The Blacklist recap: 'The Kingmaker'
The puzzle of the photograph in the lockbox has been solved. (Quite promptly too. Thank you, Blacklist.) Kudos to those of you who guessed the photos from the lockbox were of Reddington suffocating Liz’s father, Sam. Close enough. Tom’s photos were of Red walking into the hospital the day of her father’s death. Liz spent the episode slowly piecing together the truth about her father’s final moments, leading to an emotional conclusion in which she confronted Red. Upshot: her desolate loneliness after swearing off Reddington pushed her into the well-muscled arms of Agent Ressler. (Kind of. We didn’t see that part, but I imagined it.)
While there was some solid action, this episode felt like filler, merely prepping us for the next two shows as we conclude season one. Part of that prep was introducing the various spy organizations in play. Let’s review. There’s 1) Red Reddington, working for himself and marching to the beat of his own drum; 2) Liz’s FBI black-op, a.k.a. The Post Office, run by Agent Cooper (and whoever Scary Gary represents). The PO “works” for the U.S. government on the occasion that it manages to successfully carry on an operation. Then there’s 3) Berlin, the insidious force that is plaguing Red and dismantling his empire. Berlin is not a place but someone’s name, according to the promo for next week. That someone employs Tom and formerly employed Jolene and Craig (RIP). Lastly, there is 4) Alan Alda’s ominous Alliance, the group that maneuvered Red’s kidnapping by Anslo Garrick earlier in the season. Alda is some sort of high-ranking government official, but he’s loyal to his own international crew of movers-and-shakers rather than the U.S. government (RIP Director Fowler). Side note: where does the Apple Man fit in? Was he working for the Alliance? I’m tempted to say he was, but I can’t remember for certain.
This week’s Blacklister is The Kingmaker, who is essentially an extreme political campaign strategist. He plays a deep game, plotting for years to put his clients in power with elaborate and deadly schemes. The cold open starts in Prague, where a politician named Emil Dusek is getting into the back of a car while his chauffeur mean mugs him in the rearview. The driver sniffs a lot (which we’ll come to realize is an annoying habit) and sports a golf cap, bad sunglasses and sinister facial hair. Could this be a disguise? Dusek works for Red; we know this because we hear him say into his cell phone, “Tell Mr. Reddington everything is proceeding as planned.” The driver then cranks up the heat until the passenger is wilting and prompts Dusek to drink a bottle of water, which turns out to be roofied. As happens with roofies sometimes, Dusek wakes up naked next to a male escort who’s been strangled to death. The Czech police burst in and arrest him for murder. Cut to the smug chauffeur, who is now dressed like a sinister banker, taking a drag off his cigarette in the airport and listening to a news broadcast announcing Dusek’s withdrawal from the Czech parliament.
NEXT: What does Dusek’s fall mean for Red?
Red is visiting a friend’s villa. As he paces the indoor pool, he shouts, “Nico, my friend, you’re practically wasting away! Is it all the swimming?” Nico proudly reports that he also cut out carbs. Red, who never misses an opportunity for a personal anecdote, throws out that he was a lifeguard in high school. He quit after he had to give CPR to Mrs. Beerman, who belched corned beef and chlorine into his mouth. Delicious. “I haven’t been in a pool since,” he declares. “I’m sorry, weren’t you in the Navy?” Nico asks. Red swiftly changes the subject. (Interesting tidbit. Do you think Red was lying about the pool or the Navy? God, I hope he was lying about the corned beef.)
The two have a poolside powwow to discuss The Kingmaker. Red knows he was behind Dusek’s frame-job, but he doesn’t know who hired him. Nico is skeptical of Red’s ability to handle this problem: “It’s the same mysterious enemy who has been plaguing you for months. Someone has devoted a great deal of time and energy to depreciating your business. Your friends are starting to talk.” Red bristles at the accusation: “I don’t have any friends.” But Nico leaves him with a warning that his contacts won’t remain loyal forever.
Next, we see Liz in her dining room, where she has Miss Havisham-ed the place by leaving it exactly as it was when her husband fled. Splintered furniture litters the ground; even the oranges are still strewn across the table from when Tom smashed Liz into the counter. Over the last few episodes, Agent Keen has devolved from fairly crazy to completely out-to-lunch mad. She’s flipping through the photos from Tom’s lockbox, which show Reddington walking into the hospital where her father died. She shows the pictures to Agent Ressler, bringing him into her confidence for the first time in a while. I like where that’s going… Ressler levelheadedly points out the photos could be faked. Keen doesn’t really buy that, but she asks Aram to look into it anyway.
Meanwhile, Red’s flashed the Bat Signal, and Keen’s off to meet him. She walks in as a man named Jamie walks out. “Regardless of whether we do business, I’m keeping all the samples,” Red is saying to him. Turns out Jamie’s business is farming marijuana and Red is helping him secure funding. (And I thought Red couldn’t get any cooler.) Best scene of the episode: Dembe sitting at the kitchen table sucking down a pint of weed ice cream in front of a sampling of bud. Keen isn’t even fazed. Reddington gives Lizzie the rundown on The Kingmaker and it’s pretty dire. But she’s getting better at playing his game, and barters the FBI’s help for information on Tom. What does she plan to do if/when she gets ahold of him? Torture obviously didn’t work. And she’s clearly reluctant to turn him over to the FBI, or she would’ve enlisted their help already.
The Kingmaker is in America now, and he’s orchestrating a faked hit-and-run accident with a young congressman named Patrick. The Feds are on it. They track his passport to a hotel in Midtown New York, but when Ressler and Keen burst into the room, it’s occupied by a nice couple sharing a room service dinner. Dang it.
NEXT: Alan Alda returns!
As usual, Reddington is having better luck. Alan Alda is back as Alan Fitch! Alda and Spader play off each other brilliantly. Hopefully Alda’s character sticks around for a while. Things are tense between Red and his frenemy, so he covers all his persuasion bases — threatening, cajoling and entreating Fitch to help fight off the elusive nemesis who hired the Kingmaker. Red insists this a mutual enemy, and, more importantly, that his intel on the Alliance would find its way to the public were he to die. The two men glare coldly at each other across the table. An unspoken agreement is made: Fitch will take Red’s plea back to the Alliance.
We see the Congressman’s hit-and-run come to fruition. A head-on collision with a truck drives his car off a bridge, but he has his young daughter and wife in the car with him. The wife doesn’t make it. When the news breaks, Red can smell the rat and tells Keen this is the Kingmaker’s handiwork. So the Feds roundtable to discuss possibilities. Everyone is skeptical that this upstanding man would jeopardize his own wife and child in order to fake a car accident. Aram reads aloud a quote from a newspaper article: “My wife is my everything, my moral center. She makes me a better man.” That strikes a chord in Liz: “Sorry, husbands lie to their wives all the time. I have no problem believing this man is capable of just about anything.” Over-identify much? Her sharp reply doesn’t go unnoticed by Ressler, who always seems to register her emotional distress. (Soulmates??)
Aram has dug up videotapes from the hospital where Keen’s dad died. She can confirm that Red was in fact there. We know that he was because we were also there. Sure enough, the photos are corroborated by the video — but she sees him leaving at 4:30 p.m., while the doctors said that Liz’s father died at 5:30 p.m. Hmmm.
Ressler rallies Liz for a look at the scene of the Congressman’s car accident. But he doesn’t really want to look for tire treads — he wants to comfort Keen. “Are you and Tom having problems?” he asks her gently. After much self-editing, she finally admits “we had a fight, and he left.” Ressler intends his reply to be consoling, but knowing Tom it ends up foreboding: “It’s not over, you know that. He’ll be back.” Oh you sweet, strawberry blond jellybean of a man! I could eat you up.
The two agents remember their Federal duties and track down Congressman Patrick for questioning. Even though we already know he’s guilty, they can’t nail him right then, so the Feds follow up on a lead for the driver who crashed into Patrick. We see that guy before they do — and he’s talking to The Kingmaker. King’s not pleased because the driver went off-script and fled the scene in horror when he realized that the Congressman had his wife and child in the car. This ends with the poor driver’s suicide staged by TKM.
NEXT: Will the Alliance agree to help Red?
We see Fitch at the Alliance meeting (sounds like a gender equality group). He relays Reddington’s message to the group, which consists of about 12 members of various nationalities. They are unmoved to help Reddington; he’s a thorn in their side they’d like eliminated anyway. Fitch argues in favor of helping Red, and warns them about his contingency plan with the intel. Still, they agree to take their chances and hope Red is bluffing. (Mistake.)
The Post Office has tracked one of the Kingmaker’s phone calls to a random payphone, but Red knows this isn’t random — the phone happens to be outside a favorite speakeasy. (“Ahh! Smells like decadence and vice.” I’m going to start saying that whenever I walk into my bedroom.) Red whisks Liz inside, insisting she smoke a cigar and “wave it around like someone who wants to be here.” Smoking cigars at a boys club seems like the perfect opportunity to pounce on Red, so Liz asks about his visit to her father’s deathbed. He reveals nothing of use: they were friends, and he was there to say goodbye. The speakeasy’s proprietor drifts by, cutting the tension. He and Red reminisce over some “tiny woman” named Mei Li who “could do things on her head that you wouldn’t believe.” Liz’s face says, “Please don’t elaborate.” The proprietor mentions that The Kingmaker was complaining about the thermostat at the Brixton Hotel. How very careless of him.
When Keen and Ressler break into this hotel room, they finally strike gold. It’s full of high tech surveillance equipment, which is pointed at the house of a U.S. senator…a senator in Congressman Patrick’s district. Aha! The Kingmaker plans to off the senator and replace him with Patrick. As the Feds are making this connection, the murder is already underway. The senator and his wife are awoken by their house alarm. The senator loads the gun at his nightstand (think he’s a Republican?) and tells his wife to lock herself in the bathroom. As he checks the house, the Kingmaker is waiting for him — and, in a typical villain’s monologue, confirms everything about his plans. He shoots the old man, right as Ressler and Keen get to the property. They run inside when they hear the gunshot and split up to case the place. Keen gets jumped by King and he viciously chokes her out, nearly killing her, but Ressler puts a bullet in his head. (Sex-y Ress-ly.)
Later, in yet another mahogany paneled room, Fitch has to deliver Reddington the bad news: The Alliance will not help him. Red is livid. “I’m going to win this war. This enemy of mine will lose, even with you and your shortsighted brethren watching safely from a distant hill. Why? Because as bad as you think I am, as far as you think I’m willing to go to protect that which I hold most dear — you can’t fathom how deep that well of mine truly goes.” Tell him, Red! But Red also seems worried. He’s in boiling water, and his one hope is getting the Kingmaker to reveal his employer. That’s when Keen calls to report the Kingmaker is dead, and Red shatters his glass of bourbon in the fireplace. Not a good sign; Red never loses his cool like that.
NEXT: It somehow gets worse
It gets worse. Aram has done some more digging on Liz’s father’s passing, and he discovered that the man’s time of death actually matches the time that Reddington was in the room. The truth rears its ugly head. Liz storms into Reddington’s house, where he’s playing Gin Rummy with Dembe. Watching Liz’s faith in Red crumble is even more heart wrenching then watching her beg Tom to say he loved her. Spader is excellent. His face carries so many emotions: pain, pride, frustration, resignation. And Boone delivers her side with bottled fragility and wild-eyed anger. She accuses Red of killing Sam to prevent him from telling her something (which is true).
“I’ve been friends with Sam all of your and most of my life. Every part of his body was in pain,” Red responds. “He wanted to die. He wasn’t thinking clearly. If he were, he would never have chosen to tell you any of it. It wasn’t his choice to make.”
“I’m done. We’re done. This ends right now,” she says quietly. As she walks away, she looks over her shoulder one more time. “You’re a monster.”
I’m on Team Red, but I have to agree with Lizzie. He did just justify killing one of his oldest friends, and her father (biological or otherwise), in order to silence him. There’s no recourse from that. Liz has a right to swear off Red. My heart broke for her when she went back to her shattered home, and gently pulled off the wedding ring she’s still been wearing this whole time, clearly holding onto the hope that her life might be salvaged. If she was making choices for her own health and happiness, she’d move to Santa Barbara and buy a ranch, maybe pick up some police work on the side or run a popsicle stand. Get a real boyfriend, maybe have a real kid and make real friends and never look back at this weird fake life that she’s been living. SAVE YOURSELF, KEEN.
She takes the second best course of action: a late night knock on Ressler’s door. “I had nowhere else to go,” she says, gazing at him out of the corner of her eye. He just opens the door wider, so she can step inside. Keaton Henson croons, “Sweetheart, what have you done to us? I turned my back and you turned to dust. What have you done to our love?”
And fade to black. NO. NO. I want to see what happens!! They’d better show us next week, when we’ll also find out who Berlin is and how the Blacklist is “all connected.” See you then!
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.