The Blacklist season premiere recap: 'Lord Baltimore'
Lizzie, Red, Cooper, Ressler, Berlin—the gang is back and, excluding a few, everyone seems to have gone to the hair salon in between seasons and said, “One shade darker, please!” Because, you guys, The Blacklist is dark, and don’t you forget it. Fingers are getting cut off; targets have dissociative personalities to work around; Liz is wearing HOODIES. Add on an expert digi-stalker, and it’s all starting off very Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. So, buckle up because it’s gonna be a bumpy, likely terrifying ride with your 11-year-old rifle-wielding drivers.
Coming off a wild go of a first season—which encountered minimal growing pains while learning to move between an episodic procedural, and a serialized drama about a magnetic nut his maybe-daughter—The Blacklist is back to prove it can do it all over again, with perhaps even more guns, fake hair, and severed limbs this time. But there will be the exact same amount of fedoras, because there just simply could not be any more fedoras. Season 1 ended on a plot high, answering quite a few burning questions without really having to cap any of the juiciest points off just yet: Berlin is still at large, Liz still doesn’t know who her father is (or her mother, but who’s counting? I am… I’m counting. Who is her mother?), and Tom’s body had mysteriously, but not surprisingly, disappeared the last we saw.
The premiere opens shortly after the big reveals of the first season’s finale, but Raymond Reddington has already made his way across enemy lines a few continents over; we find him barreling down a dirt road in Camaroon, on his way to see a warlord who he knows Berlin hired bounty hunters from to find him after he broke out of prison—you know, that time he cut his hand off while in an airplane full of prisoners, plummeting to the ground. Red’s intentional capture comes along with $3 million in cash for the warlord and three friendly hellfire missiles in hand to try and persuade him to give him the names of the other people Berlin has hired to hunt him down. The hellfire missiles are particularly persuasive, and the money, apparently, expendable, as it goes up in flames.
LORD BALTIMORE, NO. 104
Over at the Post Office, the Deputy Attorney General has caught wind that leadership might be a little shaky on this special task force—Agent Gary “The Worst” Martin has stepped in as interim director while Agent Cooper heals up from that time he was strangled with a wire by an assassin—and she wants to talk to Reddington. Don’t we all, unnamed Deputy Attorney General, don’t we all? Ressler helpfully informs her that they have a bit of a saying around these parts: Reddington only talks to Elizabeth Keen.
Speaking of Elizabeth Keen, she just so happens to be in a shady hotel room playing full John Nash, laying on her bed staring at a bunch of pictures and newspaper clippings stapled to the ceiling like someone whose life has recently fallen apart, evidenced even further by a montage of her eating salads while standing. But she’s also adopted a new power ponytail to show that she’s finding strength in her newly jaded attitude after finding out that her husband was a contract spy and the bulk of her life has probably been a lie, including, potentially, this very moment… so everything kind of balances out. Red returns and pulls Lizzie away from her ceiling-staring to tell her that Lord Baltimore, a cyber-tracker of sorts is after him, and in order to find Berlin, they’ll need to get to Lord Baltimore first.
**It’s important to note that there’s not a single time that anyone says Lord Baltimore that it doesn’t sound like Lord Voldemort, and I’ll have to assume this was done on purpose, as it really ups the fear factor quite substantially.**
According to Aram, still the Post Office’s most endearingly valuable player, Lord Baltimore is an all-star data miner with his very own urban legend who uses a person’s internet presence to create a dossier for his clients to track down their targets. Taking a look at staff irregularities in the nation’s top data firms leads the team to Rowan Mills, played by a suspiciously talented Krysten Ritter. Surely she wasn’t brought in just to play this confused researcher who found an extra $250,000 in her IRA and immediately reported it. (Spoiler Alert: She’s wasn’t.) After Liz and Ressler leave her, Rowan gets a voicemail from a computerized voice saying someone knows about her little chat with the FBI, and she better lay off the chats, or else.
NEXT: It’s kind of like a really twisted Mary Kate and Ashley movie…
Being the good girl that she is, Rowan immediately hands the message right over to the FBI, and Aram traces it to an apartment… that happens to have Rowan’s name on the lease, pictures of her all over it, and a neighbor peeking over the fence that we’ve seen in the previous scene, reporting to Berlin (Peter Stormare), asking for more money for Lord Baltimore since the Feds are involved now. Berlin responds by knocking his head against the tub and almost drowning him in the ice bath that he’s taking. You know what they say—nothing like the nice addition of blood to your ice bath in the morning to keep you evil. Apparently, Berlin doesn’t give raises.
Rowan can think of only one way to explain the mystery apartment and her own missing files that the team found on the computer there: her twin sister, Nora, who has been presumed dead for the last six years must actually still be alive. A trip to Rowan and Nora’s mother backs up Rowan’s story that Nora had a troubled childhood after being repeatedly molested by their uncle, leading her to join a dangerous security firm that took her to Mosul on an assignment, where she was part of an I.E.D. attack, and presumed dead. But in reality, her body was never found. I’m sure she’s totally dead for real though, and this is all just a big misunderstanding, and Rowan will be completely fine.
Of course, even with his involvement with Berlin, Lord Baltimore is just the Blacklister of the week; Red is still out there trying to figure out why Berlin wants to take his metaphorical fedora off independently of the FBI, and that includes being taken by the Mossad, rescued by Agent Maring, and paying a visit to Cooper to try to convince him to come back to the task force after he’s recovered because Agent Martin still seems like a real creep. The conversation with Cooper includes the delivery of a flash drive, a comment on how soft he looks (it’s true), and a lot of cryptic messages like, “That is my only copy of our little adventure in Kuwait,” and, “I know about what they found in the hospital… about the diagnosis.” Oh Coops, what will we do with you?
Around the time that Red has been off the grid for a few straight days, Aram realizes their theory that Lord Baltimore is after Red must be wrong, as Red doesn’t seem to have ever actually touched an electronic button in his life, and triggers don’t count—he has no search history, no online files, not even a smart phone. Aram finds out that Lord Baltimore isn’t following someone, so much as looking for someone using a certain set of criteria, including living in Washington, D.C. before 1990 and being subscribed to both the Wall Street Journal AND Cat Lovers Magazine. That is not Red, but it is…
His wife, Mary-Louise Parker! Er, that’s Naomi Hyland, Red’s former wife who’s been under witness protection for the past 20 years and now finds a whole team of FBI agents in the middle of her dinner party, telling her it’s time to start life all over again. But that’s the least of her worries; you see, about the time that FBI released Rowan with nothing to hold her on, the man who took the involuntary ice bath earlier, Marcus, shows up in her apartment. She’s scared of him because she doesn’t know him, but he seems to know her. He even knows her favorite song; he puts “We Three (My Echo, My Shadow and Me)” on the record player and starts asking Rowan to remember “that night.” And as you watch Krysten Ritter’s face melt from fearful to something to be feared, you realize that suddenly, she does remember. “How long was I out?” she asks as we see Ressler searching through her mother’s trailer and finding a frozen body that looks a lot like Rowan/Nora in a freezer. Hello, Lord Baltimore, I’m sorry everyone has been calling you a “he.”
Rowan is clearly in charge now, and she takes Marcus and a gaggle of hoodlums to Naomi’s house to abduct her, taking Liz and a handful of FBI agents down with Tasers in the process. They successfully abduct Naomi to take her to Berlin, but not before Liz regains consciousness to tackle Rowan and take her into custody. At the Post Office, they’ve already figured out that Rowan has dissociative personalities that allow her to tell the truth about her lack of knowledge and be operating as Lord Baltimore. But it’s only through a confession from Marcus that they figure out the song is her trigger; and after a conversation with her other personality, they find out that Rowan is actually Nora who returned from her horrific time in Mosul, already scarred from a painful childhood, and murdered her sister, causing the split.
NEXT: Don’t forget that Berlin broke out of prison using a knife made out of his daughter’s bone…
Nora did manage to do her job before she was caught though, and Naomi has been delivered to Berlin, who is being as menacing and mysterious as ever. He terrifyingly makes Naomi lay down on a bed in front of him, only to take a picture of her face, which he leaves in a locket for Red to find there. If you’ll remember from last season, Berlin became “Berlin” after he was imprisoned for his daughter’s affair with an enemy and then sent her body piece by piece while he was in jail. His first delivery was a locket with her photo in it; a photo that Red also has in his possession; a photo that very much resembles the one of Naomi in the new locket.
So, it comes as no surprise, but no treat either, when Red gets another package in his hotel room that contains a phone connecting directly to Berlin, who has a message: “I’m going to do to your wife what you did to my daughter. I’m going to send her back to you piece by piece by piece.” Click… open the box… SEVERED FINGER. Welcome back to The Blacklist, good luck with your nightmares.
“Lord Baltimore” is a strong start to a season with a lot of expectations pinned on it. Last season, the audience responded to The Blacklist in a way that network television rarely spawns anymore because it was able to strike a balance between week-to-week stories that can engage you at the end of a long Monday, but also a more challenging overarching narrative that expects a little attention and loyalty from its viewership. The fear is that attention will fade as plot points are resolved; Berlins, killed; secrets, revealed. But as long as Jon Bonenkamp can keep chipping away at Red’s secrets without compromising his other-worldly persona, the mystery is guaranteed to keep growing. There’s no unraveling Raymond Reddington without finding 100 other strings to start pulling.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this premiere, though, is that while Red was as engaging and creepy-charming as ever, the tone didn’t waver when he was away from the action. The introduction of Naomi is a welcome return to the small screen for Mary-Louise Parker; and Liz finally felt like a lead worth watching, with a team behind her that we know enough to care about. The episode ends on a montage of that team getting on with their lives that, for better or for worse, are so drastically different than they were just a year ago. Set to Ages and Ages’ “Divisionary (Do the Right Thing)” (“Do the right thing, do the right thing/Do it all the time, do it all the time”), Ressler pops a few pills, Liz stares at herself in the reflection of the window and decides to get a sassy new haircut, forever freeing Megan Boone of that wig, a freedom she showcases as she power walks into the Post Office, very Olivia Benson-like, to find that Cooper has decided to return to the team. It’s a surprisingly joyous moment in the midst of ladies getting their fingers cut off and everyone’s lives kind of being in shambles, but a good reminder that these people just keep moving forward with the hope that, in the end, they’re doing the right thing.
A few loose ends:
–I haven’t mentioned yet that there was a hooded figure spying on much of tonight’s proceedings from his car. A hooded figure who tossed his signature tortoise shell Warby Parkers on the dash every time he used his binoculars. I hope Tom at least overheard the news about his annulment.
–This was a surprisingly star-studded premiere. I knew Parker was coming, and that we’ll be holding onto Stormare for at least a little while, but what a nice surprise to have Ritter in a guest starring role. And a dramatic one, at that!
–Meera is missed, and it is respectfully recognized, and I can’t say more without getting upset. Miss you, Parminder Nagra.
–As always, The Blacklist‘s music remains once of its greatest and most unique strengths. ZZ Top’s “La Grange” scored Red’s opening scene like nothing else could, and the lyrics, “my echo, my shadow, and me” playing over the Rowan/Nora reveal were a bit of brilliance.
–Naomi makes mention of having to relocate her whole life with her daughter 20 years ago, but the daughter’s current whereabouts aren’t discussed. Is this the same mother and daughter we’ve seen in flashbacks? Where is that daughter now? Does that mean that daughter is officially not Lizzie? Is anything ever “official” on this show?
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.