Who is the real Raymond Reddington? And who is fake Fraymond Freddington?

By Jodi Walker
January 22, 2016 at 03:21 PM EST
Peter Kramer/NBC
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With the 10th anniversary of High School Musical upon us — bear with me here, will you? — I can’t help but feel that the normally infallible music selectors at The Blacklist missed a major opportunity in not playing this episode out with the No. 1 cafeteria banger, “Stick to the Status Quo”:

No, no, no

Stick to the stuff you know

If you wanna be cool

Follow one simple rule

Don’t mess with the flow, no no

Stick to the status quo

Perhaps they realized the message might be a little too on the nose about the time Liz asked Reddington why he had repeatedly lied to the FBI and left them completely in the dark on his master plan, and he more or less responded, “Because Ressler would have been a total buzzkill and not let me do it.” Sound familiar? That’s because it’s proto-Blacklist, and was basically the series’ One Simple Rule for at least the first season and a half. And after weeks (months! seasons!) of experimenting, mostly successfully, with “Lizzie the Russian Spy” and “Red and Lizzie’s Great Road Trip Adventure” and “Every Person You Meet Is Part of the Cabal — Yes, That Person Too,” The Blacklist went back to its bread-and-butter. Waaaaay back, in fact: like, Raymond Reddington in The Box telling Elizabeth Keen he’ll fork over the world’s worst criminals to her kind of back.

But this Raymond Reddington is a different Raymond Reddington: he’s a fraud — a Fraymond Freddington. Or is he actually the real Raymond Reddington, and the Raymond Reddington we’ve come to know is the Freddington?

Confused? So is Aram. And we’ll get to that, but first, the most important thing that this episode establishes isn’t a return to the status quo, which after a lot of excitement in the last few weeks, brought a mostly welcome familiarity into this week’s proceedings. No, it’s that Liz apparently needed a little catching up on what’s at stake in this post-Director world. I wouldn’t have thought it needed to be explained that just because she was exonerated of the murders she didn’t commit (plus the ones she did) that her fight was anywhere close to over. Luckily, Red knows Liz a little better than I do, and he not only knew she would need a heavy dose of reality, he came prepared with visual aids as well.

Because it seems that there are not just one, but many crime-syndicate overlord clubs out there, meeting on the regular to discuss how to start World War III, make the world a worse place, etc. And if Liz is the unwitting eye of that storm … Raymond Reddinton has made himself the whole damn map.

MR. GREGORY DEVRY, NO. 95

The episode opens with an epic Mr. Kaplan cleanup scene to the tune of “Right Back Where We Started From” (on cassette, it appeared), but as soon as Mr. Kaplan and her crew of cleaning ladies synchronize their watches to 18 minutes and slap on their latex gloves, some dude comes in uninvited and shoots everyone … everyone but Mr. Kaplan, that is, who’s left alive to send a message to Reddington: “Tell him we know.”

Oh but Red, he’s a pretty in-the-know fella himself, and he’s ready to jump right back into the fray with a new assignment for Liz who, for her part, can’t believe he’s not exhausted after their treacherous time on the run. But Red is in no mood: “Your past three months have been what my life has been like for the last 25 years — I’m often exhausted.” Looks like the kid gloves are coming off and Red is ready for Lizzie to keep up. Next up on the criminal list is the Shell Island Retreat, a regular Club Med for leaders of the most lethal organized crime syndicates. It only gathers when they’re presented with a problem so vast, it must be solved by enemies working together. And I’ll cut to the chase: that huge problem is that, given his constant linking with the exonerated fugitive Elizabeth Keen while she was on the run, it would appear that Raymond Reddington, one of their own, is an informant for the FBI.

NEXT: Red, meet Fred…

And boy are they in for a treat because, these days, there are two Raymond Reddingtons to deal with. After Red shares a tip on one of the Shell Island invitees’ travel agents (criminal overlords do not use Expedia), the Post Office tracks down an address that leads them to a man in possession of a homemade murder mystery board that looks like it came straight from The Blacklist writers’ room with the details it contains. All the greatest hits from the last three seasons are there: Gina, Zanetakos, Monarch Douglas Bank, and Raymond Reddington himself … or at least that’s who this guy is claiming to be.

As with all Raymond Reddingtons, he’s immediately put in The Box to be interrogated by Liz. They have no real way of disproving that he’s Reddington (or proving that he is), given that technically Reddington disappeared 25 years ago, leaving no DNA and only one grainy photo behind him, so Cooper says it’s most important to find out what he knows and how he knows it. There was a lot of classified information on that board, and Freddington — heretofore referred to as Fred — thinks he knows just the secret to prove his O.G. status: the leader of the Shell Island Retreat, Marcus Kalegeri, is about to abduct an FBI agent, and he’ll only reveal her identity if he can speak with the man who’s been impersonating him.

Cue Red taking over the mic Kanye-style and Fred telling them the agent’s name: Janet McNamara. And this brings us to best scene of the night. Maybe you thought that award would go to the final dramatic reveal or perhaps the Tom stuff that we’ll get to eventually, but you would be wrong: not since Ressler kicked a gnome has Ressler done something so hilarious as to run after a moving truck on foot, throw himself on the back of it like a renegade garbage man, attempt to infiltrate the truck while it’s slinging him around like a ragdoll at what I eyeballed as 45 m.p.h., and eventually get thrown off into the windshield of a Land Rover whose driver was presumably just trying to go to Whole Foods, not be involved in one of Ressler’s bi-monthly car chases.

Of course, it was all to try to get Janet McNamara back, which was a failure, so it’s back to the box with Fred. Fred gives all the most convincing details that only Raymond Reddington could know, but in my eyes (and Red’s) he gave himself away the moment he told them to use a polygraph test to see which Reddington was telling the truth — no one who asks for a polygraph is ever telling the truth. But at the moment, the FBI doesn’t really care which criminal is which; they just need to one thing: Where is the Shell Island Retreat so they can bag all the world’s worst criminals.

And, perhaps realizing it’s more important for him to get free than prove that he’s one of the most powerful criminals in the world, Fred tells Liz that he’ll reveal the Shell Island location if he’s promised his freedom. Plus, he believes that Red has been using him in as a diversion for the FBI so that he could go to the Shell Island meeting himself and take over Fred’s seat at the table. If the FBI finds Red there, it would prove that he’s an imposter, because he told them he didn’t make the invite list in the first place…

And we all know where this is going: Of course Red is there and of course he lied to the FBI. In fact, he’s leading the meeting. Because he has something to prove: all of these criminal overlords believe him to be a traitor, an FBI informant who’s been turning them in for profit. And with his reputation at stake, Red devised a plan.

NEXT: A man is only as good bad as his reputation…

That plan was to hire one of his friends (Gregory Devry, as it were) to pose as a second Raymond Reddington and be discovered by the FBI; then the FBI would get Fred to reveal the location of the Shell Island Retreat and send him there, wired; once there were two Raymond Reddington’s in the room, Real Red would explain that, like them, he had heard rumors of his involvement with the FBI, so once Elizabeth Keen became a fugitive, he got close to her in order to confirm that, yes, she had been working with a Raymond Reddington — or rather, a Fraymond Freddington. And that traitorous man was an imposter, besmirching the criminal name of Raymond Reddington.  

Plan in motion, Red turns over Gregory Devry/Fred to the Shell Island gang with the final proof of his imposter/informant status being his FBI wire, and kills him (he was about to die from stomach cancer, so he was cool with it). And then he kills Marcus, the last lingering doubter, but not before whispering to him that he was actually right all along: “Tell our friends in hell to be patient. I’ll be along soon enough.” Red’s reputation as a criminal badass = saved.

So, yeah … that was pretty confusing. And that’s without even mentioning the proposal or the pregnancy. OH, HAVE I NOT MENTIONED THE PROPOSAL OR THE PREGNANCY??? Liz walks up on Tom doing his brooding-on-the-docks thing, but this time he’s faking: he’s actually super excited, because he’s asking Liz to marry him. She’s … not sure. She’s not saying no, but she’s learned that she can’t know what she’ll want 10 years from now, or one year from now; she only knows what she wants right now. And that thing, apparently, is sex on a dirty boat with Tom Keen: former fake husband, current boy toy, maybe-future-husband.

Fast forward a few scenes and Liz is adapting to everybody mean-mugging her all the time because she used to be No. 1 on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. But she manages to get an apartment and some fresh cut flowers from the market — unfortunately, one her fellow shoppers follows her out to the parking lot and beats the crap out of her, calling her a traitor. It’s awful, and really scary, but in the end, it’s just a lot of bruising and three broken ribs. And don’t worry, says the handsome doctor: “The baby’s fine.”

THE BABY’S FINE.

And so, we’ve been presented with the drama for next week, it seems. I am having exactly none of NBC marketing this as, “Which. Man. Will. She. Choose,” which is gross on, like, eight different levels, but especially because the decision that Liz is really left to face is, will she choose herself? All brown-haired season 1 Liz Keen ever wanted was a family to call her own. She desperately to be a mother, well into the point in her newly twisted life that it was clearly no longer an option. And for a brief moment in this episode, Liz seemed to think she was at a point where she could start all over again. As she explains to Red: “We beat Berlin and the Cabal, isn’t that enough for you? It is for me … Tom thinks we should just go away. Maybe he’s right.”

A few things: First, the way James Spader tightens every time he hears Tom’s name is just perfect. Second, it’s almost adorable how Liz thinks they’ve “beat” the Cabal when, personally, I can still see the crazy gleam in Christine Lahti’s eye all the way from last week. And finally, Mr. Kaplan warned Liz that Red was in a bad mood, and he’s got the harsh dose of reality to prove it. With a color-coded map of all the groups of dangerous people who would revel in the opportunity to take down the daughter of Katarina Rostova, Red explains, “This is what we’re up against: a multi-headed hydra. You cut off one head, it grows two others. You have to cut off every head and burn the rest of it. It’s a mythic battle and it’s not anywhere close to being over.”

Red tells Lizzie that they won’t just let her walk away. But, in light of recent events, the question becomes: Can she let herself?

A Few Loose Ends:

  • This is where I admit to you that I am on vacation in Puerto Rico, it took me about two hours to watch this episode over a shoddy WiFi connection, and I’m feeling a little loopy — I’m confident that you’ll come up with all the most important new theories and questions in the comments. I’ll get us started …
  • Liz is pregnant with Tom’s baby, WHAAAAAT?!
  • For the record, Janet McNamara ended up being fine, and is now the owner of a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean.
  • Poor Mr. Kaplan and Mr. Kaplan Juniors … what were they even cleaning up in the first place?
  • Liz’s Ressler impression during her teary office speech … appreciated, but it could use some work.
  • Aram easing Keen into being a stay-at-home asset: “It’s not so bad. I downloaded the fourth series of Doctor Who in the main frame. Tom Baker is amazing.”
  • “Take your seat Marcus — your information is incorrect and you’re standing in my light.” Red had so many great lines tonight.
  • As did Samar: “You didn’t just fire me. We slept together one day … and you fired me the next.”
  • Episode Recaps

    James Spader returns as Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.
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    • 09/23/13
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