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Whatever you imagine the answer to be…it’s better than that.
Those words are spoken by the sociopath currently in possession of Mr. Kaplan’s bag-o-bones, but they stand for Wednesday’s Blacklist episode, as well: Whatever you imagined the culmination of Tom’s capture to be, it’s probably better than that. And worse than that, and sadder than that, and more exciting than that, and all in all, just a whole lot to take in. As with many of the best episodes of The Blacklist, we leave with more questions than we entered with, but we also leave with a deeper understanding of what we have to look forward to from this series; with a reminder of why we’ve spent five seasons watching it. It doesn’t get much “better than that.”
Okay, well maybe if at the end of it all, I knew why Tom’s eyes went all buggy when he finally cracked open that folder-o-DNA…
Speaking of surprise faces: Of all the wonderful musical moments in The Blacklist’s midseason finale, the unfortunate song I have rolling through my head as I begin to recap the madness is…Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do.” I know. But it’s that one line, that single redeeming line from the song’s bridge that I’m thinking of: I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me… I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me.
The earworm is twofold. Red told Tom not to try to ID the suitcase’s contents, and he did; Red told Tom not to get involved with Elizabeth Keen while he spied on her and he did. Tom told Red to stay away from Liz and he didn’t; Tom told Red to tell Liz the truth and he didn’t. And Liz — Liz told these men not to lie to her. She asked them, she begged them, she trusted them not to lie to her. These people — the most important people in each other’s lives, with varying degrees of love, hate, faith, and hope spread all throughout their bonding ties — have no reason whatsoever to trust each other. But they can’t help but love each other. And so signs their fate.
It’s almost cruel that in the episode’s final, exhilarating scene, Red reads to an unconscious Elizabeth from the Victorian poem by William Ernest Henley, “Invictus”: I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” I hope that, in fact, it was her own fiery rage at hearing that line that brought Lizzie back to the living world. Time and time again, the men Lizzie chooses to trust take the power of her own choice away from her. They lie to her. They go behind her back. They don’t offer back the trust that she so willingly gives them. And then — they get themselves killed.
I mean, MAYBE. Because the other fold of that T-Swift lyric is that if there’s one thing the audience has no reason to trust The Blacklist on, it’s a death. I heard the flatline; I saw the body…And yet (despite what Ryan Eggold tells EW) I have plenty of reasons to continue believing Tom isn’t dead, including but not limited to a deep, deep denial. Because I’m not Elizabeth — I learn from the past. I shouldn’t trust that Tom is dead, and The Blacklist shouldn’t trust that I would after all it’s put me through. To finish off this Tour de Quotes and bring in another series I recap for EW: “We see each other. We GOOD!”
IAN GARVEY, NO. 13
Perhaps this episode’s greatest strength is that it gives us a riveting, gut-wrenching, cliff-hanging hour, while still giving us clear indication of what we have to look forward to when it’s over. Ian Garvey does some truly monstrous, No.-13-worthy things this week, but as a Blacklister, there’s still the promise of much more to come. He walks out of this midseason finale in possession of Red and Liz’s co-owned bag-o-bones, and into a 10-month abyss.
He walks into the midseason finale acting just as grossly as we have seen him act in the past. Actually — much, much grosser. With Pete and Lena’s bodies still dead on the ground, Garvey tells Tom that the ID of the bones is better than he could have imagined: “Reddington’s power is legendary. With this, I control that power.” He wants Tom to set up a meeting with Reddington, and as a little encouragement, he wheels a wood chipper in and…puts Lena’s body through it, spraying all over a tarp that is presumably hanging there solely for body-spraying purposes. It is one of the sickest things the series has ever done, and nearly unfathomable that it aired at 8 p.m., followed by a casual episode of The Voice.
Meanwhile, Liz is losing her mind trying to figure out where Tom could be. She keeps leaving him voicemails saying things like, “I’m sure you’re fine and I’m overreacting and you just can’t answer for your phone for some reason.” Lizzie. I would wager that 100 percent of the times Tom doesn’t answer your calls, he is in mortal danger. He doesn’t have a job and you employ someone named Rosa on round-the-clock nanny service for Agnes, so he really has nothing to do but answer your calls. You’re not overreacting. (Recap continues on page 2)
Luckily, the Post Office gang is on top of it because homeboy is in desperate need of some locating. Garvey gets him to call Red and tell him that he “did what you hired me to do,” but Red already has his spy outside of Garvey’s hideout. Unfortunately, Red is still 20 minutes away and Tom is basically swimming in a pool of his former accomplices’ blood now. So when Garvey and most of his guards leave to go meet Red at the dummy location Tom gave him, Tom manages to use a wood-chipped scrap of Lena’s necklace to cut his zip-tie binds, take down a handful of guards, and set out into the woods.
And through sheer power of will, he busts out of those woods and onto the road just as Dembe and Red are zooming past. Red throws open the door and yells, “Tom!” And with gunmen running up behind him, Tom hesitates. (Tom don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts Tom — except Lizzie, who’s pretty sure he just left his phone at the Trader Joe’s checkout counter again!) But after getting shot in the shoulder, Tom decides to join his father-in-law in the car. And Daddy just can’t help himself: “I warned you about this damn suitcase — now look at you.”
It’s not just Tom that’s banged up; Dembe’s car takes a few hits too, so the trio is forced to pull over. They make their way through the woods to a farmhouse knowing that Garvey will be closing in on them soon, but needing to find supplies and a vehicle. Plus: flashbacks! To get to the end of Tom’s story, we start at the beginning, with the Major giving young Tom an assignment from an important client, a folder containing all the information he’ll need on his target, Elizabeth Keen. Tom thinks she’s cute. “Your job is to be the friend of a friend,” the Major tells him. “Not to get involved with her, you get that?”
He did not get that. Another flashback shows the Major telling Tom — back in the Warby Ps, baby! — that the contractor is livid. Then we’re back in the present, where that livid contractor is still livid; if my calculations are correct, at this point, the spy Red hired to keep an eye on Liz without getting too close has married her on no fewer than three separate occasions. It’s an understatement when Red explains why he can’t trust Tom: “I hired you to do a job, the rules were explicit, and you violated them.”
Tom understands the sentiment, but it doesn’t change the fact that he fell in love with Liz all those year ago. “You’ve always seen my relationship [with Liz] as a zero sum game,” Red tells Tom. “You think what’s good for me is bad for her and what’s good for her is bad for me.” Red is certain everyone is better off not knowing what’s in the suitcase. Tom is certain Liz should know the truth (y’know, once it’s gone through him of course). And Liz is just trying to figure out where the hell her husband and dad are, following clues like Tom’s car and a destroyed hotel room. From what they find, the Post Office puts together that Tom must be going after whoever is responsible for Dr. Nik’s death. Which is certainly part of the story…
The other part is that Garvey and his cronies have now arrived at the farmhouse, ready to kill Tom and Red and take back the most important bones in the world. Dembe wedges himself down into the car he was working on in the garage, and Tom and Red hide in the attic until the time is right. Which is, of course, to say, until the time that one of Tom’s many bleeding wounds drips through the vents, alerting the men that their prey are upstairs, leading to a shootout. Dembe runs over the dude outside, Red shoots everyone in their path out to the car, and Tom whips up a couple of Molotov cocktails to throw in their vehicles on the way out. Not bad for a team that claims not to trust each other.
In that vein, once in relative safety, driving away from the farmhouse, Tom asks if maybe they should “put a stake” in their clichéd father-in-law versus son-in-law battle. But Red isn’t playing games with this whippersnapper. He takes it a step further and bares his soul, telling Tom that he was deep in the Andes when he learned of Tom and Liz’s (first) engagement. He came back to the States in a rage, showed up at their wedding, and…saw how happy Liz was; how happy Tom made her. “I’m a violent man — a terrible, powerful, violent man,” Red tells Tom. “But the way she looked at you, the way she loves you…I’m powerless against that.”
Presumably, Red actively keeps himself from killing Tom because he knows Liz would never forgive him, and that’s something his love for her would not allow for. I wonder what she’ll thing of Red’s involvement in the suitcase that’s about to get Tom killed…
The suitcase that Red just opened up when Tom went inside a gas station to get cleaned up, only to discover it was full o’ guns, rather than bones. That’s right, Tom has transitioned to a much sportier bag-o-bones, escaping to Union Station with the former contents of Red’s suitcase now in a duffle bag. By this point, Liz has made her way to Garvey’s hideout with the human-stew-covered tarp, and is absolutely losing her mind thinking Tom is an ingredient in that stew, so rather than calling her immediately upon his escape, Tom tucks away in a well-lit nook for some light reading. He opens the hilariously labeled “DNA RESULTS” folder he swiped and cycles through every emoji on the “smileys” tab. (Recap continues on page 3)
Finally, knowing whatever it is he knows, Tom calls Liz and tells her she has to get Rosa to take Agnes away from the apartment and meet him there right now. She can’t tell anyone that he’s contacted her; he just has to speak with her right away. So Liz sneaks away from Ressler, which Red soon learns from Aram, and with a little digging, they see that her last call was from a phone in Union Station. So as Tom goes to leave, he hears, “Tom Keen, please pick up a red courtesy phone.” There, Red does him the courtesy of telling him one more time that telling Lizzie is “a horrible mistake.” Tom tells him that he has to because he knows the truth — “and now Liz will too.”
Lizzie rushes into their apartment, where she finds Tom tied up and bloodied, with Garvey and his men waiting to do the same to her. She puts up a solid fight against six dudes with guns, but they get her subdued too. “I’d like to think I’m the kind of man who could politely ask you to stop,” Garvey tells Tom. “But I can tell that you’re the kind of guy who won’t stop.” So his solution is to stab Tom twice in the stomach. They’re not kill stabs; they’re manipulation stabs, to get Tom to call Reddington. When he won’t, he gets stabbed some more, and Lizzie gets punched in the face, sending her to the ground where she slams the back of her head.
Once Garvey knows he won’t get anything else from them, he leaves with what he came for — the bones — and tells his cronies to finish the Keens off and clean up. “Let’s have some fun,” once of the junior sociopaths says, and puts on a record. As these idiots literally dance around, preparing to kill and get rid of the bodies of Liz and Tom Keen, “Southern Cross” by Crosby, Stills & Nash plays.
Cause the truth you might be running from is so small/But it’s as big as the promise, the promise of a coming day
It plays for a long time as Liz struggles to make sense of what’s happening, lifting her head just enough for us to see that the back is matted with blood.
So I’m sailing for tomorrow, my dreams are a dying/And my love is an anchor tied to you, tied with a silver chain.
Long enough for Tom to gain enough strength to grab the stabbin’ knife Garvey left behind, and tackle a few cronies to the ground.
Think about how many times I have fallen. Spirits are using me, larger voices calling/What heaven brought you and me cannot be forgotten.
Long enough for us to see that Red and Dembe are barreling toward the Keens’ apartment: a car ride where Dembe asks Red why he can’t just be honest with Liz, after everything that’s happened, after all that’s been lost. “I don’t know,” Red replies honestly. “I don’t know.”
I have been around the world, looking for that woman-girl who knows love can endure/And you know it will, and you know it will.
Suddenly, we’re in the scene from the premiere, that scene that waffled between a premonition, a nightmare, and a flash-forward. Red and Dembe are rushing in the apartment, but they’re not there to kill Tom, as it originally seemed; they’re there to save them. They shoot the bad men; they pick Tom and Liz up in their arms; they rush them to the hospital. There are brain drills, there are anxious Post Office agents looking on, there are lots and lots and lots of heart monitors. And then there’s a clear and distinct flatline. Then there are defibrillator paddles on Tom’s chest.
Did I mention this is all to the tune of Disturbed’s soaring cover of “The Sound of Silence”? It’s…a lot. There were tears in my living room, from me, and from my roommate who has never watched this show.
And then…everything is calm — quiet except for the sound of Red’s voice reading “Invictus” to Liz in a lovely sunlit room where she lies unconscious with a life support tube in her mouth: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” Liz wakes up and brushes Red’s shoulder; he can’t believe it. With pen and paper she asks, “How long?” It’s been nearly a year, Red tells her. Ten months, Liz has been unconscious. And as we see a flashback of Cooper watching Tom’s body go into a morgue locker, we know it’s also been 10 months since Tom Keen died.
A Few Loose Ends:
- Head here for Ryan Eggold’s thoughts on the hour, and here for executive producers Jon Bokenkamp and John Eisendrath.
- Even if I can’t fully believe it, the death of Tom is a heartbreaker. He was a dynamic character with a lot to offer these story lines. Hopefully his loss will only serve to push the series toward new innovation in the saga of Raymond Reddington and Liz (sob) Keen.
- There are simply too many loose ends, to many great quotes, lyrics, emotionally charged handholds, and tears for Agnes in this episode to count, so I’ll ask that you offer up your top moments and questions in the comments.
- For now until January: What do we know about the contents of this suitcase? We know that just about anyone could connect them to Raymond Reddington. We know that Mr. Kaplan thought Liz’s knowledge of the bones would turn her away from Red; that Red seems to think the same, and therefore thinks she shouldn’t be made aware of them. And we know that Tom learned of their identity — and died for it.