The Blacklist recap: 'Monarch Douglas Bank'
“Revenge isn’t a passion—it’s a disease. It eats at your mind and poisons your soul.”
—Raymond Reddington. Who else?
For most serialized network dramas, transitional episodes in the middle of a storyline are the pits: there’s not a clear end game, nothing to really root for or against, and half of the plot points may not have any payoff for weeks. On The Blacklist, episodes where you’re flying blind for 48 of the show’s 60 minutes, storing away information that might be helpful by the season finale, are often the most engaging. So it’s pretty impressive that the followup to last week’s Blacklister-of-the-week premiere manages to pile on the narrative question marks, give some definitive movement to the Berlin storyline,catch a whole heap of criminals, and put Peter Stormare, and his hook, and James Spader, and his hat on one park bench.
I’m not saying I love being confused all the time. But generally, the more confusion, and the deeper we go into Red’s psyche, the sweeter the payoff will be when answers inevitably come (oh, please let them come). So, allow me to quote Agent Cooper when I say, “Who the hell is Samar Navabi?”
MONARCH DOUGLAS BANK, NO. 112
With our second triple-digit Blacklister in Season 2, it’s officially a trend: Red is shooting easy targets. He has his hands full with Berlin and his annoying little habit of removing people’s body parts and sending them off in padded envelopes.
Yes, Red’s former wife, Naomi—now one finger and molar lighter than she was a few days ago—is a chink in his previously inerrable façade. I would listen to James Spader read any number of phone books in any number of slow, belabored cadences, but Reddington’s omnipresent ability to be 1,800 steps ahead of everyone else has always made the character a little too untouchable. But with one skeezy air kiss at the end of tonight’s big face-off, it became clearer than ever that Berlin, while not better than Red at his own game, is at least a worthy adversary. Red may be matching him kidnapping for kidnapping, but he still hasn’t been able to get ahead of this man.
For goodness sake: Lizzie had to save him tonight.
At the top of the episode, Red admits to Mr. Kaplan that he’s “out on the far end of the limb” after calling her in to clean up three more casualties from his mission to find Naomi. Lizzie has been on a different kind of recon hunt, and visits Red to tell him what her research has uncovered on his former wife: their daughter was placed in Naomi’s protective custody in 1990 when they went into witness protection. But as their U.S. Marshal lost contact with them seven years ago, the daughter is currently unaccounted for. Red tells Lizzie that the woman currently giving him a manicure used to date a nine-fingered bullfighter and is a trained surgeon. It’s a fairly typical interaction, all told.
Red is much more interested in the recent break-in at the Warsaw branch of Monarch Douglas Bank, “the preferred bank of international criminals, dictators, terrorists, and hedge fund managers.” According to the bank’s official statement about the robbery, nothing was stolen; according to Agent Cooper, the Treasury says Monarch’s record is clean. But Red says there’s a list of criminals a mile long who funnel money there—so it’s off to Warsaw for Ressler, Liz, and Liz’ fancy new haircut.
NEXT: What does your doughnut say about your kidnapping technique?
They’re greeted at the bank by an especially shady-seeming FBI agent, Salerno, who introduces them to Matt Strickland, the equally suspect EVP of Branch Operations at Monarch. Strickland tells them that the initial press release saying that nothing was stolen in the break-in was just a little snafu—because, you know, theft is a pretty standard practice in bank robberies. If someone uses the word “snafu,” there is a 100 percent chance that they’re lying, and an 80 percent chance that lie is of the “thousands of people will die for this” variety.
The Post Office team figures out that “The Formula,” the thing that totally wasn’t stolen during the heist, isn’t a ledger of criminals who launder their blood money through Warsaw so much as a whole human being. Aram, the King of Answers, has done a little zooming on some footage from the traffic camera outside the bank. He discovers that five men in hazmat suits went into the vault, but six came out—with the extra robber looking particularly feminine, thanks to the two-inch strip of eyeball visible through her hood. “This wasn’t a robbery… it was a kidnapping.”
The ‘napped party is Kaja Tomczak, the only bank employee to swipe in but not out on the day of the robbery. Her landlord tells Ressler and Liz that she was always surrounded by bank guards when she entered or exited her apartment, which is weird, but not weirder than the next thing that happens. When the escape van from the robbery is found, Liz finds a red substance in the front seat. It’s not blood, the only red substance she could identify by sight. So she calls up Red on his jet, who tells her to light it on fire after hearing it smells like roses. When it blazes up, he identifies it as the jam from a special Polish jelly doughnut. You guys, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I wanted to. Red may be a little off his game in light of his wife being kidnapped by a lunatic, but he can still identify jam from a cruising altitude of 30,000 feet.
He not only identifies the doughnut the robbers were eating before they kidnapped Koja, but also knows exactly what it means. When he arrives in Warsaw, he heads straight to his favorite bakery, where the owner—an older woman who is rightfully obsessed with Dembe—leads him to the walk-in refrigerator… and promptly raises a wall that reveals hundreds of semi-automatic weapons. He informs the owner that the last men who used her doughnut and criminal services robbed the Monarch bank, an action that she realizes will not be great for her business with dirty criminals. Once Red hits her with, “God can’t protect you. But I can,” she folds like a blanket and Red is able to tell Ressler and Liz where the robbers are keeping Kaja.
But Kaja isn’t as happy to see her rescuers when they arrive as they hoped she’d be. These FBI agents are so needy sometimes. It seems that she wasn’t kidnapped, you see. She was trying to escape.
Kaja has hyperthymesia, “a highly superior autobiographic memory.” She doesn’t just have an eidetic memory; her brain is like a permanently recording camcorder, and Monarch has been using that to its money-laundering advantage. Monarch hired Kaja to eliminate any need of a paper trail for their clients and their dirty accounts. But eventually she became more like the bank’s prisoner. She staged her kidnapping at the bank to ensure that there would be an investigation, and so that the evil she had been aiding could be discovered. But as she’s telling Ressler this in an interrogation room, Liz is having the crap beaten out of her by Agent Salerno—because just about everyone in this episode who doesn’t work at the Post Office is dirty, dirty, dirty. The editing between Ressler and Kaja calmly talking through the mirrored glass while Liz fights off the FBI agent—and gunned men begin climbing the stairs toward them—is a dose of the best kind of tension.
NEXT: You really won’t want any part of The Blacklist’s DIY Etsy shop…
Liz finally gets Ressler’s attention by shooting the mirror that’s been separating them, but even with the sudden explosion of glass, his reaction is slow enough to let the agent run out. When they chase after him, they’re suddenly face-to-face with Samar Navabi (Mozhan Marnò), the Mossad agent who kidnapped Red last episode. She tells them they’re outgunned by the forces entering the building, but she can hold them off while they escape. This is a passionate stranger providing exactly what they need, so surely they can trust her! They hit the bricks with Kaja.
But not before she gets clipped by a bullet, because that girl and her beautiful mind cannot catch a break. Liz and Ressler get her into a cab and try to keep her alive until they can rendezvous at a safe house. Which, of course, means that Ressler shoves a tampon into her open wound.
That little gem is immediately followed by Naomi, still very much kidnapped, shoving a salvaged chicken bone shiv into Berlin’s crony’s face. Last week, I was afraid that Naomi’s character was already skewing far too damsel-in-distress to ever recover. But it’s easy to forget when faced with a character like Red (or even the mostly stone-faced agents of the Post Office) that fear is a valid and reasonable feeling when you’re kidnapped and a mustachioed stranger starts forcibly removing your body parts. Even in the face of fear, Naomi can still use a chicken bone to escape captivity… though her triumph is short-lived.
Berlin finds Naomi before she can escape, and he is in no mood to play nice. By this time, he’s figured out that the money he keeps in Monarch’s Warsaw branch is in jeopardy and he tells Strickland in no uncertain terms that he will be “peeled like a grape” if The Formula doesn’t hold up.
It would seem to work in Berlin’s favor, then, that Liz and Ressler have to get Kaja—only one tampon and two mildly competent FBI agents between her and death—to a rickety train headed toward a pick-up point that Red has arranged. About the time Kaja begins to make her dying declaration of the criminal accounts at Monarch, the train comes to a stop. And you will just never guess who boards: It’s Red, and he’s been using the special task force for his own personal agenda. And they. Continue. To be. Surprised.
With access to Kaja, Red has access to all of the accounts at Monarch—specifically, Berlin’s account. And with all that money comes the power to get his wife back. More importantly, it comes with a scene between James Spader and Peter Stormare. Red and Berlin finally come face-to-face at Coney Island, where Berlin tells Red that all of this mayhem is worth it because it’s fueled by his passion for revenge. Red follows up with a classic entry in Red’s Related Story Corner, about a girl he went to summer camp with. She had unrelenting passion; passion that made her feel like she never had enough; a passion that pushed her toward anorexia.
Red: “She spent her entire life chasing something that destroyed her… make sure your passion isn’t your sickness.”
Berlin: “Your wife is coming apart nicely.”
Well, then. That’s Red’s cue to cut the self-improvement stuff and tell Berlin he has his money. He’s not giving it back until Naomi is safely returned: “Shhh, listen. Hear that? That’s the sound of your checks bouncing.” That, my friends, is what we call a BURN. But is a burn really a burn if the recipient knows your darkest secret? Berlin tells Red that while he may have this bit of power over him now, he knows that Red also has a passionate obsession. And that obsession is named Elizabeth Keen.
NEXT: Gee, Red sure has been helpful with this whole Monarch Bank for Criminals situation…
About this time, Red’s very own Achilles Heel is figuring out what the main Pain in Her Butt has been up to. She calls to inform him that he’s not the only one who came into contact with Kaja. She’s also heard the Monarch codes and transferred all the money from Berlin’s account—so when Red goes to make his agreed upon trade for Naomi, the money won’t be there. Red tells her that without the return of Berlin’s money, his wife will die. She says, so will he, but she has to do her job.
But Liz can’t go through with it. When Berlin hands over Naomi in exchange for his money, the transfer goes through on the Villain Bank App as planned. Later, when Red thanks Lizzie for saving his ass, she tells him that he is simply an asset she’s charged with protecting—that is her job. But she wants to know how she can be sure he didn’t pay Kaja not to give up his or his friends’ involvement with Monarch.
“Lizzie, don’t be silly. I don’t have any friends.”
Perhaps not—but as of now, Raymond Reddington does have weaknesses.
A few loose ends:
–We still don’t know exactly who Samar Navabi is by the end of this episode. But we do know that after showing Agent Cooper all of the intel she’s been able to uncover about his special task force—and seemingly gaining enough trust from him to ask for a favor—she calls Red and says, “I’m in. I look forward to working with you.” Oh boy; she probably works with Tom too.
–After Red thanks Lizzie for not letting him die, he says he realizes she must have another special source to have known that Berlin had an account with Monarch. Whomever could that be?
–Hello, Mr. Berlin. I see you over there, ordering your bionic hand.
–Did anyone else thing for a moment that Berlin was going to cut off Naomi’s lips? I did. It was terrible!
–It just wouldn’t be a show about morally ambiguous heroes if someone didn’t have a prescription pill problem. That someone is Agent Ressler.
–The Blacklist continues to have one of the most innovative soundtracks on television, with the final scenes transitioning from Tom Odell’s “Long Way Down,” as the Post Office wrapped up the Monarch case, to “Heal” (off the same album) while Dembe drove Naomi off into the night.
–Red’s reaction—or lack thereof—to his wife standing in front of him in a blindfold could be read in quite a few different ways. Your theories?
–Am I correct that Red’s phone conversation immediately following the Monarch robbery implied that he had something else important stored in Warsaw?
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.