“I believe, in short, that the hero and the psychopath may be twigs on the same genetic branch.“ - David T. Lykken

From time to time, I see the terms “sociopath” and “psychopath” being
casually thrown around by fans, the media, and even some of the
characters on the show when referring to Raymond Reddington, and it doesn’t sit well with me at all. I think we’ve been shown enough - not too much but
enough - of who he really is to realize that he doesn’t fit either category. Who/what he pretends to be is another question - and it’s not always easy to tell the persona and the person
apart (maybe not even for him) - but before we get into all that, I think
it’s best to clarify what are meant by the terms “sociopath” and

Truth is that there’s still much conceptual
confusion and disagreement - even among professionals - about these
words. I primarily rely on the works/opinions of Robert Hare and David
Lykken as my guide here. Both gentlemen are well-known experts of this
subject with decades of serious research and numerous published books
and articles under their belt. Both believe that sociopathy,
psychopathy, and antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) have several -
mostly antisocial - features in common (all three are considered
personality disorders) but are still separate concepts and as such,
aren’t synonymous. Hare is especially touchy about people equating
psychopathy with ASPD since “[t]he association between ASPD and
psychopathy is generally asymmetric: most people with ASPD are not
psychopathic, whereas most of those who are psychopathic meet the
diagnostic criteria for ASPD” (Hare and Neumann). Neither
psychopathy nor sociopathy, however, is an officially recognized
diagnostic category in the US - yet.

But here’s a quote that I think sums this up the best:

indicates that psychopaths are a stable proportion of any population,
can be from any segment of society, may constitute a distinct
taxonomical class forged by frequency-dependent natural selection, and
that the muting of the social emotions is the proximate mechanism that
enables psychopaths to pursue their self-centered goals without feeling
the pangs of guilt. Sociopaths are more the products of adverse
environmental experiences that affect autonomic nervous system and
neurological development that may lead to physiological responses
similar to those of psychopaths. Antisocial personality disorder is a
legal/clinical label that may be applied to both psychopaths and
sociopaths” (Walsh and Wu).

Sociopathy and psychopathy

are disorders defined by specific personality traits and behavioral patterns (see “Table 1″ below)

are not categorical but dimensional in nature with trait intensity being distributed on a scale from low to high

have an onset in childhood, are stable over time, and “do not just emerge in adulthood” (Hare)

are primarily associated with moral and emotional deficiency

are endpoints of a continuum with “difficult temperament maximized at the psychopathic end and inadequate parenting maximized at the sociopathic end” and there are “intermediate cases that could reasonably be assigned to either or both categories” (Lykken)

are not synonymous with “being crazy” (psychopaths and sociopaths are not clinically insane)

Now let’s take a look at them separately.

The sociopath (
~ an antisocial who was badly socialized & thus lacks the
mechanisms that normally restrain antisocial impulses; a “less refined
psychopath” or “secondary psychopath”)

is primarily made rather than born

comes primarily from the lower social classes and dysfunctional families

is the product of adverse environmental conditions interacting with genetic traits and will inevitably engage in criminal behavior (Walsh and Wu)

is an “undomesticated predator” who “never signed the Social Contract” (Lykken)

develops the kind of emotional calluses that psychopaths are apparently born with
primarily through inadequate socialization and hostile childhood
experiences such as abuse, neglect, and violence (Walsh and Wu)

(with difficulty but) can form emotional attachments and feel badly when they hurt those they are attached to

has a sense of right and wrong that is usually based on the values of the criminal group to which they belong (Bower) and tend to remain loyal

is less organized and their crimes tend to be haphazard

is more likely to be undereducated and hold down a steady job

The psychopath ( ~ an antisocial with abnormal temperaments and muted pro-other emotions)

is born rather than made;
various components of psychopathy have strong genetic underpinnings and
parenting competence tends to have little effect on them (Walsh and Wu)

can come from any social class and family type (Walsh and Wu)

may or may not engage in criminal behavior but when they do, their crimes are predatory in nature (Slater, Pozzato et. al)

experiences primary/basic emotions but has either a complete lack of or a greatly reduced ability to experience social/moral emotions (Sun; Walsh and Wu)

is unfamiliar with personal values and incapable of understanding them (Cleckley)

is a perfect mimic of a socialized, normally functioning person (Farrell) but it is all superficial and their true disposition overrides their “mask of normalcy” and manifests itself from time to time (Lykken)

can commit crimes against strangers, “friends”, and family members alike while feeling little to no remorse (McAleer)

is callous yet charming,
which allows them to feign concern and emotion, even crying while they
profess their innocence, but if they perceive that their charm is not
working, it quickly will vanish, being replaced by a more aggressive or
abrasive approach (O'Toole, Logan, and Smith)

can be both instrumental and impulsive;
features like lack of empathy or shallow emotions make it relatively
easy for them to engage in aggression and violence that is predatory,
premeditated, instrumental, or cold-blooded in nature, but their
impulsivity and poor behavioral controls may result in reactive form of
aggression or violence (Hare, Neumann, Craig)

often has a good job/successful career, a spouse and children (Bonn)

doesn’t lack interpersonal attachment; is skilled at (quickly) forming relationships but these relationships are ultimately toxic, parasitic, potentially destructive/emotionally abusive (Hare and Neumann; MacKenzie)

is unconcerned with the dignity, humanity, feelings, well-being, rights and wishes of others (Brodsky) and uses others to satisfy their own sexual, financial, physical, or emotional needs (Babiak, Folino et. al)

is a compulsive, pathological liar who tries to explain away their crimes and/or shift blame to others (Babiak, Folino et al.); is skilled at mimicking emotions if necessary and their performance can fool trained clinicians and experts too (Hare)

has an impaired ability to understand the emotional consequences of their actions and is incapable of identifying with the pain they cause (Bonn; Woodworth, Hancock et. al)

is reliable only when and as long as it suits their own wants and has no constraint to those wants (Donohue)

doesn’t learn to modify behavior that harms others or for which they are punished (Blair)

focuses well on their explicit goal but ignores peripheral information that provides context and meaning (Newman)

has a defect in self-awareness, judgment, and planning for the future

to Linda Mealey, cheating is a genetically mandated strategy for
psychopaths. They are the human equivalent of cheater males. But both
sociopaths and psychopaths engage in high levels of cheating behavior,
i.e. the exploitation of conspecifics for their own advantage. Our
social emotions can aid us in detecting these cheats to avoid being
exploited by them (Walsh and Wu).

The “gold standard” for measuring adult psychopathy is the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R). It was developed by Robert Hare.

Factor 1 describes a syndrome of personality traits, Factor 2 a syndrome of behavioral traits. The remaining items do not load strongly on either factor and also are behavioral characterizations (Lykken). Hare cautions us not to use this list to diagnose ourselves or others. He shares it so laypeople can be informed of what combination of “symptoms” are potentially dangerous, and his advise is to always seek help from a well-trained, experienced clinician if the possibility of psychopathy is suspected.

Now I do not wish to diagnose anyone. I am far from being a trained clinician. My interest in this subject is casual, so my goal here is simply to examine how Red’s (and in the second half of the essay Tom/Jacob’s) character and behavior reflects these specific “symptoms.”

Let’s get started, then.

I think based on these “lists of basics” above, we can almost immediately rule out
the option of Red being a sociopath.

As mentioned above, this
disorder is already present in childhood/early adolescence, and if Red
had behaved the way adolescent sociopaths do, he never would have been
accepted to the Naval Academy and he definitely wouldn’t have been able
to graduate top of his class and go on to become a respected counter-intelligence officer and the “KGB’s greatest enemy.” I
believe he was quite a handful as a child, though. “For some
children, risk itself is a powerful attraction because it can produce in
them an excited ‘high’ that is intensely gratifying–and many forms of
criminal behavior provide this risk-produced high just as reliably as
any bungee jump” (Lykken). Based on the new comic book snippet I
saw, I think this description fits Red quite well. But I also have
reason to assume his parents (at very least his father because we don’t
know anything about his mother yet) were competent and raised him well. “Relatively
fearless children can be led to take advantage of their daring in
socially approved-of ways. Risk-takers can become crime fighters, for
example, rather than criminals” (Lykken).

I think the essence of his story about loyalty is a glimpse into Red’s positive/constructive relationship with his (late)* father:

“You know, when I was 15, I had a summer job installing carpets for Albert Kodagolian on Lake Charlevoix. Horrible job. Hot, indoors, forced to listen to The Gambler on 8-track while the rest of the world was at the beach. Three days into the job, I knew I had to quit. I
asked my father for advice. All he wanted to know was whether I’d given
my word to Mr. Kodagolian that I’d work the summer. I told him I had.
My father suggested I stick it out. I’d given my word. Worst eight
weeks of my life. Until the last day. Mr. Kodagolian shows up at the
jobsite, pulls me aside, and tells me that in 27 years, no kid has ever
made it through the summer, gives me a bonus… $40. The most valuable
money I’ve ever made. A priceless lesson about life. Value loyalty above all else.” Red, 203

In episode “115” Red says that his father loved Cadillacs. The use of
past tense suggests his father is no longer alive (if he is telling the

First of all, a teenager sociopath is unlikely to have a
grueling summer job and will not stick it out because they gave their
word. They are more interested in taking rather than earning. If they
are in need of money, they are more likely to get it in much easier and
less legal ways (i.e. stealing). And from this glimpse alone we can
assume that Red respected his father since he did seek his advice.
Reddington Sr. was probably a principled man who did manage to instill
self-control and pro-social values in his son - values Red internalized
and holds dear to this day despite his circumstances. → “Mr. Reddington is a man of his word” (Dembe, 213).

3 principal components of socialization are conscientiousness,
prosociality, and acceptance of responsibility. After providing basic
nurturance, the socialization of their children is the most important
function of parents (Lykken), and I believe Red’s parents succeeded
here. None of this matters, of course, if this story is a complete lie.
But I don’t think it is. Some of Red’s little anecdotes may be
embellished half-truths but in this specific scene telling a bogus story
would be quite pointless since the story had direct relevance to the
situation at hand: Niko’s betrayal. Also, it is not like Red to tell lies in
order to make himself look better than he is (he detests that practice
in general; see e.g. Floriana Campo). So - as far as I’m concerned - the
essence of this story is true, Red was raised well, and sociopathy is

If he was so well-socialized, how come he became the Concierge of Crime?, you ask. Well, Lykken has a (partial) answer to that, too: “Some well-socialized persons, under extreme circumstances, will commit crimes” and “[b]ecause
some criminals are in other respects well socialized, whereas many
poorly or partly socialized people are not overtly criminal, it is
necessary to distinguish criminality from socialization.”

To sum it up, every sociopath ends up breaking the law, but not every law-breaker is a sociopath.

you say, but if he’s not a sociopath, how come Red has been so good at
being a ruthless criminal over such an extended period of time? You said
a psychopath is a perfect mimic of a socialized, normally functioning
person and can have a successful career, even a family, while remaining
capable of committing horrible things. That sounds like Red.


Does it really,
though? He sure likes to pretend to be psychopathic from time to time (and “has the talent
for it” as Lykken would say) and many buy into that (often extremely
entertaining, sometimes downright chilling) performance - which, I suspect, is precisely what Red
wants -, but, in my opinion, the “charming psychopath” is in large part a carefully
cultivated illusion to instill fear, command authority, and prevent the more reasonable of his enemies/competitors from messing with him.

Red often lets people think the worst of him
to maintain his “street cred” (and what’s left of Liz’s sense of
self-worth). When the task force traveled to Russia to bring back Ivan,
they put on a show for him and staged a shoot-out where Red
fake-murdered an innocent FBI agent (played by Ressler). Aram was terrified to
even contemplate what happened to all those people who failed to help
Red finding Zoe when, in actuality, nothing happened to them.
They even got a new vending machine, yet Red didn’t exactly rush to put Aram’s mind at ease. It was the same with Hobbs. He
asked Red to “take care” of Dr. Powell, and when the good doctor took his own life, Red didn’t correct Hobbs’ automatic assumption that
it was a murder staged as a suicide. Red wants - needs - people to think that he is that remorseless and instrumental in every context; like I said, part of his authority & power rests on this illusion (and Braxton was onto him). It’s
an asset and a matter of survival in the world he operates - a world
inhabited by many actual sociopaths and psychopaths who wouldn’t
hesitate to use his feelings against him or simply put a bullet in his head if they thought he was that “weak” - but it often hinders his
relationship with Liz who is also more inclined to believe the play-act.

One of the primary features of psychopaths is their greatly reduced ability to experience social emotions, e.g. embarrassment, guilt, shame, empathy, love. These are emotional components of our consciences that “prevent
us from doing things that might be to our immediate advantage (steal,
lie, cheat) but would cost us in reputation and future positive
relationships” (Walsh and Wu). They serve as “commitment devices” and are “grantors of threats and promises” (Mealey).
I already mentioned how Red is a man of his word whether he promises to
do whatever it takes to keep Liz alive, or threatens to cut out a
traitor’s tongue. Also, he is more than capable of experiencing moral
emotions and these do factor into many of his decisions (personal and
business alike). His Big Guilt Monologue - among other things - at the
end of episode “216” is a testament to this very fact.

Psychopaths are practiced cheats/liars, excellent at faking emotions, but according to researchers, there’s often an inconsistency between what they say and do.
Red’s words tend to be further supported by his behavior - even when
nobody is around to witness it (e.g. him visiting Liz in the hospital in
“205”). He emotes a lot, especially around Liz, and he is emotionally
honest. Moreover, he warned the task force by claiming that he is never
telling them everything, engaging in what can only be called an “honest
deception.” No actual psychopath would sabotage their “con” like that.
Red owns his mistakes and takes responsibility for his actions (“Sooner or later we all must pay for our crimes.”),
and despite his best efforts to hide it, he does have a heart.

empathized with Ressler, telling him both in person and in writing that
he truly understood what he was going through. After everything that’s
happened between them, Carla/Naomi still trusted him when he said he
would do anything to keep her safe. Glen keeps messing with him by
arousing his sympathy/empathy (e.g. by telling lies about his ailing
family members or his “sad” childhood) - a trick that wouldn’t work on a
person incapable of feeling those emotions. Madeline knew she could
lure Red to the Kings by simply playing the damsel in distress, and
where Liz is concerned, emotion trumps everything for him now, including
self-preservation - a fact that several other criminals picked up on as
well (Lorca, Anslo, Berlin, Braxton). He cares about Liz and not just when it’s convenient or when he wants something. He missed a very important phone
call to ensure she was kept out of jail, he let her hate him to keep her
from hating herself, and by releasing the content of the Fulcrum, he
gave up his life insurance as well. These are clearly not the actions of
a self-centered, ruthless person.

Ideas of beauty, goodness, humor, or love have a very superficial meaning to psychopaths. For them, it is impossible “to take interest in the tragedy or joy or the striving of humanity as presented in serious literature or art” (Cleckley). They don’t appreciate music, art, or endeavors that require depth of feeling
(Newman). Red loves art. He loves music (& apparently has a record
addiction (207)). He loves literature (his small flat is filled with books,
too). He is one of the biggest donors of at least one ballet company.
When he was young, he took an interest in dancing (213), which he likely
pursued since we know he can dance (114). He loves Bob Ross and as for
“depth of feeling” it’s enough to listen to him describe the blues of a
painting: “Green and gray, the gaping maw of the ocean. It’s mesmerizing”
(106). Deep, right? He also visits art expos (admittedly not just for
the art but still…(211)) and he instantly recognized the fake Ming
vessel at the Kings’ auction (214), which suggests that his interest goes
deeper than mere superficial appreciation.

Psychopaths are also said to have parasitic and exploitative relationships.
It was found that psychopaths propose more unfair deals in an
experiment called the dictator game (Koenigs et. al) and they are more
likely to betray their partners during the prisoner’s dilemma game
(Rilling et. al). Now, Red is very good at seizing
opportunities but he never just takes; fairness is important to him (“The world is rarely a fair place. That’s why it needs people like me.”
(105)). He tells Liz that the pure essence of negotiation is not a
poker game but the tango milonga (211). Deception/bluffing is an
essential part of poker; it is every man for himself and in the end
there is only one winner. Whereas a tango is about cooperation and team
work where both participants walk away with something they wanted and,
more importantly, with “nothing given that is not earned, nothing taken that is not given.”
Under normal circumstances, this is Red’s guiding principle when
brokering deals (with those who are willing to respect the terms, that
is), not selfishness and greed. Denisov even says the reason he brought
in Red as a negotiator is to ensure he was being treated fairly.
Also let’s not forget that Red could have easily killed Aleko to prevent
him from testifying against Liz but he offered to save his brother’s
life instead (and even pay for the hospital care). I think it was more
than a fair offer and also way more expensive than a bullet in the head.

According to Lykken, psychopaths have an attenuated experience of fear and anxiety; in other words, they have a low innate fearfulness or “fear quotient” (FQ), which makes them reckless and makes it difficult for them to visualize the negative effects of their actions. In and of itself low FQ is not a bad thing or a disadvantage, though. “A
child with a low FQ, whose parents nonetheless succeed in instilling
the essentials of good citizenship, would grow up to be the kind of
person one would like to have on hand when stress and danger threaten. I
believe, in short, that the hero and the psychopath may be twigs on the
same genetic branch” (Lykken). Only when it is coupled with
unchecked aggression and a general disregard for the well-being of
others does low FQ signal a problem. Scott Lilienfeld and his colleagues
came up with a similar theory a few years ago. They believe that fearless dominance is an important “ingredient” of psychopathy. Fearless dominance is a “tendency
towards boldness that includes such traits as a desire to dominate
social situations, charm, willingness to take physical risks, and an
immunity to feelings of anxiety” (Whitbourne). They claim, however,
that fearless dominance constitutes a healthy dimension. When it is
tempered by pro-social emotions, the ability to anticipate the
consequences of one’s actions, and the recognition of the potential
costs of one’s decisions, we do not have a psychopatic individual on our
hand (Whitbourne).

I believe Red is high on fearless dominance, too,
but he also has the necessary mental-emotional-moral “checks and
balances” in place to prevent him from actually turning into the
depraved monster many believe him to be. He is not a reckless
person. He has been accused of that but what his “accusers” failed to
realize is that Red rarely walks into a high-risk situation without
assessing it from every angle first and taking precautions. Red takes calculated risks.
In episode “203” Niko thought he’d become reckless and unstable when
Red already had a carefully timed and calculated plan in motion and was,
in fact, playing Niko all along. He runs comprehensive background checks
on every person he comes in contact with, whether they be potential
business partners, enemies, or case agents tasked to hunt him.

He values
life (he saves Ressler because “that’s what you do when someone is dying in front of you”), doesn’t take one without a good reason, and seems particularly sensitive to the (potential) loss of innocent lives:

Over the last seven years, more than 3,000 innocent civilians have died, all collateral victims as a result of this man’s unique methods. (102)

She preyed on the weak and the innocent while dressed in the wings of a savior. I detested everything about her. (102)

You’re innocent. (111) + he also provided Aram with the necessary evidence to clear his name

He’s a man who protects the guilty by preying on the innocent. (112)

The innocent give their life for the guilty to live. (112)

Every culture has a justice myth, an avenging angel who exacts retribution for the weak and innocent. (115)

Agent Keen, are you really willing to put your anger at me above the lives of innocent people? (121)

If you don’t move quickly, the prison will be overrun and the dozens of innocent men and women who operate this facility will be subdued and executed, beginning with you. (209)

You butchered and clawed your way into my pockets, and innocent people died in the process. (209)

I have gone to considerable lengths to point you and your team in the
right direction, and now, due to political considerations, people will
die. And when they do and the bureaucrats decide that the loss of innocent lives trumps their career prospects, you be sure to give me a call. (212)

You had to know there was a risk innocent people would die. (217)

You killed a lot of innocent people, Dr. Powell. (217)

did take Sam’s life but it was anything but easy. It was clear in the
hospital room and it was evident when Liz asked him about it in his
hotel room and then later in his car. “When pressed to explain in
detail their feelings about their victim, the crime, or the damage
caused, a psychopath’s words, descriptors, and concomitant behaviors
will be lacking” (O'Toole, Logan, and Smith). Red explained to Liz how he felt about killing Sam. He was also extremely emotional and on the verge of breaking down both times.

Red has emergency protocols in place, too + his own “*77 team” on standby
24/7 ( → “Mr. Reddington insists on being prepared for all
contingencies” (219)). He may appear occasionally reckless or downright
lunatic but that’s all part of a performance. In reality, he is
extremely cautious, methodical, and prepared (except when it comes to
Liz because she can effortlessly turn him into a total mess).

Another possible derivative effect of this low FQ is the fact that “many adult psychopaths make less use of drink and downer-type drugs than other people do because they have less need for the disinhibiting or tranquilizing effects of these compounds”
(Lykken). We know for a fact that Red drinks - sometimes quite a lot -
and he has a colorful history of drug use (even more so if we consider
sex a kind of drug). I don’t think this hedonistic lifestyle is a
“symptom” of psychopathy, though. I think it’s just what happens when
chronic emotional pain and stress interferes with the proper constraints
that are normally imposed on a healthy lust/appreciation for life. And given
his difficulty of getting a good night sleep (combined with his
drinking before/during/after stressful situations), I’d say that
stress/fear/worry does get to Red and takes a considerable toll on him.

In episode “204” we learn that he won a lot of money at the craps table (“We won $25,000 on one roll.”)
but then he just walked away, which is indicative of self-control. Some
people would be tempted to continue regardless of how rich they are. We
know Haskell was and he promptly lost twice as much after Red left. We
also know from experiments that psychopaths gamble longer and with poorer odds than non-psychopaths (Lykken), which is kind of expected given their low FQ and their defect in judgment and planning
for the future. I’m not saying Haskell is a psychopath, of course. All
I’m saying is that Red’s behavior once again goes against what is
usually expected of a psychopath in a situation described above. Another
notable display of this self-control is when Red refrains from killing
Tom/Jacob (T/J) even though he is presented with several opportunities.
It is actually a combination of self-control, his concern for Liz’s feelings and his respect/acknowledgment for/of her right and
wish to be the one dealing out the punishment. Again, none of those is
likely to ever factor into a psychopath’s decision making process since
they have difficulty grasping that other people have rights.

if Red has a yogi (217), it means he does yoga and yoga is about
discipline and control (of both body and mind) with the ultimate goal
of liberation (moksha). He also says he spent a month in silent
meditation at a monastery (103), which again sounds like a good exercise
in self-control and - combined with Red’s One More Time monologue (109)
and his confession about wanting to settle down and just “watch things
float by” (216) - suggests an inner longing for peace and quiet, which
is inconsistent with a psychopath’s need for thrill and excitement
(O'Toole, Logan, and Smith).

Narcissistic entitlement
is another “symptom” of psychopathy, so these individuals are not
big on any form of altruism. Red, however, seems to be. In episode "108”
he says he loves what happens when you give money away, suggesting that
he contributes to charities. He waited for his former home to go on the
market, then offered double of the asking price before blowing it to
smithereens because it became associated with a significant trauma.
Psychopaths cannot really focus on the emotional aspects of an event (Woodworth,
Hancock et. al), so they are not likely to associate situations or
things with feelings or blow up houses where something terrible happened
to them. Red also bought Frederick his mother’s house as a gift. He
helped get his ex-roommate/friend’s (Admiral Abraham) career back on
track. He could have gone on the run with Liz at the end of s1, turn
her into a fugitive, but he let himself be captured instead to save her career and what little chance she had left at a normal life. He cares
about the environment, the protection of endangered animals, and he
acted (or maybe still acts) as a bundler ( = a person who gathers
contributions) for Geoff Perl’s foundation/charities. And I know he has
his personal reasons for ticking people off the Blacklist, but by doing
so he also helps rid the world of a lot of garbage, out monsters who try
to masquerade as saints, and reveal many, many dirty secrets (“The truth will out.”). Not to mention this whole idea of sin-eating, which is not mere rhetoric and anything but self-centered.

Psychopaths don’t have a value system or a moral code
that drives/guides/shapes their behavior and actions. Red does. He
operates outside the law but always in accordance with his personal
value system which is not self-centered. He refused to attend the
Kings’ vile auctions. He stopped cheering for the Front when they became
too radical. He refused to do business with Floriana Campo. He steers
clear of “tin-pot dictators who employ boy soldiers”. He refused
to invest in Hobbs’ Longevity Initiative (& not thinking death is
beneath him also signals humility). He is not blinded by greed and he is
not all about profit. He loves the lifestyle his wealth affords him but
he hasn’t lost sight of the simpler and ultimately far more precious
things in life. He has “a fondness for the old and somewhat decrepit” and thought that Niko’s giant mansion was an example of a tremendous amount of money spent “on all the wrong things.”
This combination of  material and emotional richness is also reflected e.g. in the gifts Red gives Liz for her 31st birthday (a bottle of cheap,
barely drinkable home-made wine full of memories & sentiments + an
'82 Brunello, one of the most expensive Italian wines). He is a man who
knows both the price and the value of things. Ressler was mistaken when
he said Red’s only alliance is to the highest bidder. Red rarely
compromises his values/principles. When he does, it is never for profit
and never without good reason, which is why I still believe he was
likely used & cruelly betrayed by the people he once worked for as
an intelligence officer, and that’s why he turned against the US
government. He is many things but not a hypocrite and since he considers
loyalty a key value, he must have been betrayed first. It would also
explain why betrayal is such a serious hair trigger for him (see e.g.
episode “111”).

Psychopaths are - not surprisingly - deficient in the love department
as well and treat their “loved ones” as possessions, objects to be used
to satisfy particular needs. But I’m gonna let Lykken do most of the
talking here:

do you mean by 'love’? One meaning is to value or to cherish; you can
love your new car, your new dress, your new boyfriend, your new baby–so
can the psychopath. Another meaning is to need, to depend on, to be
unable to live without. Suppose you were charming, carefree, attractive
to others, easily adaptable, unworried about what tomorrow may
bring–would your relations with your loved ones then have the same
quality of needing? Loving couples become intertwined at all levels,
literally part of each other’s lives so that the loss of the loved one
leaves the life space empty. But we do this intertwining in part for
security, we "cling to” each other. The psychopath has less need for
such security […] and will not be inclined to suffer the 'tyranny of
love’ that we more vulnerable people are subject to.“ […] Although the
psychopath might cherish and be proud of his or her new baby, he or she
is unlikely to be as nurturant and as patient with that child as a
normal parent would be because these qualities of parenting require
empathy and at least some degree of fearful apprehension (and, yes, some
capacity for guilt), tendencies which, as we have seen, the psychopath
lacks. Just as he or she might disdainfully discard a hitherto cherished
possession once it is damaged, the psychopathic parent is more likely
to turn his or her face away from a child who has become a burden rather
than a joy–as all children do from time to time. Although psychopaths
can succeed in many of life’s challenges, I suspect that the unrelenting
demands of parenthood may be the one challenge that no true psychopath
is ever likely to answer.”

If there was ever a
person who was willing to suffer this “tyranny of love”, it is Raymond
Reddington, and I think there’s a very good chance he is suffering it
right now with Liz ( → “When you love someone, you have no control. That’s what love is. Being powerless.”).

He is a control freak but often loses that control where Liz is
concerned. He never considers the people he loves a burden (in fact, it
seems to be the other way around), and he doesn’t just discard them when
the “going gets tough”. Basically, everything we have witnessed so far
about the way he treats his loved ones, especially Liz, points sharply
away from a psychopatic behavior. He and Liz are clinging to each other (a coincidence but James used the same words to describe their relationship), slowly becoming “intertwined at all levels” - a phenomenon Red refers to as “an inextricable intimacy and a commitment”, which I believe is what he longs for (as I tried to explain here).
He is there for Liz even when it’s difficult/painful to be there, even
when it’s not fun at all or downright life-threatening for him, because,
as he confessed in episode “121”, nothing is worse than losing her and,
as Liz correctly assessed their connection in episode “111”, “If it’s personal to me, it’s personal to Reddington.”
But as much as he longs to be part of her life, he knows he has no
right to put his wants above her needs, to impose his hopes, dreams, and
desires on her; he is acutely aware of the consequences & possible
dangers of his presence, which he constantly monitors and tries to
mitigate. He also threw her an out by offering to walk away (107 &

Psychopaths have a tendency to repress awareness of the danger they pose (Lykken). Red “approached” Liz as the Concierge of Crime, the FBI’s 4th most wanted fugitive (cf. his much less straightforward and way more chilling  approach to Zoe). He also cautioned Liz about criminals and their tendency to deceive, and during their first meeting he was restrained. In other words, he didn’t exactly try to lull her into a false sense of security. He also refuses to lie to her and
this principle came close to rupturing their bond several times. His
assistance was also instrumental in outing T/J even though it meant that
Liz would eventually discover who put him in her life. Red even went as
far as delivering him to her for interrogation when simply shooting him
would have been a lot easier and safer for him (by him I mean Red). I
think the whole situation with Sam has a similar vibe to it if we really
think it through. It would have been so easy for Red to kill Sam
without Liz ever finding out. But what did he do instead? He went there
in broad daylight, he used the front entrance, he let himself be
captured on camera (and wore his trademark hat & jacket combo,
basically ensuring that he remained clearly recognizable even on the
grainiest of security footage), then called Liz’s cell from a pay phone
at the hospital. He also decided to have a chat with T/J right there. He
left a trail of evidence and that is not like him at all. He essentially ensured he’d be caught one day,
which is reminiscent of a line from his Farmer story → “He knows, in his heart, he must pay.”

is not a psychopath but he added a pseudo-psychopathic element to his
persona because that kind of unflinching ruthlessness is expected in the
circles he’s been moving for more than two decades now; therefore, it
is a matter of survival, and it’s become a semi-entrenched style because

he “has the temperament to carry it off” (fearless dominance,
adventurousness, craving for illicit indulgences, talent for role
playing, etc.)

sometimes he lets unhealthy emotions/cravings guide his
behavior (e.g. rage, hate, guilt, revenge - cf. his remark in “218”: “I understand what it’s like to be drawn to something that is unhealthy, to a part of yourself that you are afraid of.” & in “216”: “Unfortunately, Tom and I share some propensities.”)

and also because if one is exposed to so much stress and suffering of
others for an extended period of time, their emphatic tendencies
constrict and they develop emotional calluses to shield themselves
(Lykken). It’s a natural defense mechanism and not psychopathy: “An
experienced surgeon might respond to the accident victim slide just as
the psychopath does because his or her prior experience has extinguished
the emotional response to this type of stimulus” (Lykken).

I think this “transformation” is summed up in the fish story Red tells Liz in episode “209”:

Mexico, there are these fish that have colonized the freshwater caves
along Sierra del Abra. They were lost. They found themselves living in
complete darkness. But they didn’t die. Instead, they thrived. They
adapted. They lost their pigmentation, their sight, eventually even
their eyes. With survival, they became… hideous. I’ve rarely thought
about what I once… was. But I wonder… if a ray of light were to make
it into the cave, would I be able to see it? Or feel it? Would I
gravitate to its warmth? And if I did, would I become…less hideous?”

Red is not a psychopath.

is a former counter-intelligence officer who, for a reason or reasons
still unknown, found himself on the other side of the law where, due to
his talents, he not merely survived but thrived: he adapted. But it
wasn’t easy and did not come naturally judging from the advice he gave
Ressler after Audrey’s death (116): “Turn back from this and go home.
It may seem like the hardest thing in the world, but it is profoundly
easier than what you’re contemplating.” He transformed himself into a career criminal, and here’s what Lykken has to say about this “psychologically normal offender”:

genus consists of people who may not be pathological psychiatrically or
psychologically, in their appetites or even in their moral values, but
who have chosen a criminal career because it seems to be the best course
open to someone with their abilities and opportunities. This category
includes tens of thousands of young men, many of them minorities, who
are confronted with the choice of an entry-level job in the private
sector, at perhaps $200 a week, versus an entry-level job in the drug
trade at several times that amount, tax free. By spending billions in
the futile 'war on drugs’ we have created a multibillion dollar industry
that conspires to divert the boldest, most ambitious, and
entrepreneurial of these young people onto a path leading to prison or
death in some alley. Absent the lure of the illegal drug trade, the less
socialized of these young men would turn to other forms of crime but
some at least might be salvaged.

To understand the
psychology of the people in this genus, another thought experiment might
help. Let us identify a random sample of 100 young men, college
graduates in their 30s who are now firmly established in middle
management or some profession and with excellent prospects. Suppose that
we could transport them each back in time to age 18 and put them in a
situation in which further education was not an option. Now we let them
choose between a job at McDonald’s or in a car wash versus one selling
drugs at which they earn, say, $1,000 per week. The latter position
carries risks, from the police and especially from other drug dealers,
but it also entails opportunities for advancement to positions of higher
status and much greater remuneration.

Will all of these
100 bright and ambitious young men reject the drug-selling option
because it is illegal? Many of them will make that choice, for religious
or moral reasons or because drug dealing entails more stress than they
can handle. But I think that some of the more competitive, aggressive,
and daring–the more entrepreneurial–of the 100 would make the other
choice and, if they survive, become what I call career criminals. Ten
years later they will have become inured to the harsh necessities of
that profession. Like the banker who must foreclose on some poor
debtor’s mortgage, they may have foreclosed on the life of a police
snitch or an aggressive competitor. They may be kind to women and
children, loyal to their friends, contributors to the United Fund,
differing from the men they would have become but for our time machine
only in the fact that they would be unlikely to invite their son or
daughter to spend a day with them at the office.

Like I said, Red is a career criminal ( → “My job is my business.”) and he is guilty of everything that comes with that territory, no question (murder, torture, you name it). He is also guilty of killing Sam. He is guilty of both placing and leaving T/J in Liz’s life (personally I’m way more pissed about the latter). And he is guilty of something that happened on the night of the fire. He knows it, owns it, but there’s a clear and continuous effort on his part to make up for it somehow. It’s also a weight he carries with himself everywhere he goes and he never tries to act like he’s better than his actions (“My bed is made and I assure you my bed accommodates a broad spectrum of behavior.”).
But - being a skilled role player - he also plays it up, doing his best to
cultivate the image of a remorseless psychopath, extending
the person into a persona to pass and prevail.

Tom and I share some propensities. Whatever you think you know about
Tom Keen, forget it. The bookish elementary-school teacher was a
masterful illusion. The man is an extremely talented covert operative.
I’m not surprised he convinced you that his persona was real. Once he
takes on a new identity, he convinces himself.” Red, 216

could very well be talking about how he himself was at the beginning of
the show here (and likely prior to it as well). He readily accepted Liz’s
monster label because right there and then he probably believed himself
to be one, but the second time around he was visibly hurt by it. He did
act like a psychopathic person at first. He was laughing in her
face, needled and taunted her about deeply personal issues, and seemed completely
unfazed by his circumstances and the risks & consequences of his
actions. He sent a killer into Liz’s apartment, let a gleeful stranger run off with a bomb, and put a hit out on Liz’s role model. He appeared
downright cold and detached when he told her, “Your husband doesn’t matter. Zamani did you a favor [by torturing him].”
But this initial callousness was already mixed with low-key affection
and quickly began to give way to genuine, open devotion, indicating that
it was not a behavior stemming from a fixed trait or an irreversible
emotional defect.

Red says he rarely thought about who he once was but
Liz’s proximity is luring that old self closer and closer to the
surface, and that is yet another sign that he is not truly psychopathic.
If he were, being around Liz would make no real difference. It wouldn’t
affect him or interfere with the way he conducts himself and his
business. It wouldn’t remind him of a former and less hideous self because there wouldn’t be a former and less hideous self to remember. Red is not the way he is because he is incapable of being
otherwise. His detachedness is deliberate and has to be enforced. Even
in her initial profile Liz says that he is careful not to have any close relationships and not that he is not capable
of having any. His occasional ruthlessness and apparent ease with which
he carries himself do not stem from something purely innate and
reflexive; it’s an adopted, unfortunately well-practiced, and tested
approach tailored to the environment he lives in. It is not accidental
and - in part - a performance that isn’t always perfect. Sometimes
guilt, remorse, and empathy seep through ( → “You got everybody convinced you’re so hard, Red, but I know better. You’re soft.”), and when it happens, he has to correct it by laughing it off and flat-out denying it all (“I
don’t think I ever even met Henkel. Tell you the truth… I don’t think
his name was Henkel. I don’t know who the hell he was.”).

become who we are. We can’t judge a book by its cover. But you can by
its first few chapters and, most certainly, by its last.” Red’s
“cover” contains this psychopathic persona. It’s not real psychopathy. The first few
chapters of his life were exemplary and I believe he is working to make
the last one worthy of those, but he has to wade through chest-deep
filth to get to the other side, same as Liz. And nobody can do that and come out unchanged on the other end. Being a criminal wasn’t his
first career choice but there’s a good chance it remained his only
viable option, so he made - and is consciously & continuously trying to make - the
best of the worst.

He is guilty of a lot of things but being a psychopath is not one of them.

“Sociopath” and “psychopath” have been used on
the show several times, but, interestingly (or ironically) enough, it
has yet to be applied to the one character whose personality traits and
overall behavior most closely resemble those of a textbook psychopath.

Yes, I am talking about Tom/Jacob (T/J).

T/J and Red are the same, some fans say. Yeah, well, I say they are
wrong. Engaging in similar activities (in this case murder,
manipulation, lying, etc.) in and of itself does not equal being “the
same.” Moreover, “any two people can engage in identical behavior, yet only one’s behavior may be driven by underlying psychopathic processes” and this is why “antisocial, socially deviant, or undesirable behavior is not synonymous with psychopathy or a psychopathic personality” (MacKenzie). So, to quote the best article title (courtesy of Prof. Neumann) I came across reading about this topic,

“Will the real psychopath please stand up?”

Seriously, though:

the second half of its second season (S2/B) the show seemed to be
trying to sell us the idea that T/J in fact has loved Liz for quite some
time now. After the events of season 1 (and those of S2/A as well,
imo), the mere suggestion triggered mixed fan responses ranging from
bewilderment to anger (and joy, I suppose, if you happened to be a K2
shipper). I, for one, swung wildly between confusion and rage because if
what they showed us is supposed to be interpreted as love, than something is clearly very wrong with that love, and T/J’s behavior in S2/B only further emphasized that wrongness. Basically, the more TPTB tried to push the love story angle and gloss over problematic details, the worse it looked. To me.
To me T/J’s behavior was flying in the face of all that and kept
tripping it up. But it seems the “psychopathy theory” might be able to
reconcile the two and make some sense of this mess. It still won’t
absolve TPTB of their irresponsible pro-K2!love advertising and lack of
off-screen critical insight, and, unfortunately, it won’t make some of
Liz’s pro-T/J (re)actions look any better, either, but it can - to a certain extent - salvage
T/J’s character.

I think we can all agree that when a “normal”
person “normally” loves someone, they are simply not capable of doing
certain things to them - at least not without being deeply affected
themselves and feel tormented by guilt, shame, and remorse. What
things?, you ask. Take your pick. Lying to them for years. Manipulating
them for utterly selfish reasons. Guilt-tripping them. Punching them in
the face. Beating them up with ease and without hesitation. Taking them
to the person who wants to kill them. Literally hiding behind them to
avoid being shot. Watching their mental/emotional breakdown with no intention of easing it. And so on, and so forth. Maybe it’s just me but
these actions do not scream love at all. But, as it turns out, it can scream
the kind of malformed, shallow approximation of love a
morally-emotionally deficient person is capable of. While it is a form
of love, it is self-serving, exploitative and destructive, and no one in their right
mind should try to sell a relationship like that as something “sexy”,
desirable, or even remotely tolerable (I am looking at you, TPTB). When
you read stories from survivors who suffered through close relationships
with psychopaths, their experiences echo those of Liz’s:

people closely associated with a psychopath may know something is wrong
with that person, but have no idea as to the depth of the pathology.
They frequently will blame themselves for all the problems they have had
with the psychopath, whether at work, in a relationship, or within a
family. After interacting with psychopaths, most people are stunned by
these individuals’ ruthlessness, callousness, and denial or minimization
of the damage they have caused.” (Babiak, Folino et. al)

And, as Hare himself also admits, even practiced clinicians and experts can be fooled by these people. It happens. “You
should never feel guilty about being fooled by someone who may have
worked very hard to deceive you, and who certainly did not advise you of
his/her destructive personality traits” (Leedom, Kosson). So it
wouldn’t have hurt Liz’s character at all if she had simply admitted she
had been duped and tried to recover from that. It would have
been a completely acceptable way to handle a clearly deeply humiliating
and devastating situation. But they just had to push her back to T/J and make her go from “Everything that we had was just a figment of my imagination. Worse than a figment. A lie.” (119) to the demeaning and self-duping “so much of it was real”
(218) “twist”. Now that right there is what made Liz look like a
complete idiot, not the fact that she was tricked and used by a skilled
and trained manipulator. That and her inexplicably assuming the best of intentions
behind T/J’s most despicable action in S2. Having feelings for somebody
does not make anyone (yes, not even women, thank you) that blind, stupid, and
gullible, especially not those who are supposed to be competent
profilers and therefore know all the “warning signs.”

people who have fallen in love with psychopaths have a very difficult
time letting go. If you can’t let go and you desire to have a
relationship with someone you believe is psychopathic, there is
something wrong with your thinking, and you should consider getting
professional help. It may be tempting to keep convincing yourself that
the person will change. (See Martha Stout’s Rule # 10.) It may be
tempting to keep ignoring the contradictions between what the person
says and does. You may keep suppressing your sense of doubt and mistrust
due to the fear of being alone again. Knowing at some level how great a
loss you will face if you have to lose the person you had decided would
be your partner-in-life may be more than you want to deal with, and you
may be willing to do almost anything to avoid that kind of grief or
mourning. Aftermath’s members would advise you that the person you have
given your love to does not exist— and is in fact a figment of your
imagination constructed by the predator who has caught you in his/her
web of deceit” (Leedom, Kosson).

This essentially
describes the T/J-Liz dynamic we saw in S2. It was painful to watch, to
say the least. And it was just vile and downright insulting when they
tried to put a “they broke up but still love each other, isn’t that sweet?” spin on it. Red kept warning her, kept trying to
provide a little guidance, but she just couldn’t let go, and T/J
eventually took full advantage of her vulnerability and confusion.

The psychopaths’ “game is self-gratification at the other person’s expense. […] All take far more than they give” (Hare). T/J marrying (twice) and staying married to Liz without *ever* trying to warn her is the very definition of being parasitic and interpersonally exploitative.
Not only did he continue to report on her for his employer (see the
code book Red intercepted (119) or his lair Liz discovered (117)) and
accept payment for it (the shelf corp Liz found (218)), he also used Liz
to satisfy his own emotional and sexual wants, and every time
she refused to give him what he wanted, he either pulled away to make
her feel guilty (and sought Jolene’s company for the time being, then
killed her without hesitation when she became a nuisance) or tried to
twist the situation to his advantage in some other way (e.g. remarking
how Liz didn’t plan on staying home with their baby to make her look bad
in front of their pro-staying-at-home guests). “Psychopaths are not
interested in the needs and desires of the people in their lives beyond
how they impact their own needs and desires” (Leedom, Kosson). T/J
went as far as accusing Liz of being secretive, selfish, and the person
who brings danger into their home, playing the victim who had no
secrets. He was subtly coercive, emotionally abusive, and manipulative. Here’s an excellent post by hideous-fish detailing the how’s & why’s, and here’s another article on the “aftermath” of psychopathy detailing the types and degrees of harm people with psychopathic traits inflict on their “loved ones.”

To pull off this mission without being hindered by guilt and shame points towards a distinct lack of empathy on T/J’s part, and - given how he wanted to jump back in it in S2 - an impaired ability to understand the emotional consequences of his actions. The exploitative nature of their relationship is essentially confirmed by the “explanation” T/J gives in episode “218”: “You’re my greatest success. You made me feel for a moment like I had a life and that somebody cared.” And
that’s it. No apology. No remorse. No guilt. Her terrible experience doesn’t even warrant some minor display of concern or remorse.
Apparently, her pain and humiliation didn’t take away from his success.

“Stressing the seriousness  of the crime is a waste of time with psychopathic suspects. They do not care” (O'Toole, Logan, and Smith). Remember back in S1, when Liz first confronted him about his deception? T/J appeared detached and seemed

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