The Blacklist recap: Bring Me His Head in a Box
Two words: killing, spree. Everyone is on one in this episode. What a body count! Three federal agents, two spies, one Yakuza druglord, and one possibly pregnant ex-fiancee. Ressler is now widowed and on Team Red. Liz is still on Team Tom, but what was once an annoying farce of a marriage is now a skin-crawling sham. Midnight Cowboy has been axed and so has Jolene. Cripes! And this is only episode 16 — I can’t imagine what they’ll have left to do in the season finale.
We start off in Tokyo with a lovely scene of a father tucking his two kids into their bunk beds while his wife reads to them. We know he’s an FBI agent because he is conveniently wearing his FBI windbreaker in his home. But the family time gets interrupted by a newly escaped convict with a daisho set of samurai swords. The convict turns out to be Mako Tanida, a Yakuza mob boss who runs heroin up and down the Silk Road. Tanida takes Dad outside and tells him he can die one of two ways: commit hari-kari (disembowel himself) or get run through by Tanida and have his family murdered too. Dad takes the honorable route and carves his own stomach out. So that’s how we begin, and it’s all downhill from here.
Tanida reveals that his arrest was collateral damage from the FBI’s investigation of Red Reddington, which Agent Ressler was working on with the disemboweled agent and two other Feds we meet at the funeral. One down, three to go on Tanida’s killing spree. [Body Count: 1]
Meanwhile, Reddington is at the ballet. He just reeks of culture and class, doesn’t he? He looks so at home standing in that opulent old theater, gazing down on the ballerinas. “What do they do for lunch?” he wonders aloud. “Do they order in? Do they eat salad out of those Tupperware bowls?” (The mind of Red Reddington, folks.) “They smoke cigarettes,” the head ballerina replies curtly. Red laughs a rich, throaty laugh like he derives real pleasure from these little moments.
Dembe breaks into Red’s little tête-à-tête with the prima ballerina to inform him that he’s set up a meeting with Agent Ressler. And so begins the blooming friendship between Reddington and Ressler, or Donald as Red likes to say. “Dahn-ald,” Red drawls like he’s saying “darling” in a patronizing tone. Ressler — whose instincts generally fail him — accuses Reddington of having a hand in the murder of the FBI agent in Tokyo, as payback for his capture in Vienna. “I’m the one who reached out to you, Dahnald, and it wasn’t to revisit all the times I eluded your little coterie of door-kickers who pursued me with such fervored zeal,” Red snaps. For a second time, Red looks out for Ressler. (Remember he dug shrapnel out of Ressler’s leg in order to save his life in “Anslo Garrick!”) He clues our little red head into Mako Tanida and warns him that the Yakuza boss will be hunting all the agents involved in his incarceration. In response, Ressler lets slips this portentous line: “Let me guess, he double-crossed you and now you want his head in a box?” That will come back to haunt you.
NEXT PAGE: But tell me who Tom Keen is!
We quickly see the next federal agent get bumped off a bridge. [Body count: 2] And Ressler panics, worried about his girlfriend, which is sweet – except that Tanida has conspicuously not killed any of the spouses. But Ressler is blind in love, so he valiantly goes to get his girlfriend Audrey to safety, drawing her right into the crossfire. Tanida crashes his car in to Ressler’s fleeing suburban, knocking his girl friend’s head into the window and splashing blood everywhere. In a very sexy rage, Ressler jumps out of the mangled car and runs at Tanida. They wrestle for control of Tanida’s gun, and in the chaos Tanida shoots Audrey (who has gotten out of the car in a foolish move that I will blame on her concussion) over Ressler’s shoulder. The poor woman dies in Ressler’s arms. Heartbreaking for Donald Ressler, who only got her back a couple months ago when he was in the hospital with his own gunshot wound. [Body count: 3]
In Liz’s life, Tom walks into the kitchen to find his wife getting chummy with Jolene, who is laying it on thick with the girl-next-door charm. Lizzie — whose instincts usually fail her as well (how are these people federal agents?) — gives her cell phone number to Jolene in case she needs help finding an apartment in the area. Tom is clearly seething. He takes Jolene to his artfully rustic warehouse spy lounge. He keeps a nice car in there and a lot of cameras and too many lamps and an art installation of chairs nailed to the wall and the requisite corkboard of photographs yarned together with newspaper clippings that show he is tracking the connection between Liz and Reddington. He says that as far as he can tell, their paths have crossed at “key points in the past 20 years: Quantico, Baltimore. I believe Reddington was funneling money through the adoptive father for years.” All things we know already. And he’s made a drawing of the black site where Liz works.
He acknowledges to Jolene that he was once sitting right next to Reddington. “I could’ve put a bullet in his head.” But “that wasn’t your mission,” she replies, elaborating that “Berlin is getting worried.” Ok, so far we know he’s not contracted to kill Red or Liz, just gather information. He also admits that he had to go dark after Liz found his box of passports and cries about the surveillance team that moved in across the street, wondering who was responsible for that. We knew that wasn’t Red because those crazies tried to kill Liz and Red would never do that. And if they weren’t working for Tom, then who the hell is responsible for that? Maybe his agency overstepped him? Tom did say that he hasn’t been contacted in two years. Or else it’s yet another crew that wants to get to Red through Lizzie.
NEXT PAGE: Back to Ressler on a rampage…
After the brutal death of his girlfriend, Ressler is now off the rails. He calls Red for information. And Red is surprisingly forthcoming, seeing himself reflected in Ressler’s pain. “Donald, I understand how you feel. Beneath the iron and rust exterior beats a heart filled with immeasurable grief,” says Red, describing them both. I really like Ressler and I want to love him. But as an actor, he just can’t call up the depth emotion necessary to make his lines believable in this Outlaw Josey Wales, you-killed-my-family-now-I’m-out-for-blood context. Red warns him, “Once you cross over, there are things in the dark that can keep your heart from ever feeling the light again.” And Ressler replies stiffly, “All I feel is hate.” Sure, okay. But then we get a brilliant clip of Red mashing snow into a snowball and throwing it at the sky. He’s such a gleeful kid sometimes!
But seriously guys, Ressler is on a rampage. He teams up with Bobby, his ex-partner and best friend who is the other agent on Tanida’s list. They saddle up and head into an underground hospital to get some answers on the whereabouts of Tanida. I will say that Ressler is at his finest when he’s roughing people up and the music is (as usual) perfectly chosen for the moment. In this case, Jamie N Commons & X Ambassadors, “Jungle.” As they’re singing, “Won’t you follow me into the jungle?” Ressler is shooting people in the knee caps like he ain’t got time to wait around and break you. (Wasn’t this totally that moment in Gangster Squad when Ryan Gosling finally picks up the shotgun and just blows that mobster away in the street? The guy sneers, “You can’t kill me, you’re a cop.” And he’s like “not anymore.” Pow. That’s totally what Ressler is going through.) I love when he slams his gun onto another gun on the table, then palms both of them as they head out the door to track Tanida. Sexy. Ressly.
Carrying the momentum of that scene, we move to Midnight Cowboy, who’s been ordered by Reddington to capture Jolene. So he sneaks up on her and Tom sneaks up on him. Then things get very…hard to believe. Not only is Midnight Cowboy quite bigger than Tom and scarier than Tom and definitely more a killer than Tom, he’s also been hired by Red and Red doesn’t hire amateurs. Only an amateur would be this easily bested by Warby Parker. Tom is creepy. He’s eerie. And I get how he could be good at undercover work. But Midnight Cowboy would easily pancake Tom, so I just really had a hard time going along with this scenario. Yet somehow, by the end of this scene, Tom ends up putting a bullet in the cowboy’s head (sad to lose that character) and he suffocates Jolene with the sheet that covers his car (rude) after convincing her to call Liz and say she’s moving back to Ohio. Seems really unlikely that a woman this clever would be this supremely stupid… [Body Count: 5]
NEXT PAGE: Just what I’ve always wanted, a head in a box!
In other killing spree news, Ressler and Bobby apprehend Mako Tanida. As they’re driving, Tanida pipes up from the backseat that someone has been sitting in his throne, wearing his mantle of drug kingpin. Who could that be? What the what — it’s Bobby! Ressler is sitting next to the man who is indirectly responsible for his girlfriend dying! For a second time today, Ressler gets into a car crash in a suburban. Bobby limps off through the snow, away from the wreckage, and Ressler chases after him. In the heat of his anger, he’s ready to finish Bobby off. Ressler is firmly on Team Red now: “It’s because of Reddington that Audrey came back into my life. It’s because of you that she’s gone. My greatest enemy brought her back to me and my best friend took her away,” he yells.
But before he loses it completely, Liz shows up with the rest of the Feds who are here to save Ressler from himself, which they do. Bobby falls on his sword for the second death-by-evisceration of the evening. [Body Count: 6] I wish that Liz had given Ressler a hug (amendment: I wish that I had given Ressler a hug,) but instead Ressler goes home alone… where he discovers the heartbreaking news that Audrey was probably pregnant, since he finds a test in a pile of her laundry at his apartment. Oh you sweet, sad, wounded man.
We see Reddington (another sweet, sad, wounded man) at the ballet performance of Swan Lake and we hear one of the dancers say he is their biggest donor and that his daughter once danced in this show when she was a child. And the last shot of the episode is of his program, which is dated March 22, 1987 and a little girl is onstage dancing alone…
Now for the final moment between Liz and Tom — the world’s most deluded and disturbing couple since Lady and Lord Macbeth. Tom is in the shower, and we see the red-tinged water pooling at his feet as he scrubs off the blood and dirt that are sticking to his hands after a long night burying corpses in the icy ground of a nearby forest. And then Liz jumps in with him, naked. So now they’re both naked, in the shower, standing in the bloody water. Vomit. But to make it worse, the camera pans to Liz’s back, which now has blood residue smeared on it from Tom’s filthy hands. Out, damned spot. Out, I say!
Red too has decided that he’ll be friends with Ressler. He feels like they have a kinship over their loss of a loved one(s) to brutal, senseless murder. He has a box delivered to Ressler with a sympathy bauble, just something small. And with it a note: “There is nothing that can take the pain away, but eventually you’ll find a way to live with it…. Everyday, when you wake up it will be the first thing you think about. Until one day, it will be the second thing.” Red holds to the old custom of welcoming new friends with the severed head of their enemies. In this twisted underworld of spies and terrorists, I would certainly like to be BFF’s with the guy who puts people’s heads in polished wooden boxes. [Body Count: 7]
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.