There are two kinds of ghosts: real ones and the made-up kind. The latter are either the phony ones you see at Halloween, or the ones you see (or can’t see) on tv and at the movies– dramatic re-creations based on a screenwriter’s script or a popular novel. But how accurate are their depictions of the unseen? People learn from television, for better or for worse.
Consider the most recent episode of Blacklist, an NBC television series about the FBI, spies, master criminals, and a main character by the name of Raymond “Red” Reddington (played by James Spader). Red is a rogue ex-spy who unofficially consults with the FBI about uber-bad guys on the loose. My wife and I don’t watch that much tv, but this is one series we have followed for its excellent writing, in this case by Daniel Knauf.
Last week’s episode (Cape May) threw dedicated fans into a tizzy, showing how a ghost as a character can be misunderstood. Apparently no one understood this one. I think I did. The episode presented a paranormal experience for the main character, something totally out of character for the series. But you can decide for yourself if any ghosts appeared. I suggest watching the episode for important subtleties and clues that appear as the story unfolds. If you can’t, stay with me anyway. This should be fun.
SPOILER ALERT! Don’t read any further if you intend to see the show first. That will be far more interesting then a written description. But if you haven’t been watching it from week to week, you still should know some background: Red’s friend in the FBI (Liz) died in the previous show, someone he had been looking after since she was a little girl when he rescued her from dangerous circumstances. The identity of her presumed dead father is unknown, as is the status of her mother, an accused Russian spy.
That’s really all you need to know, but watch the whole thing if possible. Then come back here and we’ll talk . . .
DISCLAIMER: to over-simplify, paranormal investigators look for clues and evidence of something unusual in an allegedly “haunted” location. Then they try to “debunk” whatever strange things are discovered in order to explain them by normal circumstances. If they can’t and the phenomenon remains unexplained, it may very well be paranormal. Investigating the paranormal requires the same sensibilities as any kind of investigator, but the process is still very much an art and not a science, despite fancy hardware and claims to the contrary. In spite of confidence in their findings, they can still be dead wrong.
The opening scenes of the Cape May episode show Red Reddington still traumatized by Liz’s death and recovering in an opium parlor run by an old Chinese woman. As he leaves, she reminds him to take his gun, but he gives it back to her. 1st clue: guns don’t work in past-life environments. He then hires a car to take him to Cape May, New Jersey– 200 miles away. We don’t know why, or if he knows why. 2nd clue: Red is mysteriously drawn to this location, which he did visit once a long time ago.
Once he arrives, he visits a diner for breakfast where he spies a woman sitting in a nearby booth. He watches her get up and leave, only to see a man enter who is apparently looking for her. 3rd clue: the man picks up a shiny new pay phone and inserts a quarter to call someone. Where’s his cell phone? Why is a pay phone even there? They’ve virtually disappeared from public places.
I can go on and on with the various clues, but it would be more fun for the viewers to find them on their own. Suffice it to say that Red was experiencing a residual haunting in the diner, which continues right through his arrival at an abandoned shoreside inn. There he sees the same woman on the beach, whom he watches trying to kill herself by walking into the ocean. He saves her, transforming the residual haunting into an interactive one as he talks to the person he saves.
Residual hauntings are like playbacks of events that occurred in the past, where the witness cannot interact with whom or what he sees. The twist the writer inserted into the story at this point was his ability to start interacting with the woman. Red had stepped back into the past, enabling himself to be part of it as it replayed its sad story. Such interactive encounters are also called intelligent hauntings.
The storyline continues with many additional clues that support the theory of this residual haunting flipping back and forth into an interactive one. Red is caught up in the playback of the events that were responsible for all of his troubles, including the recent death of his beloved Liz. The challenging question one can raise here is, “if Red participated in the events of the past, did he also change the future by his actions there?” This is the classic time travel dilemma, but I’ll leave the implications of that to the writer who probably has his own ideas about it.
I could go on for pages pointing out all the clues within the narrative. But I’ll leap to my own conclusions instead. Scanning through the hundreds of comments on various Blacklist fan sites, it appears no one “got it.” Instead, viewers thought Red was having a dream, hallucinations, having a breakdown, or was simply remembering past events. No. Hallucinations are irrational perceptions produced by a short-circuiting brain as the result of drugs or psychosis. Memories recalled can be vivid, but do not play out in interactive detail. Dreams, whether induced by opiates or just deep sleep, are controlled by the sub-conscious, and are for the most part illogical. Red’s experience as a still rational person was vivid, logical, and interactive.
The mysterious woman was depicted as a ghost who really did kill herself in the past. She drew Red back to Cape May to explain her actions when she was alive, and also to help Red deal with his own guilt, which was slowly killing him. Such is the nature of paranormal events . . . supernatural interventions with a purpose.
For those of you really into this, learn more . . .
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