'The Blacklist': "Sympathy for the Devil" was maybe a premature music choice?
What I keep thinking about a few hours after watching this second episode of The Blacklist isn't the quality of its writing (acceptable!), or even the number of hats Spader might wear over the course of the season (a prodigious amount, I'm guessing). Both endlessly curious things to ponder! But no -- all that's running through my head now is how much it must have cost to use "Sympathy for the Devil" in that opening shot. The Rolling Stones are not exactly a cheap option, so to grab one of their most popular songs -- even if it was only sampled for a total 30 seconds -- likely set the show back a few bucks.
Remember when Mad Men ended that one episode with "Tomorrow Never Knows" and it basically blew their song budget for the year? That was a bold production decision, but one made for a clear creative reason -- Don was actually listening to the song on his hi-fi, and thematically entering a new psychedelic world he didn't/couldn't truly understand. Outside of the song being awesome, no duh, it served a strong creative purpose -- and the fact that it was The Beatles, and we knew how much it cost to include it, only reinforced its importance.
Does "Sympathy for the Devil," used to open this second episode of The Blacklist, serve the same multifaceted purpose? First, take a listen:
What a great song. God, I could just listen to the Stones for the next three hours and forget about this re--
RECAP, RIGHT. (Sort of!) I mean, okay -- Red is clearly the Devil in question here, a man who's committed...if not atrocities in his life, then certainly a few crimes (he's a minor devil). Sympathy for said devil is projected by us, the audience. You can understand why they would have chosen this song specifically, over say Katy Perry's "Roar". But really, two reasons emerge for the song's inclusion:
1) To set a mood, something that probably could have been done with a far less expensive song, or even some original score. Which leads us to the second reason, that
2) Producers want you to know that this is the kind of CLASSY NETWORK DRAMA WILLING TO DROP BILLS FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT. Not a completely necessary song choice? Who cares, expensive = good!
Revolution last fall churned out a "Led Zeppelin" (I think we heard... three songs?) episode that hit the same notes, offering songs from one of the most popular, creative rock groups of all time to convince us that hey, 'Revolution' had some interesting things to say, too! It didn't. It doesn't. I'm not saying that The Blacklist hits the same wall -- even two weeks in, it's already 30x the show Revolution is -- just that the decision to already go FULL CLASSIC ROCK doesn't exactly inspire confidence. You're on your second episode, BL! You don't have to impress us with the size of your music budget! It's like a DJ turning to a dependable Top 40 jam when he feels that his more off-the-wall spinning hasn't fully captivated the crowd. It'll work, it has to work, but it's some kind of admittance of insecurity. I think we can all agree that confidence is way sexier.
...Not to spend 500+ words talking about literally the first 20 seconds of the show but, you know, we're in the business of deep analysis over here.