Entertainment Weekly


Stay Connected


Advertise With Us

Learn More

Skip to content


The Blacklist recap: 'The Mombasa Cartel'

We finally learn what’s behind Lizzie’s door, and it’s as anticlimactic as you feared; luckily there are a few actually surprising surprises to make up for it.

Posted on

The Blacklist Recap
Craig Blankenhorn/NBC

The Blacklist

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
run date:
James Spader

As a Very Special Halloween Episode of The Blacklist, “The Mombasa Cartel” worked quite well. The creep factor was high—the family that taxidermies together also probably murders together, after all—and employing The Most Dangerous Game narrative, still one of the more terrifying aspects of everyone’s 9th grade experience, will certainly keep my nightmares fresh tonight. It’s a good thing the Blacklister of the week was more fleshed out (ew, ew, ew, not a pun) than usual as well, because after three episodes of build-up, the answer to who’s behind That Damn Door wasn’t exactly a Twitter-crasher: Tom is back in town, he’s got a new set of ankle bracelets, and he’s grown himself a grief beard.

While the big answer behind #LizziesSecret was more of a #GeneralConfirmation that we’d guessed correctly all along, as promised by weeks’ worth of teasers, tonight’s episode still turned out a few reveals we’ve been hoping for. They just happened to be a little more subtle than Liz keeping an Eyes Wide Shut situation behind her Special Door. There could’ve been 58 minutes of Taylor Swift’s white noise followed by just the two minutes of Dembe backstory we got, and I probably still would have counted this a win. Not to mention Red getting all emotional about said backstory seconds before killing his criminal equal—and what exactly that reveals about his character.

While Tom and his beard may not have been the most interesting reveal, this could move Lizzie’s character into an increasingly ambiguous moral space. As we learned that she had her spy of a husband locked away, presumably to enact her own brand of justice on him, the words Red had just delivered to a crazy murderer were still ringing in my ears: “[That’s] an operatic perversion of righteous intent. But your strategy, no matter how noble the rhetoric, is betrayed and inevitably defined by your actions.” So, while Liz tries to decide for the fourth episode in a row if her life-defining strategy will be to kill her ex-husband or—I don’t know—take another stab at that crazy thing we call L-O-V-E, there’s quite a bit of other seriously misguided righteous intent going on on the other side of The Door.


The episode opens 29 years ago in Sierra Leone, where a carload of poachers with guns arrive at the farm of Samwel Zuma to kill him—along with his wife and children. Well, all except for his youngest son, whom they take with them. A quick cut to present day Paris implies that a man now ordering room service in a hotel is that little boy all grown up, but my notes from the previous scene simply read: “PLEASE LET THIS EPISODE BE ABOUT DEMBE.” Only time will tell (or you can skip to Page 3)—but whoever this fellow is, he’s probably not getting what he ordered. Unless what he ordered was to be knocked out by the delivery man, tagged like an animal, and ultimately skinned, flayed, and washed up dead on the shores of Russia. So, again, probably not.

Red pitches the Mombasa Cartel to Lizzie as the next case for the Post Office bunch to pursue. She’s sitting cozily on his floor and he’s watching a documentary about tigers; it’s disturbingly domestic. He tells her that these aren’t just animal poachers, but the most powerful traffickers in the world who make billions of dollars in blood money. Lizzie assesses that this is actually important to Red—but beyond that, it’s a Blacklister he’s finally willing to admit he has a vested interest in taking down.

You see, according to The Blacklist, every criminal has a soft spot for either sick children or animals. First we saw Mr. Vargas getting all over some mistress’s case about her lazy dog owner habits; now we learn that two of the most powerful men in the world share a common interest: the protection of endangered animals. After Lizzie sells the FBI on it—”I swear, you guys, it really seems like this time it’s for the benefit of mankind, and not just an elaborate ruse to acquire an Indonesian port”—and they figure out that the Mombasa cartel is taking out poachers from smaller cartels, like the man from the hotel. Then Red sets up Lizzie with his old pal, Geoff Perl.

Perl is the 33rd richest man in the world, with whom Red shares a philanthropic love of protecting exotic animals. Lizzie is to see if he has an information on the Mombasa cartel by pretending that she’s a reporter. And you know what that means: the return of Lizzie’s blogger hoodie! Perl, perfectly and bronzily played by Peter Fonda, is apparently a casual rock drummer by night who says things like, “I’ve seen your posts…I like your style” and “I hear you want some inside dope on the Mombasa cartel.” So clearly, he’s not to be trusted. But for now, he points Liz to Emerson-Concorde Imports as a possible front for Mombasa. Liz and Ressler track Lee Chung to the Emerson-Concorde warehouse, where there’s all sorts of illegal contraband to charge him with.

NEXT: The hunt is on (and it’s really creepy)…