The Blacklist recap: 'The Scimitar'
“Those who abjure violence can do so only because others are committing violence on their behalf.” – George Orwell
(“What a visionary, but good Lord, his books are a downer.” – Red on George Orwell)
The marketing before season 2’s premiere made it look as though The Blacklist is mostly about James Spader being mysterious in a fedora. Which is, in fact, almost entirely true. The marketing during the second season, however, has made it seem like its opening seven-episode arc has revolved around one closed door… which is, somewhat problematically, also true. Because while That Door has proved to be the least interesting storyline of season 2 (excluding The Pillz, obviously), it also became symbolic of a larger problem that presented itself after the intermission on Berlin: Every plot door in the Blacklist house is wide open, and there hasn’t been a guiding light in the place.
Berlin: an open door. Jennifer: an open door. Fowler: a door so open, it’s nearly forgotten. Tom: technically a closed door until last week, but also, the most open metaphorical door of them all. At the end of The Mombasa Cartel, things were starting to feel just a little too breezy. The weave of Red and Lizzie’s past, present, and future seemed just a just a little too loose to hold one more bit of mysterious water.
And then, tonight… we finally walked through some damn doors. Honestly, I’m still not sure what exactly the Scimitar’s villainous mission statement was (destroy the world, etc.), but I know that his episodic arc informed our main characters more than any other Blacklister has in quite a while. And for that, we thank him. In between the suicidal cults, and the terrifying bald men, and the terrorists bent on destruction via various vials of bacteria, all I’m every really trying to figure out is what these people are thinking/feeling/plotting at any given time. At the core of The Blacklist world, it seems there are two kinds of people: people who will murder, and people who won’t. Oh sure, there’s plenty of killing going on in the gray area: a car chase here, a Russian mobster there—even Dembe has been the accessory to many (many, many) a murder. But would Dembe shoot someone outright for revenge? Red told us explicitly last week that he would not. But there are “men like [him],” and like Geoff Perl, who will take down most anyone who gets in their way or wrongs them.
And there are women like Samar, who, as we learn tonight, also has the moral elasticity that enables revenge murders, the theme of the hour. And suddenly, this Tom sticking around business carries some weight. What stands behind That Door (which apparently is located in a ship) is less Tom, and more a test of Lizzie’s true character. The Lizzie we met in Season 1 surely wouldn’t have considered killing someone for revenge… but Lizzie from Season 1 also wouldn’t have kidnapped her husband, locked him in a ship, and demanded information from him so she could have his boss killed.
But that’s enough about Lizzie. Tonight’s episode is really all about Red’s unique ability to manipulate young women into doing his bidding. As Red systematically uses Lizzie (what’s new?), Samar, and Zoe to achieve his purposes, I’m reminded of Naomi warning Liz that Red has a special way of making women feel like they’re “the center of his universe.” His truest skill, rather, seems to be making himself the center of theirs.
THE SCIMITAR, NO. 23
For a Blacklister so high on the list, we learn very little about the Scimitar’s actual skills—although he seems to be a great manipulator himself, with an aptitude for hand tattoos. The episode opens in Dubai, where Samar is sitting at a bar—looking downright fierce in a blue dress and being hit on by the man next to her. Or as Red tells it later when he pitches this week’s Blacklister to Lizzie and new It Girl, Samar: “Persian man walks into a bar, meets a beautiful woman, has a few drinks—next thing you know, he’s falling from a 12-story balcony.”
Turns out, pre-12-story-fall, that man was the top nuclear scientist in Iran. Samar took him out in a joint mission with the Mossad and the CIA. Word on Red’s particularly informative streets is that the Iranians are wise to the truth of the scientist’s death, and plan to retaliate by taking out America’s top nuclear scientist. For that revenge mission, they’ll be using their best assassin. Codename: The Scimitar (Waleed Zuaiter).
This is where things get a little ridiculous as far as, y’know, reality and details are concerned. But it’s also where I logged about a gasp per second, so that’s what I like to call a Blacklist draw. While Agent Cooper is working to track down and protect the government’s top nuclear scientists, all a part of the ground-breaking nuclear research initiative called “Cloud Top,” Ressler and Liz head out to the location Aram has determined as the Scimitar’s hideout. There, they find that he has been tracking a man named Jonathan Reese, whom they assume is a part of Cloud Top. They realize that they have to get to Reese before the Scimitar does, and just as I’m thinking, “Couldn’t they just track down a cell number and give this guy a heads up not to go to his car?” they’ve already gotten to Reese, someone is shooting his tires out, he’s getting in the car with them, men on a motorcylce are shooting at their car, and Ressler, Liz and the man are flipping over, and over, and over…
NEXT: Meet the Blacklist’s newest Most Interesting Woman in the World…
Then Liz is waking up in a hospital room with Ressler across from her, no Reese in sight, and a suspiciously nice doctor telling her that her arm is broken; meanwhile, Ressler suffered some serious head trauma and will have to go to surgery. Liz insists that she has to call headquarters, and the doctor is more than happy to oblige her with a weird
house hospital phone that looks like it has makeup all over it.
After telling Cooper that they have to protect Dr. Collins, the head scientist in Cloud Top who’s away giving a speech at Duke, things get a little suspicious. Well, even more suspicious than a hospital room the size of an NBA-regulation basketball court. Ressler, unconscious, still hasn’t been taken to the surgery Liz was told he’d be going to. When she checks his charts, they’re blank. On the other side, the Post Office has called Bethesda Hospital, and there are no Agents Ressler and Keen checked in there. Here comes my favorite Lizzie: Acting Lizzie. Why is it that Agent Keen’s most competent when she’s playing a role?
Some things can never be explained. All we know is Lizzie goes full FBI-training, fakes being faint to steal a pair of scissors (a truly classic Blacklist move) from a nurse, knocks that nurse out, cuts off her own cast, gets Ressler off his IV sedative, and gets them both out of the hospital room… where they find that they’re not in a hospital at all, but what looks like the unfinished upstairs of a sitcom set. Needless to say, they’re in trouble.
Luckily, “Trouble” is Samar’s middle name. When she arrives at Bethesda Hospital and finds Ressler and Liz aren’t there, she first calls back to the Post Office, then hangs up on Amar (between this and the erectile dysfunction stare from last week, that guy is really getting ripped around) in favor of going straight to the solution source—Red. This episode, if nothing else, cements that no one’s allegiances are firm. Ressler is about the only FBI agent who seems to report solely to the FBI, and even he has been at the service of his addiction lately. Liz, by her own admission, has historically turned to Red when she gets totally lost; now Samar, knowing that she needs to act quickly, does the same.
Samar at least comes with her own informant: another Iranian named Ali that the Mossad has been tracking. Red, of course, has had some tense dealings with Ali in the past. After revealing that she’s willing to betray Mossad regulations by leading Red to Ali, Red decides he can now reveal something to Samar: he brought this case to her because the Scimitar has an alias, and that alias is the name of the man who ordered the bombing that killed Samar’s brother.
With a little prompting, Ali tells Red and Samar that the Scimitar requested use of a warehouse from him. They book it to that warehouse/hospital-set just in time to shoot Ressler and Liz out of there. At the same time, the Scimitar—would you look at that, it’s the deviously nice doctor with the suspiciously large phone that records conversations between FBI agents—has arrived at Dr. Collins’ hotel door, taken out her two measly FBI guards, and informed her that she’ll be helping him create a nuclear weapon to destroy America. And he’s just about to get away with it—rolling Dr. Collins out in a wheely suitcase, as if she hasn’t been degraded enough—before Lizzie shows up, fresh off her grand fake hospital escape, and recognizes him. Well, technically she recognizes his hand tattoos, and realizes why the phone the tattoo-less doctor handed her earlier (with his hands) was covered in (hand) makeup.
The Scimitar makes a break for it, and even though Liz loses the target to yet another intense stare-off, Dr. Cooper is safe. And they needn’t worry about catching up to the Scimitar, because Red, who has the power of the FBI, CIA, Mossad, and Tom’s Warby Parkers combined, has him tied up and waiting at Ali’s mansion. But he doesn’t tell anyone that… only Samar. The Scimitar is Red’s gift to her, you see. She can decide what to do with her brother’s killer—turn him over to the FBI, or punish him herself. She seems torn until the Scimitar suggests that he knew her brother before the bombing that killed him, and that his death wasn’t as innocent as she thinks it was.
Back at the Post Office, Cooper announces that the Scimitar’s body has been found in the river with a bullet in his head. I guess we know on which side of the moral murder line Samar hangs her hat.
NEXT: Not so fast with your made-to-order murders, Elizabeth Keen…
Might we expect Lizzie to join Samar at the point of no return (re: murder) in a week’s time? Throughout the episode, we see her checking on Tom in the same place she’s been keeping him captive for weeks, maybe months. (The timeline is still very unclear.) The only thing that’s clear: Lizzie hasn’t decided what she’ll be doing with Tom after she gets what she needs. And what she needs is information on Berlin, which Tom gives up quite easily. He tells her the name of Berlin’s arms’ dealer, whom she meets and threatens into arranging a meeting with Berlin. Once that’s been set, Liz takes the information straight to the FBI. Just kidding! She goes straight to Red. Because Liz doesn’t want Berlin to be punished for the way he brought Tom into her life and ruined everything she thought she knew; she wants him to die.
And she wants Red to kill him. Liz can fool herself into believing she renounces violence all she wants, but when she hand-delivers Berlin to Red for a good, old-fashioned whacking, what’s the difference between her and the violence she’s facilitated? What’s to stop her from killing Tom on her next visit to the docks? How many steps until she and Red are out on their own, on some weird Bonnie and Clyde mission, bad guy-ing their way through the guys she deems worse?
Leave it to Red to flip the script just when Lizzie is ready to go Dark Lizzie. Because he doesn’t plan on killing Berlin. He has a different plan, which involves a picnic lunch of sardines and wine on the back of his new pal Zoe’s food truck. He’s worked his way into her heart so quickly that she doesn’t even consider the sketchy ramifications of this; she doesn’t think that he possibly could have slipped something in her drink to paralyze her. As Zoe’s features begin to freeze and she looks at him in horror, he offers the four least reassuring words in the English language: “I won’t hurt you.” Yeah, okay, buddy. Maybe less drugging next time, and I’ll believe you.
Berlin shows up to the meeting he assumes is with his arms dealer, only to find Red instead. Red tells him that he could have easily shown up with a fleet of guns and taken Berlin down once and for all. Instead, he has a larger goal: To figure out their common enemy, the person that told Berlin that Red killed his daughter and sent her to him in pieces. Berlin says his men have been watching Red, and it seems that, like everyone else, he’s also fed into the notion that Zoe is Red’s offspring. (I wonder if these men watched him drug her?) Red takes that perfect opportunity—the kind that only Red seems to get—to bring Zoe out of the car and hit Berlin with this truth bomb: “This isn’t my daughter… she’s yours.”
As Red waited at Ali’s house, hoping he would show up so he could hand him over to Samar, he greeted him with a gun pointed at his head: “All this running… I’m so relieved when the people I’m chasing come to me.” It’s easy for it to seem like that’s always the case—Lizzie brought him Berlin, Zoe sat on the back of her own food truck while he drugged her, Samar arrived, gun and hate in hand, to kill the man he put in front of her. But people actually come to Red because he’s carefully manipulated each situation to make them think that they need to. Red makes himself the center of the universe. The question is why. Why Samar? Why the Scimitar? For goodness sake, why Lizzie?!
That’s a lot of whys, even more open doors—and only one episode left to give us a little peace over these long winter months.
A few loose ends:
–Though Zoe being Berlin’s daughter was predicted by most of us from the moment that Lizzie assumed she was Red’s daughter, I found it a much more satisfying reveal than Tom’s, as Zoe serves a clear purpose. Like Tom, I have no idea what will happen to her from her, but I know that she’s Red’s key to finding his and Berlin’s mutual enemy… or at least he thinks she is.
–And while I’m still not totally on board with making Ryan Eggold grow a beard just to lay around on a grimy mattress, tonight’s last scene between Liz and Tom served to make up for a lot of the disappointment from last week’s over-hyped reveal. Not only was it beautifully shot, with intense close-ups on Eggold and Megan Boone’s eyes as both try to figure out the person they’re supposed to know best in the world, but I’m also truly curious to find out what will become of Tom at the hands of Newly Edgy Lizzie.
–Are we concerned with how Liz got Tom from bleeding out on the ground at the end of last season to her Shop of (Mild to Medium) Terror this season, or if that was him with the glasses on the dashboard in the first episode? It looks like we better hope we’re not.
–From the Comment Boards to Your Screen: Lizzie straight-up told Ressler that addiction to pain medication formerly prescribed for an injury is just about the most clichéd problem a (TV) FBI agent can have.
What answers are you looking for as we head into this half of the season’s final hour? After tonight, is Samar your new favorite Post Office-er? Are you on board for a Red/Berlin buddy cop romp, or are there more fences to be mended before those two go into business together? And finally, thoughts on their common enemy?
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.