Once upon a time, The Blacklist was one of the hottest shows on television. Since its premiere, it was a winner thanks to an ingenious premise, characters, and a format that worked.
For ten seasons, the show soldiered on with viewers tuning in each week, and once streaming became a thing, the show was added to several streamers worldwide.
But looking at the numbers from the first season to the final season, there was such a massive drop in viewership, whether in live ratings or streaming, that it begs the question of why viewers jumped ship.
For context, the first season averaged 10 million live viewers, and the final season went slightly above 1 million. That’s a ninety percent decrease.
The question morphed into why the show lost steam, and in this article, we dive into distinct creative decisions that watered it down to unwatchable levels.
The Blacklist Season 1 was a perfect balance between mystery, action, and narrative development. There was a variation of characters, each going through their own struggles, so it didn’t feel like any one narrative dominated the story.
There were mysteries about Reddington, chief among them why he had decided to give himself up to the authorities after all these years.
There were chances that he was Liz Keen’s father, and that was an intriguing thought because it promised a great story as we came to see how and why Raymond left his daughter when she was young, only to drop into her life and upset her entire world.
Liz and Tom were trying to start a family of their own but were unsuccessful, and just in time, Red appeared with news that Tom was not who he seemed to be.
Another mystery about Tom arose, and true to Red’s words, Tom was too good at hand-to-hand combat to be a regular man.
By The Blacklist Season 2, we had accepted that mysteries would be part of the show and it would be an exciting ride as it peeled back into Raymond, Liz, and Tom.
The show held back some information, but it hadn’t reached a point where the mysteries did a disservice to the story.
Everything began to change on The Blacklist Season 3 when Liz Keen Took Center Stage.
For the past two seasons, no one had noticed anything off about her, but once she was accused of murdering the attorney general, everything shifted to focus on her.
Liz and Red were on the run as The Task Force followed hot in pursuit.
The season saw them spend much time together as Red tried to keep her safe, yet every decision she made was against her interests.
By The Backlist Season 4, Red and Liz were at a crossroads as a new player had entered the game claiming to be Liz’s father.
Without the Task Force to keep her in check, Liz spiraled and became a bother to watch. She was inconsistent in her logic and desires, sometimes acting so dumb it was baffling.
She couldn’t pick a side, and after spending much time chasing after some fringe “truth” that meant everything to her, she would abandon the endeavor to pursue something else.
She put everyone who cared about her through hell and burned some relationships. And to have to witness that, the viewer couldn’t help but cringe every time she appeared on screen.
It was justified why she was at the top of our list of characters who need to take a hike.
The show went back and forth with Tom Keen without taking a stand about him. His past was a mystery, and his alliances faltered too.
Tom could have faded into oblivion and become unmemorable like some other characters in the show, but then NBC decided to give him a spinoff.
The Blacklist: Redemption was the perfect example of why just because a show is popular, it doesn’t need a spinoff, especially with a character as inconsistent as Tom Keen.
The spinoff would have had a better chance if Mathias Solomon had headlined it. He seemed pretty mysterious, whereas Tom’s mystery was whether he was Susan’s son.
After the show flopped, the character returned to The Blacklist, but it didn’t feel the same anymore. Liz had dominated the mothership, and there was no position for him anymore.
His death had two effects: it made Liz more unbearable as she went after his killers, and it robbed the show of someone who looked the part.
Despite his flaws, Tom Keen was brought to life by Ryan Eggold, and he was perfect for the character. No one could throw hands like Tom – apart from Solomon – and it felt like a loss when he died.
The story had been dragging along with enough mysteries, but when the duffel bag with mysterious bones became the central topic of The Blacklist Season 5, nothing was the same anymore.
Mr. Kaplan planned on ruining Raymond Reddington, and the mysterious bones were a sure way to do it.
For most of the season, we were led to believe that the bones belonged to Katarina Rostova, but in the final minute, the story pivoted, and it turned out to be the real Raymond Reddington.
That opened a new dimension of confusion because it changed everything.
The question about Red’s true identity took precedence; it was all anyone could think about.
A lot of mental gymnastics were involved in understanding the duffel bag, and to this day, I’m unsure whose bones were in the bag.
The fact that Raymond seemed to know people who could make scientific magic happen, including changing DNA, didn’t help.
Every show had a pivotal season, plot, or episode where everything changes, and events on The Blacklist Season 6 that saw Red survive the chair were it for The Blacklist.
Nothing lasts forever, and no one is immortal. For all the love we had for Red, we knew that his end was near, and after being arrested, it seemed like he was never getting himself out of this fix.
The show played out this storyline from his arrest to incarceration, trial, and verdict. It took care to focus on every aspect, and as a result, it built up a lot of anticipation.
Part of me wanted Red to survive, and the other wanted him to die.
If he survived, that would mean more blacklist cases, but we ran the risk of more Liz, lackluster cases, and more confusing developments.
If he died, the show would go out on a high note, which is what everyone wants.
Viewers who watch The Blacklist online know that the former happened.
If Red had died, it would have been kudos to the writers if they had kept the show on the air for one more season.
Instead, it felt like they took the easy way out and kept him alive because the show needed to go on.
Season 6 is usually the appropriate time to end most shows, some earlier. If there was something you didn’t explore in six seasons, each twenty-two episodes long, it means that it’s not worth exploring and you wasted time.
Season 6 marked the decline as the Task Force became comfortable with Red’s actions, and Harlod became utterly neutered.
The robust Harlod Cooper from earlier seasons was full of fire and wasn’t deluded about Reddington’s nature.
This season saw his complete shift from being aware of their deal with the devil to working for the devil.
After receiving favors from Reddington, he switched sides and even pleaded on Red’s behalf during the hearing.
The writers had made bold moves before, but when it counted the most, they chickened out.
As the show progressed into later seasons, Cooper became so passive in the Task Force all he was good at was telling people what to do.
The Blacklist Season 7 marked the success of the show’s attempt to create chaos and confusion when (fake) Katarina Rostova appeared.
If the duffel bag was confusing, Katarina Rostova was utterly discombobulating.
The show had almost confirmed that Katarina had died, but here she was, in the flesh, wreaking havoc.
It was hard to follow the storyline because the show had reached a point where it had held back so much information that the wires had crisscrossed.
The writers didn’t seem to know what to do with anything anymore, and the best they could come up with was to keep viewers preoccupied with asinine theories.
Later, they walked back everything and revealed that the woman posing as Katarina Rostova was, in fact, an imposter. Oh, yeah? No sh*t!
Is everyone an impostor, and if so, who are they?
The show dragged this out for two seasons, and no one can clearly say what it was all about.
As The Blacklist Season 7 continued, most of the remaining viewers had given up, and by the premiere of The Blacklist Season 8, the remaining audience had more than halved!
During all the Rostova confusion, Liz had simmered down and had become the young woman from the first season for whom we were rooting.
But The Blacklist Season 9 did the unthinkable, and Liz Keen died.
For all her flaws, there was no story without Liz and Reddington, one of the reasons the spinoff failed.
You could be angry with Keen for an hour, but it was the best when she softened and broke a smile.
Liz’s death changed everything, with the characters dispersing and the story feeling like it had ground to a halt.
It was noticeable that she was missing, and it wouldn’t have been the worst thing to see her onscreen for two more seasons.
She was a bother, but she was our bother.
Her death changed the show’s tone, and it never recovered.
As the show bowed out on The Blacklist Season 10, it was one final chance to leave the viewers confused and grasping at straws for a semblance of an ending.
The season spent much time tying up Raymond’s affairs with the promise that he was walking into the sunset.
However, Raymond Reddington died on The Blacklist Season 10 Episode 22, and you can trust that the show will leave more questions than answers.
The series finale failed to answer some of the most burning questions accumulated throughout the years and added one more for good measure.
It felt like, once again, the writers took the easy way out with Raymond’s fate, and why did we expect anything else?
Ultimately, the show dug into a hole of confusion and mysteries that proved impossible to escape.
Raymond was enigmatic, but he could only carry the show for so long.
And that’s how the list thinned.
Did you stick around to the bitter end, or did you exit earlier? What made you stop or keep watching?
Chime in in the comments section.
Denis Kimathi is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. He has watched more dramas and comedies than he cares to remember. Catch him on social media obsessing over [excellent] past, current, and upcoming shows or going off about the politics of representation on TV. Follow him on X.