The Black List Listless Series Finale Disappoints

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Photo by Craig Whitehead on UnsplashI don’t usually review movies or television series, but when I do…

If an image of a smart looking older man just dripping of Mexican aristocracy blossoms in your head, then you’ve been influenced by the same advertising campaigns as I have. No, in case you’re wondering, this column is not a Dos Equis beer commercial. But it is about the most interesting man in the world.

Or at least the television world.

Before I leave the advertising realm, chances are the image you conjured was that of a well-tanned but weathered gentleman with graying hair and an even grayer beard. He looks like a modern-day Don Quixote. It’s an allure that’s hard to turn away from.

Incidentally, the actor Jonathan Goldsmith portrayed this character from 2006 through 2016. In his final ad, Dos Equis launched “the most interesting man in the world” on a one-way trip to another world—Mars. His final epitaph was the fitting, “His only regret is not knowing what regret feels like.”

Dos Equis replaced Goldsmith with a much younger man, and the “most interesting man in the world” campaign lasted for another two years before fizzing out.

In many ways, Raymond “Red” Reddington, the protagonist of NBC’s long-running series The Black List, compares well with that Dos Equis ad campaign. Reddington was, like Goldsmith’s character, the most interesting man in the world. And, for the purposes of the series, by “most interesting” you can substitute “most wanted.”

Reddington also brings to mind Theodore Roosevelt’s “man in the arena.” All eyes were upon him. He was always on the cusp of mortal danger. Roosevelt, of course, alludes to the bullfighter. And if you’re going to allude to bullfighters, the literary breadcrumbs ultimately always lead to Ernest Hemingway.

A (lost) generation after Roosevelt, Hemingway famously wrote manly stories for manly men. His stories focused on amazing men doing amazing things, although not without a bit of angst particular to his age of writers.

He features bullfighting in many of his works, including the one you’re probably most familiar with, The Sun Also Rises. Among his most memorable works, Death in the Afternoon devotes an entire book to the pomp and pageantry of Spanish bullfighting traditions.

Just to complete the loop, do you recall what the older Ernest Hemingway looks like? You guessed it. He had the same debonair demeanor as Jonathan Goldmith’s Dos Equis’ “most interesting man.”

Do you see a pattern here?

Oh, one more similarity between The Black List and the Dos Equis campaign. Both lasted two years longer than they should have.

For fans of The Black List, you know what I’m talking about. The show was essentially a show about family. Although never confirmed, (and the evidence suggests many conflicting things), it centered on the criminal Reddington’s father-like relationship with FBI criminal profiler Elizabeth Keen. When Keen was killed at the end of season eight, many felt the series should have ended.

The death of Keen and Reddington’s response represented a “poetic” ending to the drama. But the audience wanted more. They even speculated Keen didn’t really die (since her death had been faked earlier in the series).

Alas, Keen was dead, but the series trudged on. Mind you, when “Red” was at his best fighting and outwitting his criminal competitors, the Keen-less episodes sparked a hope they could rekindle the magic.

But no, and in the last half of the final season, you could feel the entire ensemble merely going through the motions. Of course, James Spader, who played Reddington magnificently, never lost his touch, no matter how vapid the story lines became.

Yet, it appears the show’s writers knew what was going on. In the penultimate episode, one character, lamenting the expected closing of the FBI task force working with Reddington, says something to the effect of, “It seems like we should have ended it already.” Too true.

Still, knowing the end was near (they announced season ten would be the final season after the end of season nine), curiosity consumed me. How would the series end? Would it go out with a whimper, the way so many self-important series do? Or will it offer inspiration in a manner consistent with Reddington’s essential character trait?

Would it end like a classic series that continued on in syndication by never solving the central plot device? For example, the castaways on Gilligan’s Island were not rescued (in the original series), World War II never ended for Hogan’s Heroes, and the crew of Star Trek left before their five-year mission could be finished.

Contrast this with the series finale of The Fugitive, when Dr. Richard Kimble finally confronts the true murderer and is completely absolved. Sure, it was the most watched program up to the time, but how well did it do in syndication?

Of course, M*A*S*H is the exception that proves the rule. Its 1983 series finale, a 2½ hour movie (that technically counted as five episodes) remains the most watched TV show (outside the Super Bowl) of all time. Yet, despite the Korean War ends in that episode, the series continues to do well in syndication. Why? Because the series finale was not part of the original syndication package. It was as if the Korean War could not end if M*A*S*H were to continue on in syndication.

The Black List series finale therefore had to face the realities of both its concept and its value as a viable business product. These are not mutually exclusive goals. It could have accomplished both. It accomplished neither.

SPOILER ALERT (Don’t read further if you intend to watch the finale): As I began, I don’t usually review movies or TV series, but when I do, it’s often critical. (See “Out of Moves: The Man in the High Castle Finale Rooks Fans,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, December 10, 2019). But don’t worry. Unlike that last case, I won’t offer a rewrite of the ending. (See “Contrition, Forgiveness, and Redemption: An Alternative (and Better) Ending to The Man in the High Castle,”, December 10, 2019).

What would come of Red in the series finale? Would he walk into the sunset with the promise of tomorrow? Or would he sink into the ocean, his true fate never known?

The end was worse. It was as if the writers failed to learn the lesson bluntly taught to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Tired of crafting stories about his most popular character, the British writer made the mistake of killing Sherlock Holmes. The readers revolted and Doyle had to bring Holmes back from the dead. Fortunately, his death scene involved a fall into a ravine, so at least survival was plausible.

There will be no such reprisal for Raymond Reddington, as the series ended fixated on his bloody corpse. Ironically, gored by a bull he chose to stare down.

This ending cannot satisfy loyal fans of The Black List. In a series noted for leaving questions unanswered, why end with such finality? To please Hemingway? This was a most uninteresting finish for the most interesting man in the world.

I won’t write an alternative to The Black List finale in part out of respect for Hemingway, but mostly because I’ll leave it to your imagination.

“Stay thirsty, mis amigos.”


  1. […] the same mistake as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. What was it? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “The Black List Listless Series Finale Disappoints,” to find out why most series finales […]

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