The Blacklist recap: The Director
Remember when Elizabeth Keen’s biggest problem was wondering if her Warby Parker-model husband was a spy? Remember when Elizabeth Keen’s biggest problem was Red? These days, Keen is a wanted terrorist, in the custody of a government that is infested to its very core by a shadow operation hell-bent on starting World War III, for reasons unspecified.
Over three seasons of The Blacklist, the problems of Elizabeth Keen have grown, and with them, the series itself has grown exponentially in scope. Remember when we just sat around wondering if Red was Liz’s dad? Remember when Jolene the substitute teacher was the largest disruptive force in Washington, D.C.? Yeah, I still don’t know why Red follows Liz around like a bloodhound (though apparently the Director does), but to that list I must also add: Why is Red giving those U.S. Treasury printing plates to the Foreign Minister of Venezuela so he can pass them along to the President of Venezuela in an effort to save Lizzie from an imminent death-by-shadow-government?
“It wasn’t weakness that prevented you from watching your friend die today — it was hope.”
My point is, Elizabeth Keen and her friends — her ridiculously noble friends — need a lot of hope to keep fighting this fight. They are up against insurmountable odds: They are being remotely suffocated by the Director of Clandestine Operations of the CIA, framed as Russian terrorists, and quadruple-teamed by teams with assault rifles in remote cabins in the woods. Only hope that there is still a light worth finding at the end of this tunnel could keep them fighting against the Cabal, and only hope that Jon Bokenkamp and his team have a plan to get themselves and their characters out of the grips of what would seem to be a nearly undefeatable force could keep this audience holding out for a hero.
And after tonight, with the stakes as high as they’ve ever been, I’d say I’m feeling pretty hopeful at just the right time.
THE DIRECTOR, NO. 24
“I’ve always believed luck to be a function of intent — in this case, mine.”
Heading into Thursday night’s midseason return, the intent of Red and the gang remains steadfast: Clear Elizabeth Keen’s name. It’s the same mission everyone, especially Red, has been working toward for the entire third season, seemingly with little progress. After all, Liz isn’t just an accused terrorist now; she’s an accused terrorist with nothing but a sheet of Plexiglas between her and the organization trying to kill her. But apparently this is the moment when we find out exactly what Red’s intent to clear her name still requires: “a sizable drug haul, an FBI heist, and the U.S. Treasury Department.” Seems easy enough; Liz actually making it through the day is where the luck comes in.
Things pick up right where we last left them, with Liz being arrested by Ressler and Red escaping in just the nick of time to keep his plan to save Lizzie afloat. Despite many warnings from Red, Ressler still thinks he can protect Liz from the Cabal. It’s almost adorable the way he marches her into the Post Office, all clad in a bulky protective vest, surrounded by officers, roots freshly dyed, and tucks her safely into The Box (THE BOX!!!) only to have the Director march in saying that Homeland has intel that a Russian terrorist attack is imminent, and as Keen is a Russian spy, he has orders to take her away to her death.
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Laurel Hitchin — member of the Cabal, didn’t you hear? — is rightly concerned. Even though she stone-cold killed Reven Wright, the woman still had a number of protocols in place for if Elizabeth Keen was ever captured, namely for the process to be overseen by someone named Cynthia Panabaker. But the Director assures her that they’ve taken down entire governments in less than three hours (the amount of time until the U.S. Marshals arrive to escort Liz to her hearing), making one little disgraced FBI agent disappear shouldn’t be a problem. And indeed, when he marches up with his orders to open The Box, Ressler is all, Damn, I really did not see this coming! Luckily, Aram did, and he’d already changed the code.
Finally aware that he’s in over his head, Ressler calls Red, who tells him to just make sure that when the time comes, to make sure Karakurt is delivered from his current citizen’s arrest at Cooper’s wife’s lover’s cabin in the woods (can’t make this up) to the FBI. Absolutely, says Donald, let me just run and tell Laurel Hitchin exactly what’s going on because if I’ve learned one thing here at the FBI-on-crack that is the Post Office task force, it’s that you should always trust the people up top. But let me try to be fair here — how could Ressler have known Laurel was a bad seed? Well, there’s one way…
NEXT: You gotta hit ’em with that “Rollo Tomasi”
Oh I loved it so much. After Ressler tells Laurel how the Director is trying to get to Liz but they just have to hold him off until Karakurt gets there because Karakurt is willing to confess to his involvement with the terrorist attack planned by the Cabal to frame Liz, Laurel assures him they can hold off the Director. Then she tells him she’s a little worried that they haven’t been able to get ahold of Reven. All she can think of is that the last time they talked, Reven mentioned an associate: Tommy Markin.
Well, she’s not lying (she failed to mention that Reven was choking on her own blood at the time). But Ressler is. Because even though he says he’s never heard of the guy, we know that Ressler’s the one who told Reven Wright who Tommy Markin was in the first place: the dirty cop who betrayed his father. Reven sent the name Tommy Markin through Laurel as a message to Ressler that she is not to be trusted, and it is oh so gratifying to watch her tie her own noose. Hope — we have hope!
Unfortunately, Ressler can’t take back that he told Laurel about Karakurt and almost his exact location with Tom and the Coopers (a new sitcom, coming to NBC this spring). When he calls Cooper to warn him, Cooper is an hour away from the cabin taking Charlene somewhere safe, so Ressler has to head to meet up with his bestie-4-life Tom before the Cabal get to him and his bean-can-prisoner Karakurt first. While Ressler heads to Maryland, Red meets back up with the friend he previously handed Samar’s brother over to and tells him he needs a meeting with his boss, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister.
And for that meeting, he will need to once again be in possession of the Care Package. Luckily, Samar has a little extra time on her hands and a background in undercover work, and Red has all that intention he’s been talking about, which just so happens to involve a couple hundred bricks of cocaine they plant as evidence in order to turn the FBI evidence car carrying the Care Package out of West Virginia back around so that Samar can swipe it, the contents of which Red only describes as “El Dorado.”
If you’re doing a head count on who’s keeping an eye on Lizzie, that just leaves…Aram. Sweet, caring, capable, currently heartbroken (still not over it) Aram. All Aram has ever wanted to do is keep his friends safe; to keep the world safe. That’s what a tech guy does. He watches his team go into the field and put themselves in harm’s way, and he does everything he can from behind a screen to make sure he gets them out and hopes that in the end, they’ve made the world a little safer. And now, here he sits, staring at a different stretch of glass, watching Liz suffocate while the Director pumps nitrogen into The Box, and Aram is the only one with the ability to save her — even though saving her undoubtedly means killing her by releasing her from The Box and into the hands of the Director. Aram screams that he’ll go to the press, he pleads with the Director’s lackeys to look at what they’re doing, to watch Liz dying in The Box, but in the end it’s just Aram…watching Liz die in the box. And he has to give the Director the code: NAVABI. Oh, it is heartbreaking.
A duo in just as much trouble, but being slightly more hilarious about it are Ressler and Tom, who have now joined forces at the cabin to protect Karakurt, not because Tom naturally comes around to trusting Ressler after he rings the doorbell, but because they suddenly look out the windows to find the cabin surrounded by 20 men with assault rifles and one Mr. Solomon, who is as scary as about 100 men with assault rifles. Ressler and Tom arm themselves as best they can, and Karakurt finally convinces them to let him have a weapon, and then it’s just 20 to three — no problem. And is there anything quite like a barrage of bullets in a shootout scored to classical music? The good guys take out a few men before they enter the cabin, and with a little gas-mask trickery, they take out the rest inside.
Except, of course, for Mr. Solomon, the cockroach of villains, who’s waiting to put a gun to Tom’s head when they get to the car. Tom tells Ressler to just let Solomon shoot him and then shoot Solomon as soon as he drops. He’s going to kill him anyway, he says. But Ressler puts his gun down, to which Tom screams, “Did you even go to the Academy?” (I love how much these two love to hate each other.) But whether he learned it at the Academy or not, Ressler knows how to spot a savior a mile away because — BOOM! — just after Ressler puts his gun down, Solomon hits the ground following a swift blow to the head from one Harold Cooper. And as much as I love a perfectly timed rescue by Coops, I loved another rescue in this episode even more…
NEXT: A hopeful dose of Southern sass…
As the Director marches Lizzie out of the Post Office toward her certain death alongside Laurel, Aram pulls a gun on the Director, but he knows it’s not the answer, and Liz convinces him to put it down. With Aram in cuffs, Liz is finally all on her own. That is, until the elevator doors open to reveal one small ray of hope wrapped in a Southern accent and a whole lotta sass. Cynthia Panabaker, with orders from Reven Wright to safely transfer Elizabeth Keen to the courthouse of her trial, wonders where exactly they’re taking that young lady. Finally, Laurel and the Director look like the caught mustache-twirlers they are. Panabaker tells the Director that the DNI thinks his new intel about the Russian attack is, well, horse s—, and Laurel says as National Security Advisor, that’s her call to make, to which Panabaker offers to just give a quick ring to the Director of National Intelligence herself.
And so she does, and when he confirms that Liz should be handed over to Panabaker, she looks those two dumb-dumbs over and says, “I have never seen two people more disappointed that the country isn’t under attack… I need to come around here more often.”
Oh, she is onto them. And — OH — it is on. To the tune of “Gamble Everything For Love” by Ben Lee, Ressler arrives back just in time to tell Laurel that he knows what she did to Reven Wright while Red lines up the final dominoes of his plan to free Lizzie. And then, he invites Aram to bike out to a cemetery and stand in front of open grave with him. Oh, I could watch Amir Arison’s face fluctuate between fear and awe every half-second for an entire episode: “Why did you ask me to meet you at an empty grave?”
Red tells Aram that “there are foundational elements in our lives, people that form the brick and mortar of who we are… We take their existence for granted until suddenly they’re not there, and we collapse under rubble.” He tells him that he’s stood over open graves and watched those foundational elements slip away too often in his life. And that if it weren’t for Aram, he’d be staring at another body today, instead of an empty grave: “It wasn’t weakness that prevented you from watching your friend die today. It was hope… I am forever in your debt.” Aram starts to reply, but as far as Red is concerned, there is only one thing left to say…
“Now get your team together — it’s time to take down the Cabal.”
Damn straight it is.
A Few Loose Ends:
- We know that Red handed over the U.S. Treasury $100-bill plates to help out Venezuela’s Central Bank in exchange for something, but the only thing we know about that something is that the Foreign Minister thinks it’s super risky for his country.
- Did The Box get a facelift? It wasn’t always brought to us by the color red-orange was it?
- You guys, it’s not that I don’t feel for Harold Cooper — I love Coops — but why are we watching his marriage crumble in the midst of everything else that’s happening right now? Will that become more important? Is their cuckolding neighbor a member of the Cabal? Theories, please!
- I really loved the L.A. Confidential/Tommy Markin nod, but every time they repeated that name, I inexplicably imagined it in the voice of the “Bill Brasky” SNL skit. TOMMY MARKIN!
- Did Laurel call this whole Cabal plot (the one that she’s at the center of) an “airport novel?” Because that’s hilarious.
- THAT STARE DOWN BETWEEN DEMBE AND SOLOMON. Oh…he’ll get what’s coming to him.
- It’s kind of nice how Liz kept assuring everyone she doesn’t blame them for what’s happening to her, but also kind of like, “Yeah Liz, well, they didn’t shoot the Attorney General of the United States or ask to be put on a task force with some freaky will-they-won’t-they-be-father-daughter pair, so…”
- “You can gamble everything for love if you’re free / You gotta gamble everything for love”
Did you find as much hope for the future of The Blacklist in this episode as I did? Might Liz just make it out of this alive and no longer at the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted List? And if so…then what?
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.