The Blacklist: Redemption recap: 'Borealis 301'
In Thursday night’s episode, The Blacklist: Redemption finally addresses the familial elephant in the room. No, not the fact that Tom Keen has been away from his infant daughter and wife with a, shall we say, high-stress job. It finally addresses head on the issue of Tom Keen’s maybe-mommy Scottie and not-dead-dad Howard.
This might be Tom’s spin-off, but its every narrative twist and turn revolves around the eldest Hargraves and how they are or are not manipulating Tom/ are or are not stone-cold crazy. Of the two, Howard Hargrave seems to be the one who is most straightforward with Tom, but that straightforwardness is tainted by the fact that he faked his own death so he could pin a bunch of doodles to the wall and say that pretty much everything in Tom’s life is a conspiracy. And then there’s Scottie, whom Tom has been semi-actively working against at his father’s urging since the beginning of the series but has yet to do a single thing to prove that she’s anything but a long-grieving mother and noble espionage contractor.
The only thing that has Tom regularly putting his life at risk and potentially ruining a relationship with his maybe-good maybe-mom is the word of his probably-nuts dad. Tom can really only be sure of one thing: He is being manipulated by someone. This episode seeks, with varying degrees of success, to figure out who is manipulating him most. Unfortunately, Tom Keen has been known for many things — teen sociopath, statement spectacles, lying to his wife for five years, spy savant — but never for his excellent judgment.
Their Mission Should They Choose To Accept It: Borealis 301
Luckily, in between all the complicated family dynamics, this episode serves up some simple spy business with a twist. The beginning, however, is… not so fun. It’s a particularly tough time to stomach a German immigration officer locking 63 refugees seeking asylum in a room with sarin gas, and that’s without him locking eyes with a precious little boy as he locks the doors. It’s obvious this is fueled by hate, the question is: How did this guy get access to sarin gas?
According to recurring CIA boss Daniel Bishop, it was stolen off a civilian aircraft that the Office of Secure Transportation was using to not-so-securely transfer sarin gas. Bishop says it’s a pretty regular practice for the OST, DOE, CDC, etc. to use civilian flights to transport high-risk goods, and someone has been taking down these flights without a trace in order to steal said goods. The CIA has intel that flight Borealis 301 is the next hit — guess which flight’s about to get the two hottest undercover flight attendants ever.
But first, remember last week when Howard told Tom that Scottie had been using a secret code to communicate about Whitehall? Yeah, well he’s going real deep on that idea this week. He’s intercepted a new coded message, and he has the key book to crack the code; he just needs Tom to get the weekly keyword from Scottie’s safe. That’s when Tom’s all, Y’know Howard, Scottie seems like a pretty nice lady who might welcome her long-lost son with open arms, and you kind of seem like a lunatic who’s never asked me a single question about myself. Tom says he’ll get the keyword, but if it doesn’t prove that everything Howard’s been saying about Scottie is true, he’s going to tell her everything.
He just has to quickly stop a band of thieves 36,000 feet in the air with his good pal Solomon. As the passengers board, a seated woman looks shocked to see a man passing by her and asks what he’s doing on the flight. He hisses back, “I can’t let you do this.” So, these two are probably up to something. Also probably not your average civilian is the guy putting together plastic guns in the bathroom or the other guy who just signaled a device that jams all the signals going in and out of the plane.
That means Tom and Solomon are no longer in communication to hear what Nez has just figured out: The mechanic who serviced the plane, Franklin Dutch, is now on board, meaning he placed the jamming device as well as any tools they need to steal… whatever it is they’re stealing. Solomon spots Dutch putting a device on one of the windows, but he doesn’t get there in time, and the window cracks, causing oxygen masks to come down for the dropping pressure.
Tom watches from behind a curtain at the front of the plane as everyone puts on their masks and immediately passes out. Solomon pulls his gun on Dutch, but another of the hijackers comes up behind him and knocks him out cold. Tom takes that as his cue to go down to the cargo hold to figure out a plan, and, as usual, his spy instincts are golden. He quickly finds the jamming device and crushes it, putting him back in touch with DuMont and Co. It turns out five of the six guys wreaking havoc upstairs are ex-Navy SEALs who all trained together. And since the pilots sucked down the same knock-out oxygen the passengers did, these men have now made it into the cockpit.
One man is sent to the cargo hold to locate the missing flight attendant, but what he finds is Tom, armed with a real gun and also arm guns that he uses to choke the guy out. Tom answers the call on the man’s radio, “One down, four to go,” but the hijacker in charge tells him good luck with that because they’re off to the next stop. Solomon regains consciousness just as the men are suiting up in parachutes. He knocks one of them unconscious, but the team seems not at all concerned with leaving one of their own. They blow the door to the plane open and jump out, taking with them the knocked-out woman who had the heated conversation during boarding.
That leaves everyone still on the plane in a pretty precarious position. Solomon is plummeting down the aisle toward the open door, but he holds on long enough to clip himself to the guy he knocked out who’s outfitted with a parachute. So that’s a see ya later to Solomon and a best of luck to Tom, who just broke out of the cargo hold to find both pilots passed out. I appreciated his response to DuMont telling him he would have to land the plane himself: “Are you serious?” Even super-spy Tom Keen has a limit to his skills.
Luckily, one of the pilots wakes up enough once her mask is off to coach him through the landing, and soon he’s back at Halcyon headquarters to figure out what the hell just happened. It turns out, the thing this crew was stealing wasn’t a gas or a weapon, it was a person: Jennifer Lim, the woman who had the altercation with the man at the start of the flight. That man is named Aldon Braddock, and they’re the only two people missing from the flight Tom saved who didn’t train together as SEALs.
Back in the office, this is Tom’s chance to get into Scottie’s office. He tells Kat he’s dropping off a file but instead beelines to the safe in her closet and… picks it? Not great security, Scottie. Indeed, the file is exactly where Howard told him it would be, with the keyword FALCON. But Tom finds something else, too: artwork by little Christopher with his handprint on it. The handprint is fresh on Tom’s mind when he shows up at Howard’s apartment to give him the keyword. And when he does, Howard pulls out the key book, which is… a comic book. Tom looks at him like he’s crazy, but Howard insists book ciphers have been used for hundreds of years; comic books are no different. But once Howard applies FALCON to the comic book and the coded message, the message is nonsense. “Something’s not right, it’s always worked before.” Tom takes all this, plus the saved handprint in Scottie’s safe, to mean that the something that isn’t right is Howard. He storms out with plans to tell Scottie the truth.
And while Tom is playing around with comic books, Solomon has landed in the middle of Northwest Canada with a plane hijacker with a broken femur and a still incomplete mission. Now, I am an unabashed Solomon fan, so this scene was just a treat. I would put Edi Gathegi’s ability to deliver a long-winded story with insane charisma right up there with James Spader over on Redemption‘s sister show.
In order to get the guy to cough up the coordinates to where his partners have Jennifer, Solomon strips him down naked and tells him a little story about how growing up, his mother often had to choose between feeding her children and heating their home. She always chose food, until one winter it was so cold she took out a loan from Lance Wilbanks, the neighborhood loan shark, at 36 percent interest so their bellies could be full and their bodies could be warm. But when it came time to pay up, she couldn’t. So she prayed and she prayed: “But that woman could pray! And I’ll be damned if the clouds didn’t part, and the hand of god didn’t reach down and deliver that fine woman from her misery in the form of the oh-so-timely demise of Lance Wilbanks. One bullet to temple… I was 13 and Wilbanks was the first man that I ever killed.”
Convinced of how much Solomon hates the cold and that he will leave him out there naked, the guy ‘fesses up the coordinates, and Solomon reports back to Scottie, who has just been approached by Tom to talk about something important. But that will have to wait.
Because Jennifer Lim is tied to a chair and being drilled about what she knows about the blueprints for KR-20. The only thing is, Jennifer has no idea what KR-20 is, and after a little bit of torture, they seem to believe her. That’s when we see Braddock, the guy she had the altercation with earlier, enter the picture. The other men tell him his intel was wrong; she doesn’t know about KR-20, and he needs to clean up the “mess.” They hand him a gun, he goes in the room with Jennifer, and we hear a gunshot.
But when Tom, Nez, and Solomon get to the location, they find all of the other men dead and Braddock and Jennifer missing. As it turns out, they didn’t know the other men, but they did know each other. As part of her job with the CIA, Jennifer was attached to Braddock’s Ranger unit. They had an affair, and she had to get a restraining order against him. It’s soon revealed why Jennifer had to take such drastic measures when Braddock arrives with her on a boat and explains that he told them crew she knew about KR-20 so that they would abduct her and he could get to her. Apparently he thought it the only way because he had tried talking to her, and she wouldn’t listen to him: “You don’t see it, but I did all that for you.”
Yikes, you guys, this episode really runs the gamut of awful situations. Luckily, Jennifer is able to hit a distress signal on the boat’s radio, and the Halcyon crew is dispatched to her. They arrive just as she’s hit Braddock over the head with an oar and taken off. Nez finds her hiding, but Braddock knocks her out from behind and takes off with Jennifer. Tom finds them, but Braddock knocks his gun out away, so they go hand-to-hand. And Braddock is just about to choke Tom out completely when Jennifer picks up Tom’s gun and shoots Braddock. Yes, girl. Now go get some rest; you’ve been through a lot.
Speaking of emotional trauma: Tom. He goes into Scottie’s office once he’s returned to admit that he hasn’t been completely honest with her. “Somebody told me that you weren’t to be trusted,” he says. “And because of that I haven’t really been myself. I haven’t really been honest…” Tom trails off as he spots a comic book sitting on Scottie’s desk. Why might a comic book be in Scottie Hargrave’s office? Tom quickly covers and says that he and Liz are having trouble, and Scottie earnestly tells him that family is most important and he should do whatever he needs to do.
What he needs to do is go buy that comic book (a different one than what Howard was trying to use) and decode the message Howard intercepted. To the tune of Jamie N Commons’ “Karma,” he arrives at the location indicated by the code… to find Solomon leading Howard out of a house and putting him in a car. “Karma, Karma / What goes around comes back around / So when I see you again, I’m gonna put you down.”
A Few Loose Ends:
- Oh Tommy boy, how will you navigate this one? Earlier in the episode, we heard Scottie tell boytoy Trevor that she found a secret line item of Howard’s called Whitehall before he died, the same one Howard cites as his reasoning for not trusting Scottie.
- All this insider info causes Scottie to draw up a contract and NDA for Trevor, but something tells me an NDA isn’t really enough of a barrier between top secret information and a random escort. Plus, what’s going on with Kat and Trevor getting so chummy?
- I like the dynamic that’s been set up that Solomon is loyal to Scottie, but Nez is beholden to Howard. It gives Tom a few options should he ever need a friend… if only he could make up his mind whose side he’s on.
- But as always, my very favorite dynamic is Espionage Odd Couple Tom and Solomon: “Normally we start with the seat belt, but Phil is so good with the vest, we’re gonna go ahead and flip the script.”
- Howard asking about Agnes is the first indication he’s given that he even cares that he’s Tom’s dad. It’s also the first indication we’ve gotten in a few episodes that spy baby Agnes is alive, so that’s a relief. Now what about those suspect grandparents of hers…