In the back half of The Blacklist‘s season 3, Liz hissed at Red, “Some things can’t be forgiven.” I believe she was actually quoting his own line back to him after she found out he lied (or appeared to have lied) about her mother’s alleged death.
As we’ve come to find out over the last few years, though, Elizabeth Keen is a pretty forgiving person. Or at least forgetful. You may recall her husband Tom Keen spent a decade-ish pretending to be a Warby-Parker-wearing third-grade teacher, when he was actually spying on her for Reddington as part of an old man’s club for sociopathic teens. And yet, he is now the father of her child and she actually re-proposed to him. And as for Reddington: After doing that thing for which she could not forgive him, Liz went on to work with him for another half a season and to trust him at least enough to remain in her life.
Until, that is, the need to protect her daughter finally pushed Liz over the edge. The interesting thing about this episode, however, is Liz isn’t the one being asked to dig deep on her moral quandaries regarding Raymond Reddington. She’s too busy trying to figure out if she should murder her other-maybe-dad or save his life. In season 4, it feels like the questions Liz has faced throughout the entire series are suddenly being directed at us… Can the audience trust Red? Given the presence of Alexander Kirk, his version of the truth, and the coffee can buried in his front yard, can we still believe Red has Lizzie’s best interests at heart? And given tonight’s final scene: Can we ever forgive him for what he’s done to our beloved Mr. Kaplan?
Perhaps you are a less naïve TV viewer than I, but though I’ve never bought into the idea that Red doesn’t lie to Lizzie, I’ve always believed his moral code centered around one very strict rule: Protect Elizabeth Keen. But season 4 is calling that into question. I certainly never thought his moral code would permit Red to kill one of his only two confidantes. And for what? Not agreeing with him about the best way to protect Elizabeth? Or was it, as Mr. Kaplan seemed to suggest in her final living moments, because of just how much she knows about Raymond Reddington? Season 4 is off to a right slippery start, indeed…
MATO, NO. 66
Mr. Kaplan managed to get a look at the man who crashed into their car and stole Agnes — his name is Mato and she knows another man he used to work for, Little Nikos. So Red, Dembe, Mr. Kaplan, and the recently arrived Tom are off to Amarillo (By Morning, presumably) in Red’s jet, while Liz remains captured in a tiny plane with her maybe-dad on their way “home.”
Oh, and she’s still not reunited with Agnes, which is probably why she decides to attack Kirk and shoot the pilot. I do love when Lizzie goes full John McClane, but I can’t say this is one of her well-thought-out plans. Next thing you know, she’s waking up in a crashed plane in the middle of the ocean. Luckily, she comes to before Kirk and is able to tie him up; less luckily, water has started flooding the plane’s interior. When Kirk wakes up, he says, “Masha, I’m your father, you can’t let me drown,” and Liz replies, “Watch me.” But by the time the plane fills with water and flips over, he’s convinced her she needs to trust him if she wants to make it out of this alive.
NEXT: Poor Little Nikos…
On their way to Amarillo, the Post Office learns Mato once again has Agnes. Red explains, “Mato could sneak up to a deer in a glade and smack it on the rump.” Well, in that case — get thee to Amarillo! For the most part, Mr. Kaplan is Red’s most behaved aide, but when Raymond seems like he’s going to march right in and torture her friend Little Nikos, she explains why she should speak to him first with some dialogue that feels important: “Do you remember what I looked like that night? My head torn open, Annie’s body in front of me?” Red says of course he doesn’t because he was “away,” but since Nikos was the one who stayed by her side that night, she can try her way first. But given that they woke him up in the middle of stomach surgery, Nikos won’t spill. So Red sends Tom in, armed with a wallet-size photo of baby Agnes, a fresh shirt from the Tommy Bahama Linen Collection, and a talent for torture.
Tom manages to get a phone number and a passport, but Nikos dies from whatever Tom was doing to him with a medical device that looked like a barbecue fork. Red tells Kaplan he’s sorry it had to be Nikos, but Mr. Kaplan tells him he can save his insincere apologies: “I betrayed you for the same reason I just betrayed Nikos. To keep Elizabeth safe, like you asked me to all those years ago when you put her in my arms as a baby girl. Only now she has a baby girl of her own — and your existence in their lives puts them in constant danger.”
How you feel about Red’s actions throughout the rest of the episode depends on how you feel about Kaplan’s above statement. Is Red someone Liz needs protection from, as Kaplan believes? Or is he the only one who can truly protect her, as he continues to insist? I’m currently registered as an undecided voter on that one, but one thing is for damn sure: Susan Blommaert is captivating in every scene, especially tonight. Her steely perseverance hovers perfectly between conviction and remorse throughout the hour, but at no time have I better understood her character than in the chastisement she hands Tom as he tries to apologize for killing her friend. It deserves the full transcript treatment:
“So, you want me to make you feel better? Everyone wants me to make things easier for them, cleaner. That’s what I am, after all, the cleaner… In my desire to make life easier for your baby, I betrayed Raymond and now he doesn’t know what to do with me. Well, he knows what he has to do and he wants me to make it easier for him. But I won’t. I’m not here to make him feel better. And I’m not here to make you feel better, Tom.”
As a woman — though one with few ties to the criminal-overlord world — this speech made me feel something deep down in my “I don’t exist to make men feel better about themselves” bones. As a recapper who takes studious notes, it made me write, “YAS QUEEN!” Anyway, finding Agnes is still the mission at hand. We’ve seen Mato has already passed her off to some of Kirk’s other men shortly before receiving a text from Nikos that reads, “Nakaidoklini.” That’s enough to send him to Nikos’ office in Amarillo, where Red and his crew are waiting. He takes off in a sprint with Tom and Dembe hot on his tail, but the chase is unnecessary… Mr. Kaplan just runs him over with the car.
Speaking of dire situations, Liz and her maybe-dad Kirk are holding on for dear life to one of the pontoons from their upended plane in the middle of the ocean. Kirk is losing blood and fading fast, but when he goes under, Liz dives in after him. She reminds him he said they had to trust each other, and if he just holds on, her friends will find them. But it’s a Cuban fisherman who shows up first.
NEXT: ¿Dónde está la pistola?
Onboard, when Kirk asks why she saved him, Liz replies, “I saved you because of Agnes. But also maybe because you might be telling the truth.” That’s a lot of qualifiers, but no matter what she says to her maybe-dad, Liz still gets the fisherman off on his own to tell him to radio for help, and asks if he has a “pistol.” But apparently Liz is one of those people who, when faced with a language barrier, just starts speaking louder — in the middle of the man radio-ing, Kirk shoots him: “I believe he said the pistol is in the toolbox.” Uh-huh, this snarky mofo is someone she’s supposed to trust?
Red, on the other hand, isn’t fooling around with snark right now. He has Mato, but Mato doesn’t have Agnes. So he tells Mato about how he once found himself at an Indian sun-dance ritual, where a man hung himself upside down by flesh hooks through his chest until “his skin stretched like saltwater taffy.” It’s a vivid metaphor. It’s as vivid as Red telling Mato that like that man, he knows Mato doesn’t fear death; rather, he fears a death after which his soul on trapped on earth. So if he doesn’t tell him where Kirk sent Agnes before the cuckoo clock in Nikos’ office stops playing, he will have him locked in “an airtight concrete crypt” after he kills him. The threat of both the cuckoo clock and spending his afterlife in a box is convincing, and Mato tells Red they were headed to the Summer Palace. “Yes, I know the Summer Palace,” says Red. And then he shoots him.
And now Liz knows it, too, because that’s where she’s arrived with Kirk. It’s a beautiful summer cottage on an island off Nova Scotia — it looks a little like the house we’ve heard Lizzie dream of living in with Tom. Fittingly, Kirk asks her, “It’s a lovely location to raise a little girl, don’t you think?” He tells Liz the house is hers, and she doesn’t look un-excited about the prospect. Kirk introduces her to Katia, a young woman he calls “the palace keeper.” She tells Liz that Kirk hasn’t been there in years: “It’s been too painful for him…until now.
Liz goes upstairs, where she spies Kirk in one of his signature back-to-the-door-while-something-mysterious-happens-with-his-blood setups. The nurse closes the door, so Liz walks further down the hall and finds what looks like a little girl’s room, full of dolls and tea sets and a stick-figure drawing complete with “Masha” signature. “This was my bedroom,” she says when Kirk shows up in the doorway. “Welcome home, Masha,” he says as the camera zooms in on his face, then back over to Liz’s, lingering on her blue eyes that look eerily similar to his.
Okay, but a couple of drawings and matching eyeballs does not a dad prove. Liz tells him there was a fire…that she remembers shooting her father. But Kirk insists they’re not real memories: “Those stories Reddington’s told you about who he is and his connection to you — he knew you were looking for answers and he took advantage of that to reenter your life. Reddington was in love with your mother, and now he’s obsessed with you.” If you’re thinking that sounds like a description that could easily apply to Red or Kirk, you better believe Lizzie is about to un-repress some more Masha memories to make this mess even more confusing than it already is.
Liz spots the photo of her with her mother on the swing — the one she’s seen before, with the lens flare — and then walks over to the bedroom window and spots that very swing outside. On her way down to the yard, the point of view switches between a grown Elizabeth and a young Masha: Masha looking through the window; Liz running her hands over flowers, showing the burn scar on her wrist; little Masha doing the same with her untarnished skin; Masha walking up to lovely Katarina Rostova by the swing and handing over treasures to bury in a “time machine” disguised as a coffee can; grown Lizzie looking stricken as she begins clawing at the spot of earth from her memory.
NEXT: Home is where the heart is
And there she finds the coffee can, full of little Masha’s treasures and a bracelet from Katarina. Liz slips the bracelet on as FBI helicopters cut through the sky overhead. When Liz looks back to the house and sees Kirk at the window, she rushes in after him…to protect him? She doesn’t find him, though; instead she comes face-to-face with Ressler. He looks like he’s seen a ghost because, well, he has. They hug and it’s very sweet, but the ongoing tragedy that is Lizzie’s life is still going… She still doesn’t have Agnes. Ressler takes her to Red, who stares at her silently in the car. She stares back until Boz tells her to go inside: “You’re home.” Home is apparently that creepy warehouse-turned-nursery where Tom is waiting for her. And the contrast between the palace to which Kirk delivered “his princess” and this illusion of a home is deliciously stark.
With Lizzie presumably safe again, that just leaves her protectors to sort out. Dembe drives Red and Mr. Kaplan out to a beautiful wooded area in silence, except for the score of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind.” They get out of the car and walk towards a clearing — a pristine acre in the middle of government land that Red somehow owns. Reddington starts, “You understand, Kate,” but Mr. Kaplan cuts him off: “‘That I have no choice?’ Isn’t that the speech, Raymond? That I know too much — every single one of your weaknesses, all your faults, all your secrets… You entrusted me with everything that you value: your freedom, your life, a child. I have never failed you. What you see as a betrayal of trust was actually a fulfillment of your wishes, to protect your interests.”
It’s a valiant effort, and I think she’s right. I think, “Don’t you do it, Raymond. This…this will be unforgivable.” But Red sneers, “You presume to decide what was best for me,” which frankly is pretty rich coming from him, all Lizzie things considered. He says he can never trust her again, that she’s a stranger. And yet he knows she believed she did what was best for Elizabeth, and that’s why he brought her to this place. “You’ve told me you wanted a pristine, unspoiled place to live out your years in peace. So the acre is yours.” And just for a moment, it seems all will be well. And then they lock eyes: “…for all eternity.” Reddington shoots Mr. Kaplan.
A few loose ends:
- As Red leaves the clearing and the camera lingers on Mr. Kaplan’s limp body, “If You Could Read My Mind” picks back up: “With chains upon my feet / You know that ghost is me / And I will never be set free / As long as I’m a ghost that you can’t see.”
- Oddly, we see Mr. Kaplan’s still hand slowly grip the grass as the camera pans away. This parting scene certainly felt final. Is that a lifelong cleaner settling in for an eternity in a pristine field? Or is this a less-than-clean open ending?
- WHAT DID KAPLAN KNOW? So many little nuggets of info: Who is Annie? Why wasn’t Red there when she was on the ground next to Mr. Kaplan? If, like Kirk says, Red took Lizzie when she was a child, how did he pass her to Mr. Kaplan when she was a “baby girl?” I just want more Red ‘n Kap!
- Speaking of baby girls, WHERE IS AGNES?! We never saw her physically show up at the Summer Palace, but everyone seems convinced Kirk escaped with her.
- A Coast Guard captain asks who’s on the boat the Post Office is tracking — Ressler replies “a friend” at the exact same time as Samar says “a fugitive.” The inter-office strife continues!
- Of note: Lizzie conjures up specific memories of her mother at the Summer Palace…but not of her father. Discuss!