The Blacklist recap: 'The Harem'
“Ew.” For perhaps the first time ever, Elizabeth Keen and I agree on something.
A crew of smart, heist-y women with an affinity for fierce outerwear, partying on school nights, and impractical updos? Sign me up. Calling that group of morally questionable businesswomen “The Harem” and making their leader a workplace sexual harasser? Unsubscribe from all lists — except, of course, for Agent Keen’s totally relatable new newsletter, “Ew.”
Over the last two episodes, The Blacklist has started a habit of presenting thoughtful new ideas regarding the larger scope of Raymond Reddington and Elizabeth Keen’s ongoing mystery saga, quietly sandwiched in between a … questionable Blacklister storyline. Are they trying to distract us from the developing tensions with shady radio-frequency science and an influx of new characters? Or are they just a little worn-out in the middle of the season? Last week, obstructed behind a clunky girl-predicts-murders-through-hearing-aid-device plot, a potential falling-out — or at the very least, budding distrust — between Red and Dembe crept out of the dark. That pot stayed on simmer this week while a new idea was presented: Elizabeth Keen might not be such a special FBI snowflake after all.
Raymond Reddington has a pet in MI6, too. And not like he had Samar as a helpful Mossad spy. No, Emma Knightly was plucked out of junior analyst obscurity; she was groomed; she was made to feel special, like the center of Raymond Reddington’s universe. His attentions, while welcomed, consumed Emma, ruined her marriage, and made her a prisoner in her own life. And now she’s telling Lizzie to get out while she still can …
THE HAREM, NO. 102
Before we meet Emma, we meet her crew. The cold open shows a group of men walking shadily into some Atlanta country club only to have the very put-together-looking women milling about come together to jack their car, knife the headrests, and steal all the diamonds they were apparently rolling around with.
But Red is onto these ladies, and he’s sharing his intel with Lizzie. The Harem is “an elite group of female thieves who steal only from other criminals.” But this isn’t a Robin-Hood-meets-crime situation; the Harem just steal from other criminals to cover their tracks, and Red says the group is covering up two sets this time. They took the stolen diamonds from those other thugs because those other thugs just so happen to be the private-security contractors who were hired to protect the government’s Witness Protection list … a list that’s just been stolen from them and one Red says is “extraordinarily valuable and irresistible to the Harem.”
Harold Cooper says there’s only one way to get that list before the Harem does: Put Agent Elizabeth Keen on the inside. And listen, as much as I love Undercover Lizzie, and as much as I’d love to see her trade in her blogger hoodie for a bold lip and luscious sweater-coat, I must call bullshit on this one. Because that edgy Undercover Lizzie could only exist in a fantasy world, my friends. Just last week, the story line hinged on a mother recognizing Liz as the recently reinstated FBI agent in a grocery store. And now she’s going to fool a group of elite criminals with a messy-Rey updo?
I guess I didn’t account for the huge undercover glasses she’d be wearing — she is her husband’s wife, after all. Liz shows up at the hotel room of the Harem’s leader, Margot (played with excellent cool by Jill Hennessy), dressed as a hotel worker who needs to check the minibar. She steals Margot’s stolen-stolen-diamonds and leaves a note telling her to meet her in the lobby. The FBI has found a former accomplice of Margot’s who’s willing to help Liz in exchange for getting his brother out of prison early. Liz tosses his name around, along with the special skill she’d bring to the Harem team — “I read people. I tell people exactly what they need to hear in order to do exactly what I need them to do” — and she’s got herself an interview.
NEXT: Loyalty, schmoyalty…
That interview involves bringing the guy who vouched for Liz (I kid you not, going by Liz for her undercover persona) so they can prove how well they know each other. They ace the back-and-forth portion … and then Margot tells Liz to shoot him to prove she will follow her lead, no questions asked. But Liz, the reader of people, tells Margot she knows what she really values is loyalty, and she’s loyal to this guy just like she’ll be loyal to Margot. And Margot’s like, Oh, I like what you did there, and then shoots him herself.
So, that guy dies because of the Post Office. And Lizzie successfully infiltrates a crime ring despite having publicly killed the attorney general of the United States, taken an extended stay on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, and received a pardon from the president-elect.
The initiation apparently involves getting wasted, which is something Liz seems to do when she’s undercover. She wakes up hungover on a couch; her new coworker, Emma, tells her she’s a funny drunk. She says Liz she wasn’t embarrassing, just revealing — but she says it really sketchy-like, as if Liz maybe said something she shouldn’t have. Given that we know Aram found out Sasha is the Harem member who makes the heist plans and Jessica is the Harem member who blends in anywhere, but couldn’t find anything on Emma, we know something’s up.
That something is soon revealed when Lizzie follows her to a shadowy meeting in the rain … with one Raymond Reddington. When Liz confronts him about it in her own shadowy meeting in the rain, Red tells her he placed Emma in the Harem so she could keep him posted on their criminal activities. (Sound familiar?) He placed Lizzie in the Harem because until this meeting, Emma had gone silent. That makes Liz hesitant about trusting Emma’s allegiances if she’s onto her.
But they make it through their first mission together, and mostly thanks to newest Harem pledge Liz not-Keen. After tracking down the head of the group that had both their diamonds and the Witness Protection list stolen by the Harem and a mystery party, respectively, Liz uses the diamonds as leverage to find out how the list was stolen. They get a name: Mega-hacker Jack Heldridge. And a victory like that can only mean one thing: It’s time for a signature Harem rager.
Before the tequila shots, though, Emma and Liz get a little time to lay their cards on the table. Emma straight-up tells Liz she works for Reddington, but not to worry, the others don’t know. Eight years ago, she was working as a low-level analyst for MI6 when Reddington came in to cut a deal. She eventually started working for him full-time because, as she describes it, she was starstruck: “He made me feel like I was the center of his universe. It was exciting and captivating, and it consumed me — my work, my marriage. I had no idea how many lines I was crossing until it was too late.”
Is Liz getting the same icky feeling I am? Maybe not, because she tells Emma it’s never too late to get out. Emma, a veteran of Red’s School for Enigmatic Relationships, shoots back: “Spoken like someone who’s still in the honeymoon phase.” To which I say: Wow.
Okay, now that Lizzie’s life as she’s known it for the last few years has been trivialized beyond repair — whether she knows that or not — it’s back to the tequila shots. There are many, and Liz excuses herself to the club’s bathroom to get a grip. Margot follows her in and tries to kiss her, to which Liz says no, to which Margot responds, “It’s about loyalty, remember.” To quote Lizzie Keen: EW. But Emma comes in just in time to, I think, act like she’s jealous, but Liz knows what she’s really doing. She’s protecting her, presumably, from crossing one of those many lines she didn’t know she was crossing until it was too late.
And once in Hong Kong — where Jack Heldridge currently resides with a chip implanted in his hand containing the Witness Protection list — Emma and Liz talk a bit more about what could have been and what might be. Emma tells Liz she has a son at boarding school, but she hardly sees him anymore; she doesn’t know how to talk to him because she doesn’t know who she’s become. Liz is telling her she could get her out, she could get her on the Witness Protection list, but Margot buzzes in to interrupt … because it’s time to steal that very list.
NEXT: Hand it over …
Seeing as how it lives in a man’s hand, the plan is pretty complicated: Basically, they have to break into an impenetrable apartment to get the chip out of the man’s hand and immediately attach it to an artificial heartbeat device so that the chip doesn’t destroy itself. They wait until Jack hosts a party in his penthouse; Sasha takes care of rigging the security cameras; Liz convinces Jack she needs to buy access to an identity from his newly acquired list; and Emma and Jessica wait in his bedroom to incapacitate him when he takes Liz there to speak more privately. But the wild-card Harem member uses their tranquilizer darts on two stray partygoers, and though they’re still able to get Jack down and the chip out, all the commotion alerts the security guards.
Emma is already out of the room, but Jessica is immediately killed when she enters the hall. That leaves Liz, who shows some quick thinking: She breaks the window to distract the guard when he enters, but doesn’t climb out of it. She then holds him at gunpoint to get her out of there. She couldn’t escape the way they’d planned, because …
Emma snuck out with the chip containing the Witness Protection list, never to be seen again. At least not by Margot, who’s taken into FBI custody when Liz alerts them to where she’ll be headed after the failed mission. The FBI doesn’t know where Emma will be heading — but Reddington does. He comes upon her watching her son’s soccer practice and tells her he can’t let her sell that list and expose so many innocent people. But that’s not her intention; she just wants to stop. Actress Anastasia Griffith does a lovely job of conveying in a few short scenes just how much this woman has lost.
Red tells Emma that if she’d wanted out, she should have come to him. “I didn’t think that was an option,” she says. And Red, of all people, should know how right she is.
After he apologizes and assures Emma she and her son will be taken care of, Red’s MI6 protégé gives him a bit of advice he’s heard over and over but can’t ever quite seem to hear: “You need to let her go.”
Red meets Liz in a diner to give her the list. But first, she’s got a few choice words when she tells him Emma has gone totally silent: “She betrayed you … so you killed her just like you killed Mr. Kaplan.” Oh, that’s right, I forgot about last week’s little bomb-drop. Lizzie knows Red “killed” Mr. Kaplan, and now Red knows Lizzie knows — and he knows there’s only one person who could have told her. Dembe. And we’ll get to that, but first it’s time to make Liz realize she doesn’t understand what she thought she understood at all.
Liz accuses Red of using the FBI to get this list because he wanted someone’s name off it. So, it’s time for Red’s Story Corner: Years ago, there was a Wisconsin housewife who, thanks to her aging dog’s overactive bladder, witnessed a body being dragged out of a neighbor’s house. “[She] had a choice between remaining silent or doing the right thing,” Red says. “She chose to testify.” And she forfeited the rest of her life to do so. That was the person Red needed to protect on that list.
That person was Kate’s — uh, Mr. Kaplan’s — sister.
Liz seems shaken, but she tells Red it doesn’t excuse him from what he did, to which he agrees. He later tells Dembe he understands why he needed to tell Liz about Mr. Kaplan. And then I get a pit in my stomach about where this is all headed …
A few loose ends:
I think that’s what feels a little off about the balance of tonight’s episode. The reveal of Red’s former MI6 all-star, the tension with Dembe, what seems to be his own self-doubt (see two points below) … It all feels so foreboding.
- The Harem was clearly meant to be a rollicking good time à la Ocean’s 8. And in some ways, it was: The casting was great, and I would watch a more developed idea featuring this criminal group (with a different name, of course). But the procedural and the serial were not a match tonight.
- As for what Red was really up to while Liz and Emma were doing his dirty work (or heart-of-gold work — is there a difference?) … All episode, he’s working with his normcore accountant to create a money transfer to a failing cruise-line company he’s convinced to transport anything he asks in exchange for saving them from bankruptcy. But when the transfer doesn’t go through, the cruise line goes with a different criminal outlet. And when Red realizes the transfer didn’t go through because his accountant died, he says this: “Smoll didn’t have a heart attack. Someone killed him — someone determined to start a war.” Do we have our next big bad?
- “You can’t think the FBI is the only law enforcement agency I have a relationship with.” Well, I did.
WHAT IS COMING?! Where is Mr. Kaplan? Can Dembe stay mad forever? Will Liz be silently watching Agnes play soccer from the boarding-school sidelines one day? Everything feels bad …
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.