There’s just something about Tom Keen. Listen, I know that Lizzie just confessed to Red that she cares about him, and that was important, and I am glad she did it… it’s just that with Tom in the mix again, it somehow makes the cementing of Liz and Red’s care for each other feel even weightier than it would have without him. It can be tiresome that The Blacklist relies almost entirely on the dynamic between Red and Liz to drive its story, and I’m predicting good things from finally having someone else to come in and pick up a little of the narrative slack, especially in the wake of this tentative dive into more emotional vulnerability. (Also, those last two explosive Tom minutes.)
Because this show, in between all the creepy, killer families and Russian mystery men, always ends up boiling down to the relationships. That’s why tonight worked so well on both the big and small scale. Even in the little time we spent with the Kings, those were some juicy family dynamics. All anyone could talk about was how to not take things personally: Business is business, don’t get too emotionally invested, it’s all about the Benjamins, etc. That might work for the family that auctions humans together, but not for our favorite pair of task force pals: The mainstays of The Blacklist simply can’t help but mix business with pleasure.
If there’s one relationship that everyone can be totally clear on at this point, it’s Lizzie and Reddington. I mean, no, we don’t know if he’s her dad, or she’s his sister, or if he planted a microchip in her wrist at some point in her life, but it was clear that Lizzie cared about Red. That it has finally, finally been asserted makes me feel hopeful for the show’s future and its retirement of the phrase, “This, me and you—it’s just business,” forever. We’ve gotten the personal out of the way, now maybe there’s finally time to get around to the business of how these two are actually connected.
But Tom and Lizzie? They were the original interoffice relationship and they’re still a big question mark (that Tom probably has tattooed on his ass now). Whether the Tom storylines always end up panning out or not, he has consitently been the point at which business meets personal for Liz, and one of the only real connections we know between Red and Liz that predates the Post Office. With him back in the picture and out of that damn boat, it might be time to piece together some new connections with some old threads.
T. EARL KING VI, NO. 94
The episode kicks off with Earl King—guest star Jeffrey DeMunn, in a wheel chair and speaking with a voice box—and his two sons, Tyler and Francis, tallying up settlements that equal to millions of dollars for each of them. But Tyler’s number beats Francis’ and their father tells them to get on with it, so Francis picks up the revolver that’s sitting it on the table, points it at his temple and shoots. It’s a blank. “Next time,” he growls at his brother. It’s always fun to have family gatherings to look forward to, isn’t it?
Right after that adrenaline rush, we’re suddenly back face-to-face with Tom and his new My So Called Life hair. He’s in a stark motel room with a white-haired fellow, begging to be put back in the field on an assignment. What is this mysterious company that Tom works for? Does Tom even know? Could he really have that much of a reputation as a “hip young executive” type of spy considering he started on the Liz assignment when he was, what, 25? Who cares—there’s a haircutting montage in our future!
But not yet. First, Red has to explain to Lizzie exactly what she’ll be doing this episode. Madeline Pratt, former Blacklister, has been abducted and all signs point to the King family. Over the generations, their family has amassed a fortune by abducting and auctioning off humans who have value as bargaining chips or for recreational purposes, as well as, stolen art and artifacts. Liz calls Red to let him know the FBI is following a lead to Madeline, but when Red hears where they’re headed, he says it’s too dangerous and he’ll go himself. And all at once, the unbeatable two-man force that is Dembe and Red is cornered by a fleet waiting for them. Madeline was just a trap–and once she tases Dembe, Francis King gets down to doing his abduction thing with Red. I don’t believe for a second that one little taser would take down Dembe, but I’m willing to set aside logic… someone has to be kidnapped this episode, after all.
NEXT: Prepare yourselves for Undercover Liz…[pagebreak]
As Red is being entered into the auction books and fitted for a tux, I guess Dembe is left to roam free because he reports Red’s abduction back to the Post Office and they get to work trying to figure out how they can find this auction. Knowing that a certain stolen Van Gogh painting will be there, they track down a Russian oligarch who was sending an American art authenticator, Josephine Sullivan, to bid on it in his stead. When they bring her in for questioning they discover that she doesn’t know much, only that she was to check in with the concierge at a hotel that is owned by the King Corporation and tell him she wanted a room with a view of the Capitol. Samar tells Cooper that they’re at a dead end on actually finding the auction, but Liz says that’s not totally true… the concierge is expecting an American woman named Josephine Sullivan, and they can give them that.
And you know when there’s undercover work to be done, there’s only one agent for the job: Elizabeth Lizzie Keen. Before she goes undercover, she has to have a quick call with her undercover agent ex-husband who fooled her for five years. After Tom calls her, they quickly fall into a banter that consists of flirty phrases like, “I’m in a lot of trouble because of you,” that actually equate to, “the police know that I stood by while you killed that innocent harbor master.” Relationships are so complex these days. Tom is calling to let her know he’ll be away on an assignment; she says the only thing they have in common anymore is that they’re both pretending to be someone else, which he immediately assumes means she’s going undercover, but I would have guessed it was just Liz being emo. He gives her some cute little tips like “don’t talk too much,” “sneeze if you get tripped up by a question,” and “if someone catches you in a lie, murder them” (last one was more implied).
I only wish that Lizzie could wear her blogger hoodie on this undercover mission. Alas, it’s more of a trench-coat-and-uptight-bun affair. It seems like everyone is expecting that after Liz gives her undercover name and secret code that she’ll be sent to a hotel room where there will be a “Welcome to the Human Auction” basket waiting with some key intel. That’s not the case. Instead, she’s given a room number—1806—but when she gets on the elevator, the bellhop takes her to the parking garage rather than a room, where she finds a man and a car waiting for her at parking spot 1806. She gets in the car, the man tells her to drink a clear liquid, and she immediately passes out. I guess technically this is a willing abduction, but I’m going to count another tally is the kidnapping column nonetheless.
Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom” starts playing in German, which can only mean one thing: German Tom montage! There’s head shaving, money and passports thrown all over tables, and a cornucopia of neo-Nazi tattoos being etched into his skin.
Straight from that startling image, we go to a straight blade being sharpened for Red’s shave—he’s really getting prettied up for this ball. Earl King comes into see him, and like every other bad guy in the world, Red has had an experience with him that went south in another country. It’s not totally clear what happened in Bolivia, but Earl says Red taught him a valuable lesson: “Dispassion is the businessman’s best friend. One mustn’t get emotionally involved in business.” One has to wonder if Scrabble was replaced with Russian Roulette at the King household before or after that little lesson. Either way, Red lets Earl know that Tyler told him their family has a “winner takes all” approach to their auctions, which really seems to eat him up.
He storms right out of Red’s room and into Lizzie’s where she’s waking up from her coma in a mansion with no clothes on. Earl offers her some jewelry and a creepy hand rub and the next thing we know, she’s in an evening gown, scoping out Van Goghs, fake sneezing, and joking with the King brothers about how annoying Red is. It’s all fun and games until Yaabari, the warlord leader from this season’s premiere whose camp Red blew up, saunters over with a real vendetta. The bidding on Red starts at $2 million, but is quickly escalated by Lizzie, and then Red himself, knowing that Francis would appreciate his money going into his total sum as much as anyone else’s. Tyler throws a fit about Red driving up the bid, but not before Yaabari wins it with a cool $18 million and a couple of guards come in and tell Earl that the real Josephine Sullivan has reported Lizzie as an imposter.
NEXT: “Meet me at midnight to watch your brother maybe shoot himself. xo – Dad”[pagebreak]
Lizzie sees this happening and makes a break for the tunnels that lead all under the King estate. Back at the Post Office, Samar and Ressler have brought the man from the hotel parking garage in for interrogation but are having no luck. Finally, it’s time for Cooper’s illness storyline to get a little payoff: He marches in, asks the other agents to excuse themselves, unplugs the camera on the wall, and sets his gun on the table. Agent Cooper informs the man that his doctors recently told him he has an inoperable tumor in his brain that’s likely to kill him in a matter of weeks, and he quite literally has nothing to lose in doing whatever it takes to protect his colleague. The man folds, obviously. It’s both heartbreaking and incredibly bad ass all at the same time.
So, while the FBI is on its way, Liz heads to Red’s holding cell. Even though she tells him he’s likely to be killed, he tells her there’s no time and she has to save herself. She responds by knocking out a guard for his gun and freeing a little boy who was being auctioned off. In that time, Yaabari makes it downstairs to claim his prize. He informs Red that he didn’t buy him for vengeance; rather, a man in Johannesburg put a $40 million bounty on Red’s head. He holds up a head-sized leather bag menacingly, puts a gun to Red’s skull, and a shot rings out. It’s Lizzie’s shot, killing Red’s would be killer.
Now both armed, Liz and Red bust into the King’s family game night just as Tyler is about to test his luck with the revolver. Red tells Tyler to put the gun down, marches to grab the fun himself, and shoots Earl right in the chest: “Oh my god, what are the odds?!” The feds show up then, and with a little parting advice on how to handle prison, Red and Liz leave the King boys to accept what’s rightfully theirs.
Liz is feeling like she’s entitled to a little something too: a thank you. But Red only has a stern instruction for her to “never do that again,” meaning either don’t endanger herself like that, or don’t try to save him; probably both. And that is it! Lizzie lays the emotional smackdown. First, she tells Red he’s damaged, which is pretty rich, but then she adds that he’s unable to accept help from anyone: “Is that why you are the way you are? Because you don’t feel deserving of it. Is that why you can’t be vulnerable for a second? I risked my life for you because I care about you. Deal with that.” A single dramatic tear rolls down Lizzie’s cheek; Red thanks her; and then he tells her to never do it again.
I don’t mean to make light of this moment—just because it’s long been clear to viewers that Liz cares about Reddington, that doesn’t mean it was clear to either of the characters. Less obvious is what goes down in the episode’s closing scene. Tom, newly buzzed and freshly inked, heads into a packed German bar blaring heavy metal. He knocks a very large man’s beer over, starts a fight with him, and then proceeds to beat the ever-loving daylights out of him. Before he can kill him, a few men pull him back and face him toward an older whitehaired gentleman (briefly spotted in a photo among Tom’s supplies earlier) who tells Tom he doesn’t want to fight, he just wants to buy him a beer and learn who he is. Who is he? Christof. Christof Mannheim.
A Few Loose Ends:
- This is your regular Cooper’s Corner here in the extra bullets. Tonight Connolly, the future Attorney General who so sweetly got Cooper into the medical trial a few weeks ago, decided it was time to cash in on the favor. He has a friend that’s about to be put away for fraud—y’know, by the FBI—and could Cooper just tip him off a little early so that he can put away some money for his wife and kids before his assets are seized? “He’s a good friend…and I take care of my friends. How’s that clinical trial? The one I got you into…” Oh, hell no.
- Coops finds out at the end of the episode from the non-evil Deputy Attorney General that the fraudulent fellow fled the country. She thinks someone must have tipped him off or something…
- Spader, Boone, and Eggold all put on a great show tonight. What did you make of Red’s single utterance of, “Lizzie,” right before he thought he was about to die? And exactly how many complex emotions did you see shimmering in his eyes as Lizzie told him she cared about him?
- There was a man at the auction that looked so much like Tom in a ludicrous beard that I had to rewind and pause many, many times. Alas, I think it was just a regular man in a ludicrous beard.
- “Oh and I don’t need your lousy tux, I want my clothes back.”