Tom's mission, should he choose to accept it: deal with his crazy parents
Gird your Oedipal loins — The Blacklist: Redemption has arrived.
We go into The Blacklist: Redemption with the understanding that the Scottie Hargrave is Tom Keen’s mother, and that her not-really-dead husband Howard is his father. It’s wise of Jon Bokenkamp and crew to nip the parentage question that has defined The Blacklist for so much of its run right in the bud on Redemption. After all, Raymond Reddington, omnipotent and all-knowing presence on his own show, told Tom that he is Christopher Hargrave, and so it must be true. The question that dominates Thursday’s Redemption premiere isn’t if the Hargraves are Tom’s real parents, but rather, what that biological connection means to him. Which of his parents can he really trust when their family motto seems to be, “Try for real murder when you can, but if you must, just fake it”?
The switch of thematic focus from law enforcement to espionage is also a smart one, allowing Redemption to be a little more carefree than Blacklist, a little faster paced, and a little sexier (whether you really want that out of your familial leads or not). This series may not have the all-consuming presence of Spader, but a well-balanced ensemble might prove to be just as worthy a draw. Here, Ryan Eggold gets to be the straight man that his ease and confidence onscreen warrant; Famke Janssen and Terry O’Quinn ooze intrigue while being charming enough to keep poor Tom spinning in circles; and the Halcyon team… well, they’re just a fun bunch’a spies looking for redemption. Let’s get to know ’em, shall we?
The premiere of Redemption picks up right where Blacklist left off; Liz is recovering from a health scare with Red, so Tom is taking care of Agnes. It’s probably going to be important from here on out that we agree to not worry about who’s taking care of Agnes on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes spy-babies just have to learn to take care of themselves. Because as soon as Tom gets a call from Howard Hargrave’s lawyer saying that he needs to come to New York to talk about Howard’s estate, Liz tells him to go for it: mostly because the man is a billionaire and the Keens seem to like to keep a few of those within reach, but also because Tom has been itching to learn more about his parents and childhood.
And right away, he gets a nice little summary of it from a stranger on a payphone. Tom’s taxi drops him off at the wrong address, but the driver just tells him to answer the ringing payphone and leaves. The voice on the phone tells him there’s a book in the next booth with a photo of Christopher and Scottie Hargrave, then gives him the Tom/Christopher SparkNotes: vanished from a family vacation in 1988, ran away from foster parents at 12, taken in by the Major for super-secret spy school at age 14. It ends with this fun little salutation: “You have no idea what’s coming for you.”
But the man calls back to tell Tom to meet in Washington Square Park. Waiting for him there is Howard Hargrave (O’Quinn). Given that he’s supposed to be dead, Howard explains that his plane was sabotaged by those seeking to take control of his company from him. But now he’s leaning into the whole being dead thing so he can accomplish some freelance goals, namely, requesting that the son he searched 30 years for infiltrate the family company and gain his mother’s trust. Like Reddington, Howard tells Tom, “It is imperative to the mission that Scottie not know you’re her son.” He also repeatedly yells at him to stay under the trees: “They can’t see you under the trees!” So the jury is maybe still out on this guy…
Just like it’s still out on Scottie, but as Howard predicted, she does come to Tom with an assignment. The episode opened on a rollicking scene of Scottie (Janssen) making a guy think he’s about to get pushed out of a plane (it’s just a plane simulator! #spygames) to get a name out of him: Leland Bray. Apparently Bray is a former CIA operative who went rogue a few years ago and has now abducted one of his former CIA team members, Anna Copeland, and her son. He’s made a fortune targeting assets like Copeland and selling the intel he gets out of them, and Halcyon has been tasked with getting them back. As Tom Keen did a job with Anna a few years ago, Scottie is hoping he’ll have a leg up on getting her back. Tom agrees to do this one mission, which, lucky for us, means working with Solomon (the man he shot in the stomach and left for dead, as you may recall) again.
NEXT: No explosions 30 minutes before swimming…
Even though Solomon was full-on evil in his run on The Blacklist, it is a credit to Edi Gathegi’s electric presence that pretty much every time the character is talking, I am grinning. And I always love a pair of begrudging partners. Tom asks him how the stomach is. “Slightly scarred,” Solomon shoots right back, “but just as beautiful.” Rounding out the team are the lethally efficient Rowan (Tawny Cypress) and tech wiz extraordinaire Dumont (Adrian Martinez). For me, this is a crew that clicks immediately, keeping the spy thrills light even when the technicalities get a little complicated.
The plan to get to Bray involves getting to his girlfriend, a Romanian Olympic Swimmer. She’s constantly guarded by a full security detail — but when you go into the sewer, find the location directly under her personal pool, cast a human-size net, and then blow a giant hole in the ground to catch her like a mermaid, a few goons are hardly a problem. It’s when the team gets Nadia back to headquarters that things seem to go haywire. When she wakes up, she’s in the hands of Solomon and Tom, the former of whom is creepily threatening her with an ice pick, and the latter of whom is not loving that. Tom loses focus long enough for Nadia to grab his gun and make a run for it. She jumps out of a window onto a moving truck and…
Somehow we’re suddenly seeing the world from her point of view on Dumont’s screen. Because it was all ACT-ING! Between this and the plane simulator, the Redemption premiere sets a high bar for zany twists. See, Solomon and Tom had placed a special recording lens in Nadia’s eye while she was sedated, and they let her think she got away on her own so that she would take them straight to Bray.
Well… not exactly straight to him. After catching most of a phone number Nadia dials, Dumont is able to place it at an English estate owned by one of Bray’s aliases. It’s likely where he’s keeping Anna. Only problem: another, even fuller security detail. In what is becoming a bit of a theme, Tom has some ideas about tunneling. This time, no sewers, but Tom asks if they’ve heard of the tunnels beneath the White Cliffs of Dover, built during World War II and mostly forgotten about. He’s sure Bray’s estate sit atop the labyrinth of tunnels, but there’s no map available to be able to find their way through. Dumont finds that the Museum of British History has acquired a map of the tunnels, but there’s no way to access them online, which can only mean one thing: Black Tie Undercover Time!
The museum is hosting a fundraiser that Scottie acquired tickets for, and you’ll never guess who she chooses to take as her date. That’s right — her hot son she doesn’t know is her son (probably)! But not before they have an intimate chat about the husband she doesn’t know is Tom’s dad (probably). Tom asks what Howard was like, and Scottie describes him as “brilliant, playful, charming, a terrible flirt.” But she also says he never fully healed after the loss of Christopher, and the Halcyon board eventually voted him incompetent to lead: “That beautiful, beautiful mind… such a waste.”
There’s no time to waste, though, because wouldn’t you know it, getting some old maps is the hardest mission yet. That’s because they’re locked in a state-of-the-art preservation bunker in the museum that requires a security badge encoded with 22 biometrics unique to each each employee. Dumont says if they can get “like, make-out close” to an employee and their badge, then he can replicate it from his computer and send the output to a small coding machine Scottie has strapped under her dress. Scottie drapes herself over one of the employees for awhile, and while they wait for Dumont to replicate the key, Tom and Scottie dance.
Scottie tells Tom that with Howard gone, their lawyers need to settle the estate, as Howard left a large portion to Christopher. She has to finally have him declared legally dead so that the company can be fully in her trust. You can just consider that a little familial foreplay for what happens next: When the badge is done printing, Scottie guides Tom’s hand up her inner thigh to take it out of the machine and then says, “You really know how to push my buttons.”
All together now: NO THANK YOU, MOM.
NEXT: Your mission, if you choose to accept it…
Once he’s at the preservation room, Tom discovers there are people working inside, but no problem — Dumont triggers the fire protocol, which sucks all of the oxygen out of the room, making a bunch of preservation nerds pass out. Are these characters feeling redeemed to you yet? Either way, mission accomplished; Tom gets photos of the tunnels, and they’re on their way to Bray’s estate.
Once they’re through the tunnels, Tom immediately finds Anna and is able to get her out. She’s determined not to leave without her son, but Tom assures her that his colleagues are getting him out. It’s a little easier said than done, though, considering that Bray makes off with the kid through those damn tunnels of Dover that everyone seems to know about. Solomon corners him, and while he’s distracted yelling about how he didn’t go rogue — the CIA sent his own team to kill him — Rowan shoots him from the side.
They have the kid (only slightly traumatized from watching his kidnapper get shot in the head), but Anna doesn’t know that. She wakes up in the hospital, and when Tom briefly leaves the room to check in with Solomon about the child, she escapes through the window. It seems that Bray implanted an explosive device in her abdomen and said he’d kill her son if she didn’t set it off.
Rowan and Solomon figure out that Bray must have tasked her with taking out their former CIA team. Indeed, she shows up to the team’s safe house just moments before Tom, Rowan, and Solomon and pulls out a detonator to blow herself up, presumably saving her son. But Solomon slides a phone to her and she hears that her son really is safely away from Bray. Unfortunately, the frequency from the phone interferes with the signal of the device, and she hears a distinct click. Next thing we know, Tom Keen, spy-of-all-trades, is wrist deep in ab guts, being coached by Dumont on how to dismantle the bomb. Solomon distracts Anna with tales of once shooting up at Tom’s wedding and trying to “abduct his woman” while Tom successfully cuts the right wires, and all is well…
Almost. There’s still that little matter of Tom’s biological dad wanting him to infiltrate the company that now belongs to his biological mom. And it’s hard to know what to believe. We see Scottie speak at Howard’s funeral, and Famke Janssen is truly affecting in her proclamations of love and admiration. Could Scottie really be this good, Tom wonders. As she signs the papers to have Christopher officially ruled dead, Tom meets with Howard once more. Tom shows him a report that proves the fuel system on his jet had been tampered with and says there’s something else he needs to see.
It’s the apartment of a crazy man — Howard’s apartment. He says he made finding Christopher his life’s work, and in doing so he uncovered something much larger. He believes that Scottie was using him from the beginning, that she used his obsession with finding Christopher to have him pushed out of the company, and that this all somehow leads back to something called “WHITEHALL.” Howard says that Scottie Hargrave is now in charge of a global intelligence-gathering operation and she’s going to use it for something terrible.
And this is where Tom gets his mission, the thing he’s unknowingly been raised, trained, and groomed to do: “I believe we were all put on the Earth for a purpose,” Howard tells him. “And I believe that your purpose, Tom, is to go undercover in your own family, find out what you mother has planned… and stop her.” No pressure, kiddo.
A Few Loose Ends:
- The episode ends with Tom standing with Scottie by Howard’s graveside, telling her he wants to do more than just this one mission. “Welcome to the family,” she tells him. H’oh boy…
- What exactly is with this Rubber Baby Buggy Bumper tongue twister Scottie says to herself? It kind of creeps me out.
- It’s much easier to enjoy the laid-back Lizzie of Blacklist: Redemption in comparison to the beleaguered Lizzie of Blacklist. Of course she might not be able to remain so laid back once she realizes her husband is leaving her and their infant daughter for his weird parents for, like, two months…
- Pros: split-screen sequences, spy gadgets, Solomon’s sass, Tom in a tux. Cons: incest vibes, not bringing up who faked little Christopher’s death right from the jump.
- Time to pick your side: Team Scottie or Team Howard?