Lizzie deals with a confusing case about ghosts and luck while Red doles out hugely important details from their shared past.
Credit: NBC
The Blacklist - Season 2

Just what Elizabeth Keen needs… on top of the murder-y spy ex-husband, and the murder-y criminal maybe-dad, Lizzie needs a little bit of ancient, undead bad luck on her side. That bad luck is earned tonight by way of not letting some guy who pets dead girls kill a woman so that she could lay next to her ex-fiance in the ground, thereby preventing his family from being haunted by anything more than the fact that they had a young woman murdered. Confused? Me too—but only in the least crucial of ways. I spent so much time trying to figure out what was happening with the Blacklister of the week that I almost didn’t notice all of the incredibly important big picture information that came to light tonight. Briefly: Liz’s mother was a Russian spy, Connolly straight up tells Cooper that he’s in the quaintly titled Cabal, and, oh, I guess we should start gearing up for fictional World War III because it’s a-comin’.

After unrolling so many answers in a particularly thrilling fashion last week, I was expecting the follow-up hour to be fairly plodding. That’s why it was a surprise to get to the end of this episode and find that we’d been given direct answers to a number of questions raised just last week, and some that have been bouncing around the comment boards all season. Reddington fittingly referenced Marathon Man (we’ll get to that little bit of pop-torture later) in this episode of The Blacklist that didn’t feel like the sprint-of-reveals we’re used to getting once or twice a season, but rather a plot marathon that tossed little cups of vital information at us along the way. Thirsty? Liz was born in Russia. Need electrolytes? Have some Cabal secrets with Samar. And in the end, wrap yourself in a nice, shiny blanket made of Mylar and Tom hugs.

The Red/Lizzie/Fulcrum reveals were a bit weighed down by a detail-heavy episodic storyline, but I also liked the payoff of someone directly telling Liz that, from this point on, there’s a perfectly sound, paper-doll-supported reason for her bad luck. And that is the truth: The woman has terrible luck. This season, especially the latter half, has dealt much with the fluidity of truth, and tonight Red makes it perfectly clear that no matter what Liz used to think, telling her the truth is not his motivator. For Red, the whole story is a matter of want versus need; for Lizzie, it’s a matter of the truth versus the whole truth.

Liz and Red seem to be on the same page about what constitutes a lie, and they’re not having any of that. But when it comes to telling the truth, Red tells Liz what he thinks she needs to know because Red has always thought he knows what’s best for her, and he has the hired spy ex-husband and pillow-suffocated adoptive father in his Lizzie wake to prove it. I don’t know if Red truly knows what Liz needs, but I know that since Red walked into her life, Liz stopped ever really knowing what she wanted. Sometimes she wants the truth and sometimes he doesn’t; sometimes she wants Red’s care and sometimes she doesn’t. What constitutes the “everything” that Lizzie is looking for, that Dembe has encouraged Red to tell her? In a pretty bold move, the writers informed us tonight, by way of Red, that they’re not telling. Not yet.


The Blacklister of the week story took a lot of twist and turns throughout the hour, but in the end it can be explained fairly simply—well, as simply as you can ultimately come to understand a paper mache ghost doll. Quon Zhang is a smuggler, one of the best in the world. Red knows of him because he’s the man who helped the Cabal smuggle explosives for two recent acts of mass-terrorism: a Taiwanese festival bombing in 2011 and an IED that took out a convoy in Jakarta. And it’s now come to his attention that Zhang is smuggling people. Specifically, with a little research from Aram, Zhang has been smuggling the dead bodies of Chinese-American women from America to China by faking their passports and birth certificates to make it appear that they were Chinese nationals who died in America and needed to be returned to their home country for burial.

But there were other plans for their Chinese burials. When Aram figures out the address where Zhang has been transporting the bodies because he noticed that one of the women suddenly had veneers before being transported back to China because Aram is the absolute king of the Post Office, Ressler and Liz find the operating lab to be vacated of all bodies except for two paper mache, life-size dolls—one that looks like the last woman who was being smuggled to China, and the other unknown.

Aram—are you shocked?—figures out that these dolls are part of the ancient Chinese ritual of ghost brides, an outlawed custom wherein if a person dies unmarried, the person’s family will bury them alongside a partnered dead body so that they won’t be alone in the afterlife and bring bad luck upon the living relatives they left behind. Apparently there is a shortage of young, attractive, well off female dead bodies in China though, so Zhang has been smuggling them from America for high-paying families hoping not to be haunted by their single dead relatives.

So, ghost bride smuggling… that’s what the task force has been dealing with. Zhang tells Lizzie that since she stopped him from murdering the woman he was hired to bring back to her ex-fiancé’s family who had committed suicide and needed to be laid to rest with a ghost bride, she would share in the bad luck tht would result from preventing the man a bride in the afterlife. And that bad luck is already starting to develop because, well… World War III is coming and all that.

You see, with the Fulcrum cracked and copied, Red still alive, and Lizzie out there threatening the most dangerous people in the world, the Cabal is getting antsy. Red’s man on the inside is dead, so he tells Leonard Caul to track down Kenneth Jasper (last seen being threatened to run like the prairie wind before Red catches him and cuts his tongue out for choosing the Director over him and Hobbs). Caul reports back the Jasper has disappeared so Red devises a plan to flush him out: Basically, Dembe steals his yacht and blows it up with an iPod playing “Big Spender,” receiveing enough attention to signal to the public that he’s missing. Ther forces Jasper to come out of hiding and hold multiple press conferences so that people won’t begin selling all their stock in his company due to erradic behavior, leading Red right to him.

NEXT: Never trust a puffer vest when it comes to torture…

And once Red has Jasper, he needs a favor from one Agent Samar Navabi. As he tells Jasper, Navabi trained with the Mossad in enhanced interrogation techniques. While Samar shoots Jasper up with Novocain in preparation to pull all of his teeth out because he won’t spill on what the Cabal’s next move is, Red is yammering on and on about how much he loves that dental-themed torture scene from Marathon Man. In typical Red fashion, it is both hilarious and torturous. In less typical Red fashion, he exits the room for the gruesome part; and as soon as he does, Samar unties Jasper and tells him she has orders from the Director to get him out of there as quickly as possible. She begins running him out into the hall, and when Dembe spots them, she shoots him right in the puffer vest and he crumples to the ground.

I will admit, that once I spotted the puffer vest I could never be fully committed to Samar as yet another mole in the Post Office, this one planted by the Cabal. But she does a hell of a job convincing Jasper of as much. There’s really not much convincing required at all—once they’re in a car on their way to the Director, he tells her that he knew they had someone on the inside, he just didn’t know who. They banter back and forth like co-workers jacked up on numbing agents, running from notorious criminals do, but still, he tells her that he really doesn’t know much. He knows that Director is advancing the timeline and that the plan is “to trigger a series of events that will bring us to the brink of another world war.” Cute. Jasper says he knows they’re targeting a defense installation in the U.S. next week, but he really doesn’t know which one.

And with that, Samar whips the car into Red’s latest recovery abode and reveals herself to be an angel disguised as a devil, disguised as a devil disguised as an angel. You can see how the poor world-war-triggering fella got confused, and how NBC marketing couldn’t help but taunt us with that Dembe scare. And I guess we continue to see how criminals just can’t resist an opportunity to dramatically deploy an ornate box. The Director gets a delivery at his office that’s flagged as a security risk, but it also comes with a coordinating phone call from Red: “I had a little chat with Jasper today… turns out he wasn’t very good at holding his tongue, so I thought I’d give you a shot at it.” Jasper’s tongue is in the box, as promised last week. I hope it’s the last tongue in a box any of us ever has to see.

While Red is following through on his word, Liz is working on being able to finally come up with a little follow through of her own. With the help of Tom, of course. When she shows the picture of her mother to Tom he recognizes a Russian ring on her hand like one that Berlin used to wear. Liz asks him to track down some of the people he knows Berlin used to work with to see if they recognize her mother the sunbeam, which leads them to some sort of public bath house where a Russian man is showering. That quickly leads to a towel-clad a fight with Tom when Tom starts asking questions, and Liz breaks it up waving her government-issued gun around on very non-government business because the women literally never learns.

But she’s driven by a primal need to find her mother at this point. They’re met only with silence when they push Berlin’s guy on if he knows the woman in the picture, a silence that Tom previously explained is a strong indicator that Red has put the deepest fear in someone to keep their mouth shut. But that silence is just as telling as an answer could have been and it leads Liz straight back to Red’s weird little apartment, searching it, picking up every little thing, talking wildly about how she knows Red is listening and that he saw her when she was there the first time, knew what (or rather, who) she’d be looking for once she left. And then she finds it, a small clock with a camera in it, and she’s right—Red is watching.

NEXT: Are You My Mama: Blacklist Edition, coming right up…

Liz tells him—it’s important to note that she’s speaking directly into a clock while sporting a serious case of crazy face—that of he doesn’t answer all of her questions, she’s going to find every last one of his secrets in that apartment. Red calls her, tells her it’s time to talk about the picture, he comes over, and they talk about it: “The girl is you. And the woman is your mother.” Red says when he knew Lizzie’s mother her name was Katarina Rastova. She was a KGB agent, and both of Lizzie’s parents were “in foreign intelligence.” Her recovered memories were correct that as a child, she was called Masha, born in Moscow. Speaking of those semi-recovered memories, when pressed, Red says that it was him who blocked her memory of the night of the fire in the first place and he’s not going to tell her why. Lizzie tells him that she needs to know what happened that night. “You want to know; there’s a difference.”

He’s right, there is a difference. And there’s a difference in Liz knowing she doesn’t have all the information, and knowing that she’s deliberately not being told all of the information of her own life—that Red never had any intention of telling her; that there’s no timeline he’s working with to eventually bring her all the way into the fold. This wasn’t the most seamless episode, and many of the big reveals came with little fanfare, but make no mistake, this is a turning point for Liz and Red. She doesn’t have to declare that they’re through forever or that she’ll never trust him again (or whatever she usually does) to draw these new relationship lines in the sand, and it’s best that she hasn’t. This breach of trust makes it easier than ever for Liz to keep their working relationship strictly professional while she dives into their personal connection on her own, knowing full well that Red will be trying to block her every step of the way. Knowing boundaries is important for non-children and their non-parents.

Do I have any faith that Lizzie can find out who her mother is on her own, as she declares she will to Red? Assuredly not. But if Tom and Liz’s final Notebook-style hug in the rain means anything, it’s that she has a new man on her side and he’s been feeling extra honest lately. Tom may not be what Lizzie needs, but his newfound vulnerability is what she wants.

A Few Loose Ends:

  • It’s time for Cooper’s Corner! Slimy Tom Connolly asked Cooper to do him yet another favor, this time in the form of fabricating a classified document and then leaking it. Cooper told his wife that it was now completely clear to him that his heath (i.e., his place in the medical trial) depends on continuing to do these favors for Connolly. Eventually he decides that the train stops here, but when he tries to refuse Connolly right before his swearing in as Attorney General, Connolly tells Cooper he doesn’t even know the extent of the train he’s been riding. And then the creep just straight up tells him he’s working with the Cabal now and that with all that he knows about Cooper—how he perjured himself for Liz, all the little illegal favors he’s done—they “own him” now. Cooper can’t understand, with all their power, why they would even need someone like him; Tom tells him, “All will soon be revealed.” Great.
  • Speaking of the Cabal, Agents Keen and Navabi get out of Zhang what weapon he was supposed to be smuggling for the Cabal in a week’s time. Zhang tells them it’s not a what, it’s a who—an Agent Karakurt—and he’s not coming next week… he’s already here. In fact, he arrived a little later in a casket with a Darth Vader breathing mask on and a foreboding “Welcome to America” from up above.
  • Just a quick note for you Blacklist historians: Tom started off the season locked in a boat, became a German neo-Nazi for a while, and now he’s just around for cuddles. I never know what to expect with that guy.
  • There was a quick Fulcrum note from Leonard Caul to appease some of our timeline questions. He says that even though all of the incriminating intel is 25 years old, “most of the key delegations are still run by the same players.” Yeah, sure, fine.
  • OK but… Jasper knew the Cabal “had someone on the inside” at the Post Office. WHO IS ON THE INSIDE AT THE POST OFFICE???
  • “Don’t look so glum, Kenneth, you just spent 10 minutes being ridden hard by Agent Navabi. I’d die for five.” Oh, Red, even while recovering from a near fatal gun shot wound to the chest, he can always muster the energy to be a skeeze.
  • Lizzie accuses Red of being in love with her KGB spy mom and killing her father, and that’s why he won’t tell her the full truth. What are your best theories on what happened that night in the fire, who Liz is to Red, and why he openly refuses to tell her the full truth?

Episode Recaps

The Blacklist - Season 2
The Blacklist

James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.

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