Review: The Inscrutible Red Reddington [Hiatus]

“I have thought enough about myth and history, fact and fiction, to know truth cannot be told. There is always another way to tell the story” – Norman O. Brown http://bit.ly/1qo9R3n

“If you don’t make any attempt to show the audience anything, then the audience wants to look further and further and further and further… And I think that’s what [Red] does – he doesn’t show a great deal, but he draws you to look further in…”
– James Spader, Talk Stoop interview (9/2/2014) http://bit.ly/1zlb232

James Spader is the actor as Moby Dick: an inscrutable but irresistible force of nature. If you’ve read Moby Dick, your English teacher likely told you that Moby Dick is John Locke’s’ tabula rasa, the blank slate on which Western civilization projects all the goals that irresistibly draw us forward, perhaps to paradise, perhaps toward the abyss, perhaps toward … yada yada yada. Anyway, it’s about “progress” or maybe just “movement” without resolution.

But is this tabula rasa persona Spader or Red?

Spader in interviews seems friendly, garrulous, smart and gracious. Though he claims to guard his privacy (which he does with regard to his wife and son), he can be very candid regarding his autobiographical details (eg Rolling Stone http://rol.st/XJRtDS). In fact, he seems to gets a kick out of over-sharing. He teases and quips and laughs heartily. So it must be Red who is so enigmatic.

Spader’s liberal Alan Shore character (Boston Legal) seems more like the James Spader we see in interviews. In fact, in one interview, he said the Alan Shore role allowed him to ‘spout off on things I care deeply about.’ (Craig Ferguson Show?) There’s no mile he wouldn’t walk for a friend, and he has the friends to prove it.

"How's it all gonna end?" (Episode 1:19 Pavlovich)

“How’s it all gonna end?” (Episode 1:19 Pavlovich)


He famously avoided the diversion into drugs that his friend Robert Downey Jr. and others took in the ’80s and devoted himself to his family.

So what is Spader doing in the role of Red Reddington? When asked why he took the role of Red, he responded, “I may have been looking for him” http://huff.to/1xS3zpH (HuffPo 10/26/2013) Judging by an interview he did on this role in David Mamet’s play “Race,” the theme of secrets has been percolating for Spader for some time.

Broadway[.]com (1/19/2010): “Race” Star James Spader on Truth, Justice and the Mamet Way http://bit.ly/1oX7wG5
“I think that David Mamet is very happy with the notion that every character in this play—and therefore the actors playing those characters—believe with all their heart that they’re telling the truth. That’s what he wants this play to be about; he wants it to be about truth and lies. It’s one of the things that makes for the excitement in the play—and there’s something terribly tragic about these four characters—all of them absolutely believe that they’re doing the right thing. But what you believe is the truth may turn out to be a lie. I think where the play lives and breathes is that idea.”

At Comic-Con, he went on:

YouTube: Comic-Con (Summer 2013): Blacklist panel http://bit.ly/1q8xSF
[Transcribed] James Spader: “Secrets are a great thing. Secrets are such a part of everyone’s life. And that’s allowed to live in this show, how you reckon with secrets, in your own life and others, and the secrets that you know about others, and secrets you hold very dear that someone in the first time meeting them, they somehow are intuitive about things you hold very close to your heart…”

I have a theory.

It’s as if, after decades of playing roles carving through the bullshit to get to the seedy or noble “truth” underneath, James Spader decided to tackle the notion of truth head on, of secrets and lies and the huge question of whether we can ever “know anyone, really,” about people, including ourselves. You can peel back the layers, but is it an orange you are peeling or a pomegranate?

We may not know who Red is, but he does. Red says he will go to any lengths to protect that which he “holds most dear.” This includes one person and maybe others. Beyond that we don’t know (but it better be good). Whatever it is, it’s been winnowed down to some basics, possibly his business interests, possibly something more abstract.

In the meantime, perhaps the best working assumption is that it is that some things have intrinsic value (but darned if we’ll tell you what they are). To protect them, we must be willing to sacrifice every other thing. In an age careening on questions of “values,” when life can be so cheap, isn’t that what we need to think about, really? The Pearl of Great Price, the Large Fish the Fisherman caught and then threw back all the others, the Prodigal Son who one-upped the Good Son in securing his father’s affections. You get it. Perhaps, by dragging this question out so long for an audience, it raises the question for everyone, “What do I value? And to what lengths would I go to protect it?”

This show seems at times to be edging toward an ethic, not just a mythology http://bit.ly/12zH3Kv, though I’m not sure Jon Bokenkamp realizes the potential he’s waltzing with here.

Regarding the long-term outcome, Spader says:

“When viewers respond well to a character, there’s a natural tendency for them to say, ‘I want to know more. I want to know everything.’ But I say, ‘Well, you can’t. It would ruin the character for you. You just must trust me in terms of that.‘” (Playboy, Sep 2014) http://bit.ly/1sKfatM

In a way, it’s the perfect nostrum for the surveillance state. Even with so much known about us, do we ever really even know ourselves? Is our last refuge inscrutability? Who has our best interests in mind, and why can’t we know what they know about us? What you know about me may be of use to you, but the lost soul remains a mystery, a secret, a box whose contents we forgot about years ago, and for which we have lost the key.

Does Red’s inscrutability mask a mysterious truth, something of value – or is it all just a parlor game really, a “manipulation”? That itself is a serious question for our times, as we face an enemy like ISIS that appears to harbor no such existential uncertainties. Stay tuned… Maybe it’s all Western Civilization tuned in to get a glimpse of “how it’s all gonna end.”

So, remember this when (for the nth time) you hear Jon Bokenkamp or James Spader repeat the refrain ‘it’s the journey that matters,’ not the destination. The destination matters, too. To me. It matters as to whether I want to extricate myself from this obsession with a TV show. For now, however, I’m game.

So, here’s my response to “Trust me”: As Reagan and Gorbachev agreed: “Trust, but verify.” I’ll be surveilling you.

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