The Blacklist recap: Who is Berlin?
Who is Berlin and why is Reddington so afraid of him? We're about to find out because he's just landed stateside.
Tell me who Berlin is NOW, Bokenkamp. I can’t afford to wait until Monday!
Just to terrorize us, The Blacklist only asked questions this week — but we can expect some juicy answers in the season finale. Bokenkamp brought in the big guns to set up the first season’s big showdown. It was no coincidence that poor (dead) flunkie had a black widow neck tattoo, because Berlin is the poisonous spider at the center of The Blacklist. Every name on Reddington’s hit list, every criminal the FBI has tracked, every creep spying on Liz Keen is a strand of silk that leads back to Berlin. He’s the key to all the secrets. Who is he? What has Reddington done to incur his wrath? How does Liz factor into this? Is Tom maybe Berlin? Is Dembe the coolest man alive? We don’t have the answers to any of these questions — except the last one, which is a firm “yes.” But let’s get to the recap, so we can begin the speculations about Berlin’s identity.
The plot of Berlin, Part 1 was Contagion meets U.S. Marshals, which made for a good combo. The cold open shows an armored car’s driver coughing up blood as he heads into a bank to make a pickup. He briefly glances down at syringe full of liquid — but instead of injecting himself with it, he calls 911 and leaves a goodbye message for his wife, clearly preparing to die. We get some more shots of him bleeding out of his ears and choking on blood before he keels over, lifeless, onto the floor of the bank. The bank security guard has the foresight to call the CDC. (Clearly he’d read the CDC’s pamphlet on preparing for the zombie pandemic. Alert the authorities to a possible outbreak? Check.) The CDC does not have the foresight to break the news slowly to the aggravated crowd of bank patrons. “Stay where you are. We have reason to believe that he might be contagious,” CDC Rep announces. Panic ensues. The whole crowd tries to rush the door, but security pulls a sidearm and enforces the quarantine with his gun. Boom! Do as I say.
Cut to Agents Keen and Ressler surveying the wreckage of Liz’s living room, which still has not been touched since Tom left. Liz has finally filled in her bestie on the whole Tom Keen Secret Spy saga, and he vows to help her get justice. I have to say Keen’s attempt at bravado left a lot to be desired. I was not feeling much weight behind her “I’m going to take him apart piece by piece until he tells me everything” line. You had him stapled to a chair once already, and he definitely won that round of spousal interrogation. Ah, but what the hell? Torture is a practiced art. The Blue-Eye Boy Scout gives her this earnest advice: “The only way out of this is right through it.”
Cue the music. Liz is being questioned by the Feds, now that she’s turned over all her information on “the man who calls himself Tom Keen.” One agent makes the mistake of calling Tom her husband, and Liz serves up a steaming cup of “bitch, please.” She spills on Tom, but covers things we already know. Tom revealed himself to Liz in order to gain access to the Black Site via his interrogation. Tom has three accomplices: Jolene Parker/Lucy Brooks, Craig Keen/Christopher Malley, and Gina Zanetakos. Remember her? She was the corporate assassin who maybe had a love affair with Tom. (At the time, Liz was highly offended. That rat fink may be a spy killer, but he’s my spy killer!) Well, that crafty wench Gina Z. has escaped from federal prison. The investigator puts his foot in his mouth a second time when he asks Liz if she wanted to help Tom escape. “That’s really a stupid question,” she says coldly. If looks could kill…
As the Feds are collecting evidence from her house, she snatches her singed bunny rabbit from one of the boxes. That’s the stuffed rabbit that she was holding on the night Little Liz was saved (by Reddington?) from her house fire, the fire that supposedly gave her the scar we see replicated on Tom’s things — so that clue is still in play.
NEXT: Bond, Tom Bond
Meanwhile, Tom Keen is in full Bond mode. He’s kidnapped one of Reddington’s tails, a man with a spider tattoo that becomes a grisly memento later. He throws the tail into a room, where he proceeds to beat the crap out of him, then scare the crap out of him, only to reveal that he had no use for this man other than as means to send Red a message. Tom obviously speaks Red’s language; Red is a big fan of gifting dead human flesh as a token of his appreciation. It really shows you went the extra mile to get something personal, you know? Tom’s torture scene is epic. Ryan Eggold really sells the coiled-violence-lives-inside-me-just-waiting-to-burst-out routine. “You don’t choose Berlin,” he tells the doomed man. “Berlin chooses you.” That second line was so conflicted with pain, anger, hate. Nicely done.
When Red gets the news that the tail is out of play, he is miffed. He’s double miffed because he’s also in the middle of decoding Tom’s “calculus book” from “The Pavlovich Brothers,” and it’s not good news.
Keen is resigning from the FBI. While I can’t blame her, watching her try to get out of the biz is incredibly annoying in the heat of current events. Things are nowhere near resolved, Liz, and now you’re bailing at the worst possible moment? Luckily, it takes very little convincing at all to get her to change her mind. (People will die? Oh, okay. Fine.) And she agrees to help with this final case of the contagion outbreak at the bank.
The culprit appears to be the Cullen virus, not to be confused with the disease you get from watching the later Twilight movies. It’s one of the most deadly diseases on the planet, so lethal that most countries have forbidden research on it. Red thinks that the dead man was “a foot soldier in a biological army,” and the death was an attempt at striking out against Reddington. The FBI seems baffled by this (when don’t they seem baffled?), but they go along with it. A rep from the CDC confirms that the disease must have been injected directly into the victim and designed specifically to attack only the host — so it’s not the pandemic that it could be. They need to find out who is tampering with this strain of virus and, surprise, surprise, Red knows a guy.
Red’s guy looks exactly as a mad scientist should — and it turns out he’s also living in an insane asylum. Liz agrees to meet the scientist with Red, and while they’re all on his jet, Red tries to talk some sense into her. “If you give up on this, everyone’s lives will go back to normal — except yours,” he warns her. But she doesn’t listen. He offers her an olive branch, a copy of the decoded info from Tom’s calculus book. “There’s surprisingly little about me and my organization,” he says. “But it contains speculation about our cases and a great deal about you.” She’s still sulking and makes Dembe trade seats with her. Hahaha. Very petty, Keen.
We see another man get infected with the Cullen virus, and with it he gets a video of a man informing him that he will get an antidote injection every 24 hours if he follows orders. That’s how that works.
NEXT: A much needed trip to the mental hospital
When Liz and Red arrive at the Funny Farm to pay a visit to Dr. Sanders, a former researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Red reminisces over this amazing scenario from only a few years earlier: “We spent a glorious weekend in God’s country with two snow bunnies who were dead ringers for the Swiss Miss twins.” Delightful, especially considering the cadaverous appearance of Dr. Sanders — who could not have look much younger a mere two years ago, unless he contracted a rapid onset meth habit. Keen is also feeling rather irked by this comedy sketch. When Dr. Crazy starts talking about spacemen, she heads for the exit. As Red turns to follow her out, the doctor hands him some research. Keen has another meltdown in the hallway, accusing Red of luring her on this futile field trip just so he could plead his innocence. You’re killin’ me, Keen. Red admits that he does not know who Berlin is and he seems truly worried. But Keen is too busy kvetching to notice.
The Return of Scary Gary! Back at the Post Office, that bureaucratic henchman is chewing out Agent Cooper. Gary tells Cooper that with Keen’s resignation in the works, Reddington will no longer have immunity. Gary’s people will throw Red into a hole and never take him out — no trial, no reconsideration, just gone. (Gary is working for some higher power other than the FBI, likely The Alliance, which we already know is embedded in the U.S. government.) Scary Gary also takes aim at Liz Keen, FBI Agent Extraordinaire: “I’ve gone on record with the director that we’ve been too indulgent with her. We’ve never fully surmised her relationship with Reddington and now her husband is a fugitive.” That’s fair. Then he lays it at Cooper’s feet and says he’ll get the axe too once this is over. Rude, Gary! The Feds really try their darndest, but things just don’t always go as planned. Because this is really a high school rather than a federal intelligence agency, Malik and Ressler are heartbroken that Keen would leave them. “Is it true that you’re leaving?” Malik says forlornly. “Don’t be sorry, Liz. We’ll support you no matter what you do,” Ressler encourages. Aww, thanks, guys!
Turns out we need the crazy doctor. (When will Keen learn to simply trust Red on his people, even if she doesn’t trust his motives? Crimony.) He has the formula for the pathogen, which means he must be working with the man infecting people. When Liz tells Red they need to make a second trip, he’s reading the paper in the park, as if he was just counting down the minutes to when she’d come crawling back. Red pulls out a ziplock baggie with some pulpy red stuff in it and tosses it to Keen. It turns out to be Tom’s message, the spider-tattooed neck skin from Red’s tail — which roughly translates to “Don’t f— with me.”
Liz feels powerless, and unfortunately, she takes it out on the poor mental patient. She gives the befuddled old man the third degree; all he knows is that the contact is called UD4126. Then Liz has a revelation when she sees the nurse’s badge, which has an identification number that could match UD4126. The handle matches a CDC agent named Nicholas Vogel. The FBI raids his house, find the virus and takes him into custody. Proceed with the questioning! This episode has a lot of questioning. Luckily, Liz gets better at it with practice.
NEXT: Lessons on blackmail
First, all Vogel says is that “he is coming.” Then, feeling more confident, Vogel gets smart-mouthy. “I’m the only one with the antidote. I’m the only one that has what they need. They’re going to carry out my plans or die trying. That’s how blackmail works, sweetheart,” Vogel says.
“I gotta hand it to you,” replies Keen. “It’s a pretty sharp play infecting people with a virus only you have the antidote to. It’s such a smart plan that I borrowed it.” She slaps the antidote syringe on the table, as Vogel’s nose starts to bleed. “You’re gonna give me those five names because that’s how blackmail works, sweetheart.” Mic drop. Liz Keen, comin’ in hot.
The five names are the people that Vogel has infected as part of Berlin’s scheme. For the first time in a long time, Keen gets out her files on the Blacklisters and does some real detective work. She connects the strands of webbing that all lead back to Berlin. Then Liz takes her theory to the Feds, who realize that Reddington is using them as a tool to ferret out his nemesis. Each of the names from the Blacklist has helped Red get closer to the season’s big mystery: who is Berlin? Who is after Red, and why?
“The apocalypse is coming,” Keen says.
“Five names, five victims,” adds Malik.
“Five horseman,” Ressler says.
“That’s a great band name,” Aram chimes in. (Ryan Eggold, is this your band name?)
The infected all work at a nearby airport — the one Berlin is clearly flying to. What’s more Aram, somehow unlocks a video made by Vogel that details every plot point of Berlin’s landing plan. Handy. We see the plan in action, as we hear the video describe the moves. The big moment is seeing a prison transport plane carrying a hooded man who must be Berlin, since he’s directing the pilot. The pilot shoots a bunch of people and throws Berlin keys to his handcuffs — but at that moment, U.S. Navy fighter jets arrive. The pilot steers away from them and the keys slide away.
The Feds storm the airport. Yep, they storm it. They don’t lay in wait and cleverly try to trap Berlin once he lands; they just show up, suburbans blazing with sirens, and scare Berlin’s plane right off the runway. This spooks Berlin’s minions, who shoot all the disease-ridden folks who were merely pawns in the plan. Well done, guys.
Keen finally realizes that Reddington is not the bad guy, but was merely trying to protect himself. She tries to renege on her resignation, but Cooper says it’s too late. Scary Gary has already sent men to capture Reddington at the meeting place Liz lured him to. Jesus, Lizard, you screwed this up royally. Liz arrives, sees Red, sees the federal agents and attempts to reason with her mentor/father figure/guardian angel/relationship counselor. But Red wants to gloat. He wants to savor the moment when she has to apologize (again) for blaming him. He wants to hear her say that she cares about him and wants him back as her partner. Dembe warns the whole bloody lot of them to get in the damn car, since he can see the FBI’s trap closing in, but Red sends him away. As the Feds pull their guns on Red, Red pulls a gun on Lizzie, so that she won’t be implicated as his accomplice. And then time stops, so Red can meander down memory lane to a time that he was diving off the coast of some tropical island when he was stung by a lionfish and nursed back to health by a lovely sea gypsy. “When she kissed me it felt like a burst of sunlight on my cheek and it made nearly dying well worth it,” he says dreamily. “That’s how I feel right now.” (Heart melt.)
As Red gets down on his knees, hand behind his head, (flashback to the premiere!) Berlin’s plane, which has been shot down by the fighter jet, comes careening through the sky and crashes into the East River. “Now it begins,” Red says, right as the screen cuts to black.