The Blacklist: Redemption recap: 'Independence, U.S.A.'
Let me be the first to hand it to The Blacklist: Redemption: They. Just. Did. THAT.
I enjoyed Thursday’s episode immensely — so much so, I repeatedly found myself wondering if it was originally supposed to be the second episode of this new series but was switched out for last week’s more procedural hour. The last two minutes of the episode make that seem a little less likely (unless they edited out Tom giving Scottie, like, 24/7 side-eye last week), but in its first 58 minutes, this episode managed to address nearly every gripe I had with Redemption’s last episode.
We got to organically learn more about characters like Nez and Solomon and why they might be so loyal to Halcyon. There was significantly less clunky exposition. And Howard reentered the mix after his unexplained absence last week, still seeming like a mostly well-meaning looney tune in his studio apartment decorated by John Nash. But in its final moments, what this episode finally gave us is a reason to care about where this series is headed.
I was starting to get the feeling that whatever the “something bigger” Howard thought Scottie was up to was going to turn out to be too vague to be interesting — y’know, some ambiguous international cabal, or that she’s not actually after (gasp!) redemption at all because she’s a bona fide bad guy trying to start World War III or whatever. So when that story line turned back up in this episode, I was a little anxious. I would have been happy for Redemption to remain a glitzy spy show with a split-screen here, a contact lens recording device there… and hopefully it still will.
But revealing that the entire premise is exactly what we thought it was while simultaneously being something entirely different… that’s not just a twist, those are stakes. What happens when Scottie finds out Tom isn’t who he says he is, if she also isn’t who she says she is?
Their Mission Should They Choose To Accept It: Independence, U.S.A.
That the final twist ties in perfectly with the totally weird, totally engaging procedural plot episode is the cherry on top of Monday’s episode. The hour opens on a plane full of sleeping people. When the camera makes it to the cockpit and the pilot also appears to be sleeping, we know something’s up, and when the U.S. military crashes that plane by remote control deep in the Ural Mountains of Russia, we can be darn sure something is up.
And with that, General Phillips wants to speak with Scottie about Operation North Star: “The humanitarian workers, the plane crash… I worked it out with Howard months ago,” he says. When he realizes Scottie has no idea what he’s talking about, he’s hesitant to keep Halcyon involved in North Star. But Scottie insists that she’s in charge now, and she should take over Halcyon’s role as planned; she just needs to be told what it is. What it is is a doozy…
It turns out, that plane from the opening scene was in fact a plane full o’ dead folks, intentionally downed in very close proximity to a suspected secret Russian military base. It can’t be seen from the air, so they need boots on the ground, and the downed plane pushed Russia to allow an investigative team to rule out the crash as terrorism. Guess who’s going to be on that investigative team…
Tom and Solomon, and they’re just as stealth as ever. The Russian officers tell them not to touch anything at the crash site, so Solomon immediately cuts a fuel line on the plane wreckage, then throws a lighter at it so there’s a huge explosion, allowing Tom enough cover to go scope out the secret military base. But when he peeks in to take a few photos, we’re not exactly dealing with a guns or nukes operation here. There’s a quaint sign that says “Welcome to Independence” and a bunch of normal people milling about on sidewalks and shop patios. And are those… a couple of American police officers?
What is the meaning of this?! Halcyon knows: It’s Independence, U.S.A., population: 216. Scottie says there were rumors during the Cold War that the Soviets built replica towns to train their agents to act like U.S. citizens, but there was never proof they existed… until now. Cue a classic scene of a confident woman striding through a men’s locker room, unimpressed with the merchandise. That woman is Scottie, and she’s going to see a Russian pal who might know more about this operation.
He tells her there was a program like what she’s heard of, but when the Wall fell, it didn’t end; it became something… more. Now the agents trained at Independence are training “not just to conceal themselves, but to merge with their cover identities.” The man tells Scottie that he’s contacted occasionally for recommendations, but when he’s sent agents in, they’ve never come back out. Scottie tells him she has two agents she needs him to recommend right away…
No, not Tom and Solomon — Tom and Nez this time. Solomon is busy on his own mission with Scottie as she tries to track down what else Howard might have been keeping from her at Halcyon. She orders a full internal audit of Howard’s every contract and financial transaction in the months before his death from her assistant.
Even though he suspects there are a few things Scottie isn’t telling them, Tom agrees to go on the mission after one quick appointment with his secret dad, Howard Hargrave, who is, oh by the way, not dead — just crazy. Tom tries to explain to Howard that Scottie is doing a complete audit of him, and that it could quickly lead to her discovering Tom and his true identity. But Howard is laser focused on one thing: Operation North Star. Tom says if he’s going to work with him, he needs to know that his mind is clear. So Howard assures him by saying he’s not taking his meds because he thinks clearer without them and, “That’s why she kept me medicated, to keep me from finding the truth!” You know, normal, totally non-manic things.
Howard says Tom has to go on the mission, and Tom is down because who wouldn’t be excited about being an American spy pretending to be a Russian spy pretending to be an American non-spy (otherwise known as an inverse Americans)?
And that’s how Nez and Tom find themselves being picked up off the side of the road in Russia. Luckily they only have to say a few Russian phrases before they’re checked into Independence freshman orientation. There’s fully body scans, outfit changes, Big Brother cameras everywhere, convenient instruction to only speak English from here on out, and a scary woman constantly twirling a meaningful necklace (never a good sign) who tells them the complex was built on the site of a former missile factory, so don’t drink the water.
She also tells them why they’re there: to be given a new identity. “Study it, become it, it is you. Do not break character for anything or anyone.” The new people they’re becoming turn out to be quite average: Nez is a single banker who lives with her brother, and Tom is a janitor named Stan with a wife named Cynthia. So that means, after he’s studied his materials, he walks into his house and just has to start acting like this woman is his wife, and like it’s normal for her to be making a tuna casserole to take to their friend Linda’s birthday party (happy birthday, Linda, here’s a tuna casserole! Aaaah, classic American traditions).
Of course, as we know, Tom is an espionage savant, so while there are a few slip-ups from others at the birthday party — “the hedge, or the hog… day” “Groundhog Day, honey” — Tom doesn’t miss a detail about his identity, and he helps his wife out on a few near misses too. In fact, he speaks so charmingly about the day they met and their lovely elopement that Cynthia decides to join Stan in the shower later that night. Since apparently the shower is the only place “they” can’t hear them, Tom tells Cynthia — or whoever she is — that he’s married and cannot have a shower romp with her.
The next morning, Nez comes home to find that her fake brother Pete is being sent to America, which is presumably the entire goal of Independence, but he seems reeeal scared. He leans in to hug her and says, “Don’t you get it? … Chances are I’ll never come back.” But Nez is on her way to cracking this thing wide open and/or getting killed at the hands of the scary necklace woman in charge. After proving her natural instincts by kicking the crap out of a banker who tries to cop a feel on her during an interview, she gets called into the command center. That banker-beat-up, plus her six-minute mile earlier is also how she realizes they’re being doped through the bottled water they have to drink.
At first it seems like Nez is in trouble for her outburst, but no, they’re ready to start grooming her for field work… literally. Nez’s new identity as Lisa isn’t actually all that new — Lisa is a real banker who lives in the United States and looks a lot like her. And soon she’ll look exactly like her, once Rowan has had the appropriate plastic surgeries. “Are you ready to give a life for Russia, and to take on another?” asks the scary woman. Hell no, says Nez’s face (still complete with all its original features for now).
So that night, Tom and Nez do the only thing they can do if they want to make it out of there alive and with their original noses intact: They infiltrate Independence’s command center. And since they’re both apparently leagues above your average Russian spy recruit, they have no problem taking down a bunch of guards and hacking into the mainframe for DuMont. There, he finds the identities of the most recent Independence dispatches: It’s Tom’s neighbors and Nez’s brother, respectively, a mechanic, an engineer, and a construction worker.
Scottie deduces that they must be planning to build a bomb, and that they have to get to those real American people before their Russian doppelgangers do. Which means Nez and Tom are kind of on their own because suddenly their feed to Halcyon is shut off, an alarm is blaring, and the scary necklace woman is patching herself in to say she knows they’re in there and who they must be working for, but it doesn’t matter: “Full of bullets, we’re all the same.”
Yowza. But they’re not all the same. Tom and Nez are, like, the best spies in the world, and they realize that the kind of explosive they’re going to be using to break down the door of the control room they’re inside is sensitive to electric current. So Tom, y’know, rips some electrical cords out of the wall, and blows the door outward before they can blow it inward, and they run out. Once he’s outside, though, Tom suddenly has a gun trained on him by his fake wife, but before she can even get out, “For the Mother La—” Nez is plowing through her with a van because, well… that’s kind of Nez’s thing.
Back on the Homefront, it turns out that the Russians aren’t attacking the U.S. with their identity-stealing agents, they’re trying to make it look like the U.S. is attacking itself. They’ve built online footprints for all three of the recent victims as part of the “True Nation Brotherhood” extremist group, staged their suicides with notes claiming responsibility for a bomb attack, and the three Russian body-snatchers are on their way to actually detonate the thing they’re pinning on the three Americans. Solomon shows up pre-bomb to inform them that he’s “not really a negotiator,” but he is on to their shit: “Hand me the detonator, what do you say, comrade?” Comrade says no, so Solomon gives the green light to shoot all three of them straight through the noggin. The final shot from the windshield’s perspective, staring through the bloody bullet hole at Solomon is ice cold and perfect.
So that’s it!
Just kidding, can’t end an episode without Scottie forlornly drinking a brown liquor and talking about lil’ Christopher. Tom steps into her office to see what’s up, and she tells him she found a man Howard had been paying without her knowledge before he died. Apparently, that man was being paid to look for their son Christopher, and found record of a boy named Christopher with brown hair and blue eyes, recorded by child services just 20 miles and a week later from where they lost their Christopher. It briefly seems like the jig is up, but Scottie just says she now doesn’t know what to believe.
When Tom goes to tell Howard that Scottie just told him she’s going to put every ounce of her effort into following this lead that her son might be out there, he once again only wants to hear about Operation North Star. Tom huffily tells him that it’s a sleeper program that trains agents to look exactly like the people they’re assigned to replace. Howard’s eyes light up…
He says two months after Christopher went missing, Scottie was in a terrible car crash; she was in the hospital for four months, and when she came out, he never felt like she was the same again. That could have been explained by any number of traumas she had recently been through, but during the research he was doing shortly before his faked death, he began to suspect something, and now this confirms his theory: “I believe that Scottie Hargrave is a sleeper agent… That program, with the doubles — I believe that 20 years ago they murdered your mother.”
Things! Just! Got! Interesting!
A Few Loose Ends:
- Even with that jaw-dropping ending, it should be noted, of course, that Howard might very much be two dozen crayons and a sharpener short of a Crayola 64-pack. But if he is just paranoid, and making this all up in his head, he’s also doing a decent job of using reality to build his case to Tom, even if he doesn’t seem to have any particular paternal concern that his son is about to be found out by his sleeper agent fake mom.
- Do we trust blonde assistant Kat who keeps popping up? I didn’t like how she doubted that Trevor might read the Wall Street Journal just because he was a gentleman of the night…
- Things we learned about Halcyon agents tonight in nice moments that I am diminishing for word count: Nez used to have a substance problem following her time as a soldier, Howard helped her get clean, and that doped water just made her relapse; Solomon considers Scottie like a brother and would happily behead anyone she asked him to.
- As much as I enjoyed this bananas premise, the Russian mission that Halcyon ultimately stopped did not require the three Russian spies to look anything like the Americans they were framing because they were all supposed to die in the end. SO close, Redemption!
- “They’re not touching me. I like my chin — it was my mother’s.”
- And finally: Now that they’re potentially not biologically related, what’s the over-under on Redemption having Scottie try to make out with Tom just to FREAK EVERYBODY OUT? Consider me pre-freaked and kindly requesting that they don’t do that!