'The Blacklist' recap: 'The Kenyon Family'
Hello, all you Blacklist fans. All of my apologies for the multiple steps taken in finding these recaps for the past few weeks—but thank you for sticking with it because, “There are good ships and wood ships, ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are [recapships], may they always be!”
And just as we’re getting back to normal, The Blacklist is getting back to two of its often most reliable staples: creep and camp. The Blacklist does creepy incredibly well, in part because they employ full-creep episodes sparingly. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that tonight’s episode was written by the same writer who penned “The Mombasa Cartel,” a.k.a. the Matthew-who-played-with-taxidermied-humans episode, Daniel Knauf. Swap out creepy family for creepy cult, and this episode had quite a similar vibe: Not the most cohesive hour, but breathless, nonetheless.
Before we get into this, I should put something on the table: I grew up in Waco, Texas. I’m, perhaps, a little more susceptible to the chill factor of cult-based plotlines than most. And there are a lot of cult plots in serialized television history… a lot more cult plots than cults, surely. But The Blacklist went ahead and took the typical cult trope, mixed in a little Children of the Corn, and then took a sharp left turn Lord of the Flies, making for an hour that had me occasionally guffawing at the absurdity, but also entirely enthralled in the stakes, with the caveat that I understood what the stakes were when they were at stake, which was not always. But on The Blacklist, you can at least always count on finding your way about the time that Ressler gets kidnapped (adultnapped?)…
Let’s talk about that opening scene: If there is another primetime drama that employs tonally perfect music as effectively as The Blacklist, I do not know it. Yes, a capella gospel songs are kind of a sure thing, but I took both strikes of “Down to the River to Pray” straight to the gut. The episode opens on a cult leader/preacher who has it all: Thick-as-molasses Southern accent, bolo tie, and a homily about Lot and his daughters that conveniently helps him explain child brides… one of whom joins him at the front of the church in a wedding dress following his sermon as the congregation starts in, “As I went down to the river to pray…” As that skin-crawling scene is going down, it’s also interspersed with men out in the darkness of the night loading boxes into underground storage containers. Those men are bludgeoned and gassed by unseen hands, and suddenly, those same gas canisters are flying through the windows of the church. A scythe holds the door shut as hands beat against it and screams pour through the windows.
THE KENYON FAMILY, NO. 71
As if a terrifying Old Testament cold open wasn’t enough to get you interested, Glen is back after the title card. Glen! Glen, the DMV worker who boils Red’s blood like no one else can, I think, because he’s the only person—at least the only one we’ve seen proof of—that Red actually needs. He provides something that Red can’t provide himself, and not just in that “secret stuffed animal stash” way that Lizzie does. At the DMV, in between Glen lying about having a retirement party he needs to bring a shrimp platter to, Red tells him that he needs to find a safe in St. Petersburg that resides on the second floor of somewhere and the only clue is Allen Fitch. It seems that Red might be playing Glen a little bit, knowing that Glen only cooperates when Red gets “all in a lather,” which he does with all the shrimp talk, but there’s no question that Glen knows how to get what he wants out of Red, too. And what he wants after he tracks down the necessary information to find the safe is to accompany Red to St. Petersburg, more specifically, on his private jet.
Red also asks Liz to meet him at The DMV (“You don’t even drive”) to tell her about Justin Kenyon, “the smiling face of a public militia movement” that goes by The Church of the Shield. Lizzie and the FBI know all about Kenyon, and all about the four expert civil rights attorneys he keeps on retainer to keep those pesky feds out of his doomsday business. What she doesn’t know is how he pays for those attorneys. According to Red, Kenyon uses his 15,000-acre compound to rent out a secret hiding place for the world’s criminals to bury storage containers full of all sorts of world-destroying contraband. And get this: Kenyon has been missing for three days, which would only be a small problem if it weren’t for the fact that Church of the Shield’s specific religious literature says that, come Armageddon/Revelations/whathaveyou, Kenyon (a direct descendent of the god, Ken’yon, obvi) will ascend to heaven and after six days, come back to Earth and… basically, burn that place to the ground.
NEXT: “We don’t want another Waco…”
Now, the question is whether the FBI should risk the political consequences of raiding the compound with the chance that Reddington could be wrong about the illegal storage container activity. And I simply love Red’s response to that: “Lizzie, exactly when have I been wrong?” Honestly, Lizzie. I’ll make short work of it: They go. But it’s not just because of Red. There’s also an abandoned van discovered by two State Troopers in Alabama with a vin number registered to Kenyon and license plates stolen from a car five miles away from Kenyon’s compound in Tennessee. After approaching the van and lowering their weapons for some reason when they reach the driver’s window, the van explodes.
That reason quickly becomes clear when Samar is sent to check out a similar van in Maryland where local authorities have blocked off the area because it’s visibly lined with a huge amount of explosives. Also visible? A little boy sitting in the driver’s seat. Samar calmly walks across the barrier as the police yell at her to come back, and I have to say, I much prefer Samar’s “talking to children in peril who are also on the edge of causing peril” voice to Lizzie’s. She talks to the little boy kind of like a man, because it’s clear that he thinks he’s doing a man’s job. Samar asks him if his mission is to kill a bunch of people, and then points out that if he explodes the van, he’ll only be killing the two of them, “And I don’t want to die today… do you?”
He does not. The little guy goes back with Samar to the Post Office where there’s a woman, a former Church of the Shield member, who claims to be his mother. Well, she says that, but she also can’t believe it’s him because she thought her son was dead. You see, she has some interesting insights about what was going down at The Church of the Shield before she left. When Ken’yon, passed down his holy message to Kenyon to start Church of the Shield, he told him that every man in the Church should take three wives. And that was fine until those wives started having babies: “He must have seen the flaw in his plans… there were too many boys, of course.” So, to keep the wife/husband ratio in balance, Kenyon began the Walkabout, an annual ceremony where one boy was “chosen,” taken out in the freezing Tennessee woods, and left.
During most of this Kenyon talk, still the only glimpse we’ve gotten of him was when he was being gassed. While the mystery is enthralling, it’s also pretty convoluted. For about the first quarter of the show, I thought that opening scene must have been a flash-forward. But when the FBI arrive at the compound, things start to lock into place. The scene left behind inside the church is gruesome: As a choral version of “Down to the River to Pray” plays, the camera pans over the congregation we last heard singing it, and it’s clear that whoever gassed Kenyon’s wedding finished the job by stabbing, bludgeoning, or choking every adult in the church. The children and Kenyon himself, however, are missing, and the storage containers are all cleared out. Except for one thing… a little girl who has hidden away inside a crate.
The girl looks a lot like Liz, but I think that’s more coincidental than anything. Since the girl is the only surviving witness to what’s happened at the compound, Ressler and Liz, and the sheriff overseeing the proceedings all agree they need to get her out of there. And from the moment Liz gets in the back seat with her and starts asking her name in her kid-friendly voice, you know it’s no good, because it exactly mirrors the scene from the very first Blacklist episode where Lizzie survived her very first car crash/kidnapping combo. We’ve been seeing flashes of someone running through the woods all episode, and as they drive past the woods exiting the compound, something shoots their tire out, sending them crashing into the trees.
Ressler is blocked into the car by a tree, but the sheriff and and Liz are okay. When Liz spots smoke coming from further up the mountain, she decides that she’ll go check it out by herself because that never, ever winds up with kidnapping. And when she sees a bunch of baby dolls hanging by their legs from trees on her way toward the smoke, she keeps going (See the additional notes for further questioning of the recent FBI work of our favorite agents). She goes back toward the car eventually, but not before Ressler and the little girl get taken by a group of variously sized boys matted with dirt and armed with weapons.
NEXT: Drink every time someone gets kidnapped!
Back at the Post Office, between the mother and the little boy, Samar and Cooper have pieced together what’s been going on at Kenyon’s compound. Starting with his own son, Kenyon sent the excess boys of the Church out into the woods thinking that the harsh conditions of the Tennessee mountains would kill them; but it didn’t—the weak died and the strong survived, creating their own society who still worshipped Ken’yon but in the past few weeks began to call into question Justin Kenyon’s calling to fulfill his prophecy. Instead, the boys’ militia follows his son, David Kenyon, the first of their tribe. Samar calls Red to tell him that they’ve been unable to get in touch with Liz for the past few hours, and he tells her to give him the inventory of what was taken from the storage containers, no explanation necessary. And he pulls through, because when does he ever not? He gets the owner of the Hellfire missiles (a charming and violent flower shop owner) to give him the access codes so that he can turn on the cameras attached to them, which provide helpful coordinates and also reveal the boys to be in some sort of handmade bunker…
A bunker that Lizzie will soon find herself in. She makes it back to the car by nightfall to find the sheriff dead and the others missing, but it’s not long before the cult-inside-a-cult finds her, too. She sees a small boy in the distance and mutters a hilarious, “heyyyy,” but soon the bigger boys surround her from all sides. In a creep for creep’s sake transition, the littlest one approaches her with a newly found leer and strokes her cheek. Soon she’s back in their lair, surrounded by the boys while Head Boy in Charge, David, yells at his father on some upper level. When Liz asks to see Ressler and the boys bring him out, they get in a skirmish and Liz manages to get one of their guns and turn it on them. They don’t look particularly scared, but it doesn’t matter, because the non-kidnapped FBI agents storm the camp at that moment.
But David is nowhere to be found, leaving behind his dead father, with bunches of twigs stuffed in his eye sockets and mouth. There are many, many close-ups of this, but no real indication as to its significance. When they do find David, he’s in the third and final white van, packed with explosives, ready to blow it up and fulfill Ken’yon’s prophecy. Lizzie approaches him and says to go ahead and blow the thing up—that’s what his father wanted in the first place, for him to die; for all of them to die. Liz gets David to agree agrees that he’s a better man than his father, but apparently this is all taking too long because some random boy in the woods shouts, “Coward!” and shoots David in the head. And then all of the FBI agents shoot him.
For as well as the suspense holds throughout this episode, the pacing was very odd; it would have been preferable to get to know the Kenyon family member at the root of all the drama a little better before he was taken out by an unnamed follower. The drawn out process of the audience figuring out what’s going on in the woods, and then the FBI figuring out what’s going on in the woods, and then Lizzie figuring out what’s going on in the woods is mostly compensated for by just how creepy everything going on out in the woods actually is, though. What’s going on out in the rest of the world is that through a lot of hilarious bickering between Glen and Red—“You insulted my flight attendant.” “I thought she was pregnant!”—they track down the safe, which contains only a card with a phone number on it.
When Red gets back to America, he waits for Lizzie in her office and tells her that he knows she can’t be happy in her hotel living accommodations and has gotten her a beautiful new apartment. But girl is still mad. She tells him to stop trying so hard: “You and me, it’s just business. That’s all it’s ever going to be.”
Red, you, and I all pretend like we haven’t heard that before. We’ll just have to wait and see how long Lizzie can hold out, especially considering what Red is hiding in his own storage container at Kenyon’s compound. He must have coughed up the big bucks for a suite with a garage door, hidden under the church, where no one would look. That’s where he keeps a car: Specifically, a Lincoln Continental, outfitted with Presidential motorcade flags. It looks to be from the ’60s or ’70s and “Somewhere Beyond the Sea” plays when he turns the key. Any theories on that car are beyond welcome in the comments, as well as any ideas on this little exchange.
Mystery number from the safe: “Yes?”
Red: “I’m calling on behalf of Allen Fitch.”
Mystery number: “The safe—you found the safe.”
Red: “Who the hell is this?”
A Few Loose Ends:
- Who the hell was that? And, seriously, what is with that car??
- I hate leaving Cooper’s illness to the end every time, but I’m just not sure how it fits in with the rest of the story yet. After Cooper tells the Attorney General that he can’t take the Director’s position because he’s very sick, the A.G. gets him into a clinical trial that his doctor told him was his best bet, but he hadn’t been accepted into previously. They toast with the “good ships/friendships” toast that opened the recap. Maybe it’s good news for ol’ Coops!
- The kidnapping stuff seems like a joke at this point, no? I like Ressler. I see Liz’s narrative purpose. But I’m not sure how much longer I can handle their constant fluctuations between badass FBI agents and, “Yes, let’s split up in this very dangerous situation with no back up and no plan.” The frequency with which sheer luck gets them out messes completely undermines their inevitable moments of competency. Pick a lane, Lizzie.
- Glen got his own Story Corner tonight where he’d never gotten to go out of the country and he looks at Red’s life and he sees that as something he might want—naw, he’s clownin’ on Red, he was born in London. He just wants that #privatejetstatus
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.