The Blacklist recap: 'The Pavlovich Brothers'
This episode was so packed with juicy reveals and nail-biting twists that on any other show, it’d be a season finale. It’s only been a few weeks since Liz Keen found out that her whole marriage is a sham, and that her husband is a sleeper agent for some unknown organization so terrifying that people would rather jump out of a ten-story window than be made to talk about it. But instead of stringing us along, The Blacklist gives us exactly what we want, when we want it. After the last couple episodes of skin-crawling restraint between the fakely-weds, all hell breaks loose — and it is awesome. Liz takes a wrench to Tom, looking for answers, but what he tells her brings no consolation. As we’ve been expecting, Reddington has done some very bad things — and he’s probably done them to Liz.
There’s a secondary plot line in this episode involving a woman smuggled out of rural China by American Intelligence. They want her knowledge of biological weapons. But when she arrives in D.C., she’s intercepted by the Pavlovich Brothers, who are working for the Chinese. The Pavloviches were also the shock-and-awe team that kidnapped the General’s daughter in the pilot. Truth be told, I could barely pay attention to this poor refugee, because all the real action happened when Tom, Liz or Red were onscreen.
Liz is unraveling — understandably, considering her awful situation with Tom. It’s gotta be torture choking down his sunny pancake breakfasts when all you really want to do is choke the life out of him for pretending to love you for two years, then guilt-tripping you into almost carrying his child, then sleeping with that tramp in Orlando before brutally murdering her — the nerve! But I’m getting ahead of myself. She doesn’t know he killed Jolene yet. At the start of this episode, all Liz knows is that Tom works for “Berlin,” he’s got a key hidden under a lamp, and he’s spent two years running deeply personal surveillance on her. So yeah, she’s about to blow a gasket. During a tense morning exchange, Liz pops a tracker device into Tom’s keychain. (Why are we always seeing them at breakfast? Jon Bokenkamp really wants us to understand how great Tom is at making pancakes. Maybe he’s saying a man that dedicated to maple syrup can’t be all bad. Blacklist Love Lesson #1: Pancakes = redemption.) Tom asks about Jolene’s disappearance, and when Liz says the police have a lead, he’s visibly shaken. Liz tromps over to Red’s place and, with the acuity of someone who’s always two steps behind, says gravely, “Tom killed Jolene.” Red just replies, “yes.” The audience sighs.
Red has already pieced together that Jolene was also working for “Berlin,” but can’t think of why Tom killed her: “Perhaps he was ordered to murder her, or he’s just out of control, irrational, paranoid and reactionary.” (He’s also describing the four stages of crazy that Liz will pass through in this episode.) As an afterthought, he mentions that the Pavlovich Brothers are in town.
NEXT: Genocides and germ warfare
Over at the Post Office, which is increasingly an afterthought in the minds of both the audience and Liz, the team of lovable, bumbling FBI agents are sorting out this week’s crisis. The Pavloviches specialize in extraction. They “cut their teeth on Milosevic’s protective detail during the ethnic cleansing in the Yugoslavian Wars.” There’s a resumé builder. I guess a background in mass killings explains why they don’t shoot for subtlety on their jobs. Reddington fed Liz the intel that the Pavloviches were after Xiaoping Li, an immunologist who had been picked up by the Americans after she signaled that she’d be willing to turn over classified info about a Chinese biological weapons program. So the Feds saddle up and ride out to pick up Li personally. To no one’s surprise but their own, the Feds lose the woman to the Serbians, who brought bigger guns and a helicopter to the party.
Now that the Feds are batting zero, Agent Malik mentions that Li doesn’t just have knowledge of any old biological weapons program; she actually has the formula for an internationally forbidden, deadly compound called “Whitefog,” which would represent the biggest intelligence coup in a decade. Well…damn. Their only lead is the burned remnants of the chopper, where the Serbs ditched it in some field. In the midst of this dire revelation, Liz gets a call from Red, who tells her that Tom is suspiciously not at school today. Liz is incensed. She sprints out of the office, calling over her shoulder, “Text me when you hear anything about the helicopter.” Yeah, you go. We’ll handle the germ warfare.
Liz and Red sit in a car, watching Tom insidiously read a newspaper in the park. (Wouldn’t it be amazing if he was just playing hooky? A super spy has got to get bored with 4th grade reading. I was bored with 4th grade reading.) Today, though, Tom’s on a mission, and as he moves toward the National Archives building, Red sends his investigators after him. I love Red’s hires. Every single character he employs is brilliant. His PI’s turn out to be college kids making out, a mom with a baby stroller, a skateboarder and a financier, all of whom blend in perfectly. Cue Liz’s irrational stage of crazy: she leaps out of the car and, with no pretense of stealth, just runs right into the building after Tom. Tom is about to make a parcel exchange with man in a trench coat, but feels eyes on him and turns around to find his wife peering over a balcony. So he aborts the mission and disappears. Ladies and gentlemen, a slow clap for the FBI agent. At some point, you gotta help yourself, Liz.
When she gets home, Tom is there with a wine bottle open and Red’s music chest playing. He found it in the basement and asks Liz where it came from. She says her father gave it to her (which might not be lie, since Red could be her dad), but Tom doesn’t buy it. I’m not sure what the music box signals to Tom, but it obviously means something more than just “my wife has a new toy.” He asks, point blank, if she was at the Archive today, and she mumbles about being cooped up at the office. “Well, the woman I saw wasn’t half as beautiful as you are right now,” he says and kisses her on the lips before heading to the door to walk the dog. He stares at her and when she asks “what?” he answers, “Nothing. Love you. I’ll be right back.” And then, the next things Liz knows, the dog is scratching at the door and Tom has evaporated. After watching the scene a second time, it occurred to me that Tom didn’t have to say those things — how beautiful she was, that he loved her. He could’ve just said “I’m heading out with the dog, honey” and left it at that. I think he was sad to leave. I think maybe he kind of does love her. Or maybe I’m just hoping he does, because otherwise it’s too painful to think about how he led Liz on.
NEXT: Could Tom really leave?
Red comes over to keep Liz company as she gets angry, then heartbroken over Tom leaving her. Even though she had seen him in action as a spy and confirmed it in more ways than one, she still could not believe that she fell in love with and married someone who saw her as nothing more than a job. That is crushing. “We had sex last week,” she rails. “I was excited to have a child with him. He was the one person I chose in my life who made me happy, who made me feel safe. What does that say about me? Everything that we had was a figment of my imagination. Worse, it was a lie. It was right in front of my face and I didn’t see it.” As Red sits there listening, I can’t help but think that someday, she might be saying these exact words about her relationship with him. Poor Liz; she’s been royally screwed over in her lifetime. Red tells her time is the only salve for her wounds, and she tells him to f— off. I feel that. She’s been used, and she wants to make Tom pay.
Red hears her plea and follows up with the trench-coated man who attempted the package exchange with Tom. He gets the man to fork over the list of all the drops and pick-ups that he’s ever made (only four), and Dembe makes copies of the package that the man was supposed to give Tom — an advanced calculus textbook. (Go figure.) Dembe and Red use the addresses to triangulate Tom Keen’s wearabouts in a fortified warehouse. “How do you plan to get him out of there?” Dembe asks. Do we know any vicious killers that specialize in extractions in this town? Hmmm.
Meanwhile, the Feds have cobbled together some intelligence, and they’ve figured out where the Pavloviches are holding Li. Liz calls ahead to Reddington and gives him the coordinates as the team leaves the Post Office. Red rolls over to the Pavlovich’s place directly and hires them to extract Tom Keen. No need to waste talent. The Serbs throw Li in a wooden box and head out with Reddington. So by the time the Feds make the scene, Red is gone, the Pavloviches are gone, and Li, the germ warfare specialist, is gone. Damn again. But on the wall, they see a jumble of letters written in chalk. What could that be? Why, it’s the formula for displacement of water! What’s, that Lassie? Li is at the loading docks down by the pier?!
The Pavloviches like to get jobs done quickly and with as many explosives as possible. It’s admirable, really. They just dive in and blanket the situation with firepower. In this case, they blow open Tom’s safe house and fire on everything that moves — but crafty Tom escapes in a new Mustang. (Did you catch his ad?) There’s a car chase with some intense gear shifting and sprays of bullets, but the Serbs corner our teacher/spy and he comes out with his hands up. What do you think they’re going to do with him?
NEXT: Liz gives Tom the third degree…
Reddington asked that Tommy be turned over, trussed up like a turkey and tied to a chair in Liz’s dining room. I love it when Red gives gifts. Liz comes home to quite a surprise: a whole coterie of mass murders helping themselves to her red wine and staring at her handcuffed husband. She doesn’t even hesitate. Never look a gift horse in the mouth. When your lying sack of sh– husband is handed to you with a bow on head and his hands tied behind his back, you just go with your gut and get the pliers…because it’s finger breaking time.
“How could you do this to me? How could you lie to me and pretend you loved me?” she cries. And he tells her this terribly sad story about the moment that he knew she loved him. After their fourth date, he found that she’d drawn a heart in the dust on his loafers. “Ever since that moment, I just felt sorry for you,” Tom continues. “Because I knew that I had you. Part of me didn’t want it to work, but it did.” She just sits there crying silently, listening to him. “I felt sorry for you” is probably the worst thing he could’ve said. I’d rather he said “I felt nothing, because I’m a cold monster.”
Liz jumps on the phone with Red to tell him that the Feds suspect he kidnapped Li to get the germ warfare plans. He denies it and points her to Ralph Sisco, who’s head of smuggling for the Chesapeake Bay. Liz doesn’t give a crap, though, because she’s too busy threatening Tom with a wrench. “Oh Liz, you don’t have it in you,” he taunts. Big mistake. Never taunt a woman scorned. She snaps his thumb in a couple different places, like she’s tightening a leaky pipe under her sink.
Brief interlude where the Feds apprehend Li from the Pavloviches at the loading docks. I’m sorry for that woman’s trauma, but this is just a diversion from the real action. Back to Rosie the Riveter!
“You broke my thumb,” Tom marvels. “Yeah. If you’re looking for sympathy you might want to try honesty,” shoots back Liz, high off torture. “I’ll start. I hate pancakes.” (That’s gotta be a lie right? Who the hell hates pancakes?) “Here’s some honesty for ya,” says Tom. “If you’re going to handcuff a guy, don’t break his thumbs.” Rookie mistake! Tommy rips out of the chair, rolls across the dining room table and smashes Liz into the kitchen counter, where’s he’s spent the last two years slaving over pancakes no one really wanted. A house-destroying wrestling match ensues; I was screaming expletives at the TV the whole time. This was INSANE. After how much subtle bullsh– these two have been feeding each other, it’s so cathartic to see them duke it out.
NEXT: Wait, Tom’s a good guy?
Tom finally gets the gun and tells his wife to cuff herself to the banister. “I’m not here to hurt you, Liz,” he says, pleading with her to believe him. “I was never here to hurt you. I’m one of the good guys. Reddington, he’s not who you think. I can prove it. The key in the lamp. I know you found it. Take it to box 3929 in Bradford Bank. Goodbye, Liz.” What? I did not expect Tom to take this route on his way out the door. A dig at Red and then a treasure trove of information in the form of a safety deposit box? He disappears, and the camera pans to the floor, to the shattered remnants of dishes and vases. We got it: Keen’s life is in pieces.
Agent Cooper noticed Keen’s distracted manner and asks Ressler about it. “I think she’s having troubles at home,” he says. Understatement of the century.
Josh Ritter’s “Change of Time” plays through the rest of the episode, perfectly capturing Liz, adrift in the darkness, unable to trust a single person in her life. “I had a dream last night/ and rusting far below me/ battered hulls and broken hardships/ leviathan and lonely/ I was thirsty so I drank and though it was salt water/ There was something about the way it tasted so familiar.”
For a second time today, Red sits with Liz to comfort her in her broken home. “How is this all going to end?” she asks, on behalf of us all. Red responds with one of his brilliant monologues: “This is an end. And then something new will begin. You deserve the best in life, Lizzie. I know that sounds odd coming from the man who has brought you some of the worst. But it’s the reason that Tom had to work so hard to be that for you, to be kind, to be thoughtful, to make you laugh, to make you love him. Because you deserve that, and it will come.” (Blacklist Love Lesson #2.)
Liz has to know what’s in the box. She takes the lamp key and slips to the bank. From the safe, she pulls out a folder with the design of her scar on the cover — remember, it’s the same as the print from Tom’s wooden box that he kept his passports in. She pulls out photos of something we can’t see and the final shot is her slack jawed in surprise. Oh Blacklist, you’ve done it again.
Next week, it looks like Red is up against the fence, beset by a new Blacklister but also by an angry Liz. We see her calling him a monster in the promo, so she must confront him. I love this new Agro Liz. Don’t take this crap anymore, girl!
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.