Early on in this particularly pivotal episode of The Blacklist, Agent Cooper lets Liz have it; he tells her that he doesn’t know who she is anymore, who she’s become to force him into lying for her. He goes back on it, of course, because this is Elizabeth Keen—the woman who can make sociopaths experience l-u-v, make the most unapologetic of criminals feel guilt, bring corrupt world leaders to their knees with her secret power of stuffed animal hiding spots. So, what’s a little perjury, kidnapping, and murder cover-up between supervisor and employee?
But Cooper is right. I don’t recognize Lizzie, either. She certainly doesn’t recognize herself anymore. How could she? Two years ago, she lived in a brownstone with her husband, the box of passports under the floorboards the only evidence of what her life would become. If last week’s recap extravaganza was to tell any story, it was the story we already know but that’s easy to forget: These people’s lives have changed dramatically since Raymond Reddington entered into them. (Except Aram… he’s just out there partying.) And with everyone changing—not just changing, but admitting change—the series seems to be switching it up, too.
With this confusing yet blatant, frightening yet lovely, frustrating yet enlightening episode of The Blacklist comes a turning point—hopefully one the series won’t go back on. I can barely remember the first half of the episode because somewhere around Tom Keen strolling into the courtroom in a tracksuit, The Blacklist became a version of itself we hadn’t really seen before. First of all, not a single person was kidnapped. But most importantly, in the span of about 15 minutes, multiple dynamic relationships present themselves, some of them between characters we barely know.
The introduction of new dynamics to care about hints that the serialized backbone of this show could be more than just Red and Lizzie. Because goodness knows that’s a speeding train that’s threatening to buckle at any moment. Red and Lizzie’s dynamic is often expected to fill every single driving narrative in every single episode, and though the emotional beats have been killer lately, the novelty of their mystery connection has begun to wear thin. But you give me more of that weaselly Tom Connolly dressing everyone down while calling them buddy, and we’ve got ourselves something to root for… or against. I’m not quite sure yet. But he must have really been studying up on Raymond Reddington in Attorney General 101, because somebody is five steps ahead of the game. Is he cashing more blackmail checks than his favor bank can cash? Certainly. But let’s see it all blow up on his face! Lizzie deserves a break from being the only one in over her head all the time. After all, she’s got a scholarship to run now.
As The Blacklist often does when giving more questions than answers, it gave us more dynamic characters tonight than it did reason for them to be there. Finally, we’re told almost exactly what’s going on with Red and Liz, and now there’s time left to wonder: What is going on with that overstepping judge? What is going on with smug, conniving Tommy Connolly? And what the hell is going on with…
TOM KEEN, NO. 7
This wasn’t a perfect episode. It was actually incredibly confusing and often in that, “Wait, why does that mean Tom is off the hook?” way that’s far inferior to the confusion of trying to figure out which emotion is currently misting James Spader’s eyeballs. Red’s main mission, after coming off of last week’s episode where Liz spilled all of her guts except for, like, three tiny lies (okay, one was about murder) to a stranger judge who seemed a little too interested in her riveting life as an international criminal’s pet FBI agent, is to find Tom Keen and get him in front of Judge Denner to confess that he did all the sketchy ship murdering.
NEXT: Tommy, get your guns…[pagebreak]
The only problem is that Tom is in Germany working his way into a neo-Nazi drug ring and going full throttle on abdominal/oblique days. Luckily Red knows how to get to him: take Donald “I Scream Cop” Ressler along with him to track down the arms dealer who’s supposed to be selling to Tom’s new gang in Germany. Red gets the dealer’s shipment raided by the German BMI and then tells him that he can get the guns back if he splits the deal with him. Which means that when the fully tinted SUV rolls up to the warehouse where Tom and the scary guys his life depends on impressing, he’s expecting… well, he’s expecting anyone but Red and Ressler. But Red and Ressler is what he gets.
Because Lizzie is in trouble. Last week Detective Wilcox found one of Agent Keen’s bullets with traces of Samuel Alecko’s blood on it in The Phoenix, proving that she lied, most likely to protect herself rather than national security, to the Judge Denner. You know… in that unofficial chambers meeting where nearly every detail of the Task Force was divulged in front of Judge Denner and his completely unofficial, off the record, not endangering national security stenographer? Well, things have gotten official with that newly discovered bullet, and now that Lizzie has been proven to be lying, that means Cooper was lying when he stood behind her statement. And he’s not happy about that…
In the middle of a conversation with her financial adviser about transferring a lot of money from an account, Agent Cooper finally takes the time to remind Agent Keen that her actions—even the small ones… especially the small ones—have consequences. He says that he made it clear that he wouldn’t commit perjury for her and she forced his hand. She tries to say that wasn’t her intention and we get this glorious monologue: “That is exactly what you wanted, dammit, Keen! Grow up! You want to leverage your friends and colleagues… at least have the decency to admit it.” She can’t. Liz has a long way to go before she’s done lying to herself, not about the necessary role she plays in keeping national security, but how her actions came to endanger it.
It’s not just Lizzie—other people can’t help but go to great lengths to maintain her long passed innocence, as well. It’s best not discussed how Red and Ressler end up getting Tom back to the States because the show doesn’t even try to explain it. One minute he’s whining to Red about how he totally blew his cover as though Red would care and telling him Liz will have to figure this one out on her own, and the next thing you know, he’s taking part in one of Judge Denner’s super fun chambers tell-all parties that includes Denner’s awed face asserting, “You’re in love with her.” This is after Tom details how Liz captured him, locked him up for months, and then he killed Eugene Ames to protect her from being ratted out. Tom seems to think that this confession about Liz illegally keeping him detained and then “begging him” to not kill Eugene Ames is somehow going to prove her to be a completely innocent rule-following federal agent. But Judge Denner still has many a crime in mind to charge her with…
That is, until Future Attorney General Tom Connolly steps in. Denner knew someone high up was coming along to try once again to get Cooper and Keen’s statements and the entire case quashed and he looks none too glad to see Connolly. These two know each other and they’ve clearly got beef, but Denner also looks caught. Connolly tells him that he somehow managed to get two federal agents to divulge multiple national security cases to him when he knows good and well that he doesn’t have that kind of clearance. Denner tries to tell him that they went against his orders, Connolly reminds him that he intentionally accessed classified information without authority: “You’re a superior court judge, Richard. This case is so far over your head it would make your nose bleed.”
NEXT: Innocent until proven Lizzie…[pagebreak]
But Connolly doesn’t just rip people to shreds, or let them know that he’s on to them for no reason. No, he tells Denner that when he’s Attorney General, he’ll happily place him on a “real court.” And then the next think you know, Denner is back in the court room declaring that Cooper and Keen’s testimonies in the death of Eugene Ames would indeed expose national secrets. My heart breaks a little for Detective Wilcox, surely the only person in that courtroom who isn’t lying about something and/or everything to get what they want, what they’re telling themselves the world needs.
The lies that we tell ourselves are the very worst kind because they’re the easiest to get away with; they never become truth, just change and mold us until they make us unrecognizable. Liz isn’t there yet, but she is lying to herself, and the master of disguise himself, Red Reddington can tell her that from years of experience. It turns out that Keen emptied her back account and sold the apartment Red got her to fund an anonymous scholarship for Eugene Ames’ daughter in college. As Red and Liz sit in a student center watching over the daughter like a couple of creeps, Red advises Lizzie on exactly who that scholarship is for.
As Radical Face’s “Always Gold” plays (“All my life, I’ve never known where you’ve been/There were holes in you, the kind that I could not mend”) Red tells Liz that she can fund Ames’ daughter’s school, watch over her, “keep her safe… try to ascertain her hopes, dreams, desires; pull strings, call in favors to discreetly smooth the path. And for the first few years it may work. You’ll draw some measure of virtue for being her invisible benefactor. But that will not last. It’s all a fraud. That is really not about her at all. That is all about you. And you’re just going through the motions to salve your own guilt… All the money and effort can’t equal what you took away from her. Everything else is… just a nice gesture.”
I print this speech in its entirety because if you were holding your breath like I was throughout its course, you might need a refresher. Deep down in the place where Liz tells herself the truth, she knows that she has her own Lizzie now. Will she ever tell that daughter the truth? The truth about how she anonymously shaped her and her family’s life forever? And what does that need to salve her own guilt offer her anymore understanding of Red’s many, many gestures? Better yet, what does a more even playing field mean for The Blacklist?
A Few Loose Ends:
- Tom follows up Red’s final speech with an additional, if more succinct, world-shattering statement: “Are you okay?” He’s just calling to check in. Are we now to officially believe that Tom loves Lizzie and that was his full reasoning for turning himself in? As Liz points out, Red knew that the government would let Tom, a man he hates, go free in order to keep the Task Force undercover. Might that have had a little something to do with his adamant confession?
- In Cooper’s Health Corner, during his stressful blow up with Liz, Cooper goes into a seizure. Liz is the one to go with him to the hospital and finds out from his wife about the brain tumor that he’s kept a secret for close to a year, but honors his wishes not to tell the others. When Cooper regains consciousness Liz tells him that she’s ashamed of putting him in the position she did and that he’s the only person in the world she completely trusts, and he tells her he just doesn’t want to see the good person that he first knew get lost in the crazy circumstances of her life. Cooper’s circumstances, however, are on an upward trend, as the doctor tells him his seizure was likely due to the experimental chemo medicine he’s taking and his medical trial has, in fact, greatly slowed the growth of the tumor.
- “Get well, bitch, we’ve got some partying to do!”
- Speaking of that experimental trial, I hate-loved Connolly popping in on Cooper after getting the subpoena quashed to remind him that—hey!—he owes him another favor now. They have some good-natured banter where Cooper says that he guesses neither of their principles are what they used to be, to which Connolly responds, “That’s where you’re wrong, buddy’ I never had any principles. That’s why I’m on a skyrocket to the top.” That guy just brings a really particular energy to the room.
- In the seven spot, Tom is the highest Blacklister we’ve seen, right? Suggesting that Red’s Blacklist is a lot more personal than it is in the interest of general security, as Tom is a dangerous spy, but still just a spy from a spy school of hundreds of spies, but considered more dangerous than Berlin…
- So. That last conversation between Red and Lizzie was really implying “I killed your dad and I feel bad about it” more than “I am your dad and I feel bad about it,” no? Is that just a red herring? All newly revised theories welcome in the comments!