“You know the one thing I’ve learned in all my time out here alone? Men just get in my way.” Ladies and gentlemen, Elizabeth Keen.
I didn’t know exactly what The Blacklist’s midseason premiere would bring us, but I certainly wasn’t anticipating a Lizzie bottle episode, and given that description, I definitely wouldn’t have expected to enjoy it so much. No, after a rollicking midseason finale that set up the pins of Ian Garvey and his homicidal quest for a bag-o-bones, I expected those to be knocked down with a fireball of vengeance and fury as we blasted back into that same story we’ve been following all season long.
Instead, we got a slow burn of grief and self-examination that calls to mind the only other two unnumbered episodes in Blacklist history: “Cape May,” immediately following Liz’s faked death, and “Requiem,” immediately following Mr. Kaplan’s fake death. “Ruin” matches neither of those hours in tone or style, but right down to the stranger who stumbles into Lizzie’s home, bringing on a world of unwanted but necessary trouble, it mirrors “Cape May,” and from “Requiem,” it borrows flashing back and forth between a former life and one that Lizzie could have never imagined living — a life without Tom.
The world doesn’t move on quickly without the ones we love; it moves slowly and painfully while also seeming to stand completely still. This midseason premiere does an excellent job of plunging us into that visceral feeling of life rolling slowly in place, while layering in a more Blacklist-style bad-guy plot that somehow manages to keep the pace. We know the men who enter Liz’s grief cabin are the bad news from the moment we lay eyes on them, and Lizzie knows soon thereafter, but there’s a great distance between knowledge and action here. And though it’s slow and sometimes frustrating work, the final result is a thrilling advancement for this series: we get to see Liz figure something out on her own, and decide exactly how she wants to deal with it. And deal with it she does.
If the typical function of a midseason premiere is to welcome you back into a story you’ve been forced to take a break from, this one didn’t really seem to get started until the last five minutes when Alice Merton’s plucky “No Roots” kicked in as a new detective duo began investigating what kind of woman could take down four career criminals in the middle of a winter storm. But those preceding 55 minutes were a necessary road to travel for the series, and especially for Elizabeth Keen, a character who has so often been stripped of her autonomy by the men that claim to love her, but constantly lie to her in the false name of protection, one of whom got himself killed doing so.
So what kind of woman could take down four men and disappear without a trace? We’re about to find out — right alongside her, at that.
The episode’s cold open is, in a word, fantastic. It makes art of the simple wilderness life Lizzie has established for herself, while also keeping a close eye on all the pain she’s left behind (though Meghan Boone’s performance shows that she’s still holding onto it like a vice). The hour opens with Liz jogging through a heavily wooded forest, past a bear trap she rolls her eyes at, and back into a rustic cabin for some stretches and prescription meds. A flashback shows us that, back in D.C., Liz went through extensive physical therapy to get out of a wheelchair and back on her feet. “Trust me, pain is good,” her PT says. “Pain says your body’s still working.” It’s a sad and solitary life Lizzie is leading out in the middle of the woods, but she is leading it. She’s moving. She’s wearing a high-waisted jean and chopping wood when she could very easily be under the covers in sweatpants.
When Liz flips the switch on the DisposAll, the electricity goes out, so she tinkers with the generator outside, then heads to the hardware store; the owner warns her about the coming storm and bids her farewell with, “Stay warm, Grace.” So that’s what we’re doing, then. A handsome park ranger named Collin hand-delivers a package to “Grace” that he totally didn’t need to hand-deliver and attempts a number of times to make a personal connection; he’s politely rebuffed each time, and you can’t blame Liz for not being too eager to welcome any seemingly wholesome cuties back into her life. A flashback to Tom’s grave shows her walking with a cane, breaking down at the headstone, and telling him that she’s not doing so well, that she’s thinking about going away.
But going away can only get you so far in the life of Elizabeth Keen. Her large dog that we hear Collin call “Kate” (tears, tears, tears) begins barking at something outside, and wouldn’t you know it, behind the wood pile, is a dead body. Wait — not dead! As Liz draws her gun and goes to check his pulse, he grabs her wrist. She apparently assesses that this barely conscious man is not a threat though, because soon she has him in her cabin, stitching up his wounds with The Blacklist’s favorite cleaning agent, vodka. She can’t get her faulty radio to work, so she heads to the ranger station where she leaves Collin a note that reads, “There’s been an EMERGENCY. Come when you can. Grace.” That note is the only thing that keeps me at all calm throughout what comes next. (Recap continues on next page)