The sign of a good TV character is that the audience wants to see them in any new scenario or setting.
Raymond Reddington (James Spader) in prison is a Blacklist premise that I didn't really know I needed, but is so easy to get right. The world's most cunning criminal locked up with a bunch of lesser villains? Immediately enjoyable in this week's episode.
As with most Blacklist conceits, the pleasure of Red in prison comes not in the mystery of whether or not he'll succeed in dangerous circumstances, but how he will do it. Red always wins. Even when he seemingly loses, he eventually wins. The man is like a Silicon Valley tech CEO: every failure is really just a triumph if you think about it hard enough.
"The Pawnbrokers" barely pretended to put Red in peril. After a quick introduction to the prison's major players from Red's new Dembe-like companion Vontae (Coy Stewart), Red quickly found himself on the wrong end of a beating from one of those players, Baldomero (Jacinto Taras Riddick).
Yet while Vontae panicked and Baldomero barked about shivving Red "day after tomorrow," Red got to work on, uh, his messenger rat plan? Yes indeed, Red caught a rat, tied a message to its neck and guided it safe passage beyond the prison walls, opening a communication channel with Dembe. You don't get to be the FBI's most wanted man for nothing!
Unsurprisingly, Red's plan to take down Baldomero worked with very little resistance thanks to the classic victory of brains over brawn. He weaseled out of a good shivving just long enough to reveal Baldomero's secrets to everyone in the yard, while Dembe worked on the outside to get Baldomero released to face even more evil dudes in the real world. And just like that, Red turned the tables on the entire prison population, becoming a folk hero for ending Baldomero's tyrannical reign in the process.
Though it might have been compelling to watch Red get truly beaten down — mentally and physically — by his stint in the clink, The Blacklist is never going to be that kind of show. This prison didn't seem particularly hazardous anyway, so it stands to reason that his evil genius would quickly outsmart everyone.
Perhaps this quick success will only make some later struggles that much more interesting. Or Red will continue to be the smartest, coolest person in every room he enters, and even some of those he doesn't.
To that end, somehow Liz's (Megan Boone) plan to uncover the truth about her fake father has already hit a snag because Red covered his tracks so well in the past. How long until not-father indirectly convinces not-daughter that some version of the truth is not worth the emotional toil of Red in prison?
The Blacklist airs Fridays at 9/8c on NBC.