The Blacklist recap: The Troll Farmer
“My name is Masha Rostova. I’m a Russian agent — I work for the FSB, and I’m seeking diplomatic immunity.”
Those words, spoken by one Elizabeth Keen while slammed against the inner fence of the Russian embassy, were nothing I could have predicted when The Blacklist premiered two years ago with James Spader throwing himself on the ground at Quantico and requesting to speaking to that very same Elizabeth Keen. Nor could Liz — then a hopeful adoptive mother, freshly trained FBI profiler, wife of a Warby Parker-wearing third grade teacher — have predicted them. No, life has not gone the way Elizabeth Keen thought it would. Because if there’s one thing Thursday night’s premiere hammered home, it’s that instincts really aren’t something to count on.
I’m really quite surprised at how conceptual this season 3 premiere turned out to be; compare it to that of Red’s “The Man Comes Around” murder walk of the midseason 1 premiere or the finger dismemberment being administered by Berlin in season 2’s premiere, Thursday’s night’s opener was pretty light on action: There were bread delivery trucks harboring fugitives, but no car chases; there was a Blacklister, but no Blacklister hunt; there were threats — lots of threats — but no follow through. Yet.
What the season 3 premiere of The Blacklist smartly spent its time doing instead was laying out the current stakes for Red, Liz, Ressler, and the Post Office Gang. And let me shoot straight with you here: They are some high-ass stakes. As the Director of the National Clandestine Service/Director of the Cabal says of Red and Lizzie: He’s the FBI’s most wanted fugitive, assisting the terrorist daughter of a KGB spy. Following Liz’s murder of Attorney General (Slimy) Tom Connolly and her framing by the Cabal as a Russian spy sent to America to infiltrate the FBI and murder a senator as an act of terrorism in last season’s finale, everyone’s favorite pair of paternity-themed question marks have a bit of a branding problem.
The one glaring omission from the chessboard of stakes is, y’know, that pending world war. At the end of season 2, Red delivered the Fulcrum (which ultimately amounted to a PowerPoint of Eeeeevil) to the best investigative journalists in the country. On that front — the Cabal and its worldwide axis of evil — we appear to be moving slowly, starting with what has to be one of the most menacing mother-effers in Blacklist history. Listen, if you want to get me to hate someone really quickly, just have them threateningly talk about the fragility of baby skulls and then reveal that delicate-skulled baby to be Dembe’s granddaughter. This whole premiere is one big threat about what’s to come, and it does its job — I’m nervous, I’m worried, and I want to punch this Mr. Solomon guy in the nuts.
THE TROLL FARMER, NO. 38
That’s right, the baby threatener isn’t even the Blacklister of the week! No that would be the Troll Farmer, and that is not a reference to the Blacklist EPs who are very clearly trolling us with Lizzie’s hair a this point. That’s not to say that Megan Boone isn’t pulling off being a blonde — the woman has a jaw line to cut glass-top coffee tables with; she can pull off whatever (non-wig) hairstyle she wants to. But I don’t think it’s any coincidence that each season starts with a new hairstyle here. With each new hairstyle and each new season, comes a brand new Liz, both for the audience and for the woman herself.
Because Elizabeth Keen, three seasons after meeting Raymond Reddington, knows less about herself than she ever has. What she knows now: She’s the daughter of a Russian spy who she knows nothing about; she’s Undesirable No. 1 to both the FBI and the secret evil agency comprised of the world’s most powerful leaders; and the only person she can trust with her safety right now is her No. 1 frenemy, Reddington. The premiere opens with excellent ’80s cop show vibes as newly minted Post Office Director Ressler is putting a Tupperware-tight lockdown on the D.C. perimeter. They get eyes on the silver van that Red and Liz escaped in during last season’s finale just as it’s entering a tunnel, and you will figure out a full 30 seconds before this crew of FBI agents that it drove onto the 18-wheeler car carrier truck ahead of it in the tunnel. Alas, Ressler is new at this, so Red and Liz are able to lose their tail, exchange their can for a cop car and cop uniforms and make it to their next stop…
Dive Bar Panic Room…
…sitting in a room. There was a time when I thought this premiere might be going super existential and just going to keep its two leads in an underground bunker for the full hour while they waited the week they’ll need for the FBI to deplete its resources keeping up the perimeter patrol currently in place. But as narrative luck would have it, the sister of Red’s barkeep associate gets a little treason-shy when she realizes that they’re harboring a suspected terrorist and tips off the FBI. Ressler arrives with agents who storm the place and announce it all clear until he hears a phone ring below the floorboards. But he discovers their little hidey-hole about 10 seconds too late: They’ve escaped back into the outside world through a grate in the wall.
And seeing Ressler on a tear to find his suspected-terrorist former partner is high-intensity and all, but nothing gets the heart racing quite like watching a young mother in the middle of jarring some homemade baby food hear a stranger’s voice cooing to her infant on the baby monitor. The young woman runs up to the nursery to find a man (X-Men: First Class star Edi Gathegi) holding her baby and talking about how fragile tiny human’s eggshell skulls are. He tells her that he wants to talk to her father and will send further instruction. When she lunges for him, he violently knocks her against the wall and takes her baby. It is truly terrifying.
And if the baby stealing and mom slinging wasn’t enough, imagine the heartbreak that comes when the woman’s father gets to her and is revealed to be — DEMBE. This show’s success in making me have major love for this man who is complicit in, like, one million crimes is really something else. But I do have love for him and I hope he goes totally HAM on this guy.
This guy turns out to be Mr. Solomon, a particularly outspoken member of the Cabal. He shows up at the Director’s office — whose name is revealed to be Peter this episode — to let him know in the most smiling, most threatening way possible that there’s a large chunk of the Cabal that’s lost confidence in his leadership now that Red has exposed the Fulcrum, something the Director always said he was bluffing about having: “I take no joy in telling you that you’re dancing on the edge of a razor blade. And that every breath that you draw is at our discretion.” That’s funny, it seems like he take a little joy in telling him that, and if Mr. Solomon didn’t seem like an even worse kind of evil than the Director, I might have been able to take a little joy in hearing it.
But with the Cabal’s hackles raised and the FBI on their tail, Red and Liz have to figure out what to do now that they’ve been forced out of hiding but still can’t get out of the city unnoticed. That’s where the titular Troll Farmer comes in. After stealing a Porsche and locking an adorable woman named Marta in a bathroom, Red explains to Lizzie that the Troll Farmer “uses social media to conduct highly coordinated disinformation campaigns,” which basically means he creates fake news stories and disperses them heavily through fake social media accounts to create a diversion for whoever’s hired him, in this case Lizzie and Red, who need to escape D.C.
Well, actually Red tells Liz all of that in response to her asking him how her new blond hair looks. And for maybe the first time ever — Red is totally speechless. He licks his lips in a kind of disconcerting way a few times and then, instead of complimenting her (he saves those for Marta) or acknowledging her in any way, he just keeps rambling on about the Troll Farmer. And that’s when Lizzie knows: “She was blond, my mother… I look like her, don’t I?” Red, unsurprisingly, offers no answers.
This troll farm has less belly button jewels than expected…
Onward and upward (and preferably out of the country): the Troll Farmer, despite being annoyed that his deadline has been pushed up by six days (and despite being maybe 21-years-old), works his magic and gets the FBI following multiple different false leads for where Red and Lizzie are while they load into secret compartments in two separate vans to try and get out of the city: “Either you’ll be free within the hour or you’ll be arrested and tried for treason.” Don’t be so black-and-white, Mr. Troll Farmer — there are lots of other disastrous options beyond just treason!
Because unlike the tricky business of figuring out that a car escaped onto a truck built explicitly for the purpose of carrying cars, Director Ressler figures this Reddington plan in a snap. There are far too many reports coming in of Liz and Red all over different areas of the southern half of D.C., which means they must be trying to divert attention from the north. So the FBI re-routes their attention, and while Red’s van manages to make it over the line just before all the roads in northern D.C. shut down, Lizzie’s does not. And she does not feel good about that. Red calls her for a pep talk and she can hardly get her self-doubts out fast enough. But that simply won’t do — because for the first time in a long time, Liz is well and truly on her own. She doesn’t have Red; she doesn’t have the Post Office; she doesn’t even have her country on her side.
But Red tells her that her mother, Katarina Rostova, “was the cleverest, most resourceful person I’ve ever known,” and Lizzie carries that with her. And while that kind of seems like a load of locker-room bull, it seems to spark something in Liz, and she comes up with a plan on her own that Red immediately protests, though it falls on deaf ears: “2650 Wisconsin Ave. — it’s the only chance I’ve got.”
Sweet Grandpa Dembe doesn’t have many chances to get his granddaughter back either, and he bursts into the restaurant where Mr. Solomon is waiting with bullets for everyone but the man in charge. He sits down at the table with Solomon and asks him what he wants. He gives no answers yet but calls Dembe’s daughter and tells her the baby is outside her door and to send a photo back as proof. Solomon shows Dembe the picture and Dembe’s like, “OK, so why did you pull me away from my mystery stories if you were just going to give her back?” But what he really says is, “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you now.” Well, I’ll tell you…because this sick SOB gave that baby some kind of drug that will slowly and painfully kill her in three weeks, and Dembe won’t get the antidote if he kills him. Instead, Solomon offers him a breathing mask with something to knock him unconscious and tells him to breathe deeply. And so Grandpa Dembe does.
Over on Wisconsin Ave., Ressler and Samar spot blond Liz and jump out of the car, and just when I’m wondering what Liz was thinking in challenging those two to a foot race while she’s wearing a bralette, it all becomes clear: 2650 Wisconsin Ave. is the Russian Embassy, and Masha is jumping the fence to get inside right this very moment.
“My name is Masha Rostova. I’m a Russian agent — I work for the FSB, and I’m seeking diplomatic immunity.”
A Few Loose Ends:
- Welcome back to Blacklist recaps, where no theory is too weird, no detail too small, and no Story Corner with Raymond Reddington too rambling.
- I haven’t mentioned Director Ressler’s own storyline — hey, Ressler has a storyline! — too much because I’m not totally sure yet what to make of his guilt/anger/vengefulness at knowing he’s complicit in letting Liz get away and murder (Slimy) Attorney General or the amount of times Samar told him she didn’t trust his instincts. But I do know I’m kind of digging rooting against him while maintaining some sort of begrudging affection for him. He’s always been a bit of a jerk (Aram’s words, also mine), and this aggressor role seems to fit, especially if the full ramifications of his former relationship with Liz ever catches up to him in the form of actually capturing her.
- But at least we’re saved from totally despising Ressler since, in the end, he helped a Cooper out and didn’t tattle on the former Director for telling Liz to run (#RunLizzieRun campaign was still in full force tonight) after she shot (Slimy) Tom Connolly, and released Charlene without threat of charges.
- Speaking of charges… What the hell is Lizzie/Masha in for over on Russian diplomatic soil? And where is Red headed on his own in the bread van — how far is he willing to flee without Lizzie?
- Did you think this season 3 premiere was as well-paced and promising as I did? And were you as unnerved by the new villain in town, Mr. Solomon, as I was? Can wait to hear all of your best theories and thoughts in the comments! And on that note…
- Best Katarina Rostova theories? Go!
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.