James Spader stars as Raymond "Red" Reddington, an international criminal whose only loyalty is "to the highest bidder;" he'll help whoever pays him to pull off whatever crime they want.
The show begins when Red walks into the office of the FBI and turns himself in. He offers to help them capture all of the world's biggest criminals -- spies, hackers, and so on; "the people you don't even know about" -- but insists that he will only speak to Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone). She's a young FBI agent, and it's her first day at the DC bureau. She has no idea why Reddington is interested in her, but when Assistant Director Cooper (Harry Lennix, doing his usual efficient authority figure) asks her to work with him, she agrees.
The dynamic between Reddington and Keen is very Silence of the Lambs, as he taunts her with his knowledge about her personal life, and demands that she share further details in exchange for information. Spader delivers his threats and insinuations with silky menace; he's having a grand old time with the part, and he's the best reason to watch the show.
Boone is a convincing young agent, gifted with natural insight into others, and self-aware enough to know her own weaknesses (most of them, anyway); in her scenes with Spader, she's a smart enough actress to stay out of the way and not try to compete with his quiet hamming.
There's a nice plot twist at the end of the pilot that suggests the connection between Reddington and Keen may be something other than the obvious guess (which would be, of course, that he's her father). The Blacklist could get repetitious and boring very quickly, but Spader's enough to make it fun for now.