Story By: G. H. HARDING
James Spader

BLACKLIST’S BEST --- Last week was the season finale of NBC’s The Blacklist, and it was by far the best episode this entire second season. FBI agent Lizzie Kean is on the run, framed by the nefarious cabal and, of course, Red Reddington (portrayed by the great James Spader) comes to her rescue. Several questions were finally answered in this episode, which finds Liz and Red ultimately on the run in the final minutes, with Elton John’s “Rocket Man” poignantly playing them out. In a masterstroke, Lizzie now becomes the FBI’s Most Wanted. Actually, a brilliant play.

Spader, for my money, remains one of the very best actors on TV these days. Talk about chewing the scenery—Spader continually makes a grand dinner out of it. I don’t know how this role came to Spader, but it is an inspired choice. He should give his agents a major bonus!

This episode saw his character Reddington admit that he is a sin eater, absorbing the sins of others in order to help make them pure again. I’ve heard this concept before; and in the hands of a lesser actor, it might have come off as a bit cheesy. Not here, though. Spader sold it—hook, line, and sinker.

Admittedly, this second season seemed to have run off the rails a bit—too many questions, not enough answers. This season finale, however, ran fierce and strong on all the right cylinders. Damn-near perfect!

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE OM --- Mad Men‘s final episode aired Sunday on AMC. Now that I’ve watched it twice and read tons of other editorial pieces and blog entries about it, I now feel prepared to write on it from my own perspective.

As anyone who reads my column knows, I’ve loved this show since Day One. I continue to believe that Matthew Weiner is and has been one of the best writers out there—a modern-day Shakespeare, if you will, whose material will undoubtedly still be around for years. The story he has laid out was just a slice of life, but he did everything so perfectly.

Growing up in that era, each moment resonated as strongly with me as it clearly did with him. Over time, I truly felt like I was a part of the narrative.

Weiner’s final show, brilliantly titled “Person to Person,” finally comes to grips with the double-life being led by lead character Don Draper (Jon Hamm). After abandoning his advertising life in New York (he does say he’s “retired”), his marriage, and even his kids, he winds up with his niece at a retreat in California.

As Don bottoms out, he attends a group meeting after the urging of a woman (Helen Slater, recently mentioned here by yours truly as the lead in 1984’s train-wreck motion picture adaptation of Supergirl). At this meeting, he experiences what can only be described as a rebirth of mind, body, and spirit.

The ending depicts him—clearly freshened up and dressed all in white, with a glowing California laid out behind him—meditating and brainstorming a commercial for Coke, which will become known as “The Real Thing.” They don’t portray it directly, but I feel that the inference is that Don will return to the world of advertising—and will create the commercial.

At first, I was somewhat lost throughout the ending—though it was marvelous to see Don finally smile!). The more I thought about it, though, the more it all made perfect sense.

Weiner also neatly winds up the lives of most of the rest of the cast, and does so in a positive and reverential way.

No sudden blank black-screen endings here, ala Sopranos!

Weiner has always asked a lot from his audience. He didn’t let up with this final stab, but it was a spectacular end.

I, along with millions, will miss this show . . . madly! Bravura performances from all, either in front of the camera or behind the scenes.

BRUCE LUNDVALL, R.I.P. --- Yesterday, we lost a rare gem of a music man: Bruce Lundvall, the former CEO of Blue Note Records and a key figure in jazz music, has passed away. He was 79 years old.

Lundvall had been living in a senior assisted-living center in New Jersey for complications related to his ongoing battle with Parkinson's disease, according to his biographer Dan Ouellette, who wrote the book Bruce Lundvall: Playing by Ear. Ouellette further reports that during a brief hospitalization, Lundvall underwent surgery but never regained consciousness.

Lundvall, a beloved figure in the industry, is credited with signing such Grammy-Award winning musicians as Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Natalie Cole and Norah Jones, among many others.

Blue Note Records has issued the following statement:

“Born in Englewood, New Jersey in 1935, Bruce was a lifelong jazz lover whose passion for the music was ignited by Clifford Brown, Charlie Parker and the other Bebop players he heard as an underage teenager at clubs along West 52nd Street in New York City during the 1950s.

“A self-described ‘failed saxophone player,’ Bruce took an entry-level marketing job at Columbia Records in 1960 and over the following two decades rose to lead the North American division of the label, signing artists including Dexter Gordon, Herbie Hancock, Stan Getz, Wynton Marsalis, and Willie Nelson among others. After launching the Elektra/Musician label in 1982, he received the offer of a lifetime in 1984 when EMI approached him about reviving Blue Note Records which had been dormant for several years. He jumped at the chance, partnering with producer Michael Cuscuna to bring back the label's earlier stars like Jimmy Smith, McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson & Jackie McLean, and signing new artists including Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson, Michel Petrucciani, John Scofield, Charlie Hunter and Medeski Martin & Wood.

“Under Bruce’s stewardship, Blue Note established itself as the most respected and longest-running jazz label in the world. He presided over a prosperous nearly-30-year period of the label's history, reaching commercial heights with artists including Bobby McFerrin, Us3, Norah Jones, Al Green and Amos Lee, while recording some of the most important jazz artists of our time including Joe Lovano, Greg Osby, Jason Moran, Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinmusire, Don Pullen, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Terence Blanchard, Jacky Terrasson, and many others.

“His leadership at the label brought a then-unknown singer, Jones, to his office. Her debut album, Come Away with Me, would end up selling more than 11 million copies and win eight Grammy Awards.”

I knew the man personally, and always found him to be a kindred spirit—always full of music and music lore. No messy gossip with Bruce, he was always a stand-up guy and straight-up soul. He was one of a kind. R.I.P., Bruce.

SUMMER MOVIES --- Here’s a quick rundown of the movies that we’re looking forward to most this summer, which kicks off its new slate of summer-season pictures this weekend. We’ve got:

Entourage (June 3); Jurassic World (June 12); Pixar’s Inside Out (June 19); Terminator Genisys (July 1); Minions (July 10); Ant Man (July 17), being released the same day as Woody Allen’s new film starring Joaquin Phoenix called Irrational Man; Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation (July 31); Ricki and The Flash (August 7); and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (August 14).

As we said Monday, George Clooney‘s newest, Tomorrowland—coming out this Friday—is already getting slammed by critics, while Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out is generating superlative reviews. The box-office race is on!

CLOSING NOTES --- Pete Townshend will release a new solo career compilation, Truancy: The Very Best of Pete Townshend, on June 30. The seventeen-track album includes two new tracks, and kicks off a new reissue program for Townshend's entire solo-artist catalog that is scheduled to run well into 2016.

Townshend said of the set, "I hope it offers a selection that works to introduce new fans to my solo work. I am a bit of a dabbler, I'm afraid. I am as interested in building, developing and playing with recording studios as I am with making music. The Who has taken up most of my road hours, and in this year of the 50th anniversary of our first significant year in 1965, we are back on the road again” . . . WOR’s Tom Cuddy and PR pasha David Salidor seen at Walker’s in Tribeca . . . and, again, damn it–we’re losing David Letterman and Mad Men in the same week! Tonight’s show is Dave’s last, and who knows what kind of tomfoolery may be planned. As for the performance last night from Mr. Zimmerman (a.k.a., Bob Dylan), the ever-elusive Boomer icon (or, perhaps more accurately, iconoclast) performed a moody but strangely heartfelt rendition of the Tin Pan Alley-era ballad “The Night We Called It a Day” written by Matt Dennis with lyrics from Tom Adair (and featured on Dylan’s newest album of great song standards called Shadows in the Night. All we can say is that Dylan simply stood in place and sang the song, really sang it. Many have described Bob’s demeanor during the song and afterward, when shaking Letterman’s hand, as reticent and a little bizarre. For a show like Letterman’s, however, anything can happen—and Dylan’s ever-elusive appearance reinforced the notion that performers can and often do contain multitudes of mystery—and that goes the same for Letterman, too. We’ll all see what Dave makes of his final moments on what’s starting to feel like the final moments of TV, as well. Dylan wrote but didn’t perform “The Times They Are A-Changin’” last night. He didn’t need to, though—we already know the score . .