Tom Keen & Co. defend journalism, or die trying.
The Blacklist Redemption - Season: 1
Credit: Virginia Sherwood/NBC

“They can’t all be happy endings. Be proud of what we did out there — I am.”

This line from Scottie touches on just about all the highs and lows of The Blacklist: Redemption’s second outing. It’s a good idea to set the precedent that these not-exactly-legal Halcyon missions aren’t always going to work out. The first two episodes have both focused on extracting U.S. operatives, and while last week saw a woman and her son rescued without anyone’s abdominal cavity exploding, this week saw a mission that ended in the death of its target, and a pretty moving one at that.

That the well-rounded story came on top of rousing action sequences, a classic “I know… we’ll dress up as the police!” plot, and an actual smoke-and-mirrors magic trick was an episode high. The low comes in the pride aspect of Scottie’s pep talk; Scottie is obviously proud because she loved the young man they’re rescuing like a son, and while they didn’t save his life, they did save his legacy. But what the hell is anyone else’s motivation to go against the U.S. government and risk their life to rescue this guy? There certainly weren’t any monetary motivations mentioned. Are they that loyal to Scottie? I mean, Tom, maybe, because he can be kind of a martyr sometimes, and y’know, mommy issues.

But as explained last week, Tom’s main reason for ditching his wife and infant to head back into the sweet, sweet world of espionage was to infiltrate his secret-mom’s intelligence operation to try and figure out why his dad is Beautiful Mindin’ it in a studio apartment in the Lower East Side. Disregarding the larger motivations of its characters is what will keep Redemption as a fun spy procedural (certainly not a dig), rather than elevating it to the more serialized level that its parent show strives for. But I guess if Tom can just up and head to a fake country to rescue a fake journalist for the hell of it, then I can enjoy some splashy espionage fun for the hell of it, too.

Their Mission, Should They Choose To Accept It: Kevin Jensen

The episode opens on a handsome curly-headed fella fishing around in the tank of a toilet, digging out a laptop, and then asking his neighbor to borrow some coffee so that he can stash it in her hall closet when she steps away. As it turns out, that man is Kevin Jensen, a journalist for the Empire Times — a made-up newspaper — covering human rights violations in Kyrkistan — a made-up country. The president of Kyrkistan is up for reelection in six weeks, and since the polls weren’t leaning his way, he’s cracking down on any and all things opposing him, including Kevin Jensen, who’s been captured and forced to read a script saying he’s a CIA operative.

But Kyrkistan messed with the wrong journalist, because this one has connections to Scottie Hargrave, and Scottie Hargrave has connections to everyone (except maybe Simon Cowell, but she’ll still see what she can do). See, Kevin Jensen and Christopher Hargrave were in the same preschool class, and when Christopher disappeared, the Jensens took in Scottie like their own family, and Kevin became much like a son to her. That’s why Scottie plans to use her Halcyon pull to go after him, but her liaison at the White House (POTUS’ chief of staff, Bob, apparently) says they can’t back this mission.

Bob says the Kyrkistan president is on a warpath, and if the U.S. sends in a black ops team to rescue Kevin Jensen from prison, they’ll lose valuable access to Kyrkistan airspace they need to fight extremists in the area. Scottie informs Bob that she doesn’t need his permission, and he informs her that the United States government is officially telling her to stand down: “I’ll say that again so you don’t someday argue to some congressional committee that I wasn’t clear: Stand down.”

NEXT: What a bright time, it’s the spy time…

Hey, you guys, guess what: Scottie does not stand down. She tells her team — now featuring Tom Keen! — that “this is even more illegal and in the gray matter than what we usually take on.” In addition to going against the U.S. government, the whole country of Kyrkistan is on lockdown by a tyrannical president, and if they’re caught there, they will be killed. Scottie leaves the decision on whether to go on the mission up to each individual, and it’s a resounding, Sure, why not, we love doing spy stuff. Once they’re in the country, they’ll still have to break into a maximum security prison to extract Jensen and then get everyone safely back to the States, prompting Solomon to rightly ask, “How the hell are we supposed to do that?”

How-the-hell-they-do-that, it seems, is the point in every Blacklist: Redemption episode when things get good. First, Dumont intercepts a Kyrkistani request for a meeting with two EU officials and sends the passports of two officials who look a lot like Solomon and Rowan instead. They bump the meeting up 48 hours, and two of three rescue spies are officially in the country. As for Tom, he has to get both himself and the weapons into Kyrkistan. Luckily, resident Quartermaster Dumont has an invention for that: a version of the Rochester Cloak, a system of mirrors and lenses that bend light around an object to obstruct it. Once Tom is able to hijack a delivery truck in Armenia that’s returning to Kyrkistan, an on-site team will construct the cloak with the weapons and he’ll appear to be driving back an empty truck.

One problem: When the guards at the border check his truck and find it empty, they get briefly distracted and leave the door open. The cold air from outside meeting the warm air from the truck causes condensation and — BOOM — illusion broken, weapons exposed, Tom on the run. With a slight head start, Tom escapes and makes it across the border on foot to meet up with a connection of Scottie’s who might be able to get them weapons. All he wants in exchange? For Scottie to help his pop-star-wannabe daughter get a record deal: “An American label, album release, national tour.”

I appreciate that we don’t have to watch the ins and outs of Scottie making those connections, and I appreciate even more the brief scene we get of Tom being forced to watch the young woman perform Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time,” complete with backup dancers. Ryan Eggold’s line reading on, “Fantastic. Really. So good,” is perfect. But I hope Scottie didn’t get Mike Will Made It involved or anything because homeboy only follows through with two guns.

Luckily, Tom is a bit of a spy savant and realizes that if they can get the Kyrkistan president to believe that the warden of the prison where Jensen is being held is supporting the president’s opposition, the he would immediately send the National Police in to arrest him. And all it will take is a couple police uniforms in perhaps a small, medium, and large for Rowan, Solomon, and Tom to piggyback off of that invasion and get themselves inside.

While Rowan waits as the getaway driver in a fake police van, Tom and Solomon get inside the prison with the rest of the National Police force. They get to Jensen quickly, but once the police realize he’s missing, the whole prison goes on lockdown. In the prison’s kitchen, just one door with a six-digit code stands between them and getting Jensen out of there, but Dumont says it’s going to take some time to override it, which means Tom and Solomon are holding off an entire police force with two guns and a very injured man. It’s a supremely tense scene as Dumont overrides the code one slow digit at a time, made all the better by Rowan coming out of nowhere, hooking a rope between the door and the car’s tailgate, and just straight-up ripping the kitchen wide open with one digit left to go. This show has proved itself skilled with a fake-out.

Jensen is officially out of the prison and in Halcyon custody, which is a victory for Scottie and the Jensen family, but Chief of Staff Bob calls to inform Scottie she could be indicted for going through with the unapproved mission. That’s when Scottie informs Bob, and us, exactly who she and Halcyon are: “The things I know, and the things Halcyon has done in the name of this country, this administration… We are the very definition of ‘too big to fail.’ You can’t afford to make us an enemy, so please, spare the selective memory and morality.” I think we’d call that an officially sanctioned BURN, Bob.

NEXT: Not your average journalist…

The White House agrees that if Scottie’s team can get themselves and Jensen to the U.S. embassy, they’ll get them on the next flight home. The only problem is that Jensen, the guy they just risked their lives to rescue, says that’s a no-go. He says he came to Kyrkistan to report on human rights violations, and he can’t just leave behind his camera and laptop to go home without everything he’d gathered from locals who put themselves in great danger to speak to him. So Tom’s like, Sorry, bro, can’t risk going back to that apartment, and suddenly Jensen totally gets it, safety is the priority. And super spy Tom thinks nothing of a person changing their mind so easily…

Obviously Jensen flees to get his laptop the second Tom turns his back, and everyone goes chasing after him to the apartment complex that opened the episode. Jensen is back at his neighbor’s house, grabbing the laptop he stashed there, but by the time the others have caught up with him, they can already hear the sirens. They steal a woman’s car — “Apologies!” shouts Solomon — and Dumont calls the Embassy to request an early arrival as Rowan just blazes through a police blockade to get to safe soil.

The scene of everyone pulling themselves and Jensen from the wreckage onto the Embassy’s territory to the tune of Junip’s “After All Is Said and Done” is truly harrowing, and it turns to full, slow-motion heroics when Tom nearly gets killed in the gunfire going back to the car for that damn laptop.

That’s what makes it so especially crushing when Jensen dies on the ground just feet away, unable to be revived from the gunshot wounds he sustained in the crossfire. It’s even more conflicting when Tom and Scottie arrive at a meeting with Bob and the deputy director of the CIA to find out that Jensen wasn’t ever a journalist at all — like the scary torturing men at the beginning of the episode said, he was CIA. That intel on the laptop Tom saved was even more important than he knew, and his country considers him a patriot… which brings me back to my original question. What exactly is Tom doing here? Does he color himself a patriot? Does Scottie? Either way, she has to go back and tell her best friend that she couldn’t save her son, and she’s forbidden from telling her the whole truth about why.

That’s one U.S. government order she chooses to follow. Later, she explains to her team, “I just felt Kevin wouldn’t want me to. Imagine, her own son… and she had no idea who he really was.” Zoom-cut to Tom Keen, sitting shiftily nearby, and close out on Scottie watching a home video of little Kevin Jensen playing with little Christopher Hargrave, two boys who grow up to be two big question marks, indeed.

A Few Loose Ends:

  • We may not know Rowan and Solomon’s motivations, but they do express a little light-hearted regret at taking on such a risky mission: “What do you think?” “I think we should have been chiropractors. Or proctologists. Pretty much anything else.”
  • Gadgets and Gizmos A’Plenty: We already covered the Cloaking device, but I want to know if those chopsticks Rowan pulled out of her hair when it briefly looked like they were in trouble at the airport had any special spy-gadget powers.
  • I’m enjoying the developing theme that, between the camera contact lenses and the cloaking illusion, the most far-fetched of Dumont’s inventions often get the team into some trouble.
  • Hey, no incest vibes this time!
  • I like Tom’s proud smile when his plan with the police uniforms earns a literal “attaboy” from Solomon. I do not like Tom having to say clunky exposition like, “He’s one of the best investigative journalists we have. He’ll do anything for a story.”
  • Solomon grinning like a lunatic in his fake passport really tickled me… what a weirdo.
  • “How’s [Tom’s] Arabic?” I’d say okay, but you tell me…

Episode Recaps

The Blacklist: Redemption
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