Last week when I said the introduction of Susan “Scottie” Hargrave to The Blacklist was the calm before the storm, it seems I actually should have said it was the calm before the spinoff. But the point stands — whether you’re a Tom fan or not, whether you’re interested in following the kind-of-good bad guys (or is it very-bad good guys?) or not, that was one fast-paced, high-flying, retina-scanning episode of The Backlist. Although…
It didn’t exactly feel like The Blacklist, now did it? Red was only there to bookend the episode, we’ve been missing Lizzie for ages, and there was some other IT guy saving the day besides Aram (I mean… Aram was still saving the day though, obviously). And I don’t think it was the show’s intention to trick us into watching a backdoor pilot for the potential Tom Keen spin-off; no, they were very open about that. Just like I don’t think it was the show’s intention to trick us into thinking Lizzie is dead — we all knows what’s up. The real point is to make everyone inside the show think Lizzie is dead and let us feel all smug and clued-in for suspecting otherwise. Just like, I believe, the real point of tonight’s episode was to throw Tom a bone about his past (and what a bone it was!) and give him a feasible out from this Liz-less life while still being trapped inside Liz’s world.
Okay, and yes, it was very much about enticing us on a spin-off, which the jury is still out on, but I do know three things coming out of the episode: The character of Tom has always been at his most compelling when operating outside of the confines of his romance with Lizzie; I find Scottie, Solomon, and Rowan to be interesting characters with charismatic actors to back them up; and the Blacklist writers did their damndest to make the setup of this Tom and Scottie story line the exact inverse of its source material with Red and Liz. A female international criminal mastermind attempts to find out more about a complicated maternal relationship with a young man who harbors a huge secret about their true connection? Sure, I’ll bite come pilot time.
But even if you hate the idea of a spin-off, rest assured that that, if nothing else, Scottie and her team’s globetrotting Ocean’s Eleven act got this show one step closer to avenging Elizabeth Keen’s death by catching up with…
ALEXANDER KIRK, NO. 14
Now, as exciting as I found the happenings of this episode — what with its bank heists and the shooting and saving of innocents; the eyeball poisonings and creepy, creepy sexual tension — even buried under the spin-off setup, I would put its main fault at keeping the Alexander Kirk stakes quite low. We spent so much time getting to know the old bad guys (you know Solomon still isn’t dead; that man is the ultimate mercenary cockroach), that we still know almost nothing about the new bad guy. And supposedly, Kirk is one of the baddest of the bad, coming in at No. 14 on Red’s big bad Blacklist, the highest ranking in all of season 3.
This is what we learn about him tonight: Kirk is some super rich Russian oligarch who took his criminal networking underground sometime around 2000, and now homeboy wants an in at the White House, so he’s secretly financing the presidential campaign of Sen. Bob Diaz to the tune of $300 million. Now officially working together against their common enemy, Red learns all of this from Scottie, who says cutting off those finances is the best way of reaching Kirk. For that, they’ll need the help of the Post Office, who, as ever, are morally conflicted but very, very down to do some very, very illegal stuff at the instruction of one of the world’s most notorious criminals. Let’s rob a bank, shall we?!
NEXT: Keep your enemies closer…[pagebreak]
Unlike with the Post Office, Red specifically asks Tom to stay out of this mess and focus on Agnes, but Tom informs Red that if he wants to be a part of Agnes’ life in any way, he needs to let Tom be a part of avenging her mother. So Tom serves as the inside man alongside Scottie’s team to get to Kirk’s money, and I admit, watching Solomon hop into a car with Tom to take him to a meeting with the Post Office team was…jarring. That is a bad dude, and working with him is playing with fire. Coincidentally, so is a bunch of FBI agents robbing a bank, and yet…
Here we are. The plan is to have Tom, Rowan, and Solomon hold up the bank where Kirk’s electronic funds are being kept, but there’s no way they can actually make the transfer in the two minutes it will take the cops to get there. So they’ll use the initial robbery as a ruse to get the first responders there — FBI agents Navabi and Ressler — to do the actual dirty work of transferring the funds. But when Samar inserts Aram’s dongle (back at it again with the techie double entendres) into the appropriate modem at the bank, it turns out there’s a retinal scan required to access Kirk’s money, and that retina belongs to Peter Pruitt, the man who funnels Kirk’s dirty money into Sen. Diaz’s presidential campaign. Pruitt is soon attending a party at the Turkish Embassy in Berlin, and Tom just so happens to have a fake Turkish identity that will get him flagged by Interpol and put in front of some Turkish officials at the embassy at the same time as the party. Okayyyy.
Where is little Agnes during all the espionage, you might be wondering? Well, presumably due to being a premie, she’s still bunkering down at the hospital, frequently without any parental supervision, and when Tom goes to check on her before his little Berlin expedition, he finds the hospital in chaos and that Agnes has been taken by…
SCOTTIE. But it’s not for nefarious reasons; in fact, the opposite: When Tom shows up at her house to catch a glimpse of a photo in her office featuring her husband and a little boy and also to ask where the hell his daughter is, she tells him that she caught wind of Kirk coming for Agnes, so she got to her before he could. Agnes is currently under the care of a very maternal-looking woman in an argyle sweater, so Tom is free to head to Berlin, don a pair of very non-Tom wireframe glasses, beat up a few Turkish guards once in custody, and make his way up to the party in a catering uniform to poison Pruitt. Because he’s not bringing the retina scanner in — he’s taking Pruitt out.
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But I guess Tom spent a little too much time in German class and not enough time in Poisons at the Major’s School for Gifted Spysters because he overshoots the amount of poison and Pruitt’s pupils shrink up too much to use to scan. So Rowan swings Tom and Solomon by a pharmacy to steal some eye drops. While inside Solomon makes the mistake of saying, “You and I both know your wife is in a better place,” and without so much as a second’s hesitation, Tom shoots him in the stomach and leaves him to bleed out on the floor. He hops in the car and tells Rowan to drive and gets the retina scan to Aram and the Scottie version of Aram, Dumond, just in time to transfer the funds before the bank president blocked the account after catching wind of Pruitt’s disappearance.
And finally, back at the adult’s table, it’s time for Scottie and Red to handle business: They post up in Sen. Diaz’s house and inform him that they know about his dirty deal and they’re currently in possession of all of his campaign money. Diaz says he’s calling the police, and Red tells him it might be more prudent to call his buddy Alexander Kirk; once on the phone, Red tells Kirk, “I have your money. I have your senator,” but Kirk is no easy target: “You have my money and my senator — but you don’t have me.” Oh but they will, pal. Scottie tells Diaz that he’s to hold a press conference announcing that he’s taking a break from his campaign to focus on finding Alexander Kirk and getting him to testify about his criminal business activity, when really he’ll be delivering the man straight to Red and Scottie. Diaz tells them he’s not going to be an accomplice to murder, and Scottie responds: “You will if you want to be president.”
Somewhere, Olivia Pope is smiling.
NEXT: Are you my (secret) mama?[pagebreak]
By episode’s end, Diaz has subpoenaed Kirk, and the Post Office crew plus Tom are on their way to baby Agnes’ christening, which is a very normal thing that is happening in her very normal baby life. It’s a little shoehorned in, but in Liz’s absence, I’ve enjoyed every moment where the team comes together to remember her and support each other, the ones she left behind. Tom tells them they’ve become the only family he and Liz ever really had, and he knows they’d be the ones Liz would want to help guide their daughter. And then, as generally follows a christening, Tom peaces out to go see a lady about murdering her.
Hired gun for Kirk or no, Tom still holds Scottie accountable for Lizzie’s death, and now that she’s served her purpose in getting them closer to Kirk, he’s going to kill her. He goes straight to her house and right up to her office with the wall of photos that we’ve been catching glimpses of all episode when Red calls him; he says not to kill Scottie; he tells Tom that if he kills her, all the answer’s he’s been looking for his whole life will die with her.
Cue Tom’s slow motion turn to the photo of Scottie and Howard at the beach with a little boy: “My mother.” Scottie is Tom’s mother, and that’s why Red didn’t want him involved in their dealings with her. Because Christopher Hargrave went missing when he was 3 and Scottie truly believes that her son is dead. But her son is very much alive, and he’s standing in her office, looking at a picture of himself, when she walks in. She tells him about her “perfect baby boy,” how the photo was taken on the last day they ever spent together at the beach where she’d bought him a little shell necklace — the one we’ve seen her clutching all episode. It’s been 28 years, and not a day goes by that she doesn’t walk into a room praying he’ll be there.
She walked into the right room today, but as Red told Tom, if he wants answers, it’s imperative that he keep his identity a secret. So he tells her that, yes, he came there to kill her but he’s changed his mind. She tells him he’s hired: “In my experience, there’s a very fine line between love and hate — we could do incredible things together.” (Let’s just say she delivers this line with the cadence of someone who very much does not know that Tom is her son.) Tom walks out, saying he’s sorry about her son.
A FEW LOOSE ENDS:
- So…are you in, are you out, or are you cautiously open-minded about this episode’s backdoor pilot for Tom Keen and his slightly Oedipal spin-off?
- I’d put myself in the latter category, and I won’t give Famke Janssen the “she’s no James Spader” routine because, duh, no one is James Spader — but the further they separate Scottie from merely being a female Red, the better off that character will likely be. However, I did fully enjoy the cold open with Scottie informing some Indonesian thugs that they weren’t ransoming her — she was ransoming them and she would, in fact, be walking out of there with trashbags full of cash. Every criminal mastermind needs a little omnipotence.
- Humanizing Tom Keen by having him risk their whole bank-robbing mission to save the little girl who caught one of Solomon’s stray bullets may have been a cheap emotional trick, but it is one that I totally fell for. I also enjoyed how it later proved a connection between mother and son to care for the innocent bystanders of their criminal shenanigans.
- Who is Alexander Kirk, and why did he hire Scottie to abduct Lizzie in the first place? And further:
- WHO IS ON A RESPIRATOR IN SCOTTIE’S HOUSE?! I can think of two feasible options, one much more interesting than the next…
What do you think of The Blacklist’s late-in-the-season focus on Tom Keen and his secret mom? Are you missing Lizzie, or do you like exploring other characters in her absence? Are you as convinced as I am that we haven’t seen the last of our heroine? And with Alexander Kirk still one big questions mark, what do you think is going down in next week’s finale? Sound off with your thoughts and theories in the comments!