Finally, it's time to exonerate Elizabeth Keen...Ocean's Eleven style
Credit: Peter Kramer/NBC
The Blacklist - Season 2

The folks over at The Blacklist are so incredibly skilled at curating music for their show that at this point, the selections speak their own language. Considering the precedent set by Red’s epic murder walk to the score of “The Man Comes Around” in season 1, if the screen had been black for the entirety of Thursday night’s opening scene, I would have still been filled with anticipation the minute I heard the first notes of Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” But the screen wasn’t black…

Go tell that long tongue liar

Go and tell that midnight rider

Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter

Tell them that God’s going to cut ’em down

Tell them that God’s going to cut ’em down

That opening scene was anchored by the visage of one Mr. Kaplan, bringing the kind of stern excitement that only she can to the back bar of some random restaurant. And soon, fulfilling my ultimate #TrueDetectiveSeason3 dreams, she was patting down Aram for weapons and communication devices. And then Aram was joined by Harold Cooper; and Cooper by Samar; Marvin Gerard showed up because he’s always down for a good time; and finally, Raymond Reddington showed up (by way of a meat freezer, at he’s wont to do) with Dembe at his side, until nearly every person in the world has any concern for the wellbeing of Elizabeth Keen was contained in one little room.

After more than a season of Cabal build-up, through weeks of traipsing through cornfields and hanging around shipping containers, side-stepping peril at the hands of Russian assassins and random roadside hill people gangs, Red is finally ready to let someone else in on his plans. A lot of someone else’s, in fact: If I were the type of recapper to make obvious comparisons and employ cheap puns, I might call them “Red’s Seven.” (That gray-haired bodyguard finally got a name tonight — it’s Boz. He’s kind of a combination Casey Affleck/Scott Caan in this scenario.)

Red admits that he’s not really a group sports kind of guy: “Oh my god, this is why I’m a terrible bridge player… Sharing my hand with anyone goes against every instinct I have.” But he does it — he tells his crew the puzzle pieces of his plan to exonerate Elizabeth Keen that the audience has been collecting all season long: how he knocked the Cabal’s finances through Verdant Industries; how he cut off that dude’s thumbs to ensure the Director couldn’t run away; why Fisher Stevens Marvin Gerard is in the room; and the Venezuela-shaped window that Zal Bin Hasaan opened up. And with all the pieces finally in play and Liz in transit to her cell at the court house, where she’ll await her trial for 16 counts of capital murder…it’s time to cut down some long tongue liars.


I’ll admit that following last week’s sneak peek at the second Director installment, I was expecting this entire hour to be a total caper, and that team-assembling team felt like a confirmation. And while they did ultimately assemble a replica bank vault psychologist’s office, this episode ended up being much more than just a little bit of mischief from a bunch of fan favorites. After all, Liz’s life is at stake, something that that these past two episodes have done an excellent job of keeping at the forefront, and even after she evaded the Cabal last week, there was no rest for the weary here either. You want to talk about stakes? Let’s talk about Liz looking Ressler in the eye minutes from arriving at the courthouse while he assures her that he wouldn’t have brought her if he didn’t think he could keep her safe — heard that one before — saying, “I don’t have a will,” and then scribbling one out on a legal pad.

So what’s the plan to make sure Liz doesn’t need that will? Why, abduct the CIA’s Director of Clandestine Services. And how does Red expect to do that? Well…drug his wife into a panic attack, switch the horse statue for a bowl of apples, and switch a few elevator wires. Isn’t that what you would do?

NEXT: The real plan…

Okay, I may have left out a few details in that plan: The Director constantly travels with at least two CIA agents, so in order to abduct him, Red has concocted a plan that involves getting him alone. You see, the Director meets his wife for a marriage counseling appointment each week — they leave one guard at the bottom of the elevator and one guard in the waiting room, and they go into the therapist’s office alone. To get rid of the wife, Samar knocks her latte over, and Cooper slips her a drugged one when she tries to get a new one. That just leaves being able to grab the Director and get him out past his guard. So naturally, they elaborately reconstruct the sixth floor office on the empty eighth floor, Aram rewires the specific elevator the Director gets on to go to the eighth floor instead of the sixth, and when he enters the therapist’s office expecting to find his wife mid-panic attack, he finds Red.

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While this is all insane, it is also extremely fun, and I appreciate that no receptionists were hurt in the making of this abduction. It’s also all scored to James Brown’s “The Payback,” so it makes sense that when the Director wakes up, he’s confined to his own trial cell in the form of the Venezuelan President’s private plane (I guess those $100 plates are already coming in handy.) This is where things get a little less Ocean’s Eleven and a little more…I don’t know, some sort of political thriller with Tommy Lee Jones?

The Foreign Minister tells the Director that, on behalf of the Venezuelan government, he’s under arrest for war crimes and crimes against humanity and that they’ll be delivering him to the International Court of Justice where the Chief Prosecutor will be waiting to bring the first ever war-crime charges against an American. No other country had ever been brave enough to bring one of them forward, you see. The Director says that’s because to do so is an undeniable act of war: “My government will never let it stand.” And Red says that’s precisely what he was counting on…

Because back home in D.C., news has gone public that Elizabeth Keen is alive and awaiting trial; Ressler is serving as her personal watch dog, and she’s gotten one of the best criminal defense attorneys around. The lawyer has worked with all kinds of monsters, but she tells Liz she doesn’t seem like a monster — but it’s also hard to imagine getting past 16 counts of capital murder (that’s 14 for the OREA bombings, one for Sen. Hawkins, and one for the Attorney General of the United States…who she actually killed). There’s really only one card left to play, and that’s the Russian assassin currently being held captive by Tom Keen. Keen hand-delivers Karakurt to the courthouse and has banged his head against enough tables and threatened Karakurt’s family enough times that the man is sure to confess in his involvement with the Cabal and the framing of Elizabeth Keen.

And while that’s a step in the right direction, the word of one man with a Heidi Pratt (née Montag) level of facial reconstructive surgery isn’t a lot to go on, which is why Red has his insurance plan: the Director and his war crimes, flying at 30,000 feet. Red calls Laurel Hitchin from the plane to tell her what’s going down with the Director; she tries to threaten the Venezuelan Foreign Minister that he’ll be bringing the wrath of America down on his country. But that’s not a war anybody wants, and as Red reminds, the most immediate result will be “the global spectacle of a high-ranking American official being charged with war crimes.” And do you know who will have to report that war crime spectacle to the President of the United States? Laurel Hitchin…

But she can defuse this can of war-crime worms by exonerating Elizabeth Keen. And if she’s worried about looking like an idiot for letting Keen go — well, would you look at that, the real culprit was just delivered to the court house by a crazy-eyed man in a product-placement Mustang. The fear in Laurel’s eyes is palpable, but she’s only left with one option, and Marvin Gerard is there in her office to help with the legalities: Elizabeth Keen is getting her freedom back. Mostly.

NEXT: Fifteen out of 16 ain’t bad…

Laurel agrees to publicly confirm that Liz is innocent of every charge except the killing of Tom Connolly, for which she’ll have to plead guilty of involuntary manslaughter. And listen, I know Lizzie has been through a lot, what with the month-long death escape and all, but I about lost it when she responded to this unbelievable news with, “But I’d be pleading guilty to homicide… If I sign this, I’ll never be an agent again.” Um, Liz — that is because you stone-cold murdered that guy!!!

But eventually she agrees that it’s fair after a little phone chat with Red. When she says that now she won’t be an agent, she’ll be an asset just like him, he reminds her of what he told her after she killed Connolly: “When you pulled that trigger, you crossed a threshold form your world into mine.” No surprisingly, it seems that Liz has been keeping herself in some sort of limbo while on the run from the Cabal, waiting to see on which side of the fence she might land. But her fate was written, if not from the day that Reddington walked into her life, at least from the day that she chose his protection over the the FBI’s.

Laurel makes her announcement with the sincerest thanks to Donald Ressler and apologies to Elizabeth Keen. And with the Karakurt admission comes the horrifying confirmation that the alleged criminal conspiracy known as the Cabal is real and that Tom Connolly was a part of it (hence his involuntary manslaughter). And guess who else? The Director of Clandestine Services, who has apparently fled the country. You see, Laurel had one other caveat in exchange for Lizzie’s freedom. It seems that the Director had become a bit of a liability: “If we take care of this problem for you, we expect you to take care of this problem for us.”

And that’s how we find the Director dropping through the roof of a family’s home as they watch the news that the existence of a shadow government trying to return the world to a Cold War state is true. And as one life ends, another starts over again; as Andra Day’s “Rise Up” plays, Lizzie exits the courthouse a free woman, and the chess board resets itself. What should be a thrilling moment seems to turn into one of fear and confusion. Liz is totally alone, with nothing but one jacket, one pair of leather boots, one fake driver’s license, and $26 with which to start her life over. Oh, and one more thing…

Raymond Reddington, waiting just on the other side of a passing bus. I feel Lizzie’s relief all over. But the audience has a little extra knowledge that she doesn’t when she gives him that heart-wrenching hug: a little whisky chat he had with Laurel Hitchin where she wondered if it hadn’t been his been his end game all along to “tear us down so you could build us back up and have a seat at the table.” His response, of course, is only an unreadable facial expression… Red isn’t really one to share his hand, after all.

A Few Loose Ends:

  • I’ll be honest — I’m no Raymond Reddington. Although I’ve been watching this plan come together for months (months!), I am not in possession of an omnipotent fedora and surely got a few things wrong here. Please do feel free to correct me in the comments.
  • So now that Liz is done running from the Cabal…is it time to start chasing them down?
  • Speaking of: WHAT WAS THAT CONVERSATION BETWEEN LAUREL AND RED? All theories are welcome.
  • “My kind of girl” — Mr. Kaplan and Samar: two peas in a switchblade pod.
  • Who do you think got the world’s most valuable stuffed bunny in Liz’s will?
  • A few astute commenters mentioned last week that the Director’s Blacklist number seemed a little high at 24, and I agree… Who are the 23 other people worse than him?! And at what point will Red drop them through a family’s home from cruising altitude?
  • Is “Everybody loves apples” the new “How ’bout them apples?”
  • “I know who you are Raymond… I know who you are to her. And I know why you did this. Does she?”

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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