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'The Blacklist' premiere recap: 'Esteban'

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Peter Kramer/NBC

The Blacklist

type:
TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
seasons:
2
run date:
09/23/13
performer:
James Spader
broadcaster:
NBC
genre:
Drama

Welcome back, Blacklist-ers! Have you enjoyed a summer full of fun, sun, and not having to decide if men were being overly protective of you because they were your long-lost Russian dad or just run-of-the-mill obsessed with you? Well, too bad, it’s all over now: The leaves are changing, the temperatures are dropping, and the Post Office gang — all FBI, criminal, and Keen factions included — are spread so far it’s hard to tell if anyone is on the same team heading into season 4.

Thursday night’s premiere picks up right where season 3 left off, and I have to admit that by the end of the hour, the plot hadn’t advanced much past that kicking-off point. Elizabeth Keen is still in the hands of Alexander Kirk; baby Agnes is still in kidnapped-limbo; and perhaps worst of all, Reddington and Mr. Kaplan still seem to be at odds. Indeed, season 4’s premiere prioritizes establishing the emotional stakes over building action or revealing any huge plot points. I mean, sure, at one point there were three different characters kidnapped by three different bad-guy entities, all at the same time, so the plot stakes aren’t exactly low…but the Kirk conundrum remains far from finished.

He is Elizabeth’s father, after all. Or so he says. And certainly the biggest news of the premiere is how he says that familial relationship affects Reddington’s connection to Lizzie. But in an hour low on big reveals, it still feels like everything has doubled: the daughters everyone thinks they need to protect, the maybe-dads, the division between beloved characters whom we never want to see fight but are forced to because of (ugh!) principles. Even with many of our favorite characters at odds, it’s not in their disagreements where we find our season 4 road map, though. No, if there’s one thing this episode makes clear about the future, it’s that we’re at war with Alexander Kirk.

First, of course, someone has to find him…

ESTEBAN, NO. 79            

On the whole, Esteban winds up being a pretty mundane Blacklist-er, which is mostly fine since we’re more concerned with catching up on our favorite main characters anyway. Yes, Esteban does have a torture chamber, and yes, he does put his glass eyeballs into some poor young woman’s hands and tell her she’s the only thing that can save her family… But none of that has much to do with the topic at hand: finding Elizabeth Keen, who, you’ll remember, is alive!

The premiere picks up just after has Red learns Mr. Kaplan aided Liz and Tom in faking her death and escaping to Cuba, and by doing that, also led Alexander Kirk — who spent the latter quarter of season 3 trying to abduct Liz, and who everyone thought was at fault for her death — right to her doorstep. Liz, Tom, and baby Agnes are gone when Red arrives with Dembe and Mr. Kaplan, but Red knows just how to get started tracking them down. But first! A steely lecture for Mr. Kaplan that breaks my bestie-heart: “As you well know, one of the keys to my success is a clear and consistent understanding of my own limitations.”

Okay, Red, I’ma stop you right there: I would not really classify you as someone who consistently admits to his own limitations. He certainly plays to his strengths and seems to have few limitations — but his no. 1 Achilles heel is one Elizabeth Keen, and he stays splashing around in that pond. So, I get where he’s coming from with this betrayal issue, but… Okay, I said I’d let him finish: “So often people overestimate themselves and misapply their gifts… The cleaner suddenly fancies herself the strategist. Wisdom is learning the boundaries of one designated lane.” Basically: Stay in yo lane, Mr. Kaplan.

Red knows exactly what his lane is: He tracks down the kidnapper Tom injured in the season 3 finale, cuts his head clean off when he finds out he’s dead, and then marches said head around Havana until he figures out who it is. All it takes is shooting four corrupt cops and leaving the fifth with a fat stack of cash. Finding out Kirk has worked out some sort of protection from the Cuban government means there’s a very specific man who will be able to track him down: Manuel Esteban, a “Chilean spymaster” who also happens to be an informant for the CIA.

NEXT: Trouble at the Post Office

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Esteban’s informant status means the Post Office crew can help in tracking him down. But it’s not quite as simple as that. See, they’re also just finding out Elizabeth Keen is alive — not from some miraculous resurrection, but because she faked her own death to get away from Red. “To get away from us?” Aram asks. “Yes. After everything we did for her,” Samar answers. Surprisingly, Ressler is the one who seems least betrayed by the revelation, probably because he cared the least. That’s not to say he doesn’t (or didn’t) care about Liz, but Aram and Samar really put themselves out there for her emotionally, only to be repaid with lies. Sure, it was for her family’s safety, but… Things are complicated this season!

Speaking of the family Liz was supposed to be protecting with her fake death, Tom is currently locked inside the trunk of a car and Agnes is being held in the front, very much not in a car seat. Because Tom must have seen the same Lifetime movies I have, he knows that if you’re ever put in the trunk of someone’s car, you should knock out the taillights and wave for help. He does just that, so a car sees him and calls the police. The police come…only to be knocked out by Tom’s captors and added to the trunk right along with him. Not great! But when some dumb-dumb thinks he can take Tom out into the woods on his own and have him dig his own grave — without Tom chunking a rock at him, beating him up with a shovel, and taking his gun — he’s got another thing coming. Tom then hops on a call with Kirk and tells him what’s up: “I’m coming for them, for you. And not just men, an army. You hear me? An army is coming for you.

Yes, that Alexander Kirk, the one who currently has Liz in captivity. But why? Kirk insists he is truly Liz’s father, Constantine Rostova, and he can prove it. But for now, he’s just talking a big game: “You were my entire life, you were all your mother and I cared about. You don’t know any of that, because Raymond took you away when you were just a little girl.” Er, come again? Kirk says Reddington had an affair with Katarina Rostova, so for a time she thought he was the father, but Red eventually proved he was just “a spiteful, evil man.” She broke off the affair, but one day Constantine and Katarina came home to discover Red had taken Lizzie, neé Masha. Kirk says he never thought he’d see her again, but then she popped up on the news as a fugitive at large with Reddington, and everything he’s done since then has been to get her away from him.

Liz helpfully points out that if he was really her father and really cared about her so much, perhaps he wouldn’t have attacked her wedding, repeatedly shot assault rifles at everyone she loved, kidnapped her husband and daughter, and currently be holding her hostage. It’s a fair point, but Kirk has a pretty good clap back himself: “Everything I did was to get my child away from Reddington… Who could understand that more than you?”

And speak of the (alleged) devil: About the time the Rostovas are getting their motivations all sorted out, Red shows up at the building where Kirk is holding Liz and finds himself on the opposite side from the (alleged) father and daughter via a two-way mirror. But maybe that’s not so alleged — when Red confirms Liz is safe, Kirk says, “Of course she is. Unlike you, I would never hurt my own daughter.” Now that’s a pretty loaded statement, but Red doesn’t refute any part of it and even goes on to address Kirk as Constantine. He keeps calling out to Elizabeth, and she finally shouts that she’s on his left. Red shoots at where Kirk is standing, but the glass is bulletproof. A two-way mirror isn’t exactly a novel prop in television, but episode director Michael Watkins employs it perfectly here, showing Liz’s view of Red through the mirror as crystal clear, but with the distorted reflection of Kirk’s face just to the left of him. With everything she still doesn’t know about Raymond Reddington, here’s a whole new hazy layer of confusion.  

Of course, Red can’t see Lizzie at all. He’s completely lost her, after all: She’s both ejected herself from his life and been further taken away by a man who claims Red stole her in the first place. But perhaps there’s a small glimmer of Liz’s absence as just temporary when she tells Red she doesn’t have Agnes, and he has to be the one to find her. He leaves her with, “Elizabeth, I will come for you,” and then disappears to find Liz’s baby.

NEXT: Father/daughter bonding time

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That’s where Esteban and his shady connections to the Cuban and American governments comes into play. Though Samar refuses to go to Cuba because she’s not okay with Liz’s lie, Ressler is totally down to drop in for an egg coffee and pretend he’s a CIA contact to get eyes on Esteban. But when he gets to the right café, Esteban’s men show up, and — you’re never going to believe this — kidnap him. I loved it. It’s been far too long since the days of Ressler getting kidnapped in every single episode, and his ease with the abduction makes it a pleasure to watch. He has no problem making his way into captivity, disarming a few men from the inside, and delivering Esteban directly to Red.

Esteban is able to track where Kirk has taken Elizabeth right about the time Kirk’s lackeys are finally delivering Agnes to her. Kirk stops by Liz’s room/prison for a little multigenerational family time, during which he tells her he has a blood disorder. “Good,” she responds. He tells her he’s dying, to which she responds, “Even better.” I like kidnapped Liz!

By this time, Red is on his way back to Liz with Dembe and Mr. Kaplan in tow. He hasn’t let Mr. Kaplan help at all during their reconnaissance mission, and as they get closer to finding Liz, she finally addresses Red’s obvious fury. She says it was excruciating to make him endure the idea of Elizabeth’s death, but she only betrayed him after he had betrayed Liz: “Raymond, you have to change. I took Elizabeth from you, but I need your help to get her back. But when you do, as I’m sure you will, you have to let her go.” She really drives the last bit home, but something tells me Red isn’t a man who easily changes.

He’s also not an easy man to escape from, but Kirk manages to do it. The plane he’s been waiting for to take them “home” has finally arrived; Kirk forces Liz onto it, telling one of his goons to collect Agnes and their things. Red has also finally arrived, but by the time he makes it out to the beach to the waiting plane, he sees it in the air with a despondent Elizabeth Keen looking down from a window. What Red doesn’t know — until he sees it — is Mr. Kaplan had intercepted the woman carrying Agnes in the house, and the baby is now safe (ish).

So that’s, like…half a win. Or it would be, if Kirk’s most aggressively annoying flunky hadn’t T-boned the car carrying Red, Mr. Kaplan, Dembe, and Agnes on their way out. The ever-maternal Mr. Kaplan happened to have turned her head just in time to see the car and make a protective dive towards Agnes. The move likely saved the baby’s life, but it couldn’t save her from being taken by Kirk’s man as her guardians lay unconscious in the wreckage.

A few loose ends:

  • How perfect was the deployment of Losers’ “This Is a War” during the final scene? I think you know what the game is / I hope you brought all your players / ‘Cause this is a war. Red may have lost the battle in the premiere, but… Well, you know the rest.
  • Kirk telling Liz, “You’ll learn to trust me,” moments before forcibly separating her from her infant child — supposedly his grandchild — is pretty rich. Where is he taking her?
  • I probably make too much of the many names used for the two main characters on this show, but it was noteworthy Red called Keen “Elizabeth” during this episode, instead of his normally affectionate “Lizzie,” right?
  • In fact, this episode took an emotional toll on almost all of the character’s relationships. Dembe informed Mr. Kaplan he was not “on her side”; Aram told Samar she was wrong for not going to Cuba, though Samar stood her ground; Red and Mr. Kaplan might never be the same; and who knows where the Red/Lizzie dynamic is headed.
  • Certainly the cutest example of discord, though, was Aram finding it impossible not to quiz Tom about whether he knew Liz had faked her death while they waited for location traces over the phone: “Okay, what I’m thinking is… Did you help Agent Keen fake her death?!” And it was all the more heartbreaking when Tom told Aram that yes, of course he knew.
  • Badass moment of the night: Liz decking Kirk in the face, then picking up a wicker chair and slamming it over one of his goonies’ heads like she was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin at a Royal Rumble.
  • Honorable mention: Ressler’s look of recognition just as the kidnapping’ bag went over his head.

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