The Blacklist recap: 'Philomena'
“Finding out truths about who you really are is never easy” might as well be written in Latin script on the Keen coat of arms. As far as Lizzie and Tom go, you kind of have to wonder what they thought before people came into their lives and started telling them that they were both raised as spy babies and had a part in, like, six different respective kidnappings by the time they hit first grade.
I’m sure finding out that your parents were traitors to their countries/that you tried to kill your dad when you were in preschool/that your mom is definitely going to try to hit on you because you’re hot and she doesn’t know she’s your mom/that everything you ever thought about your life was a lie… never gets easier, per se. But at least Tom and Liz are used to it. It’s Tom’s recent truth-bombs-so-big-they-required-a-spin-off that Lizzie is referencing when she says this line, but it’s Red and Kaplan who are currently grappling with the truth of who they really are.
These are two people reckoning with the lives they’ve lived — both lives that have, apparently, revolved almost entirely around the protection of Elizabeth Keen. It’s interesting that even as Liz has played a fairly minor role in The Blacklist’s midseason return, the story has become more centered on her than ever before. Liz is the axis around whom everyone on this series rotates, and no two orbits have been more intentional than those of Red and Kaplan.
The difficult truth comes in asking where such loyal devotion has gotten them. Elizabeth Keen seems no less at risk from the looming powers-of-evil-that-be than she was before Red decided to create an entire criminal empire to protect her and Mr. Kaplan decided to help him. After nearly dying and spending a little time of forced (read: chained to the floor) meditation in the woods, Mr. Kaplan’s approach to dealing with the truth of her life’s work is to take some accountability for the hand she played in the deaths of at least 86 people. And Red… Red is doing what he does best: telling everyone else that he’s right and they’re wrong forever and ever, but doing it all with a lot of flair!
PHILOMENA, NO. 61
After last week’s plot eruption, Thursday’s episode is more about setting up the pieces for what guarantees to be one violent chess match. But y’all — there are a lot of pieces. There’s a Blacklister whom I found engaging, even though her thing is that she’s basically just a really good actress with a capacity for Googling; there’s Red tracking the Mr. Kaplan’s associates and Mr. Kaplan tracking Red’s associates; and there’s the rebel-with-a-cause detective who seems to have maybe stumbled in from the set of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
The episode opens on a man offering a woman some company at a bar, then making out with her in a car, then getting mega-Tased in the neck by her. When he comes to, he’s tied to a chair, and Mr. Kaplan is there to greet him. He thought she… “was dead? I know. The reports were greatly exaggerated.” Mr. Kapan is working so well as an antagonist because she’s not evil, but she is motivated, operating in direct opposition to our protagonist, and capable of being simultaneously creepy and caring. Bottom line: She’s complicated and fleshed out, not something we always get out of our Blacklist Big Bads. Plus, she has a flair for drama. She laid out 86 dead bodies with connections to Raymond Reddington on an ice rink and led the authorities right to them…
And the authorities ain’t happy, specifically Cynthia Panabaker, who is pretty upset that the FBI’s dirty little secret Raymond Reddington is on the verge of being exposed. Cooper reminds her that it wasn’t their idea “to paper a deal with the most dangerous criminal in the Western Hemisphere” to begin with — that was all Diane Fowler over at Maine Justice. Panabaker doesn’t care — they have a political hurricane on their hands, and everyone is heading for the storm cellar. And if you don’t like that metaphor, how about a simile: The lead detective on the fast-tracked investigation into the bodies is “as wild as a peach orchard hog,” and if those bodies are connected to the Post Office, Main Justice will cut ties and disavow.
(1) That seems unfair. (2) I know that simile seemed insane, but y’all, believe me when I tell you that between the writing and the performance, this guy is as wild as a peach orchard hog. (Y’know, probably.) On the ice rink graveyard, two policemen talk about how all of these stinky bodies are just no-good criminals anyway, until a man in — I kid you not — sunglasses and a leather jacket with a badge pinned to it, swaggers up and says — again, kid you not — “That stink… that stink is the smell of justice.”
Stinky justice! I truly do not know what inspired The Blacklist to make this random detective like if Horatio Caine from CSI: Miami had a love child with a Ziploc bag of uppers, but it did give me a lot of laughs — I’m just not sure if they were intentional or not. After getting all up in the cops’ faces about these criminals still having kids and wives, the detective tells everyone to clear the rink. And then he starts weeping over an unidentified body, saying, “I’m sorry. This is all my fault.” He dramatically puts his sunglasses back on over his tears, and walks toward the sunlight streaming through the open door, presumably back to a CSI franchise.
Just kidding, he totally sticks around and gives Ol’ Ressler a call. Apparently they worked together on the task force that Ressler used to be on where they tried to arrest Raymond Reddington, instead of going into the criminal catchin’ biz with him. This guy’s name is Julian Gale, and he wants to know if Ressler can get reassigned and “get his ass down here” to come help him hunt down Reddington for the last time. Ressler tells him he’s kind of in the middle of something. “Does it involve bringing down Reddington?” Gale asks while wiggling his eyebrows and rolling around his neck even though they’re on the phone. “Not exactly,” says Ressler, ever the truth teller.
Cooper advises Ressler that maybe he should go assist the peach orchard hog to keep an eye on the investigation. Ressler says that whether he’s there or not, Gale is going to find the truth. “What must be known eventually… should be known immediately,” says Coops, which is pre-e-e-e-etty rich coming from The Blacklist!
For example, might someone immediately tell me if Samar and Aram are ever going to be able to work it out? See the final Loose Ends for more details, because we have got to get to this Blacklister — I told you there were a lot of pieces moving into place in this episode! By tracking down the man who picked Mr. Kaplan up after she left the hunter’s cabin, and then finding a hotel she stayed in that conveniently had an owner who liked to record his guests, Red finds that Kaplan has hired a bounty hunter named Philomena. She studies her subjects for weeks, acquiring the skills and habits she needs to bring herself into their lives as if by accident, and then deliver them to the paying party.
Philomena is, of course, the woman we saw Tase her co-worker mid makeout sesh at the top of the episode, and that man is Joe Peracchio, Red’s finance guy. The assumption is that Mr. Kaplan is going after more of Red’s associates, so he and Lizzie set out to find Philomena. First, Red speaks to a man who has employed her services before. As he is a congressman who doesn’t want to be exposed, he directs Red to a boot emporium where he’s to ask for a certain ticket number, and then after he’s been vetted, he’ll get a call.
Instead, Aram traces the number that the owner of the boot emporium calls after the initial step is taken, and between that and some cement traces found in Joe and Philomena’s hookup car, they track her down to a warehouse that she’s turned into quite the boho-meets-industrial little fixer upper. But she’s not there; she’s already out on her next target. We see her working at a coffee shop, then walking outside and hopping on a bike in order to intentionally get hit by a car. She just so happens to get hit by someone who doesn’t wonder why a woman was riding her bike directly into oncoming traffic, but who does insist on exchanging information and paying for any medical bills that might come up.
In a warehouse across town — or right next door, I really don’t know, there seem to be a surplus of warehouses with gorgeous exposed brick and natural lighting in the D.C. area — Julian Gale is working on a little project of his own. Ressler did indeed go meet up with him at the ice rink where Gale was still wearing his sunglasses (it was very dark in there!) and insisted on bringing it in for an aggressive bro-hug when they were reunited. Gale says that all of their leads on Reddington who used to just disappear are lying right in front of them now — they’re the people they tried to turn. They got them killed, and now it’s time to rinse the blood from their hands.
And then he takes him over to one very decomposed body: “Agent Ressler, I’d like you to meet the former head of the Criminal Division of the United States Department of Justice — Diane Fowler.” Gale considers these bodies “like a big wet kiss on the mouth” from whoever it is who wants to take Reddington down as badly as they do, and Diane Fowler is… what takes it to second base, I guess? I can’t keep up with all these analogies. That’s why Gale is setting up Diane Fowler’s entire living room in a warehouse, every item of which was kept in mint condition by the FBI, to recreate the scene of her murder, prove it was Reddington, and take him down forever. Ressler suggests that perhaps the reason no one has been looking for Reddington since they stopped is because he already turned himself in…
And then they laugh and laugh about how preposterous that idea is. Specifically, Ressler gauges Gale’s reaction, and then laughs and laughs with him and acts like he’s the type of person who would let another man put his arm around and loll all over him saying, “That right there is why I love you. You’re a crazy son of a bitch!” Well someone here is crazy.
Ressler, of course, has indeed been working with his former foe Raymond Reddington for years now, and it all revolves around Red’s current babysitter, Liz. After getting all their intel on Philomena, Red drives Lizzie to her house. He asks about Tom, and Liz gives her “finding out truths about who you really are is never easy” line, and then Red asks about Agnes and if he could come up and see her. Liz says on one condition: She feels complicit in his attempt to kill Kaplan because he did it for her; she tells Red that she will help him stop Kaplan, but he has to promise not to hurt her when they do. Red says he can’t do that… so Liz tells him he can’t come up.
Which is quite the lucky accident, because this war could have come to a head a lot faster if he had been granted pseudo-grandpa privileges. Because Mr. Kaplan is sitting inside the apartment holding Agnes when Liz arrives. She’s startled, but immediately tells Kaplan that she can’t make it right that Red shot her in the head, but Liz can protect her if she’ll just let her take her into custody. Kaplan mostly ignores that proposition and says to Baby Agnes, “You are safe, you are loved,” and as she finishes the trio, Lizzie mouths along, “You are wise.” Liz is baffled as to why she would know those words, so Kaplan tells her: She said them to Liz several times a day when she was her nanny as a child. Liz immediately says she doesn’t believe Kaplan, but Kaplan tells her that Katarina hired her to care for Liz, and she promised that she would defend Liz with her life.
“I’m telling you so you’ll listen to me when I beg you: Walk away.” She says the authorities have everything they need to take Red down, but Liz and her team need to disavow any knowledge of him before that happens. Liz asks if Kaplan served Red up on a silver platter for her. “Not for you, Elizabeth. I’ve already failed you,” Mr. Kaplan says. “I did it for Agnes.” Liz is all, I can protect my own daughter! But even Agnes is like, Ehhhhhh. Kaplan begs Liz to do what her mother never had the courage to do: “Walk away from Raymond.”
But Kaplan of all people should know just how much it takes to turn your back on Red (a gunshot to the head and a lot of time with a mystic hunter to reflect — that’s what it takes). Take, for example, Philomena’s next target. The woman who hit her with her car has continued to be insistent upon helping her get medical treatment, and the breakdown on the phone about the messy divorce she’s going through and just wanting to hold down a stable job for her kids definitely helped. So the woman shows up at Philomena’s job and tells her that her brother is an excellent trial attorney, and would she just want to meet with him to talk about her divorce case…
And when big bro opens the door — it’s Marvin Gerard, jail escapee and upper echelon of Raymond Reddington confidants. Philomena plays along just long enough to get a gun to the sister’s head, but she says she won’t hurt her if Marvin cooperates with her. Then she tosses him a Taser to do the job himself, which I thought was a pretty baller move. Back at the Post Office, the team has at least figured out that Marvin was Philomena’s next target, and they’re on the move to intercept them. But when they get Philomena’s car over on the side of the highway, there’s no Marvin Gerard inside. Wonder who he’s with…
But in the fun new tradition of the latter half of season 4, it’s time to go back to the beginning before we get to the end. As Detective Gale acts like a crazy person poring over Diane Fowler’s living room and Ressler looks on, we’re treated to brief clips of the original scene between Fowler and Reddington. Some of it is cool, like when we see Red pointing his gun at Diane, which transitions into Gale reenacting the moment, and pointing his gun right at Ressler, briefly making you wonder if Gale is acting like a lunatic because he knows the truth about his former team member. The callback to the use of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown” is nostalgia at its finest. But the part where Gale starts crying again and then is staring face to face with Fowler as she gets shot is… a little much.
Everything in the living room was completely scrubbed clean — Red clearly used a professional cleaner. She cleaned the record player, she cleaned the record… but she didn’t clean the record cleaning brush (which I have a pretty hard time believing, actually). Gale is sure this one finger print on the brush is finally going to be the thing that nails Reddington. Which is very exciting for Gale, according to the crazy look in his eye (finally free of shades), but a little more complicated for Ressler, who has for some reason been put in charge of submitting the print himself. “I know I should, but if I do, this could all end and we might end up in jail,” Ressler tells Samar.
And jail is probably sounding pretty good to Marvin Gerard right about the time the bag gets taken off his head: “Hello Marvin, I wish I could say it was good to see you,” says Mr. Kaplan. Just like with everyone else, Kaplan wants Marvin to turn on Red, but he says there’s no point; he’s looking at a dead woman, as far as he’s concerned. “I’ve been underestimated before,” Kaplan says in a callback to last week’s refrain. Marvin can’t understand why Kaplan didn’t just run when she had the chance — she survived a gunshot and had the opportunity to get out of this whole cesspool of a situation.
Why on earth would she come back, Marvin wants to know. Always on brand, Kaplan tells him… to clean it up. But she has some clarifying points when Marvin scoffs at her: “I’m not cleaning Raymond’s mess; I’m taking responsibility for my own. I enabled him, Marvin; you did too. He used us.” She reminds him that Red busted him out of jail when he was just a week away from parole, meaning he has to live on the run forever and pulling him away from the fiancée he had at the time. But Marvin doesn’t bite. He’s not turning on Red.
And that’s how Marvin ends up taped to a lamppost, getting taken in by the same FBI agents who currently have finance guy Joe in custody, and seeming to have made a dent in his loyalties. But none of that explains why, when Ressler puts the fingerprint from the record brush in the system, it doesn’t come back with a match. Samar assumes Ressler faked putting it in, Resser assumes Reddington rigged it, and Gales assumed Red has someone on the inside of the bureau. The first one is totally false, the second one seems truly unlikely per Red’s response to the accusation, and the last one… well, we know Red has enough folks on the inside to have a whole show about it, but it doesn’t seem to be any of the characters we know who could have tampered with the prints. So who is it?
From Philomena, Liz finds out that Kaplan is on her way to Vienna. Dembe arrives at the Post Office after all the recovery he can handle to tell Red, “I’m tired of resting. We should find Kate.” After all, what should be done eventually, must be done immediately. Dembe knows.
A Few Loose Ends:
And speaking of Dembe, Red gives him a gift in the episode that he says he can only open a time when he’s ready to leave all of this. He says that his associates are indebted to him because he makes them a lot of money, and they’re loyal to him because he’s earned it. But Dembe is his friend — his only friend. He’s ashamed of the way he misjudged him, and I think shame is a really important emotion to feature Red having right now. But for real: WHAT’S IN THE BOOOOX?!
“What kind of name is that, Chip? IS that short for something — Chipper… Chipwick?”
“So I get a babysitter now? I haven’t had a babysitter since Brenda Gilroy. My god: potatoes, Lawrence Welk, bath time with Brenda — still my perfect Saturday night.” This was a very funny episode.
It was also a sad one! Per Samar turning down the fellowship she was so excited about once she found out it was Aram who nominated her, assuming he did it just to appease her: It’s an interesting subject to tackle the universal torture of two people who have feelings for each other and seem compatible but just can’t ever quite make it work — tackling it on NBC’s The Blacklist however, feels… an unusual choice.
I enjoyed the occasional moments that made Kaplan seem more like a traditional villain: “Whatever are you feeding her?” Still rooting for her though (while not wanting the entire Post Office team and/or Red to go to jail).
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.