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'Blacklist' react: Trapped in a glass case of pain

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The Black List
David Giesbrecht/NBC

The Blacklist clearly prides itself in being both a mystery and a psychological puzzle. You don’t hire James Spader if you’re not looking for more than your fair share of question marks (and ominous chuckles). But it’s done a nice job so far of laying out enough puzzle pieces to whet the audience’s appetite without really giving us any answers just yet. I just know I’ll figure out soon enough why Tom’s box o’ tricks seems to have the same mark as Lizzie’s burn scar, or why Red is keeping tabs on so many young girls. But tonight is not that night.

Monday’s part one of  a two-part midseason finale, “Anslo Garrick,” put aside all lingering questions of paternity and questionably killer husbands and just unleashed all-out war on all of the characters we’ve come to know: the good,the bad and whatever the hell you’d classify Red as. And it somehow did that with two of the most important characters in a box.

The episode opens on a seriously injured Agent Ressler, tie stuffed in his mouth like the Fifty Shades of Grey of your nightmares. But that scene only lasts long enough to foreshadow the world of pain to come before we’re rewinding back to Ressler swinging by Munich to track down Red and let him know, “Guten tag, your girl Lizzie is ambiguously detained. You’ve got to come home.” Red pussyfoots around a little before Ressler remembers the three words he can’t resist: “She needs you.” And then it’s off to the races! If “the races” means getting tricked into being put back in custody at FBI headquarters; because Liz is safe at home with her maybe killer husband, looking through the boxes of her recently deceased adoptive father. Remember when Red “mercy killed” him? You don’t have to, it doesn’t come up! Part 1 is a safe space.

The CIA has uncovered a plot to abduct Red, and when he’s told this, James Spader rolls his eyes so hard for a moment it seems as if they’ll never stop spinning. And then the name “Anslo Garrick” is mentioned and sh*t metaphorically hits the fan. Spader does great work all episode wearing his normal confidence while keeping his fear of what Garrick might be capable of just under the skin: “He got you to bring me here so he could attack this facility.” Uh oh, cue the lights.

Garrick (played by Ritchie Coster) arrives in a blaze of bullets and unnamed-government-employee-casualties, just in time to cut the power and trap Liz, who’s sneaking into the office on her sick day, in an elevator. As James Spader rolls out effortless euphemism after hyperbolic metaphor in voiceover — “Garrick is not a precision instrument, he’s a blunt force object” — Garrick turns their makeshift FBI headquarters into an exact replica of the Facilitly level of “GoldenEye 007” for Nintendo64. NBC owes somebody some royalties.

“The Wild Bunch” (if a pack of mercenaries can’t brand themselves, then really, who can?) arrive and they’re ready to rip a hole in Ressler’s leg with their N64 assault rifles. So, that’s exactly what they do. It is…graphic. Ressler hasn’t had a lot of material for the audience to grab onto yet, but leg-break-by-bullet is enough to make me sympathize with him for life. Red grabs a first aid kit and gets them both into the bullet-proof box/prison just as Garrick reaches them. Quick to throw himself into the Master Wordsmith ring, Garrick yells, “There is nowhere in this world I can’t reach you, Red — fortification be damned!” through the glass.

He says none of this would be happening if Agent Ressler had successfully used the information he gave him five years ago to capture Red in Brussels. Instead, Red turned on him and Garrick has spent the last five years plotting this revenge. Because he is a subtle, non-surface character, he punctuates with: “That day is here. And it will end in your screams, as God as my witness!”

Finally, The Wild Bunch storm the armory, taking Agent Cooper and Malik hostage. Lizzie makes it out of the elevator and decides to take this time to become a good federal agent. All it takes are gentle self-assurances — “use your training, be fluid” — and she’s MacGyver-ing water bottle silencers and taking out Wild bros left and right. Garrick starts to get very impatient right around the time Red starts working on a DIY blood transfusion for Ressler. While trying to will Ressler not to die, Spader unleashes so much dynamic, sometimes ridiculous, sometimes poignant dialogue, I couldn’t possibly mention it all here. Perhaps the best is him waxing poetic about all the reasons he wants to live long enough to get out of that damn box, the top of his Bucket List being, “Most of all, I want to sleep.” Boy, ain’t that the truth.

Garrick threatens Cooper for the code to the box, but Cooper knows he won’t kill him because, even if he won’t give it to him, he is the only one who has it (other than the unconscious guy who’s currently having his artery burned shut by Red). Unfortunately the same does not go for everyone else and before we know it, Garrick proves himself the bad guy we’ve been told he is, pointing a gun at Luli the bodyguard’s head and demanding the code. Cooper won’t give it and Garrick shoots her. The only person who Red really cared if she lived or di– oh, damn, they found Lizzie too. And now Dembe has a gun pointed at his head. He tells Red he’s not afraid to die, because this is just one lifetime; they’ll meet again in another. Cooper refuses to give the code, gunshot, fade to black.

Did Dembe die? Don’t know. Why is Cooper so adamant about not giving the code to save innocent people (especially in Part 2) over a criminal informant? Don’t know. Who leaked the whereabouts of the FBI’s headquarters for Garrick to be able to find them? Don’t know.

I may have gotten a little ahead of myself saying this episode laid off the questions. What it actually did is give the old Q’s a rest and bottle enough new ones into tonight’s episode to make me count down the days until “Anslo Garrick Part 2,” because everyone knows Part 1 is the lesser of a two-part series. What did you think of last night’s episode? Do you have everything figured out? And, seriously, what’s going to happen to Ressler? No way he gets to keep that leg…

The Blacklist airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET.