As The Blacklist's season nears its end, Raymond "Red" Reddington faces a situation TV's most-watched new series doesn't: uncertainty.
On Monday's finale (NBC, 10 p.m. ET/PT), Red (James Spader), a criminal mastermind now aiding the FBI, is vulnerable as he faces a formidable and mysterious enemy known only as Berlin.
"Red may not always know what his endgame will be, but I think he feels he will be able to play it out when he arrives at that point," Spader says. "But to not even know exactly what game it is he's playing, that's a different thing entirely."
Blacklist has been winning the ratings game. The series ranks fourth among scripted series, averaging 14.8 million viewers, and is No. 2 in young adults among broadcast dramas.
Its lead-in, The Voice, delivered a sizable audience, and the weekly procedural stories made it easier to attract viewers, says Sam Armando, an analyst at Chicago ad firm SMGx. "NBC has talked the last couple of years about building piece by piece, and it appears they have another piece."
The brilliant, offbeat Red and the actor who plays him contribute to that success, says creator Jon Bokenkamp.
"There's an element of wish fulfillment in our hero — or anti-hero. He does and says things a lot of people would like to do," he says. "James is a big part of that" and is "just one of those stars people want to watch."
As Red prepares for the Berlin threat, he is back to where he was when the series started, in FBI custody. However, he's reached a tenuous working arrangement with FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), who vowed to cut ties with him after learning he killed her adoptive father, Sam.
"It would have been very easy to throw them together and all of a sudden have them become a crime-fighting duo, but that's not what the show's about," Spader says. "There was real conflict, and there would be real fallout from the conflict."
In later episodes, it became apparent that the weekly, stand-alone investigations of criminals identified by Reddington have a connection to the larger, serialized story. "Some of these cases he's been using to identify and target this person who is coming for him," Bokenkamp says.
The finale will address stories connected to Blacklist mythology, including Sam's death and the fire Elizabeth remembers from earlier in her life. As for Season 2, expect some changes for Elizabeth, who also learned this season that her husband, Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold), has been living a secret life and is working for Berlin.
"We'll see somebody whose entire world has imploded on her," Bokenkamp says. "She's going to be confronting dark choices about how she wants to move forward and who she wants to become."
Spader says the first season has planted the seeds for many more Blacklist stories. "I think the show can go in so many different directions. The web has gotten larger and larger."