The Blacklist recap: Zal Bin Hasaan
In the world of The Blacklist, Red is the East and Lizzie is the sun: He may be larger than life, but she’s the thing defining him. And I guess that would make the Cabal the envious moon? (Aram is for sure Mercutio, re: stealing the show.) What I’m really trying to get at here is that this show revolves around the big solar-system players, sure, but there are some damn interesting Plutos out there, too, just waiting for their time to shine. We’ve been given the gift of learning about Dembe’s past and how he came to know Red; Ressler had that pill problem and, in what seems like ages ago, Audrey; we spent all of season 2 slowly but surely finding out what Cooper was made of (principals, grit, and not-cancer mostly). And tonight — tonight we finally and truly make our introduction to Samar Navabi.
It’s just in time, too. People have been talking, you see. And by people, I mean you. And me! Everyone has been wondering what the deal is with Samar. She used to be in the Mossad, she was introduced to the series as Red’s Post Office mole, and now, 20-something episodes later, she seems to just be rolling along as Ressler’s partner. Plus, she’s always calling Lizzie out, which is something pretty much else no one does. Every time Ressler and Red are all, “Elizabeth Keen is a good person — bottom line,” Samar is like, “You guys. That might be true, but she straight up murda’d the Attorney General of the United States.”
Rather than simply addressing those questions directly, what this episode smartly does, is better define for us who Samar is as a person, making the way for much more complex answers. As with Dembe’s origin story, I left this hour with a much better understanding of what motivates Samar Navabi — past, present, and future — rather than just being told whose side she’s on. Samar isn’t defined by whom her allegiances are with; she’s defined by the things that she believes in. And in that way, she could work with any number of entities because, as a person whose parents were taken from her for speaking out against a tyrannical government, I imagine battling a corrupt group of world leaders trying to start another cold war would be her top priority, no matter who it put her in a cubicle with. (Check out my Q&A with Mozhan Marnò to find out more about these motivations and THAT FINAL SCENE.)
Oh, and in between all of this intense character development, something completely crazy happened. Actually, like 16 things, though only one involved the unbuttoning of pants. But we’ll get to that…
ZAL BIN HASAAN, NO. 31
The episode opens in Tehran, Iran, in 1992, as a man enters a home and kills multiple adults while a young girl and her little brother play outside. When the girl sees her slain family, she won’t let her brother look, simply promising that she’ll be there for him forever. We learn that the girl is a young Samar, and as we already know, the little boy, her brother, grows up to be killed by a terrorist bombing in Iran.
In the present, there’s another terrorist situation to deal with. Six tech experts for Israel’s missile-defense shield have been abducted on American soil, and Red thinks he knows who’s responsible: Zal Bin Hasaan. With this information he first tells a tux-clad restaurant owner whose Bellinis he’s drinking that he’ll hand-deliver Hasaan in exchange for getting a meeting with the man’s boss. It’s unclear why the boss would want Hasaan, but it’s very clear why Samar would, which brings us to the other part of Red’s plan: Get Samar to lead the Post Office in finding Zal Bin Hasaan, the assassin who’s killed more Mossad agents than any other in history; the assassin whom her Mossad task force was solely devoted to finding; and the assassin who it is presumed planned the bombing that killed her brother.
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Needless to say, Samar is absolutely down to nail this guy’s ass to the wall. The problem is he’s a totally mystery — he’s thought to be Iranian-born, in his mid-30s, and there’s only one confirmed picture of him…and it’s of the back of his head. When Samar tells the Post Office team about his continued presence in her life and then the risk of trying to find him, Aram’s response is, of course, “We are doing it. For you — for your brother” because Aram would do anything for the people he loves. We don’t need an origin episode to know that one (BUT WE WILL GLADLY TAKE ONE… Maybe a flashback to his days being ignored by the popular nerds at MIT, just spit-balling here).
NEXT: It’s all in the eye of the hostage…
Through a deadly hostage video sent to the media and a crystal-clear reflection in a pair of spectacles, the Task Force tracks Hasaan’s hostage headquarters to a power plant nearby and calls in Samar’s old Mossad team to meet them there. You won’t believe this, but that team includes an incredibly handsome director named Levi who used to be Samar’s partner both on and off the field of duty. This is a good time to note that the acting in this episode is all-around excellent, from Oded Fehr, in his small role as Levi, to Mozhan Marnò, who is always great but even better in this larger quantity where her subtleties have time to linger, and Sammy Sheik is also perfect as Samar’s brother.
Oh that’s right… Samar’s brother, Shahin, is alive.
When they spot who they assume must be Hasaan in a catwalk in the power plant, the agents storm the building, and much graphic shooting ensues. On his way up to Hasaan, Ressler sets of a trip wire that causes an explosion and enough of a diversion for Hasaan to escape while the FBI and Mossad arrest his people and rescue the hostages. But there were a few more hostages than they thought. They discover that Hasaan was keeping four Iranian men locked up, as well as the Israeli hostages, and Samar is shocked to find that one of them is Shahin, the brother she’s thought to be dead for the last six years. Cue her world shattering.
Red assures Samar that he had no knowledge that her brother was alive but promises to find out how Hasaan could have gotten into the country. So while Brimley tortures the man who was pretending to be Hasaan with what appears to be a blow torch, Samar finds out from her brother how he went from being blown up in a bombing while at a student-activist rally to being a hostage of the most notorious assassin in all of Iran. He explains that after making it out of the explosion alive, he had to go on the run from the Iranian government and couldn’t contact Samar for fear of endangering her. Six weeks ago, Hasaan’s men tracked him down after he fled to America for safety.
I realize now that this story has way too many red flags, but I was just so happy for Samar and the joy shining in her eyes. But that joy turns to terror as one of the other Iranian hostages detaches some sort of explosive from his heel, proving that these were not hostages, and triggering a plan that leaves most dead except for the few Mossad agents whom Hasaan’s men are trying to get some information from.
The man leading that charge: Shahin Navabi who is, in fact, Hasaan. He was the one who planted the explosive at the student-activist meeting where he was presumed to be killed; he was the one who killed Samar’s partner and countless other Mossad agents and innocent civilians; and he’s the one currently executing this risky maneuver in order to get the full list of Mossad agents that are after him to eliminate the threats against him. A call to Red who figured out the Hasaan twist just a second too late, and Samar puts together that there’s only a hard copy of that list in the very Mossad headquarters they’re in right now, and even though Red tells her all she has to do is protect herself, she goes to put a stop to what her brother is doing.
And in a weaker point in the episode, that mission is briefly sidetracked by a kiss with Levi as they burn the list of Mossad names and one of Hasaan’s men comes in and shoots Levi and captures Samar. It’s not that I mind these two tall, attractive people being in l-u-v; it’s just that this is no time for makeouts. Hasaan won’t let his men kill Samar and says that she has the information they were after in her head anyway, and hey, flee the scene to a boat to escape…
Where Red, Dembe and a sea of bullets were waiting for them. Oh, what a glorious moment this was! Red tells Samar that it’s her choice what happens to her brother, but the best he can offer is “death with a purpose.” If he hands Hasaan over to the restaurant owner mentioned at the top of the episode, it will help in the mission to exonerate Liz. “Hasaan is all yours,” she chokes out, unable to look at her brother, a man who died many years ago.
NEXT: Fighting in yards with boys…
So that’s the story of how Samar mourned the death of her parents, mourned the death of her brother, and now will have to mourn his loss (and much more) all over again. So that just leaves…
A bunch of feuding boys. First there’s Ressler and the Director who are both trying to prove to Laurel Hitchin that they’re not withholding information from one another while withholding every single thing from each other. Then there’s Solomon and the Director who continue to do their delicate dance of acting like they’re on the same side while the Director makes Solomon swallow fish hooks at the Post Office to prove to Hitchin he doesn’t know him, and Solomon pretends he’s not totally going to turn on the Director in the very near future.
And then there’s Tom and Ressler… Ohhhh, Tom and Ressler, can’t you boys just get along? After capturing Karakurt last week, Tom brings him to Cooper’s house, which Coops is totally not cool with, but he’s a little too deep into this to get out now. Tom is swilling coffee and winking at everybody like a frat boy, clearly flying high off the adrenaline of being back in the spy/spy-killing game. But when Ressler shows up to Cooper’s house to find Tom there, he’s furious that Cooper is working with him even though they all share the same goal, to exonerate Liz: “You are a lying scumbag, and I don’t trust you!” It is all so deliciously dramatic, and then Tom and Ressler get into a good old-fashioned fist fight, that dad Cooper has to break up before it gets less old fashioned and more homicidal.
And as he storms out — I kid you not, you guys — Ressler furiously kicks over a garden gnome. It is so ridiculous and hilarious it might be my favorite moment of the season.
With gnomes in his wake and Keen still not in his grasp, Ressler returns to the Post Office in bad shape, where he also finds Samar, feeling vulnerable and with a new outlook on the future: “What really matters is this. Here, now. Nothing else is guaranteed.” You know what is guaranteed? That any two characters go from zero to bone zone in under 20 seconds following a line like that, and that is certainly the case. In a twist that took me totally by surprise, Ressler and Samar Get. It. On. My feelings on this below…
A Few Loose Ends
- Listen, I support Samar getting with anyone she wants to, but were we not all thinking that she and Aram were destined for that opposites-attract kind of love?! What does this risky Ressler business mean for the future of Post Office operations? Do they even have and H.R. department??
- “Do I dare to eat a peach? May as well live dangerously.” —Red on an off week
- I don’t blame that waitress at the Chinese restaurant for just trying to help out her No. 1 customer, Tom, by giving Solomon the phone number she had for him, but really, what kind of estate manager goes around tucking locks of hair behind women’s hair while they talk last will and testament?
- “Exonerate Liz, and then I’ll personally fix you a soybean smoothie so you can croak yourself vegan-style.” After his stay at Casa Cooper, Karakurt and his soy allergy are ready to sing. If he really fesses up to his role in the Senator’s death, then Red and Tom believe that Lizzie can be exonerated.
- Tom also believes that Liz can still have everything she’s ever wanted in life once this is all over, as he tells her when they’re reunited, but I think what he’s hoping she’ll want is him and his bloody tank top and sociopathic tendencies.
- My eternal gratitude to anyone who tracks down a gif of Ressler and that Very Special Gnome.
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.