklist isn’t short on tension, by any means, but its fascination lies in its two quirky lead characters, novice FBI profiler Liz Keen (Megan Boone , Law & Order: Los Angeles) and turncoat criminal mastermind Red Reddington (James Spader).
Reddington was a top government official before switching sides, selling classified information to terrorists and brokering deals for organized crime. Now he has returned, walking into FBI headquarters and offering to help catch a notorious terrorist. The catch: He’ll deal only with Keen, a rookie literally on her first day at work, even though the two have no known connection.
If this sounds more than mildly reminiscent of the cannibal madman Hannibal Lecter and his less-than-willing FBI protégé Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, that’s because it is. But as rip-offs (or, more politely, homages) go, The Black List is pretty good — much better than NBC’s own Lecter prequel series, Hannibal.
The delectably weird relationship between the by-the-book loner Keen (“My colleagues call me sir. They think I am, uh, a bitch.”) and the avuncular (in an Uncle Fester sort of way) Reddington develops in fits and starts in a post-9/11 world filled with savage terrorists and remorseless cops.
Keen reluctantly accepts the coaching of the criminal wise man who assures her that “everything about me is a lie.” But she also keeps looking for clues in her own troubled past that might explain his interest. That may not be wise. As one of Clarice Starling’s bosses warned her, you don’t want Hannibal Lecter inside your head.