“You’ve been busy.”
Oh yes, Raymond, Mr. Kaplan has been very busy… and so has The Blacklist‘s writers room. I don’t know exactly how I expected The Blacklist to return after eight weeks away while Redemption housesat for its time slot, but a two-hour blaze of glory shooting answers, history, and bags of dead bodies, leaving only destruction and a handful of perfectly executed retro songs in its wake, was definitely not it.
We will get to the first hour of this two-hour run, which was great in its own, much more subtle ways, but it’s hard to remember what led to an explosion when you’re standing in the middle of a fire… just ask Mr. Kaplan. Between catching up with Mr. Kaplan in present day and flashing back over her 30-year journey to becoming Reddington’s cleaner — and then his attempted murder victim — the second half of tonight’s Blacklist tells the story of how we build worlds up around us and then reshape ourselves to fit those worlds. In extreme cases, that’s how one might walk into an interview for a nanny position, and then say yes, and I love you, and, “Not alone,” and Anything for Elizabeth, anything for you, anything for anybody enough times that 30 years later, you’re standing in the middle of an ice skating rink, surrounded by dead bodies that you helped facilitate in becoming dead.
I’m sure that after a while, most of us assumed that Mr. Kaplan was the one trying to bring Reddington down — she had been MIA from the last few episodes, and when she set out from the her half-captivity-half-salvation at Mr. Hunter’s Creepy Cabin, she had an unreadable look in her eye. But even though it made logistical sense, it never quite made emotional sense: From most everything we’d heard from Mr. Kaplan, she seemed to have thought she was doing the right thing for Elizabeth, but she also thought that she’d betrayed Raymond in the deepest sense, and that was a punishable offense. She didn’t seem like someone who wanted retribution on her boss.
And then in the midseason finale, the twist: It was Dembe who poisoned Red and nearly killed him. But… that didn’t make much sense either. Sure, Dembe was upset that Red killed Kaplan, but he was also somewhat complicit in it, and he has never shown any wavering in his eternal devotion to his boss. So, in these two midseason premiere episodes, The Blacklist pulled off something that The Blacklist does not always do particularly well: They made it all make sense.
At the time of her attempted death, Mr. Kaplan did seem to think that it wasn’t out of line for Raymond to kill her as penalty for betraying his trust. But in her time at the Hunter’s cabin, and in the time since we last saw her, Mr. Kaplan has been busy. She’s been busy thinking about her past and how she ended up in the employ of Raymond Reddington. She’s been thinking about how when Kathryn Nemec went to Canada to be the governess to a baby girl, she didn’t know things were about to go full-tilt Jane Eyre. How she didn’t know that 30 years later, committing her life to keeping that little girl safe would have turned into something much more sinister.
Mr. Kaplan can’t un-live the life she fell into any more than Reddington can un-ring the bell she begged him not to ring when he walked back into Special Agent Elizabeth Keen’s life — their stories are written in flash, after all. But she can do something about it. She can keep her word, her real word. She can set out on the path she intended to follow 30 years ago: not to be blindly loyal to Raymond Reddington, but to protect Elizabeth Keen at all costs.
DEMBE ZUMBA, NO. 10
But first up, Dembe, someone who kind of did pledge his unwavering allegiance to Red because Red kind of did save his life a long time ago. The first Blacklist hour opens up soon after the last one left off, with Dembe seemingly on the run after attempting to destroy Red’s empire from the inside out, and nearly killing him with poison.
Aram is showering at his apartment — I see you, Blacklist, and I’m not mad at you — when someone else enters the bathroom. And it’s worse than I could have imagined: Janet, née Elise. You may recall that Janet faked a relationship with Aram to spy on the FBI, then she was all sassy to him at that hacking convention; you may also recall that Aram and Samar are (fingers crossed) endgame, so what the hell? But it makes perfect sense that sweet, endearing Aram would be into this edgy badass, so I can’t even be mad at her. It doesn’t make sense to Aram, though, that she was able to come in through the unlocked door because he’s sure he locked it…
And that’s how Aram finds Dembe marching him out of his own apartment at gunpoint. He leaves Janet, and the Post Office team is quickly on the scene. Samar doesn’t love finding out Janet was mid-lather when Dembe showed up, but she’s also the only one who’s immediately on board with Janet helping them track Aram using a key-finder he has attached to his keys. He just has to get near someone with an active cell phone, and they’ll be able to track him.
But at the moment, there are no active cell phones in the creepy warehouse district Dembe has taken Aram to. Dembe lifts a door, revealing a safe with a code, and Aram assumes that Dembe wants him to hack the safe, to which he says no: He’s not going to help Dembe steal from Mr. Reddington. And then in a truly baller move, Dembe puts in the code himself to reveal that the safe is empty — he’s not trying to steal from Raymond; he’s trying to figure out who has already stolen from him.