'The Blacklist' recap: 'Vanessa Cruz'
Was that a late April Fools’ joke? Was Raymond Reddington really just shot in the last minute of tonight’s Blacklist? In the chest? And was he bleeding out of his mouth? And perhaps even more unbelievable, did Liz actually tell Tom at one point during this episode that Red has a moral code and it doesn’t include lying to her?
If Tom hadn’t finally decided to tell her the truth, would Liz have continued to believe that Red has just been truthing it up with her this whole time? Would she have eventually forked over her tiny blackmail music box to Red because of how honest he’s been with her about the Fulcrum and her involvement with it, rather than because she wants him out of her life for good? No matter how terrible Lizzie’s honesty radar is, no matter why she decided to give Red the Fulcrum file, the truth is, Red is now lying on a road, bleeding out of his mouth, and all because the Director called a vote and Jasper betrayed him!
If it seem like I’m speaking another language and mostly just asking a lot of questions, it’s because a lot of major stuff went down in this episode of The Blacklist and most of it was pretty confusing. Okay, actually, just one major thing went down and a lot of other tiny things were tossed up in their air, likely to also come down at a near but unknown date; hopefully, at that point, Red will still be alive.
I mean… Red isn’t dead. Red can’t die—he is the sole owner of The Blacklist’s titular list. But if, as Red says, the best way to persuade a powerful man is to appeal to his vanity, then a great way to take power away from a man is to leave him bleeding out on the side of the road. And a Red without power is a Red we do not know. Nor are we familiar with a Red without Lizzie, which certainly seemed to be the direction things were going—for real this time, guys, I swear—before Red took a bullet to the general torso region.
VANESSA CRUZ, NO. 117
The Blacklist is on a newly discovered hot streak of giving us episodic Blacklisters who we’d have any reason to care about. Now, why we should care about Vanessa Cruz, I have no idea just yet; but when Mr. Kaplan shows up personally to have a glass of airport cabernet with someone, I’m going to keep an open mind. Especially when this week’s episode showed where “owing Red one” can get you (here’s looking at you and your ultimate mortality, Mr. Hobbs). So, even though Vanessa Cruz’ whole shtick is incredible attention to detail, I’m going to let her handle the plot equivalent of collecting belly button lint and cigarette butts and get right down to the big stuff of why we’re being introduced to her… so that we can get to the really big, uh, potentially World War III causing stuff.
The episode begins with a woman in a dominatrix outfit of sorts shooting a man up with something that causes him to drown in the bathtub while she waltzes over to a laptop, transfers all of his funds somewhere, and promptly takes off her wig and colored contacts so she can return home to her girlfriend as a whole other person. The woman in the wig is Vanessa Cruz and she’s Red’s next assignment for the Post Office team. He informs Lizzie of this after arriving at her apartment, gun drawn, to find Tom there asking for her help to get the passports from his old box o’ spy stuff so he can start a new life. This is supposed to be the epic Red vs. Tom battle for Lizzie’s loyalties, but it’s really more of a, “Bro, you gotta go,” with a side of, “Fine, I’ll leave, but I’m not particularly thrilled about it,” than the showdown that was marketed to us.
But that’s fine because Liz has to get on with finding Vanessa Cruz. Apparently she’s the person behind multiple one-percenter-types being framed for white collar crimes that they didn’t commit, frequently right before they die. Ressler and Keen go to visit a man who claims he’s been framed by this woman, but has managed to land himself in jail rather than a coroner’s office. Mr. Conway claims that he was having an affair with a woman who would had access to all of his info to be able to frame him for a Ponzi scheme. But even with all of their correspondence and her extended presence in his life, detectives were never able to trace her to him. The same goes for Mr. Salinger, the man you may remember as being super dead in a bathtub from earlier. But where your average fleet of private detectives fails, Aram steps in to piece together bits and pieces of pictures, and gets his buddy, Osborne—“freaking Osborne!”—in forensics to piece together a print to figure out that all of these men had illicit relationships with Vanessa Cruz before they were framed.
NEXT: Framing for love, loving to frame…
A trip to Cruz’ mother’s house lays out the reasoning behind it all: Vanessa was married to a man named Fernando who was accused of insider trading and then jumped off the George Washington Bridge. But Vanessa always maintained his innocence, and the Post Office team figures out that Cruz is going after people who were involved in the insider trading that Fernando was accused of. When they go back to talk to Mr. Conway in prison, he reveals that there was a group of people who arranged the insider trade, and they all agreed to pin it on Fernando, and when Fernando figured out that they were framing him, he was killed. Everyone who had a part in framing Fernando has been taken care of by Vanessa except one…
And that man, Mr. Carlton, is currently meeting Vanessa in a hotel. Well, actually, he’s meeting Abby, his assistant who he believes he’s been exchanging scandalous text messages with for weeks. Abby also happens to be Vanessa’s current girlfriend, who Vanessa has been using as a part of her plan to frame Carlton for the murder-suicide of his assistant/mistress. Vanessa isn’t able to go through with killing Abby in the name of revenge, but she does kill Mr. Carlton and escape before the FBI gets there. Knowing that her jig is up, Vanessa is sitting in an airport, likely on her way to a life of no longer murdering people in bathtubs, when a dashing Mr. Kaplan sits down across from her. He tells Vanessa that her employer is a longtime admirer of her handiwork; she can either run and hide from her newly discovered trail of crimes, or she can accept help. These two seem like a dangerous combination.
Speaking of dangerous combinations… Mr. and Mrs. Keen get a lot of quality time this episode. It’s amazing how far Tom Keen has come as a character, not just from glasses to tats, but from sketchy lingerer to one of the most complex and flushed out characters on the show—hell, we know more about Tom’s past than Lizzie’s at this point. But because of Tom’s past, he needs to go into hiding, and he can’t do that without the passports he’s been trying to get from Liz. During the investigation into Vanessa Cruz, she offers them in exchange from some information on “shelf corporations” and when Tom pulls through, she gives them to him. And with that, it’s time for Tom to start over.
He asks Liz if she thinks a new life is possible for him, and she tells him he has to be able to be honest to start over. She knows that their entire marriage couldn’t have been a lie, that some of their relationship must have been true and he confirms that she made him feel like, for a moment, he had a real life and someone who cared about him. So Liz asks him to just try being honest with her now: How did he get these passports in the first place? He can’t tell her—so she tells him goodbye. And someone must have been being honest here because I finally believed these two as a pair of lovers divided by circumstances and…
Red is pretty busy this episode, mostly trying to save his life, and also, possibly, the world. While Liz is tracking down his Blacklister, Red is trying to prevent the Syndicate from voting in favor of killing him off. That’s the Syndicate that Fitch was a part of; Fitch, who used to keep said Syndicate from killing Red only by assuring them that he had the Fulcrum; Fitch, who shortly before he was blown to pieces told Red that he could get “Hobbs” on his side, but “Jasper” sided with the Chinese. That’s Hobbs, the billionaire who Red helped protect last episode so he’d “owe him one.”
Man this is complicated, but basically, Red is cashing in on that Hobbs favor this week. The Director (David Strathairn) has decided to call a vote to see if the rest of the Syndicate agrees that it’s time to get rid of Red for good. Hobbs assures him that he’s been lobbying on his behalf, and it’s down to one swing vote: Jasper. Hobbs calls Jasper in for a meeting and reminds him that if Red, in fact, has the Fulcrum, his death will trigger its release. The counterargument to that, of course, is that if he doesn’t have it, he’s just dead, so luckily Red is lurking just around the corner to step in and appeal to Jasper’s vanities with some truly inspired manipulating: “Jasper, you strike me as a man who would prefer to pitch rather than catch.”
NEXT: Never trust a syndicate of criminal masterminds…
Red tells Jasper that the Director is just looking to consolidate his power and rolls out an extended Julius Caesar metaphor to prove it. How does Mr. Jasper want to be cast in history: a subordinate who remained slavishly obedient to his master, or the presumptive leader of an organization that will be far more powerful than it has ever been?” And Jasper really seems to eat up applying his vote to the latter option. That is, until Hobbs arrives for the big vote, ready to save Red, and The Director leads him back to a room with only Jasper in it. They tell him the vote has already passed and it did not favor Reddington—because Reddington didn’t build Mr. Hobbs from the ground up, they did. They got him his government contracts and handed him the connections to make his fortunes. And he betrayed them, so now he’s to get on a plane and leave the country without calling his family, no questions asked.
So, that just leaves Red to deal with. Jasper calls him up, tells him the vote went his way and that he should come on over and see everybody. But things almost always go Red’s way, so you better believe he knows when they haven’t. He tells Jasper, the man who’s now part of a supremely powerful group of people determined to kill him: “You need to run, Jasper—run like the prairie win because I’m coming for you. And when I find you, I’m going to cut up that fork tongue of yours and deliver it to the Director myself.”
All of this is a lot to follow for a bunch of men we’ve hardly spent any time with and who all seem equally evil. But what comes next is much easier to keep up with because it’s been coming for a long time. Tom calls Liz one last time, and when she goes to see him, he tells her he’s ready to be honest: It was Red who first gave him those passports. There’s more that we don’t get to hear, but the next thing we know, Liz is meeting up with Red outside—yes, outside, after a syndicate of the most powerful people on the planet recently voted to murder Red and murder him good—telling him that she’s just been with a man she knows to be a habitual liar, so she just needs a yes or no answer from him about something Tom told her… but before she can even ask the question, Red answers: Yes, it was him who hired Tom to enter her life in the first place.
And that’s that. Liz doesn’t want to hear any explanation from Red. She doesn’t want to know why he put Tom in her life, or why she’s so integral to the Fulcrum, or why Red is so obsessed with her. She just wants it all to stop; so, she hands over the Fulcrum box and hoofs it back to her car before Red can even begin to explain. And with that true disregard for the answers she’s so long been seeking, I can really believe that Liz is actually done with Reddington this time.
Except it doesn’t turn out to be that simple. Because right after Lizzie gets in the car, a shot rings out and Red hits the ground. Dembe and Liz scramble to him, but that bullet hit his chest, and blood was immediately visible on his back (or potentially the other way around, it was difficult to tell), so things are not looking good. No matter the leagues he plays in, or the world-altering information he has access to, a shot to the chest is a firm reminder to both the characters and the audience that Raymond Reddington is a powerful man, but he is still only a man.
A Few Loose Ends:
- “[Reddington] has a moral code. I don’t like it, but at least I know what it is, and it does not include lying to me.” Lizzie, what are you talking about?!
- Once Liz remembers that Red has a bit of a truthing problem, I get why she doesn’t want to know why Red hired Tom in the first place but, uh, I’d like to know. That’s me… asking you to explain it to me.
- Theories on why Mr. Reddington, criminal mastermind, needs Ms. Cruz, a master framer of criminals, on his team?
- Here’s a hypothetical: If that flight The Director so kindly set up for Hobbs turns out to be a bullet to the head, I wonder how those jellyfish cells could have helped him out had that research been successful. Would he have turned into a baby Hobbs to start the process of becoming a tech billionaire all over again?
- If the Syndicate ultimately decided that they could be done with Red once and for all because he didn’t have the Fulcrum, then where do they believe the Fulcrum is?
- Is there any chance that wasn’t the Syndicate that shot Red down at the end? If so, who else could it be?
- Red is neither Caesar nor Cassius… he is the Rubicon.
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.