Raymond "Red" Reddington is one of the FBI's Most Wanted criminals, a mastermind of sorts known as "The Concierge of Crime," a man without a country or political agenda. Despite their best efforts, the FBI hasn't come close to catching Reddington in years, which is why his puzzling and conspicuous surrender at FBI headquarters is met with a wide range of skepticism. What's the catch?
Red has a greater end goal - but he's not revealing his cards just yet. As the FBI scrambles to get up to speed with Reddington's recent dealings and whereabouts, the fugitive makes them an enticing - if morally ambiguous - offer: He will help them get their hands on Ranko Zamani, a high-value terrorist thought to be dead for years, but he will work only with profiler Elizabeth Keen. Unfortunately for the FBI... it's Keen's first day on the job.
Harold Cooper, the Assistant Director of Counterterrorism, brings Elizabeth into his office to figure out her ties to Red. There are none. Liz just graduated from Quantico a month ago. Cooper asks Liz to profile herself. It's a perplexing suggestion, but eventually she decides to play along. Like most people who raised themselves, Liz displays narcissistic behavior. She has a deep yearning to understand the criminal mind. She is certified in psychoanalysis and yet still operates under the false pretense that having a child of her own will erase all the wrongs in her own personal life. And, since it's her first day on the job, Liz assumes Reddington has been waiting for her, thinking she is someone who can be easily manipulated. Obviously he doesn't know her as well as he thinks he does...
Elizabeth comes face-to-face with Red at an abandoned post office the FBI uses to conduct their black ops. Red says Liz, more than anyone else, has the ability to give him a second chance, to change his destiny. The relationship is symbiotic, as Red is about to make her a star, starting with Ranko Zamani. Within the hour, Zamani is planning to kidnap the daughter of a U.S. general, and offering to bring in Zamani is Red's way of establishing trust and value. The FBI rushes into action, and Elizabeth tries to step away to call her husband Tom; they were supposed to visit an adoption agency together, but "things have come up." Disappointed, Tom questions whether Elizabeth really wants to go through with their plan of starting a family. But before she can get into it, she's rushed into a car on the way to find the general's daughter, Beth.
Led by Agent Donald Ressler, the FBI plucks Beth from her ballet class and puts her and Liz in an SUV en route to a safe location. But Zamani is two steps ahead of them, and the convoy drives right into an ambush on a D.C. bridge. Disguised as HAZMAT workers, Zamani's men pull off a daring and complicated abduction, leaving Keen bloody and most of her co-workers dead. Zamani's men get away with Beth in little Zodiacs.
Back at the post office, Red helps the FBI get their strategy straight for rescuing Beth. He keeps telling Liz and her colleagues to stop thinking like cops - cops think objectively, with protocols - it won't get them anywhere. With Red's help, Liz starts to see things from Zamani's viewpoint and realizes he's planning to settle a score between himself and the general. Years ago, the general oversaw an attack on a chemical weapons plant near Zamani's homeland that killed Zamani's family. Now, Liz suggests, Zamani is planning to exact revenge by setting off a bomb in the D.C. area... using Beth as the detonator.
Red knows a guy called "The Innkeeper" who runs a series of safe houses in the area. He would most likely know the chemist Zamani's using to create his bomb. If Liz finds the chemist, she'll find Zamani. In exchange for information on the chemist's whereabouts, Red demands the FBI unshackle him and house him in a penthouse suite in one of D.C.'s finest hotels. After all, if they expect terrorists to deal with him as usual, they'll have to believe he's out and about on his own free will. The FBI reluctantly agrees. As Red enjoys fine champagne and the luxuries of his accommodations, the FBI tracks down the chemist and interrogates him using all "necessary means." With a little downtime, Liz decides to go home and take a shower, hoping the reprieve will clear her head.
Liz comes home to an array of balloons and a sign saying the adoption agency approved them as worthy parents. Amid the jubilation Liz doesn't notice that Tom is tied up at the kitchen table, bloody and beaten. By the time she realizes what's happened, it's too late. Zamani is standing over her husband, demanding Liz explain how much she knows about his plan. Begging him to leave Tom alone, she says she knows little more than her suspicions about a bomb. Zamani offers her a deal: she can stop him now and save many, or she can try to save one. He stabs Tom in the stomach and runs away, leaving Liz in a panic, trying to save the life of her husband.
Tom is stabilized on a ventilator at a local hospital, but still in critical condition. On the brink, Liz confronts Red and demands he explain what the hell is going on. Red maintains his typical calmness, but Liz is tired of the act. She takes a pen and stabs him in his carotid artery, telling him to speak up or she'll let him die right there at the table. Red passes out, and Liz goes home. As she scrubs her husband's blood out of their carpet, she begins to break down. She's not ready for this, and she's in way over her head for the first day on her new job.
Liz is placed under official review for her assault on Red, but she manages to talk Cooper into allowing her five minutes to interrogate Reddington in his hospital room. But when she enters, Red is gone, having escaped out the window. The FBI initiates a manhunt. Now on his own, Red meets Zamani at the Lincoln Memorial to discuss Zamani's terror plot. It's unclear where Red's allegiance lies, but Zamani intimates that Red was involved in the attack on Tom. As the FBI tracks him down, Red calls Liz and asks her to think critically about her interaction with Zamani... to remember details. She struggles at first, but eventually realizes he had a stamp on his hand, the stamp for the D.C. Zoo. Liz realizes where the bomb's being placed and rushes into action.
Liz tracks Beth down at the D.C. Zoo, the bomb strapped to her in an inconspicuous backpack. Meanwhile, the FBI uses the GPS implant they placed in Red to track him from a nearby skyscraper's rooftop. When they get to him, however, they realize it's not Red, but Zamani. Zamani holds a detonator in his hand and threatens to blow up the zoo, but Ressler shoots first. As Zamani's body falls to the street, the detonator rolls into Ressler's hand. He opens it up and realizes Red removed his tracking chip and gave it to the criminal.
At the zoo, Liz tries to calm Beth down as a Ukrainian criminal arrives and begins to dismantle the bomb. As the clock ticks closer to zero, Liz is very skeptical of the Ukrainian and his motivations, but she's out of options. Liz tells Beth about the scar on her hand, saying she got it from her father and it's always reminded her to be brave. Beth touches the scar, hoping it can make her brave as well. As the Ukrainian stops the bomb and runs off with it, Red shows up to assures Liz the bomb is payment for the man's bomb dismantling services. Just then the FBI swarms all of them, and Red peacefully gives himself up once more.
The FBI is all but done with Red until he lets them know Zamani is just one name on an entire list of criminals, politicians and terrorists he's been compiling for over 20 years in his head - his "Blacklist." He's willing to tell the FBI about the list's entries if they agree to let him help track the people down. His demands are outrageous, but the FBI knows he has something they want; and they reluctantly take the bait. Meanwhile, back at her place, Liz uncovers something startling as she rips the bloody carpet off the floor: under the floorboards is a hidden box full of passports featuring Tom's photo, a big pile of money and a gun.