'The Blacklist' recap: 'Luther Braxton Conclusion'
All of my apologies for the untimeliness of this Blacklist recap; my own personal Post Office was dealing with an unauthorized blow to the immune system. And on Thursday, The Blacklist’s fancy new night, I realized that this episode was one that required 100 percent brain capacity because, until a second viewing, I was half-convinced that the conclusion of “Luther Braxton” was just a fever dream. So, here I am, days later, still pretty confused, but also excited. I make no promises to understand the inner workings of Elizabeth Keen’s psyche, but it seems that no one else does either, so we’re in good company.
Memory is a fickle thing—it can deceive, idealize, sadden, enlighten, control you. For Elizabeth Keen, her memory is a big empty space: Its potential is limitless if only she could access it. It could be a place full of answers—some sort of escape from the wreck her life has become—or it could be a room full of kerosene waiting for one repressed match to light everything on fire. And even though this episode spends quite a bit of time in Liz’s memory, other than a few clues, our understanding of Liz and Red’s intertwined past is really none the richer for it. Because if there’s one thing “Luther Braxton Conclusion” teaches us, it’s that memory can’t be trusted.
Take for example, Raymond Reddington and Luther Braxton. In both installments of his two-part storyline, we hear Braxton repeatedly mention Belfast, the place where his and Red’s histories intersect. For him, it’s a point of pride—a time when he defeated the great Raymond Reddington and made a name for himself in the thievin’ world. But in a truly delicious blow, and the moment that we know Braxton truly never stood a chance at uncovering the Fulcrum, Red reveals that he barely even remembers Belfast. Of course, that could all just be psychological gameplay… because the thing about memory is that it can be manipulated. The exact same moment in the past can mean different things to different people, which is why it’s very important that the Fulcrum—an object that appears to be almost entirely lost to memories of the past—be found by the right person.
The hour opens moments after last week’s Super Bowl episode left off, in the wreckage of The Factory just after it’s been hit by the missiles “The Director” (David Strathairn) sent to destroy Red. But that pretty terrible plan was unsuccessful, as we find Red, Ressler, and Samar figuring out a way to get communication back to the Post Office to let them know they’re alive (barely, in the case of poor Samar). Liz, on the other hand, is in the meaty grips of Luther Braxton, being whisked away on a helicopter to be poked and prodded until he figures out what part she plays in finding the Fulcrum.
And as it turns out, the people Braxton is working for are The Director and his gang of classy villains who we saw discussing Red’s threat status last week. This makes The Director’s decision to torpedo The Factory with the man he has hunting for the Fulcrum potentially still in it all the more confusing, but presumably destroying Red was worth it. It also clears up Braxton’s enthusiasm for his mission, as the people he’s working for are a powerful bunch, and supposedly the very same people who would be destroyed if the information contained by the Fulcrum was ever revealed. So what’s a little waterboarding of an FBI agent with all that at stake?
Braxton gets Liz to an abandoned warehouse in Anacostia and proceeds with the torturing-for-Fulcrum-information, but it’s no use… if she ever knew anything about the Fulcrum and “the night with the fire” that Braxton revealed he was privy to last week, she doesn’t remember it now. Now, this is when Luther Braxton starts to not seem like the sharpest tool in the shed—more thug than worthy Reddington opponent. Braxton tells Lizzie that he once needed help repressing a memory, and the woman that helped him forget is going to help her remember. After invading her home and taking her son hostage, Braxton informs Dr. Selma Orchard, “I’m thinking if you were able to bury one of my memories, then you can retrieve some of hers.” Dr. Orchard resists at first, letting Braxton know that the memory isn’t just a Ziplock bag—as easy to open as it is to close. But with her son’s life at stake, she gets to work and Lizzie is soon under anesthesia entering a “lucid waking dream state” to take her back 26 years to the night of the fire.
NEXT: Next time, maybe just a dream journal is the way to go…
As soon as Lizzie goes under and begins to enter her own subconscious, she’s immediately more childlike, and Megan Boone must be commended for having to do some pretty weird stuff throughout this hour; from seizures, to Exorcist-like revelatory shouts, to Christmas tree shopping with a 4-year-old version of herself, retrieving repressed memories in a matter of a few hours is no joke. In her memory, we see a little version of Lizzie being put in a closet by a man who tells her not to come out until he comes to get her. The adult Lizzie that we know is there with her, listening to a man and a woman argue outside the closet door. In real life, Liz’s body begins going into spasms, but Braxton insists that Dr. Orchard keep going, so she gives Liz another sedative and she enters back into the memory shouting, “WHERE IS SHE?”
Now, if you’re really trying to get down with figuring out every Blacklist clue you can, I recommend going back to these memory scenes and watching them with Closed Captioning, because the muffled argument between the man and the woman, though hard to keep up with from scene to scene, is illuminating… you know, in that way that gives you exactly no answers but about 100 more questions. Take for example, this exchange:
Woman: Listen, you’re in trouble.
Man: Because of you! You told her.
Woman: Yes I did, I told her.
Woman: Instead, they framed Masha.
Who’s Masha? Well, according to Little Lizzie, Masha is… Lizzie. After Big Lizzie goes out of the closet toward the voices and Little Lizzie tries desperately to stop her, Real Life Lizzie begins going into convulsions. Dr. Orchard brings her back to consciousness just as she screams, “My father! My father was there,” and wakes up. Dr. Orchard tells her that the child version of herself in her dream represents a piece of her subconscious that’s trying to keep her from remembering the night with the fire, the night Braxton is trying to make her remember.
Lizzie doesn’t remember her parents; anything that happened before that fire is lost to her, and not just in the way that 4-year-old memories are hazy—her childhood is a blank slate, and that night isn’t just a key to finding the Fulcrum; for Lizzie, that memory is a key to unlocking her past. After assuring Dr. Orchard that she’ll go back under willingly, she tells her, “Something happened that night, something that people are willing to kill for… I’m not doing this for Braxton or for you. I’m doing it for me. I need to know the truth.”
So, it would seem then, that in her search for truth, Lizzie is the best one to find the Fulcrum: Braxton is just in search of money, as we find out when he goes to meet with the Director, demanding another 10 percent of what the Cabal is already paying him; the Director wants power, or at least, not to lose the power he already has; and Red… well, we’re not sure just yet what he wants overall, but we know he wants to get to Lizzie, cornering Braxton as he leaves his meeting with the Director, giving him a big, dramatic “I told you so.” He’s told Braxton all along that he was in over his head; but really, with Fulcrums and memory recovery at play, isn’t everybody?
As Red makes his way to Lizzie, she enters back into her memory with Dr. Orchard for more muffled revelations from the arguing man and woman:
Woman: They’ll kill you if you don’t give it back to them.
Man: They’ll kill me if I do!
Woman: Did you really think I’d let it happen and I wouldn’t come for her.
Real Life Lizzie: The Fulcrum…
Man: It’s the only thing keeping me alive.
Well, we’ve definitely heard of the Fulcrum keeping at least one man alive before. Enter Raymond Reddington, stage right, shooting everyone in the room except Dr. Orchard and Lizzie. He tells Dr. Orchard that her son is safe and the FBI are on their way to him and then asks if Lizzie is OK. She tells him that she’s been remembering “a fire, an argument…something called the Fulcrum.” Consider Red intrigued (and wearing his emotions much more obviously than usual): “Does she know where it is…the Fulcrum?” When Dr. Orchard tells him no, Red asks if Lizzie would be in any danger if they continued, if the process could harm her. And even though it’s seemed pretty dangerous thus far, Dr. Orchard tells him if it’s done with great care then she should be fine.
So, back into the Magical Memory Machine we go, but now with Red leading the way. He tells her she needs to find the Fulcrum, needs to see it, but when she begins to struggle in real life as she approaches the argument in her dream state, he tells her to go back. Little Subconscious Lizzie runs back to the closet and Big Lizzie goes with her. As smoke begins to filter in she tells her she cant’s stay there she has to scream as loud as she can, and she does, she screams… and suddenly Lizzie is being led out of the closet, though the fire.
NEXT: We all knew that dream rabbit wasn’t really a real rabbit (wait…)
Ressler and Samar arrive and are suspicious of what Reddington is up to, but Dr. Orchard tells them it’s not safe to wake Liz. Back in her memory, Lizzie is walking through the fire, there are flashes of the silhouette of her stuffed bunny being carried, she passes a man lying on the ground to whom Little Lizzie’s voice shouts, “Daddy, no!” and she sees the back of three men exiting the house, one of whom looks like he could be a young Reddington. As she begins to come out of the dream state, she lifts her hands in both the memory and real life, and watches the burn scar develop on her wrist. She opens her eyes, stares at Red blankly and says, “You were there.”
A lot of this doesn’t make sense… it doesn’t have to. Because most of it doesn’t makes sense to Lizzie, our resident confused surrogate, either. She doesn’t understand what’s going on any more than we do, but also like us, she has her theories. And her theories lead her back to wherever it is that she’s living now, rifling through tokens from her past: a music box, a picture of her and Sam, and her burned stuffed bunny.
After remembering she was there the night of the fire, Lizzie tells Red that she knows why he came into her life then and why he’s come back into it now: “Not because of me, who I am to you—whatever connection we might have. But because of some object, some thing.” She tells him that the charade of him pretending to care about her is over; it ended the night she saw her father die in a fire, a night that she now remembers.
Or does she? This wouldn’t be The Blacklist if everything was just as it seemed at the 45-minute mark, so as “Baptisms” by Radical Face begins to play, and in between clips of Lizzie looking through her box of memories—“There’s something to be said/For a place to lay your head”—she goes to meet with Dr. Orchard. She asked Liz to meet her again because during the memory treatment she observed that it didn’t seem like she was the first one to go into Liz’s memory: “You may not remember, you may have been very young, but I think someone may have tried to block your memory of that fire.” Liz says she knows she didn’t make up everything that’s come back to her, and Dr. Orchard tells her that, “the people and the events may have been there but in different roles.” The only way to find out what really happened that night is to find the people who wanted her to forget it in the first place.
As she digs into the box of Things That Lizzie Forgot, she plays with the stuffed bunny we’ve seen her handle many times. But this time, she handles with intent. She feels something in its neck, rips it open, and discovers what looks like a tiny music box on the outside, but a kind of old school microchip on the inside. And this is where the real question of the Fulcrum comes in: As we watch Liz in reflection, her face obscured by the mirror’s seam, she gets a kind of crazed smile on her face. Can anyone really handle the power that comes with possessing the Fulcrum? Is this the object that will push Lizzie from unassuming FBI agent to the more criminal side of her we’ve seen glimpses of in the past. What exactly will she do with this new discovery, this information that only she truly has power over?
The Blacklist is always on the edge of slipping past mystery and into frustration, but I found “Luther Braxton Conclusion” to be fully intriguing in its messy confusion. Maybe it’s just because we spent half of the episode in Lizzie’s subconscious, but this episode felt like the beginning of a new chapter for The Blacklist and the hunt for the Fulcrum truly getting underway. These memories take the relationship between Lizzie and Red far beyond “Is he her father?” and even further past “What does he mean to her?” and into the realm of, “What does the relationship between Lizzie and Red mean to the world at large?” We’re finally getting somewhere on understanding why this junior level FBI agent is so damn interesting.
It’s not because she might be Red’s daughter, or because she has an uncanny knack for attracting dangerous people; but because she’s at the center of something—some thing—so much bigger than herself and her complicated family history. At this point, Lizzie could be a robot, or a humanoid designed to house information, or just a girl born into a messed-up situation, but she’s definitely something beyond just being someone. What will Liz do with the information she now has? An empowered Lizzie? I can’t even begin to imagine…
A Few Loose Ends:
- I’ve held off on mentioning that Red pays a visit to the home of the Director, an ever present Braxton, hung up by his neck in the frame at all times. He says he’s returning him to the Director to “make it abundantly clear that you should never again doubt who I am and what I have.” The Director stands by his disbelief that Red possesses the Fulcrum and Red dares him to call his bluff. As I’m still pretty unclear on what exactly the Fulcrum is (see below), I’ll reserve judgment.
- So… are we to believe that nugget-size box of bulbs and wires is the Fulcrum. And that whoever hid it in the bunny assumed that this permanently hypnotized girl with no family would keep up with a burned stuffed animal for the rest of her life? Or was the point that it could be lost? Because it seems like a hammer could have done that trick pretty readily. To me, it seems more like another clue. Take it away, tiny box!
- There was little mention of the Post Office gang because, though Aram was doing his regular share of 100 percent of the heavy lifting, they were mostly just staying one step behind Red all night. But there was the devastating scene during the “Baptisms” montage with Agent Cooper and his wife going into the doctor’s office and clearly receiving some bad news. As we don’t get a lot of personal story lines without reason, this is sure to come back.
- Speaking of personal story lines, there was also a precious scene where Aram is so relieved that Samar is safe that he hugs her in front of Cooper and Ressler, and then kind of hugs Ressler as an afterthought.
- If the roles in Lizzie’s memory of the fire are switched, then Red could have played any number of parts in that night 26 years ago: One of the men leaving the house, the man who put her in the closet, the man who took her out, the woman we hear arguing, her father…
- All things worth noting: The woman in the fire memory calls Liz Masha, a Russian name; Fitch talked about a clue that could lead to the Fulcrum being kept in a safe in St. Petersburg, which we still haven’t heard anything else about, even though it seemed pretty urgent when Fitch was, y’know, blowing up; Red has already had some dealings with secret Russian daughters this season (miss you, Zoe, girl).
- The look on Red’s face as Dr. Orchard was reunited with her son, just after Lizzie had told him off was… palpable.
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.