If Thursday’s arthouse episode settled one thing, it’s this: The Blacklist may go on without Elizabeth Keen… but the Blacklist cannot.
From the moment “Cape May” typed out onto the screen without a number following it, it was evident that this hour of The Blacklist would be different from anything else we’ve seen in this series… it would not even be close. And that makes perfect sense. For as long as we’ve watched this show, and as long as we’ve known Raymond Reddington, the center of his universe has been Elizabeth Keen. And without her taking up residence in the nucleus of his psyche anymore, it’s logical that there might need to be a little rearranging under that fedora. The easy way to play that out would be to have him go on a murderous rampage to a spooky Johnny Cash song…
But we’ve seen Red do that before to deal with a problem. We’ve never seen Red have to deal with life without Lizzie. And we’ve certainly never seen an episode of The Blacklist like this.
It’s not hard to kill off a character on a TV show. The decision may be hard; it may be hard to watch; but the actual act? As easy as a heart monitor going flat or a guillotine being released. To change everything about your series, however — the pace, the cinematography, the cast list, the music — and sustain that for an hour in a way that’s still meaningful to the series… now that is a risk, and one that I think The Blacklist pulled off not just with this episode’s fine performances or eerie-dreamlike quality, but in a way that I hope will continue to prove this hour’s worth throughout all of season 3’s remaining episodes.
At least, that’s what I hope. I know Raymond’s experience at Cape May isn’t one he’ll soon forget, and I don’t imagine we as the audience will either. This episode was dark — it felt all wrong; at times, desperately slow, and then at others, like everything was moving too fast to possibly keep up; it felt oppressive and confusing and painful to witness… it felt a lot like mourning.
I will admit that I’m a little nervous to recap for two reasons: 1. I’m, uh, pretty confused, and 2. While almost the entire episode was some kind of opium/grief-fueled dream, it also kind of seemed like maybe every single line was important. So I’ll do my best to hit you with the biggest points, the most minor quotes, and every time someone wore red, just in case this is a Sixth Sense kind of thing.
Straight from the cold open, this hour was off on uneven footing, as the inquisition of Dr. Nick only lasted about 20 seconds before the title sequence rolled, and we didn’t even get to find out if he got his wish: to not die for his inability to save Liz. And even though I’m a big fan of Dr. Nick and his whole salt-and-pepper deal, it as easy enough to forget about him as soon as “Cape May” popped up, giving us our first ever Blacklist episode without a Blacklister in the title, followed immediately by Raymond Reddington waking up in a stupor inside a bunk at what appeared to be an opium den (if there is a single restaurant in New York City without a magically retractable false wall, The Blacklist does not know about it).
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After he’s awoken, he stumbles out into the street, nearly gets hit by a taxi, and then offers that taxi $500 to drive him 200 miles to Cape May, New Jersey. On his way there, he stares at the picture of baby Lizzie, her mom, and that lens flare on a swing, and flashes back to his last moments with Liz in the ambulance before she died. When he arrives, he calls Marvin to tell him that he’s going on an extended leave and then pays his driver what could have been anywhere between $100,000 and $1 million to let him have his cab, and drives to the nearest diner for some bacon. Now, that is a type of mourning I can understand. Post-bacon is where things get interesting…
NEXT: Lady in the water…[pagebreak]
In the diner, Red stares at a woman who seems nervous, and then sees her get up and dart to the bathroom when she spots an angry-looking man outside. But the guy disappears, and so Red leaves to continue his very sad and lonely day. He heads to a beachfront inn that’s closed for the winter season, but he goes right through the gate to the beach to stare at the water in the cold. But instead of a lonely beach-stare, he spots the woman again: She’s taking off her coat and gold necklace and walking straight into the water…
A sad, scared woman, taking off her clothes and walking into the ocean — does that sound familiar? Perhaps like the way Red told Lizzie that her mother killed herself? But actually, it wasn’t even that Ophelia-maneuver that tipped me off that something was up, it was those clothes — the mystery redheaded woman (played to phantasmal perfection by Dutch actress Lotte Verbeek) is wearing a bootcut jean, the likes of which I haven’t seen in… well, my lifetime.
But of another era or not, Red jumps into the ocean after her, and from here, things move both very quickly and very slowly, all at once. He gets her inside the inn and in front of the fire place, and gets down to what would be some pretty inappropriate spooning if these are two strangers. She whispers to herself, “It’s not that he died. It’s not even the way he died. It’s the things I said to him just before he died.” As Red grabs blankets for the woman, he briefly envisions a receptionist at the welcome desk of the deserted inn; as he passes by the desk, the camera lingers on a rotary phone — when he walks past once more, it’s a more modern phone with buttons. Something. Is. Happening. Here.
And for now that something is Red getting the hot water to work and the woman cooking a makeshift risotto for dinner. As they creep around the house she tells Red that someone is after her. At dinner, he asks her to elaborate on the man she spoke of after nearly drowning. She responds, “I was out of my mind — there was no one. Just me.” So Red speaks of his own regrets instead. He tells her of a “Hobson’s choice” he once encountered: “There was a woman and her child. Both were doomed. Both would die. I could either save one or lose both — I chose the child. It was the worst thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.” Considering recent events, it’s easy to wonder just which Hobson’s choice he might be talking about. But he elaborates: “I was arrogant. I assumed there was an order to things; that if I nourished and protected and taught the child, she would be safe and happy. But no matter what I tried to do, all I brought her was misery and violence.” So, Lizzie then.
Red tells the woman that he’s been to this inn before, a long time ago when he was a very different person. But now there’s someone else at the inn entirely — a kindly old police officer checking to see why there are lights in the windows, who Red has to charm into thinking he’s old friends with the owners, Jack and Ida Albright. While the officer walks around, he notices the table set for two, and that Red’s wife — upstairs because she’s not feeling so well — hasn’t touched her food. The wine on the table is red, and somewhere, Haley Joel Osment is cashing a fresh royalty check.
The police officer leaves just in time for the man that’s been following the redheaded woman to show up. He makes it upstairs where Raymond tussles with him, and then the woman bashes his head against the sink hard enough to kill him and paint the bathroom floor in blood. It’s the first of a number of supremely violent tricks she has up her sleeve, just as she says this man is the first who’s after her, not the last.
Indeed a slew of men with assault rifles are on their way to the inn. But before they get there, it’s time for the woman and Red to have one last doubly loaded conversation. Red has already told her that he’s never killed anyone who didn’t deserve to be killed. So she asks him is he’s every spared anyone who deserved to die. He tells her of a woman he loved: “She was my life. My heart. And she died. She left behind a little girl, one last precious piece of herself.” Again Red could be — and perhaps is — talking about two different women… two different baby girls left behind by their mothers.
But then he flashes back to a post-Lizzie-world conversation with Tom where Tom tells Red he won’t let him make the same mistake he made with Liz. Tom makes it clear that Red won’t be a part of Agnes’ life, no matter how much he wants to be, and to harm Tom would be to harm Agnes: “A mortal sin. Her mother’s gone — her father is what she has left in the world.”
NEXT: “This is my house, I have to defend it.”[pagebreak]
At this point, I kind of want to scream from all the meaning that these lines seem to carry, at all the lack of understanding ping-ponging in my brain. Don’t get me wrong, I know who this woman is — we all know who this woman is. But all these mothers and their babies… I don’t know the truth of where they’ve gone, or how they got there. I don’t know what Red was to them in the past, or what he is to them now that they’re gone. And the most confusing new layer of all of it, is that Red doesn’t seem to know himself.
So, this is the perfect time for an intermission full of some R-rated Home Alone-style high jinks. In preparation for the battle coming their way, Red and the woman fill the kitchen with water and loose electrical wires; they open gas containers in the guest rooms and set up matches to strike when the doors open; they rig up piano cords to do something so violent, we’re only able to see it in silhouette. They’re quite the duo, really. And together they manage to kill every single man who’s come to the hotel in pursuit of the redheaded woman.
The woman wants Red to go on without her. He interrupted her in the middle of her plan out in the ocean, after all. So he tells her of the time he witnessed a suicide bomber in Tel Aviv — how the bomber left a “circle of death” around him: “There was almost nothing left of the people closest to him. The closer they were to the bomb, the more horrific the effect. That’s every suicide… every single one. An act of terror, perpetrated against everyone who’s ever known you. Everyone who’s ever loved you. The people closest to you, the ones who cherish you are the ones who suffer the most pain.”
But the woman asks Red what he would do if he knew that as long as he continued to exist, the little girl he told her about would be hunted: “I am her mother, and I am death to her… so this is what I’m doing. I never wanted this.” Red tells her they have to go, and he goes to get the car.
The sun is up now. And when Red comes back into the inn, the water is up off the floor, too. And the sink, repaired and much less covered in blood. He looks out the window and sees the woman headed into the ocean once more, and heads out once more to stop her. But when he gets to the sand, he only sees an elderly man with a metal detector, one he spotted the first time he stopped the woman from going in the ocean. The man tells Red that he hasn’t seen anyone, in fact, Red is “the only living soul” he’s seen on this beach in two weeks. So Red replays the evening in his head — eating dinner by himself; saying the woman’s words out loud; playing a sad piano tune alone. About that time, the man digs up a locket in the sand. Raymond pays him for it, washes it off in the ocean, and reads it aloud: “To Katarina, Love Papa.”
The woman comes to him once more: “You had no choice — it was me or Masha … Raymond, you did save me. Through her. It was the only way; you chose well.” The man on the beach calls out to to ask if he’s okay — “You seem a little lost.” Red looks at the locket…
“There’s someone I need to see.”
A FEW LOOSE ENDS:
I have half a mind to change the title of this recurring recap segment to “ONE HOUR-LONG LOOSE END”
But I do hope that you enjoyed this hour as much as I did. I also hope that you’ll provide any and all insights/theories/interpretation of every quadruple-meaning of every line of this episode in the comments. Together, I’m sure we can all get through this.
This episode’s instrumental score composed by Dave Porter, which seemed to run through nearly the entire episode was so, so different but absolutely just as compelling as The Blacklist’s normally impeccable musical cues.
Were we or were we not led to believe that Lizzie’s mom had blond hair?
IF YOU DON’T WANT EXCESS INFORMATION FROM OUTSIDE THE REALM OF THE EPISODE, LOOK AWAY NOW……LOOK AWAY!!!….
Is it worth noting that Lotte Verbeek is credited as “Sasha Rotova” in the episode on IMDb. No, really, is it?? My brain is officially warped.
And finally: JAMES EFFIN’ SPADER. Discuss…