The Blacklist recap: 'Madeline Pratt'
Excellent. The midseason opener gives us an Indiana Jones plotline of stolen artifacts and some juicy morsels of backstory on Lizzie and Reddington. Granted, both characters threw salt on the ground and said they were lying, but didn’t the tales ring true to you? I think it’s that old adage that the best lies are wrapped in truth. We can speculate on how much is true later. The lurking question at the root of this episode is: What happens now that Diane Fowler has been killed? Some wheels are starting to turn in the higher ranks of the agency and it’s looking like things could get ugly for our people at the Post Office. (I feel like there’s a “going postal” joke to be made here.)
We open on Istanbul. At the Turk Nazlan Bank, where a young Meryl Streep is mourning the loss of her husband by prying open his safety deposit box. (Are safety deposit boxes still a thing? Do you become more mysterious when you rent one or is that something that depends on how long you’ve had it, like interest on an investment? Ponder.) Well, young Meryl Streep gets a real evil smile when she sees the contents of the box, and then we get a real furrowed brow when the bank agent calls her “Mrs. Reddington.” Whaaaat? As she leaves the building, wrapping herself in a silk scarf, the bank’s alarm goes off and she disappears into the sea of street vendors.
Cut to Reddington getting acupuncture. It’s so nice to see a man get so much pleasure out of life’s little indulgences, you know? We could all take a cue from Red on this. In between administering deathblows to terrorists and spymasters, he can still find the time to decompress with a little Eastern medicine. But he is not pleased to find out that his box in Istanbul has been cleared out. Dembe delivers a note from Mrs. Red: “Windsor Lounge, 8pm, — M.”
We know Red well enough to know they’re not actually married, but obviously there’s a history here. The lounge exchange confirms this. It also confirms that young Meryl Streep is working out a personal vendetta against Red for the time he stood her up in Florence, which turns out to be a bigger deal than we first realize. The old woman scorned storyline. But that’s all we get for now, because we are forced to spend sometime with Tom and Liz.
Even though the procedural aspects of the show can be weak, that can be forgiven. The real thorn in my side is the saga of Tom and Liz’s marriage. The show has given us no reason to believe in their relationship. We don’t love Tom and Liz. Let’s hope they 86 Tom soon, which might happen next week! Thank God.
So we’re back to bitching about the baby. Or no baby. But there’s still a sad ultrasound picture of the maybe baby on the fridge, taunting everyone. Enough. She can’t even make it home for dinner. What makes them think they should have a child? But that’s not today’s problem. Today, we are granted a reprieve from the conversation because Tom gets hotheaded when Liz brushes off the news that their friends are having a child and he storms out. Please don’t come back, Tom.
Lizard let Tom stomp away and rushed over to meet the main man in her life, Red. He’s pacing around Jordan Belfort’s beautiful home. Some stockbroker who’s dodging the feds has left his house unattended, and Red knows the housekeeper (obviously). But Red is in a huff because he can’t stand the Vermeer in the living room! The woman in the painting is rather homely. It must be one of the earlier Vermeers, before he met Scarlett Johansson. “She’s breathtakingly unattractive, but she’s worth over 40 million dollars,” Red says. “I got up in the middle of the night for a snack and she absolutely ruined my appetite.” I would watch a whole show of James Spader complaining about his first world problems.
Now we finally get young Meryl Streep’s name, Madeline Pratt, “a thief and a woman of…singular talents.” Red tastes the word “singular” as he says it, practically licking his lips. Jeez. Pratt is the next name on The Blacklist and she has enlisted Red to help her with some Indiana Jones plot to steal an Egyptian relic. Then comes the exchange where Liz and Red have to size each other up for the day. Who is going to win the deflection game?
Liz: “Now you want something of hers and you expect the FBI to help you get it.”
Red: “It was the right decision. Not to have the baby.”
Liz: “What did she take from you?”
Red: “I’m sorry for your suffering.”
I’d say it’s a draw.
With no persuading Liz agrees to help Red with Madeline Pratt, so they head off to meet David Lee from The Good Wife. David Lee tells them that they are looking for “the effigy,” which holds inside of it a list of Soviet spies called the Kungur Six and finding the spies would be “the holy grail of US counter-intelligence.” I mean, Indiana Jones right?
At the Post Office, Cooper and Malik are abuzz over the disappearance of Diane Fowler. Malik is getting Cooper all riled about it and throws Reddington under the bus. I don’t understand her game. She turned Diane’s name over to Reddington, knowing full well that he was going to handle her like her handles all of his Blacklisters – with swift and deadly justice. So why is she acting all ruffled about it now? She seemed to agree that Diane was a traitor, so isn’t it best she’s been eliminated?
Cooper tries to threaten Red for information on Diane. If ever there was a definition of futility, it’s trying to get information out of Reddington. Red does his “I’m so bored by what you’re saying I’ll just have my own conversation” thing, cutting Cooper off mid-diatribe: “who decided on this wood paneling?”
Cooper: “If I find out you had anything to do with the disappearance of Diane Fowler, you’ll spend the rest of your life in a box.”
Red: “You smell nice. Something new?”
Cooper: “Did you hear me?”
Red: “Madeline Pratt.”
Poor Coop. No one is scared of him. The pretty ginger used to be the sad one, but now it’s Coop. He gets bossed around by Red and later by Special Agent Scary Gary, who pulls major rank on the Fowler investigation. He should just go back to being Boyd and handle the Dollhouse. He was much better at that.
Madeline Pratt turns out to be a jewel thief parading as a socialite. She likes to steal pretty things and sometimes things that affect national security – this effigy hits both of those marks. Currently the gold statue is being held at a secure wing of the Syrian Embassy and Ms. Pratt doesn’t want to do the job personally, so she’s asked Reddington to do it. (Insert skeptical side-eye here.) Red thinks Pratt has a Russian buyer for the effigy, since the Russians want to protect the identity of the Kungur Six. Coop does his duty and says “hell no,” but changes his mind 15 seconds later when Reddington throws Agent Keen’s name out there, calling her an “ace of spades” at thieving. Ressler, who is always so quick to assume Keen is guilty, demands to know if she has a criminal record. “So you don’t have a criminal record because you’ve never committed a crime or because you were never caught?” He asks and she replies, “Yes.” Instead of going, “that wasn’t an answer,” Cooper is like, “Great, let’s get this heist rolling.”
Liz goes in for the jewel thief interview with Madeline Pratt, and she passes with flying colors because it turns out she is a thief! Red prompts Liz to tell Maddie about Frank. Liz quickly picks up the line and says Frank was a guy she knew in high school with whom she’d grifted. Could be true, could be false. But then Red says, “Tell her about Omaha,” and Liz looks visibly shaken – Red definitely struck a chord. Liz tells a story about how she and her boyfriend were stealing from a mall shop when the security guard almost caught Frank. To save this boy who she thought meant everything to her (hmm sounds like another relationship we hate), 17-year-old Liz takes the security guard outside and “kisses him off.” To prove herself further, Liz palms Madeline’s phone. Finally, something really interesting about Lizzie! She was a petty crook as a little girl ad she can do hand magic. I like this side of her.
NEXT PAGE: Madeline and Liz get down to planning There’s a party at the Syrian Embassy to which Liz will be invited, and she’ll sneak into the vault there. Madeline has everything covered except for a security badge that Liz needs to get from some poor schmuck who wears his key card on his outer jacket lapel and gets his coffee at 4 p.m. every day. (Their security is airtight.) So Liz does a “brush past” and swipes the card. Aram sits in a van and duplicates the card, but they need a distraction to buy a little more time, so Ressler jumps out of the white van and runs directly into the Syrian, spilling coffee everywhere. Then, like this poor man is in a pinball machine, Liz does a second “brush past.” As if he wouldn’t notice that he’d been pawed in the chest three times in his walk to the coffee cart. In the meantime, Sticky Fingers Liz reveals she swiped Madeline’s SIM card when she palmed her phone, so they can search her phone records. Nice going.
As Lizzie is slipping into her undercover evening wear, Tom proposes that they spend the weekend in Orlando, since he has to go there for a conference. What do you think she says? Honey, you know I work 24 hours a day catching international crime bosses, so I won’t be able to make it? Honey, I’m deeply suspicious about your murky past, so no I don’t want to go to Florida where all freaky, unsolved crimes happen? Nope. She says yes.
The first sign of trouble starts when Reddington tells Liz that Madeline is dating a Russian Mafioso and the two of them will be at the party tonight. “Why would she hire us to steal the effigy when she’s obviously planning on stealing it herself?” Lizzie asks. There’s only one answer to that question, but they don’t bother dwelling on it. Full speed ahead.
Meanwhile back at the P.O., Cooper tells Malik he wants her to investigate the suspected murder of Diane Fowler. “Who did he talk to? I want to know everything.” Cooper says, not realizing that it’s Malik who talked to Reddington. Behind the curve again, Coop.
At the party, the heist begins with Red telling Lizzie: “You’re not a cop tonight. You’re a criminal. Just be yourself.” Subtle, Red. Real subtle. Lizzie tells Red she made up the Omaha story, but he doesn’t buy that and neither do we.
The heist unravels when Lizzie triggers the alarm on the safe. Clearly this was a set up by Madeline, who then fingers Red as the thief, and amidst the chaos she pinches the effigy from the safe room. But the best scene in the show is when Reddington pretends to be Lizzie’s gay friend in order to distract the gun-toting guard who’s got her tied to a chair. “Do you have any idea whose horn this tramp is blowing? It starts with Bashar and ends with Assad gassing you faster than a Sunni.”
The burglary was a bungle and Cooper is T.O’d, guys. Where is Red? Off dealing with Madeline in his own way. Well the Feds want to be doing something too, so they round up a man whose father stole the effigy from the British Museum years earlier. (Where was this amenable informant yesterday?) From their conversation with him, they realize that the Kundur Six isn’t a list of names, it’s a list of coordinates for nuclear weapons hidden across the United Sates by the Soviets. Whoa, upping the stakes.
NEXT PAGE: Red tells Madeline how he lost his family Cooper isn’t the only one with a bee in his bonnet over that embarrassing heist failure. Reddington doesn’t like to be played either. So he catches up with Madeline, hoping to strong arm some information out of her. Well, she starts to lose it on him, yammering about how he stood her up in Florence and how dare he? This woman is an international thief – would she really jeopardize a deal this big because Reddington slighted her once? Before we have time to be annoyed by this conversation, some Syrians whip out stun guns and kidnap both Red and Maddie.
Cut to them in cells, Reddington lying in a heap on the floor after being tortured for information. Sweating and bleeding, he begins to tell Madeline the long, sad story of how he came to lose his family. It was Christmas Eve and he was stranded on the side of the highway when he ran out of gas after doing some last-minute Christmas shopping. Forced to walk five miles home in the snow, he opened the door to his house to find blood everywhere. He works his jaw around as he thinks about it, like he’s chewing on glass to revisit these memories. Spader knocks these growled monologues out of the park.
“I can still feel her little fingers on my cheek,” he says thinking about his lost daughter. “That’s why I didn’t show up in Florence. That’s why I don’t show up a lot of places.” We watch Madeline’s face through a square grate in the cell wall as she hears this story. Tears stream down her cheek. When the Syrians come to grab Reddington again, she breaks down and says she’ll tell them what they want to know and writes the effigy’s location on a pad of paper. Reddington miraculously appears from the next room in a perfectly pressed suit, like he’d just stepped out for lunch. Gotcha b**ch. But I feel a little bad for Madeline. She obviously really loved him. When she asks if any of it were true, the story about his family, he doesn’t reply. What do you think? I think it was true, obviously only a small fragment of a much larger story, but still a true moment.
The FBI shows up at the site Madeline had written down, just as her boyfriend the Russian Mafioso is making the effigy pick-up. Gunfire ensues and they get the statue, but the figurine is filled only with sand, not coordinates. Hey, wait a minute…that tricky Reddington. He has the nuclear bombs list because he sweet-talked them out of Madeline before he spirited her out of the country. So he offers Cooper a trade, the nukes for the effigy. He wants the pretty gold statue for his mantle. It really ties the room together.
As STRFKR, “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second” plays, softly chanting “all my life/there you go/oh please stay/just this once/anyway,” Liz calls Tom and gets his voicemail. He’s left early for Orlando after announcing that some time apart is what they really need right now. Finally some sense-talking from Warby Parker, except that “time apart while in Orlando” is a recipe for disaster, sure enough Jolene is also at this Florida conference.
But there was a really sweet scene, when Agent Ressler sticks around the office to give Liz some emotional support after she tells him that Tom is probably going to leave her. When can this relationship happen??? Sexy Ressly is the best. What a turn-around from his early days as the annoying ginger who had to do everything by the books. To finish the montage, Liz works on her sleight-of-hand by hiding and revealing the ultrasound picture of the maybe baby. Deep thoughts.
We close with poor Coop getting paid a visit from Special Agent Walter Gary Martin, whose nickname on the force is definitely “Scary Gary.” Scary Gary tells Coop that he needs to stop looking into Diane Fowler. He drops some pretty heavy bureaucratic spy jargon on him. “I’ve been cleared level four. I’m going to need all your case files. The D.C. Field Office is running point. It’s protocol.” Yowza. Well, if it’s protocol then I’d better do it.
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.