The Blacklist recap: 'The Mombasa Cartel'
We finally learn what's behind Lizzie's door, and it's as anticlimactic as you feared; luckily there are a few actually surprising surprises to make up for it.
As a Very Special Halloween Episode of The Blacklist, “The Mombasa Cartel” worked quite well. The creep factor was high—the family that taxidermies together also probably murders together, after all—and employing The Most Dangerous Game narrative, still one of the more terrifying aspects of everyone’s 9th grade experience, will certainly keep my nightmares fresh tonight. It’s a good thing the Blacklister of the week was more fleshed out (ew, ew, ew, not a pun) than usual as well, because after three episodes of build-up, the answer to who’s behind That Damn Door wasn’t exactly a Twitter-crasher: Tom is back in town, he’s got a new set of ankle bracelets, and he’s grown himself a grief beard.
While the big answer behind #LizziesSecret was more of a #GeneralConfirmation that we’d guessed correctly all along, as promised by weeks’ worth of teasers, tonight’s episode still turned out a few reveals we’ve been hoping for. They just happened to be a little more subtle than Liz keeping an Eyes Wide Shut situation behind her Special Door. There could’ve been 58 minutes of Taylor Swift’s white noise followed by just the two minutes of Dembe backstory we got, and I probably still would have counted this a win. Not to mention Red getting all emotional about said backstory seconds before killing his criminal equal—and what exactly that reveals about his character.
While Tom and his beard may not have been the most interesting reveal, this could move Lizzie’s character into an increasingly ambiguous moral space. As we learned that she had her spy of a husband locked away, presumably to enact her own brand of justice on him, the words Red had just delivered to a crazy murderer were still ringing in my ears: “[That’s] an operatic perversion of righteous intent. But your strategy, no matter how noble the rhetoric, is betrayed and inevitably defined by your actions.” So, while Liz tries to decide for the fourth episode in a row if her life-defining strategy will be to kill her ex-husband or—I don’t know—take another stab at that crazy thing we call L-O-V-E, there’s quite a bit of other seriously misguided righteous intent going on on the other side of The Door.
THE MOMBASA CARTEL, NO. 114
The episode opens 29 years ago in Sierra Leone, where a carload of poachers with guns arrive at the farm of Samwel Zuma to kill him—along with his wife and children. Well, all except for his youngest son, whom they take with them. A quick cut to present day Paris implies that a man now ordering room service in a hotel is that little boy all grown up, but my notes from the previous scene simply read: “PLEASE LET THIS EPISODE BE ABOUT DEMBE.” Only time will tell (or you can skip to Page 3)—but whoever this fellow is, he’s probably not getting what he ordered. Unless what he ordered was to be knocked out by the delivery man, tagged like an animal, and ultimately skinned, flayed, and washed up dead on the shores of Russia. So, again, probably not.
Red pitches the Mombasa Cartel to Lizzie as the next case for the Post Office bunch to pursue. She’s sitting cozily on his floor and he’s watching a documentary about tigers; it’s disturbingly domestic. He tells her that these aren’t just animal poachers, but the most powerful traffickers in the world who make billions of dollars in blood money. Lizzie assesses that this is actually important to Red—but beyond that, it’s a Blacklister he’s finally willing to admit he has a vested interest in taking down.
You see, according to The Blacklist, every criminal has a soft spot for either sick children or animals. First we saw Mr. Vargas getting all over some mistress’s case about her lazy dog owner habits; now we learn that two of the most powerful men in the world share a common interest: the protection of endangered animals. After Lizzie sells the FBI on it—”I swear, you guys, it really seems like this time it’s for the benefit of mankind, and not just an elaborate ruse to acquire an Indonesian port”—and they figure out that the Mombasa cartel is taking out poachers from smaller cartels, like the man from the hotel. Then Red sets up Lizzie with his old pal, Geoff Perl.
Perl is the 33rd richest man in the world, with whom Red shares a philanthropic love of protecting exotic animals. Lizzie is to see if he has an information on the Mombasa cartel by pretending that she’s a reporter. And you know what that means: the return of Lizzie’s blogger hoodie! Perl, perfectly and bronzily played by Peter Fonda, is apparently a casual rock drummer by night who says things like, “I’ve seen your posts…I like your style” and “I hear you want some inside dope on the Mombasa cartel.” So clearly, he’s not to be trusted. But for now, he points Liz to Emerson-Concorde Imports as a possible front for Mombasa. Liz and Ressler track Lee Chung to the Emerson-Concorde warehouse, where there’s all sorts of illegal contraband to charge him with.
NEXT: The hunt is on (and it’s really creepy)…
Chung cracks under interrogation eventually, telling the FBI that the man from the hotel, Joseph Batouala, and the new body that just washed up in Japan, Alejandro Gomez, had both recently defected from their own smaller cartels to the Mombasa cartel. Lizzie says it looks like someone is poaching the poachers.
And I think we know who that someone is… probably the guy in the woods who’s busy popping a glass eye into a taxidermied deer’s eye socket while his mom comes in to check on his new friend. His new friend, the taxidermied body of Joseph Batouala, is doing fine—he’s really loving the new lumberjack clothes they’ve put him in. The taxidermist is Matthew (Carel Struycken), a childlike man of few words and one obsession; apparently the man who abducted the poacher in the first scene is his brother, Peter. Their mother, played by Phyllis Somerville, tells Peter that their father called to say he found a new “friend” for Matthew, so it’s time to get to murderin’. When Peter shows the slightest hesitation about hitting the road to kill another poacher, his mother slaps him and reminds him that the poachers his father identifies “deserve what they get.”
So, clearly, all is well with this very average nuclear family.
The FBI (and by that, I mean Aram) has surmised that this is probably the work of the Animal Underground Network, a militant animal rights group that’s disbanded now, but had a commune in Stika, Alaska. Ressler alone is tasked with going to check it out, which is really too bad, because Ressler—whom we’ve barely heard from since he was seen staring wistfully at a pill bottle—is apparently still popping. In fact, his habit has only gotten worse in this three-episode break. Earlier in the episode, he tried to get a prescription refilled early by telling the pharmacist that his were stolen out of his car; since that didn’t work, he’s arriving in Alaska with nothing but a little pill dust to rub on his gums, going through serious withdrawal. So, he does what any FBI agent would do—he shuts his hand in the car door and gets someone to write him a prescription for the pain.
Slightly less shaky, but definitely still an FBI agent with a substance abuse problem who shouldn’t be investigating a militant animal rights group/creepy mountain family alone, Ressler sets out to the ranch that used to serve as Animal Underground’s headquarters. And there he finds an innocent-seeming mother and her two sons, one of whom knocks Ressler right out after he discovers Chung in a cage in the back of his truck.
And that’s how Ressler and Chung find themselves in the most dangerous game, where a 7-foot man chases them through the woods ready to shoot n’ stuff them after they’ve been set free from their cages. The huntees take some time to get in a weird argument where the guy who imports illegal exotic meat for a living gets all judgy about the other guy’s shaky hands. While Ressler has Chung up against a tree, Matthew shoots Chung with a crossbow, but Ressler is able to snap off the arrowhead and run away.
Luckily, back at the Post Office, Aram and his 17 brains have used data from private flights that took off just after each of the poachers’ abductions to track all three jets to a parent company—or at least a “second uncle’s cousin’s sister, once removed” company called Wendigo LLC. When Lizzie relays this to Red, he gets oddly quiet and tells her to be careful out there. She thinks nothing of this, I guess because all of her behavioral analysis training doesn’t translate as well over the phone.
But Red has heard of Wendigo LLC. He came across it while doing some background research on a charity he was thinking about investing in. He shows up in the home of that charity’s organizer just as the other man is getting off the phone with the mother of his two sons in Alaska, who tells him they’re busy working on a new project. You may have guessed that the father is none other than drummer/billionaire Geoff Perl, a former member of Animal Underground who had a fling with a Sitka local that spawned two sons.
But here’s the kicker: Red also knows from his research that Wendigo holds stock in Emerson-Concorde Imports, the very organization Perl pointed Lizzie to as a front for the Mombasa cartel. Curious. Perl tells Red that he understands the laws of supply and demand, and he knows that the poaching of endangered animals can’t be stopped. But it can be controlled, and with a monopoly on the market, “the short-term demand can be met without threatening the long-term survival of the species.” That’s when Red gives him the talking-to about righteous intent being defined by actions: “We are what we do, Ace.” Red wants a full list of everyone involved with the Mombasa cartel, or Alias Ace gets it.
NEXT: There’s nothing like chatting around a campfire with your favorite
friends homicide victims…
By this time, the rest of the Post Office agents have gotten to Sitka and are ready to storm the ranch. But Matthew is still in the woods with Ressler, who recently stumbled upon a campfire surrounded by what he thought would be his saviors—but were actually the stretched out shells of former poachers sporting new flannels and glass eyeballs. Matthew also stops by the campfire full of his friends—staged to be sporting guitars and holding cups of whatever it is that dead people might want to drink—and begins chatting with them (I cannot reiterate how creepy these human dolls and their creator are), until one of their hands starts shaking.
Oh yeah, that one isn’t a dead poacher—that’s Ressler off his meds posing as a dead poacher, and now attacking Matthew with the arrowhead he took. Ressler escapes and Matthew runs home to mom, who puts him in the bath just as the FBI storms their home. Peter pulls a weapon, so he’s gunned down. By the time they make it to Matthew, his mom has gotten in the bloody bathwater with him. With a quick “Don’t cry buttercup, everything’s going to be all right,” she shoves the record player into the bathtub and electrocutes them both.
Members of the Mombasa cartel may no longer be at risk of getting stuffed and mounted on the wall of a hunting lodge, but they’re certainly not safe: Perl has decided to hand over the list of players to Red to save his own life. We’re almost done, but here’s one last Red’s Story Corner: 29 years ago, the Mombasa cartel killed Samwel Zumba and his family and abducted his youngest boy. They used that boy—branded him, beat him—for eight years, until they no longer had use for him and abandoned him to die in the streets. That’s where Red found him; the boy went on to get a degree in English Literature, become fluent in four languages, and, most succinctly, “splendid.” That boy was Dembe Zuma.
As Red draws his gun on Perl, Dembe asks him not to, tells Red that killing him serves no purpose now. Red tells Perl, “That’s what a good man does. That’s what separates him from men like you…and me.” And then he shoots Perl dead.
What separates men like Dembe from men like Perl is a willingness to forgive, to not let the past taint the future. But does anything separate Red from Perl? What makes Red’s noble rhetoric any less perverse than Perl’s when people still died at the hands of his past transgressions, when his current criminal activity is ambiguous at best? Does Red’s love for Dembe, his righteous intent, excuse his other, less-righteous actions?
I don’t know. There’s still so much we don’t know. The only reason to keep Tom around this long is that he’s a link to the past, or more accurately, to Lizzie and Red’s past: a link to all the open plot points still left flapping in the wind from Season 1. The Blacklist has two episodes before the midseason finale to prove that dragging This Door Thing out has been worth it. And it very well could be; we still don’t know what Alan Alda is up to, Berlin (Tom’s former employer) is at large with a vendetta the size of Russia, and Red still has a back full of burn scars and a tendency to very subtly imply that things are not as they seem. These are all things that Tom might have some insight on once he’s been chained up and tortured by Lizzie after a six-pack.
But Liz has had Tom in her grips for weeks, and while he’s given her just enough extra intel to make Red suspicious of her, he clearly hasn’t said anything along the lines of “Red is most def. your dad” or “You’ve got a twin sister and she makes a mean food truck lobster roll.” So either Liz hasn’t been asking the right questions, or she’s just been waiting until we’d be around to catch the answers. I, for one, could do with a few of those
And a few loose ends:
–Red gets some face time with Zoe, “the girl” he tracked down last week. He visits her food truck again, and makes sure to leave his hat behind so he can meet her and charmingly introduce himself as “Kenneth Rathers.” That she doesn’t recognize him tells us one of two things (or probably, like, 18 things that I’m just not picking up on): Zoe has either never met Red before, or he looks entirely different than the he did when she would have known him.
–The sniper who’s been tailing Lizzie finally discovers that she’s hiding Tom and gives her 24 hours to tell Red… so she gives him a one-way trip to FBI prison by turning him in as an associate of Raymond Reddington, a hot ticket on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List. I guess this means something for Red’s risk of exposure, but as he works with the FBI and frequently walks around with only barely-tinted sunglasses as a disguise, it mostly just seems to mean that Red is more suspicious of what Lizzie’s hiding than ever before.
–Things we now know about Dembe: English major; gifted linguist; semi-adopted by Red at age 14.
–Things we still want to know about Dembe: EVERYTHING ELSE.
–Red’s “Oh My Gosh” count: One, to Zoe when she returns his hat.
–As always, tonight’s music was impeccable. Poirier’s “Bang Bang” scored the opening abduction scene, and Timbre Timbre’s “Run From Me” repeatedly played as Matthew’s unexpected but perfectly eerie taxidermy song of choice (rather than “Wheels on the Bus,” as his mom suggested): “Run from me darlin’/you better run for your life.”
So, what did you think of The Door reveal? Was Tom’s presence so obvious that you actually ended up being surprised by it? Or were you left a little underwhelmed? Knowing that it is Tom, what do you think Lizzie should do with him? And of course, any and all Zoe thoughts are welcome—as well as all discussion of how Dembe is the best.