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Trying to Make Sense of James Spader’s Elaborate Blacklist Cage

Boy, is James Spader’s international criminal on NBC’s new drama The Blacklist dangerous. We know this because on last night’s premiere, when he turned himself in to the FBI, an ordinary cell would not do! Remembering the lessons of Hannibal Lecter (as this show never failed to do), the writers decided that “Red” Reddington needed something impenetrable, something that he would not be able to pry open with his evil thoughts. Something dramatic.

When newbie profiler Elizabeth Keene is brought to meet him at the warehouselike black site where he is kept (an old post office), she arrives to look down on what seems like a combination shipping crate and drained aquarium, in the middle of which Red sits shackled to a chair. As she approaches, the top and sides of the cell slowly, momentously slide back (a reversing-truck beeping noise ringing out, so you know it’s heavy), leaving Red out in the open, everything restrained but his smirk. Think your underground cell and hand-truck with a mouth prison was badass, Hannibal? Red Reddington gets his own traveling room, filched and renovated from the waterfront on season two of The Wire.

Yet so much about this intricate and unwieldy choice of a supercell is confusing. Does Red have superpowers? Loki and Magneto had very specific imprisonment needs, hence their pimped-out sci-fi clinks. But as far as I can tell, Red Reddington’s sarcasm cannot bend metal. Are they worried that his dapper vest has black-magic powers? If so, why, after all this caution, roll back the top when it comes to talking to the Feds? This seems like a security flaw; it is like Mr. Burns’s underground lair with a broken screen door on The Simpsons.

Also, this cage seems to be built into the ground, as the top is on a track; it is not portable, so this was not a delivery crate sent from Langley. Did they have a separate dinghy of a class cage they put him in at HQ, loaded onto a reinforced-glass truck like a prison nesting doll, then offloaded and rolled it into the bigger cage on a dolly? That just brings us back to the question of why, after all that effort to keep him from being exposed to the air, they would then pull back the top of the cage for his chat session. We are in a budget sequestration, people, you can’t be spending all this money on automatic cages that don’t even work correctly!

This may seem like a lot of obsessing over a dumb, overblown prop just meant to elicit fond memories of The Silence of the Lambs, but let’s not rule out that it could be part of the larger mythology of the show. Maybe the reason Red summons Elizabeth is because he used to work with the father who abandoned her on a scam to fleece the government for years by selling them overpriced cells. The deadbeat dad betrayed him, and now Red wants revenge … ironically, from inside the very cell that he invented! So many layers.

Or, again, maybe it’s just a dumb prop that nobody thought through.

Making Sense of James Spader’s Blacklist Cage