One black-site prison and one black-op line item make for a pretty basic episode

By Jodi Walker
March 17, 2017 at 02:42 AM EDT
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Credit: Barbara NItke/NBC
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After last week’s jaw-dropping ending, you might have hoped that that we’d dive back into the potential of Scottie being a Russian clone impersonating Tom’s mother (of note: Tom is currently impersonating being not Scottie’s son). If so, your hopes would be as fruitless as Tom trying to get Howard to tell him anything coherent while sitting on opposite sides of a park bench.

Excluding last week’s jaunt into seamlessly tying together the espionage-of-the-week with the Hargrave Chronicles, Blacklist: Redemption continues to excel in what I like to call “the spy stuff” while lagging behind in the more serialized arch of Howard, Scottie, and Christopher Hargrave’s secrets. Every time Howard blazes over Tom trying to get some answers or says he’s so close he just can’t quite crack a secret code, you can practically feel the show biding its time for a big, exciting reveal. Thursday’s episode happens to live between big reveals, meaning it’s heavy on the… biding.

But where the show never stalls out is in the spy stuff. There’s always room for more espionage, and on Redemption, that espionage will likely involve a shootout, a few newfangled gadgets, some quick undercover acting, and an unlikely hero. Sometimes all at once because split-screens-are-for-spies! Tonight’s espio-mission starts with the most likely of premises: a prison break. Only thing about this prison is, it’s one of those “black-site-prison because we probably torture people here” kind of prisons.

Their Mission Should They Choose To Accept It: Operation Davenport

Operation Davenport is an off-book site in the middle of Manhattan used by the government to interrogate enemy combatants; when an 18-wheeler runs into the base of said “off-book site,” it gets a a big ol’ hole in it, allowing five prisoners to escape. But since no one is supposed to know about this prison, the CIA is hiring Halcyon to track down the five escaped prisoners without alerting the public that anything is wrong. A man named Jack who runs the cyber security for Operation Davenport is on site to insist that Scottie doesn’t have the clearance to access the facility’s surveillance footage, and Scottie’s like, Hahahahahaha. Anytime there’s a man named Jack who puts up a fuss about something… keep your eye on him.

Nez immediately discovers that the front of the truck that hit the building was outfitted with reinforced steel, basically making it a battering ram. This was a planned crash, which means they need to speak to the truck’s driver, currently in the hospital. So Tom and Nez fish around in the costume bin I am now confident exists within the Halcyon offices, find a few ICE police jackets, and tell the driver they’re transferring him to a safer location. But about the time they’re sprint-wheeling him onto the street, he seems to realize something is up and bolts from his wheelchair. And about the time I’m writing, “Okay buddy, you’re not going to outrun Tom Keen,” the man is aggressively (and fatally) hit by a car.

So there goes that lead. Luckily, DuMont intercepts a 911 call saying there’s a man in the caller’s apartment wearing what appears to be a prison jumpsuit. Tom and Solomon immediately head to the apartment, but they’re in a race with the police to get there first. When they arrive to find that apartment owner tied up, they’re only 90 seconds ahead of the police; when two prisoners jump out at them, they’re only 60 seconds ahead; and by the time it comes down to hand-to-hand combat and Solomon is dragging the knocked out prisoners to the back of the apartment, they are zero seconds ahead.

But you may have met Tom Keen? Super-skilled undercover agent? Yeah, well he’s still super skilled, and when the police bang on the door, he acts like he’s the owner of the apartment. The only problem is that the police are… well, trained police officers who know better than to just believe any person who answers the door, so as they make their way in, Tom describes the person he thought he saw in his apartment: tall, black, jumpsuit. And that’s before he even knows about Solomon’s killer New York accent. The police enter the kitchen to find what looks to be a plumber working on the sink. What follows is the type of silliness I’d like to see a lot more of from this show as Solomon the Plumber goes on a tear about this man calling the police on a black plumber. Some highlights:

  • “What’s the maximum sentence for fixing a racist man’s sink?!”
  • “I’ve seen your artwork, you ain’t got no black artists!”
  • What is Tupac’s middle name?”

And as soon as the police are out the door, leaving these two men to sort out their differences (or perhaps bond over Tupac), it’s back to business. Scottie says the person who planned the escape must be among the three remaining prisoners, because they would have had a plan for shelter. While Dumont searches for connections to the remaining escapees, Tom is getting a few answers of his own…

At their meet-up, Tom tries to tell Howard that Scottie has found out the identity of his birth parents, but Howard keeps raving about something called “Whitehall” and how he’s figured out the code “they” are communicating with. When Tom gets fully frustrated that Howard doesn’t take any of his Scottie concerns seriously, Howard just up and tells him that the prisoner who orchestrated the breakout is Brian Mayhew. And then he disappears without super-spy Tom Keen even seeing him.

Scottie immediately asks where Tom got his tip when he brings it back to her. He tells her the source wants to stay anonymous, and she says she can respect that…and then scowls the scowl-iest scowl as soon as he’s walked past her. She calls Solomon and tells him she has a new mission for him, much more important than the breakout.

Plus, they’re pretty much on top of the breakout now that they know which prisoner orchestrated it. Before he was thrown in the U.S. government’s secret prison, Mayhew specialized in accessing the government’s intelligence as part of a group of millennials exposing corruption called Hacktivism United. DuMont just happens to know an angry millennial who just might be able to get them some info on Mayhew: his brother.

Unfortunately, it seems that DuMont took all the available “happy hacker” genes, and his jaded brother took all the angry ones. He says he’s on Mayhew’s side on this one. But he should have known that his brother would never send a person to do a job that a gadget could do better. DuMont leaves the café without answers, but he uses a device of his own making that targets phone numbers being dialed nearby, and, knowing that his brother would immediately call Mayhew, gets a location for Mayhew’s lair.

There, the Halcyon team finds heavy surveillance on room 1531 at the Warwick Hotel. By the time they call, the man is already on his way to the hospital because of a cardiac event, but as they tell his wife when they arrive, this cardiac event was induced. Only, they don’t know why Mayhew would be trying to take this guy out. His wife explains that they were in the city because her husband holds one of the seven secret keys to the internet, and the key ceremony was supposed to be today. Nez, Tom, and I all say in unison: Come again now, what’s that about keys to the internet?

A quick Google search reveals that this very fake-sounding thing is actually a real fake-sounding thing. As DuMont explains, the keys don’t control what’s on the internet, just how to secure it. All domain names have an assigned number, and those numbers are assigned by the seven keys held by seven randomly selected experts. Four times a year, those experts meet to generate a master key that assigns new numbers to domains in order to make life more difficult hackers. If one of those key holders is incapacitated, such as today, they are immediately replaced. Theoretically, if Mayhew could get inside that ceremony, he could hack everything without having to hack anything.

But DuMont insists that it would be impossible for him to be in that room, and you know what an impossible mission means: SPLIT SCREEN! All of the security stops are pulled out for the key ceremony: Biometric scans are happening, it takes place in a cage that blocks electronic devices, and it’s all recorded on a live webstream for transparency. There’s no way Mayhew could get in undetected. As DuMont explains this, key-holding alternate Jeremy Wallace is introduced and he is looking miiiighty twitchy.

Something is going on, but Tom and Rowan are already on site figuring out how they should play it — whipping out their guns and just charging straight through the security guards with their biometric scanners is how they decide to play it: “For what it’s worth, we’re the good guys. Wish I had time to explain.” As they make their way down, Alternate Jeremy whips out some sort of pen shank, takes the gun of the guard inside the cage, and gets everyone on their knees while he lets Mayhew in the room. Mayhew takes the master key; one of the key-holders tells him they’ll just change the numbers once he leaves, it won’t do any good, but Mayhew says he doesn’t intend to leave with it.

See, when Tom and Rowan make it downstairs, they find he’s only trying to access the intel of one domain name… a domain name that shifty Jack says is his security company’s unlisted URL… the unlisted URL that the NSA backs up all of their databases to: “Mayhew is trying to steal the NSA backup.” (Say it in Nicolas Cage’s voice; you know you want to.)

And you guys, he is trying to steal all of the NSA’s protected data, but just hear him out! Mayhew was thrown in that dark government prison because he hacked U.S. missile plans and tried to sell them to Iran — but he insists he didn’t do that. He found the plans by accident when he was hacking the NSA to expose them for illegally spying on civilians, but he never tried to sell them. He thinks the NSA cloned his computer while he was at a café to frame him for trying to sell the plans because he had discovered too much.

And sure enough, there’s suddenly a horde of men with guns storming them, looking for Mayhew and the data he took. Things devolve into a shootout, and soon Tom, Nez, and Mayhew are on the same side, trying to escape whoever these people are. Once they’re in hiding, Tom makes a call to DuMont from his cell, knowing that the men will trace it within minutes. During those minutes, they escape to the fire escape and Nez, Queen of Finding Cars, goes to find them a car. Just as the men have found the cell phone downstairs and figured out that they were being misled, one of them catches up with Tom and Mayhew… but just as he trains his gun on them, Nez pulls up in car behind him and trains her gun on him. And let me tell you, she’s quick on the draw.

At Halcyon headquarters, they do go through the footage from that café, and Nez spots the guy she just shot dead not one scene ago: “Mayhew was telling the truth; the government framed him.” Scottie agrees that someone framed him, but it wasn’t the government. It was shifty Jack! Fourteen months ago, she worked with him on a different project, and the man she saw in the café footage was one of his agents: “You knew Mayhew was looking for his innocence at that key ceremony, and when he found your URL, you sent your hit squad.” Apparently, when Mayhew was framed for trying to sell the missile plans, it sent up a firestorm in the U.S. intelligence community, pushing them to decide to hand a billion-dollar security contract to Jack’s company. Scottie tells him he’ll be taking Mayhew’s place in that dark hole.

(Tom also gives Mayhew back the drive with all of the NSA backed up intel on it, which I, like, kind of question the ethics behind, but everyone insists he’s a hero, so whatever…)

Now, I’m actually pretty impressed that Scottie’s been able to pull all of this off, as she’s been quite distracted, what with thinking she was about to find her son who’s been missing for 30 years and all that. The reason Tom has been so worried about Scottie finding him out is that he knows she’s learned the name of his adoptive parents he lived with until he was 14, and if they show her photos of him in his older years, she’ll likely recognize him. It’s a valid concern, one it would have been nice if Howard had listened to him about instead of yammering on about Whitehall.

And apparently — he did. Because when Scottie meets Frank and Eva Phelps and convinces them that the boy they adopted might have been her Christopher, they seem willing enough to entertain the idea. But when they show her a photo, Scottie’s face falls. The boy has a very noticeable birthmark on her neck that she knows Christopher didn’t have. My mind immediately went to some nefarious organization tattooing a small child, but that doesn’t turn out to be the case…

It turns out that the private investigator Scottie tracked down who had been working for Howard has continued working for him postmortem. Yes, he gave Scottie the correct information about the adoptive parents, but he also hired actors to play them at the fake address he gave her. When Tom meets up with Howard in the final scene, the P.I. is there too, and they explain that Scottie will figure it out eventually, but hopefully this has bought them enough time for her to come to trust Tom enough to confide him. Specifically, to confide in him about Whitehall, which is apparently a line item Howard noticed at Halcyon a few years back that he knew nothing about, but when he started investigating, Scottie began her mission to discredit him to the board.

This is where Tom comes in: “She’ll trust you, she’ll tell you. And when she does, we’re going to blow the lid off whatever she’s hiding.” Yeah, whatever she’s hiding.

A Few Loose Ends:

  • A black op line item titillate you? Color me, meh.
  • Nez’s drug problem made a brief reappearance this week in that she only had enough money for half of what she wanted. Ummm, is she not making BANK at this private spy firm??? Her life is, like, constantly in danger.
  • Speaking of Nez, between her disbelief and DuMont’s brother’s lack of loyalty and constant car stealing, I’m starting to feel like she was lifted right out of the Fast & Furious franchise.
  • There was another very, very random story line (that, yes, will probably eventually not seem so random) where Trevor the Gentleman of the Night and Kat the Intermittent Assistant are crushing on each other. And dammit, I think I’m shipping it — sue me.
  • No missing-child-slipping-through-your-fingertips-30-years-later a little Trevor spoonin’ can’t fix, amiright?

Episode Recaps

The Blacklist: Redemption

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