The Blacklist recap: 'The Front'
Things the jury is still out on at the end of tonight’s Blacklist: that damn door; that key; if the Post Office special task force has any protocol to speak of. Things the jury is certain of: This was a very unfortunately timed episode about the rapid spread of a virus.
Yes, the pneumonic plague is in town, it’s brought a new, well-dressed cult with it, and together, they’re going to steal the Declaration of Independence. I mean, a map…they’re going to steal a map. A map written by priests on the back of a 14th century painting that will lead them to the secret family recipe for
Bush’s Baked Beans a virus strong enough to wipe out humanity. You know, to save the environment. All this while Red uses more government employees than ever before to help him find his daughter. I mean, Jennifer! Oh man, five episodes into Season 2 and I’m already starting to lose it. What is behind that door? Who is Pepper, and why does she have an old-timey key? And exactly which brown-haired girl of the many brown-haired girls is “the girl” that Red thinks “everything rests on?”
THE FRONT, NO. 74
Relationships are forming, being tested, and redefining themselves all over the Post Office—and it’s all a lot to keep up with. Lizzie realizes that she relishes Red’s attention just as much as she loathes it. Red starts stalking a new young woman. Aram gets to emotional first base with Samar. In fact, Aram has a bit of a DTR with everyone; this was a very Aram-heavy episode. And it’s lucky to have that going for it considering that we were once again encouraged to use hashtag-Lizzie’s-secret in the face of The Door. Give it up, Bokenkamp! That door will only remain interesting for so long. (All cards on the table: It’s still really interesting.)
A little overly-prolonged suspense, I can handle. But asking me to believe that Manic Pixie Dream Agent Elizabeth Keen thinks that a dude dropping a bag of bones is as dangerous as said dude getting away, crushing those bones up into an infectious, plague-y powder, and sprinkling it onto his cult’s Captain Crunch before they head off to the airport is simply too much incompetence to swallow this far into Liz’s FBI career. As someone pointed out in last week’s comments, along with her scalp, Megan Boone’s best work has been set free in Season 2—but the same cannot be said for Elizabeth “Stop or I’ll shoot, unless you take the next five minutes to tell me a good reason not to” Keen,. This was more obvious than ever in tonight’s episode.
Perhaps Samar calling Lizzie on her supremely poor judgment at least means that her inexplicable actions in the face of mass murderers over the last few episodes can be explained by the unhinging process that began when it was revealed that her whole life was a lie. Tonight, she’s feeling pretty nostalgic for that lie-life, and you know what that means: Tom flashbacks!
The episode opens with The Blacklist’s trademark style: the Blacklister-of-the-week’s first victim is in trouble, as evidenced by the shaky-cam tracking their movement. Tonight’s episode opener is Carrie-Ann Beck, who’s on the run from someone and calls on a redheaded gal pal to come help her out. Unfortunately, the redhead brings with her the very person Carrie-Ann is running from: her husband, Maddox, who promptly helps her get hit by a car, then steals something from her jacket. We know that the perfectly-mussed thief is Carrie-Ann’s husband because Red helpfully mentions that fact and this case to Lizzie during the “I Have Something I Need and This Is Where the FBI Comes In” portion of the show.
Carrie-Ann and Maddox Beck had been presumed dead until Carrie-Ann was found nearly-dead on the street. They were once the leaders of The Front, an environmentalist group with extreme practices. Though Carrie-Ann tried to keep their retaliations more tame, Maddox began taking The Front’s movement toward “a level of destruction that [Red finds] chilling,” which at first seems pretty hilarious, considering Red’s kill count—until we learn that the “destruction” he’s so chilled by is aimed at, uh, all of humankind.
In addition to Carrie-Ann being pregnant when she’s found, she also has 700-year-old clay under her fingernails. This just proves my theory that women with bangs have a lot of secrets. Luckily, Aram and the Post Office gang have a more helpful theory: The clay turns out to be 14th century raw Sienna soil, used by painters from the Sienese School, and a painting just so happens to have been recently stolen from a Sienese exhibit.
And that’s because Maddox Beck has that very painting under a black light back on his compound. It lights up like an episode of Room Raiders, revealing some sort of ancient code. One call to
Nicolas Cage an FBI ancient art expert tells the team that the code is actually a map, and it’s a bit of an urban legend: The Black Death originally spread because an Apophis Strain was weaponized and accidentally released, creating what’s now known as the pneumonic plague. The legend is that after killing nearly 200 million people, four priests were tasked with hiding the origin of the plague at “the end of the earth,” and the map on the painting leads to that “end.”
NEXT: Spoiler alert: Not a myth!
Turns out, the expert was all eye-rolly about the map with the FBI because she’s on Red’s (never ending) payroll to keep certain things from the Feds. But everyone knows Lizzie is a special Fed, so she got the real intel: what was known as the “end of the earth” in the 14th century is now known as “Staten Island,” according to the map. But when the FBI heads to the largest Native American burial ground in New York to look for the bones of the priest that injected himself with the last of the Apophis Strain, they find that the bones were moved hundreds of years ago. There’s a clue left behind, written in ancient Cyrillic that Aram—mankind’s weekly savior—figures out leads to the oldest church in New York.
Ressler and Liz set out with their patented combination of no-back-up and “you go this way alone, and I’ll go this way alone,” only for Liz to find that Beck has beaten her to the bones. She pulls her gun on him, then gives him a nice, long monologue break to tell her how contagious the bones he’s holding are. He somehow convinces Liz, a trained FBI agent who has been deemed the Most Important FBI Agent in the World by many a villain, that if he drops those bones, they’re both going to get the pneumonic plague and die. Her hesitation gives enough pause for one of Beck’s cronies to pop up behind Liz and knock her out, getting away with the DNA that will help them recreate the plague.
You see, Beck has a mission, and he shares that mission with 24 of his closest followers on his cult-ranch in front of what appears to be the setup of a hipster wedding. His redheaded ally, Pepper, has hung a bunch of multi-colored glass jars from a tree to set the ambiance for his big announcement: Humankind has ruined the Earth, and the only way to reset the environment to its rightful state is to kill everybody with this old-bones-plague. That he personally has the skills to extract a 700-year-old plague from these priest bones and weaponize it is beside the point; the point is that he’s already done it, and his girl Sharon is about to go test out the prototype on the streets of DC. Don’t do it, Sharon!
Sharon does it.
And after Sharon successfullt gets contracts the plague, and spreads it to a 2,300-person quarantine group in D.C., Beck circles everybody back up, passes out personal plague masks to his 24 sacrificial lambs, and cashes in all his American Airlines miles to take this thing to the wasteful, environment-hating masses.
By this time, Aram has used a mouse hair found on Sharon’s body to track down Beck’s lab, because Aram is good enough at his job for everybody. In the lab they find a map of all the 24 cities where Beck’s infected followers are traveling, and Samar and Liz head to the airport that holds the one guy who hasn’t boarded his flight yet. Liz, Samar, and their TSA escort come barreling into the airport, causing him to flee, enter into a chase with Samar, and eventually get in a tussle where he releases his portable plague pack on her and then shoots her in the stomach with her gun.
Liz shoots him from behind right after, but Samar shuts the conveniently located glass door before she can come closer. Liz tells her she’ll bleed out, but Samar says she has to keep the plague contained. But Lizzie doesn’t care—suddenly Samar, whom she has repeatedly said she doesn’t trust and who recently reamed her out for being a terrible FBI agent in front of the entire team, is her colleague, and she’s going to keep her alive. They’re going to contract that plague together like sisters.
Okay, she doesn’t enter the plague room that dramatically. But she does go in, and they do share a very weird, maybe touching scene together—one that can only be explained by finally getting around to Red’s role in all of this.
Red always has an ulterior motive for the current crime he just so happens to know everything about and recommend the FBI look into. Tonight is no different, but he spends most of the episode focused on his own personal project: “Everything rests on finding the girl.” We’re treated to a rare glimpse of Red associating with the fedora-less normals of the DMV wait line, where he shares gummy bears with a little boy who finds him less formidable than most.
He’s waiting on Glenn, the man pictured above who works at the DMV, and who we can also tag on the short (not a pun) list of people who have little to no fear in the face of Raymond Reddington. Red has tasked Glenn with finding “the girl” given only a photo and a name—but he hasn’t found anything, and tries to make excuses by saying his mom is sick. Red gets uncharacteristically heated about Glenn’s failure, and Glenn serves the sass right back, but Red isn’t having it: “I don’t know why you’re mad at me. You’re the one who came up short!” (Maybe a pun.)
When it seems Glenn can’t come through, Red shows up at the Post Office and scares the hell out of Aram, who is no Glenn when it comes to disposition. Red wants Aram to help him find The Girl; Aram seems both hesitant to help, and hesitant not to help. But as Red tells him, “This woman is critical in my war with Berlin,” and Aram agrees… a fact he later accidentally spills to Liz, because sweet, genius Aram was not made for these dealings.
NEXT: Green is not Lizzie’s best color…
Lizzie is angry about Red going to Aram—actually, Lizzie is angry about everything, and everything traces back to Red. She’s angry about the life that she lost when Tom turned out to be a Berlin-plant. She’s angry that she’s being followed by New Tom (sniper rifle sold separately) at the command of Red. And she’s definitely angry that Red is trying to track down his daughter and “upend” her life just like he did Naomi’s. That the girl he tasked Aram with finding is potentially not his daughter never enters her mind, either because she knows something we don’t, or because all these mind games Red has been playing with her over the last year are working: “As a rule I consider jealousy be a base emotion but in this case it’s quite endearing.” Lizzie is probably angriest about that…
Mostly because it’s true. While she and Samar wait for their 14th century death in the airport, Liz reflects on the life that she lost way before Beck released the plague: “I was going to have a baby and a husband…and then he showed up.” Technically, the man she was planning to have that baby with was prepared to kill her long before Red showed up, but that’s semantics when you consider the mess her life has become. Samar tells her that no one wants to say anything, but everyone talks about it—what Red is to her.
“Reddington is the bane of my existence. And yet, here he is trying to reconnect with his daughter… and I find myself feeling possessive. Possessive of him, jealous of the girl he’s trying to protect. And if that’s not embarrassing enough, that’s exactly how he predicted I’d feel.”
The subject of Lizzie’s envy turns out to be—did you ever doubt that Glenn would come through?—Zoe D’Antonio (Scottie Thompson). Or at least that’s the name the woman goes by that is a 97 percent match to the picture Glenn aged up and delivered to Red.
Red will get to that. First, Aram calls him not to say that he’s found the girl, but to tell him that Lizzie has contracted the plague. It’s just a hop, skip, and a Dembe-chauffeured jump to Red arriving at Beck’s compound, where he and Pepper wait, looking particularly unaffected by the plague. Red is disgusted—less by Beck’s cause than his unwillingness to die for it. He’s made a cure for himself and his “Eve,” and here they sit while their disciples carry out the mission that they created. Red tells Beck that he should know what he’s there to ask him for. You assume at first that it’s the cure—but Dembe already has that, and Pepper is quickly coming down with a case of shifty-eyes. “You never told him?” No, she didn’t. But whatever it is Red’s there for is hidden in one of her vintage hanging mason jars. And would you look at that—it’s an old key. No one is going to give us even one hint as to what it unlocks.
It sure doesn’t go to Lizzie’s door, which now comes with a large bouncer-like man who grants her entry and warns that she shouldn’t be around there at night. WHAT IS BEHIND THAT DOOR???
We at least know it’s not Zoe D’Antonio, because she is currently operating a food truck and being watched by Red—who is either her father, her step-father, the mortal enemy of her father, Lizzie’s sister…or maybe she just makes a mean slider.
And a few loose ends:
–Liz and Samar are fine, of course, and everyone is cured of the plague. Most importantly, Aram sits by Samar’s bedside while she’s recovering, and she wakes up for just a moment and takes his hand. It is adorable—I still don’t really know what she’s up to, but Aram deserves to have all of his crushes hold his hand.
–In an inter-cut scene—all perfectly set to the tune of Cloud Cult’s “You Were Born” streaming from the headphones Red puts on Lizzie’s ears—Red similarly takes Lizzie’s hand. All my fingers are crossed that the implication is simply that he cares for her even when she’s unconscious, and not that their “relationship” is growing like Samar and Aram’s.
–It would have been easy for me to miss something in this mystery-filled episode, but Red never explicitly says that the girl he’s looking for is Jennifer, right? The woman who’s “critical to [his] war with Berlin” could also be, say, Berlin’s daughter. The little girl in the home videos that Red is watching at the end of the episode is almost certainly his daughter, but again, that daughter could be Jennifer, who could be Zoe. Or it could be Lizzie. Or it could be some other brunette woman who looks like Lizzie, Zoe, and Naomi whom we’ve never even met.
–This week also introduced us to Double Lizzie, the woman Liz has hired to stand in silhouette occasionally so New Tom thinks it’s her and she can get away to watch her door for a while every day. Double Lizzie does a little strip tease for the hotel sniper while he’s on the phone with Red being told that Lizzie is kind of losing it.
–It was a small moment, but I enjoyed Lizzie acting all high and mighty about not trusting the FBI art expert who was working with Red, only to be be reminded that she also works with Red.
–Red’s Story Corner: Fat Afghani man on hunger strike. Lizzie’s Story Corner: Nipple shields.
This is your final chance to enter all theories on who/what is behind The Door! We’d also gladly accept theories on Tom’s whereabouts, Zoe’s identity, the Yelp reviews and general vibe of her food truck, and how Ressler manages to find himself in the middle of The Most Dangerous Game next week.
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.