The Blacklist recap: 'The Judge'
A war is coming on The Blacklist and it could not be more exciting. Shoo. Things are getting heated. People are starting to show their hands at this poker game. We’ve got Tom, who’s finally outed himself as a spy killer (working for whom, we know not!) There’s nasty Jolene, whose name was chosen by the music team purely for the opportunity to use that song (and they nailed it.) She’s perfectly cast as a shifty villain you can’t wait to see fall. Her sights are set on Red, but naturally he’s one step ahead of her. Agent Cooper throws down his cards and it turns out that he’s got some naughty hidden behind his nice Federal badge. Good times ahead.
This episode was all about justice and passing judgment. The take away? No one is qualified to dispense justice. Only God can do that. God and his avenging angel, Red.
Reddington is alerted to another name on his Blacklist when an Assistant U.S. Attorney is discovered bedraggled and wandering the back roads of Pennsylvania after being a missing person for 12 years. Even though the man could easily be Sam Beam of Iron & Wine after a particularly invigorating juice cleanse, Red thinks it’s more likely that the former attorney has been held captive by “The Judge,” a mythical figure who metes out punishment on behalf of the falsely accused. (I’m still leaning toward Iron & Wine doing a Woodie Guthrie tribute experience, but Red knows best.) So Red catches up with Lizzie to explain his theory. The Judge works through the prison lending library system (That literacy project is such a scam! No one is jail actually reads. It’s always a front for something…) Inmates write letters stating their case for innocence and fingering the corrupt cops, lawyers, and judges who wrongly accused them. They slip the notes into their dog-eared copy of To Kill A Mockingbird and it ends up in Monroe, Virginia at the headquarters of the sinister Prison Literacy Project.
While the Feds are busy corroborating Red’s theory with missing persons records, Red is having a Cadillac pow-wow with one of his informants, a cowboy that he hired to track Jolene/Lucy Brooks. Lance Reddick (Fringe, The Wire) owns this episode with his glowering Outlaw Josey Wales impression. “Don’t tell me how to do my job,” he barks after Red passes him the newspaper clipping with Lucy Brooks’ picture on it. “If I could find you on a sheep farm in Dingle, I can find this girl.” But Red already knows where she is – with Tom in steamy Orlando, the land of teacher conferences and sordid affairs. He wants to know where she’s been, what she’s up to. But before he wraps up this little tête-à-tête, he takes a moment to admire Reddick’s midnight black, cowboy hat: “I love hats. That one takes a certain kind of man.”
NEXT: What are Tom and Jolene up to in steamy Orlando?
What are Tom and Jolene up to? Why, they’ve gotten themselves caught up in a conversation about Lolita and the morality of extramarital affairs. Of course when you put a group of high school teachers together, they’ll say things like, “Mr. Whitney’s heart sent him right into an affair with Timmy Logan’s mom.” That line gives you the perfect opportunity to say this to your work crush: “I think that people have affairs because they are miserable in their marriages and I don’t think we should judge them.” She might as well have added a stage wink and an elbow jab after that. Sick. Seeing her giggle at Tom’s cream cheese mustache made me want to gag.
First stop for the Feds is the Prison Book Depository in Monroe. Liz and Ressler are here to track down their lead suspect, a man named Frank who was wrongly convicted of a crime and now works in the library. Shout out to costume design for throwing in that exquisite mother-of-pearl broach sweater-holder-closer thing. It absolutely screams elderly librarian and I want one! Frank jumps Ressler and gets away, but the trip isn’t a total bust because they find a file on the next prisoner who ordered The Judge’s special: fresh revenge. The prisoner is Alan Ray Rifkin and he’s set to be executed the next day, but the twist is that the investigating officer who put him away is Harold Cooper. Uh oh, that means Coop’s name is next on The Judge’s hit list.
Lizzie visits Rifkin on Death Row and finds him with his spiritual advisor, Ruth Kipling, played by Dianne Wiest (Hannah and Her Sisters, Edward Scissorhands). Things get a little salty when Rifkin pretty convincingly accuses Cooper of beating him into confessing to acts of terrorism. It can’t be! Coop would never.
Meanwhile, the two sketchy fools in Orlando are still flirting with this sort of scintillating banter: “What’s the story with guys and basketball? If the Wizards were playing I could stand in front of the TV naked and my fiancée would tell me to move.” After enough of this foreplay, they end up in the bathroom making out when they’re interrupted by a tiny child. Truly, how is Tom a teacher? I mean I know he’s faking it, but he is actually in charge of children. Scary. Tom apologizes for getting carried away, but Jolene slips her room key in his shirt like he’s a day-shift stripper anyway. Will he use it??
Once we catch up with Frank, he’s at a farmhouse with Ruth Kipling, that so-called spiritual adviser, but wait – she’s The Judge! Did you guys guess that? Kind of an obvious move. Dianne Wiest really serves up some True Believer fervor and, boy, is there anything scarier than that? She is convinced that exacting justice on behalf of the wrongly accused is her life’s work after her husband was taken from her in that very manner. She keeps the cops and lawyers in the horse stables, which really adds to the creep-factor.
Josey Wales is still on Jolene’s tail and he’s found her apartment stocked with international bank notes, fake passports, and a flash drive with photos of Red and Lizzie from all the places that Red has recently conducted business: Port au Prince, Havana, Miami. Red tells the cowboy to pull back though and let her complete her operation. He’s pretty sure he knows how it’s going to end. What? Tell us! We don’t know.
NEXT: Is Agent Cooper guilty? The Judge seems to think so.
Agent Keen meets with a witness who confesses that he doctored the entrance logs to Rifkin’s cell, so that Cooper could go in there and beat him into self-incrimination. When she confronts Coop about it, he threatens her career with his superior officer, Tom Conway, in the room as backup. My, oh my. Even though Keen doesn’t buckle under (Way to go, Liz!), she fails to get the execution stopped – so Rifkin gets a lethal injection. In return, Judge Ruthie nabs Conway and Coop and takes them back to her horse-barn-prison where she has MacGyvered a homespun electric chair. What the hell, it will be weeks before I go into a barn again.
There would appear to be no reasoning with Ruth. She seems like a woman of conviction. Luckily, we have a secret weapon – Red Reddington, the real Judge, Jury and Executioner. Once Liz has the FBI surround the farm, she send Red in to negotiate. “Of course,” he says. “A woman.” I hope he means, of course, justice is a blind lady… and he’s not making some “woman scorned” jab. Well, he goes on to present evidence exonerating Agent Cooper (kind of) because Rifkin was actually guilty, even though it did take Cooper beating him to get the confession. As everyone does when faced with one of Reddington’s monologues, Ruth caves. She surrenders. “Harold, don’t look so glum,” Red laughs as he waltzes past Coop gagged and tied to a wheelchair in a water bucket with a live wire draped precariously in the shadows. Classic Red.
Back at the Post Office, brushed off and suited up, Harold tries to deflect his embarrassment by accusing Red of setting this up to gain leverage. But Red silences him with this ominous news: “There’s a war coming… Things will get considerably worse before they get better.” He says that he’ll want Cooper’s help later and he wants him to reach out to Admiral Richard Abraham, his Navy friend who slipped him the classified evidence on Rifkin. Juicy. Where’s that connection going to go?
So the moment we’ve been building to: JOLENE. Dolly Parton’s classic comes on as a pensive Tom sits at the bar and slowly removes his wedding ring. Even though it sounds like a man singing, it’s actually Dolly’s original version slowed down to 33 rpms instead of 45 rpms. Mind blown. Another perfect call from The Blacklist music crew. As Dolly warbles, “Jolene I’m begging you/please don’t take my man,” Tom walks in slow-motion down the hotel hallway in ill-fitting jeans and a cardigan (painfully awkward teacher-wear), but Jolene herself is lying on the bed perfectly styled with “flaming locks of auburn hair/with ivory skin and eyes of emerald green.”
Tom enters and Jolene turns with a self-satisfied smirk, knowing the sad sap teacher couldn’t resist. She goes in for a gloating kiss, but Warby Parker pushes her away, saying he loves his wife. Jolene’s bristles and shoots back: “Wrong answer. She’s not your wife. She’s your target.” A shiver comes over Tom and he changes from lonely loser to calculating killer. “Did they send you?” He says angrily. “To what, test me? I told you that I was in love with her because that is exactly what I’m supposed to be. That is my job.” Warby Parker – you sicko! You really are a killer! And from the looks of the preview, he goes full Bourne Identity crazy.
It doesn’t get any better than this, kids. Who do you think he’s working for? And what are his motives? Who is Jolene working for? When is Sexy Ressly going to take off his shirt and fight bad guys during a rainstorm? We need more answers!
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.