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The Blacklist

S4 E20
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TV Show
S4 E20
May 12, 2017 at 03:20 AM EDT

“Word to the wise: Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

Red can hear himself quoting Confucius, right? I know he rattles off a lot of quotes and stories, but surely — SURELY — as he guns a man down whom he’s just used to lure Mr. Kaplan into meeting with him, a woman he recently attempted to shoot dead in the woods because she went against his wishes… surely he can see the irony in this statement?

But he can’t see it. Or he won’t see it. Red did dig two graves that day he shot Mr. Kaplan in the woods, and both of them refuse to be filled without a fight. Because Red and Kaplan each still have something to live for: Elizabeth. It is simultaneously admirable, frustrating, and hilarious to observe The Blacklist‘s and its characters’ parallel obsession with Elizabeth Keen. How many people have died to protect this one life? How many times must we be reminded that it’s all for Liz? How many times in the four episodes back since the midseason return must we revisit the recent explanation that Red created an entire criminal network in order to be able to hypothetically protect Lizzie one day?

Perhaps as many times as it takes for the characters to convince themselves that they’re accomplishing their goal. Because the truth is that Elizabeth is no safer now than she was when Red wasn’t in her life, than she was when he turned himself in to the FBI, than she was when Kaplan tried to sweep her away, than she was when Red tried to kill Kaplan for it. That the show is taking this glaring hole in logic and making it less of a narrative flaw and more of a character(s) flaw is smart. It’s the characters of Red and Mr. Kaplan who are so blinded by their love for Liz that they can’t see the havoc they wreak in her life — that she’s literally tied to a chair and has 20 assault rifles trained on her as they argue over who can protect her best, whose love is truest.

To explain his eye-for-an-eye tactics, the Blacklister of the evening repeatedly tells his victims that he’s maced them in the eyes and then locked them in a barrel as “recompense”: a sort of equal repayment for the harm they’ve caused someone else. But recompense also quite literally means to compensate: to pay back in one sense; to make up for something in another. It’s a stretch of the definition, maybe, but it’s starting to feel like Red and Mr. Kaplan’s war circles around and around Lizzie without exactly being about her protection anymore — it seems now to be more about their inability to protect her…

Or at least their inability to protect her together. So which grave gets filled? And when it comes to the game of revenge, can it ever really be just one? We’re going to find out.


Let me be straight with you: For the use of Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” to score a flashback to 2002, I could never have given this episode anything less than a B+. That is my high school jam; that is my college jam; that is my extended adolescence jam; that is my jam. (A quick look at the lyrics reveals it could probably also provide some comfort to one Lizzie Keen.) For the kids at a Virginia beach bonfire, it’s scoring a steamy car make out. The young woman tells her suitor she needs to go let her friend know she’s leaving, but when he looks up at the car door opening again to signal her return…

It is a middle-aged man in a raging pair of serial killer glasses. The creepy man sprays the kid in the face with something that knocks him out, and when he wakes up, he’s sitting inside a barrel and he’s paralyzed. The man asks him if he remembers selling a girl named Eileen a cocktail of drugs that she then overdosed on. Well, he did, and she passed out on the beach, and when the tide came, she drowned. And now, her father has tasked this man with doling out the same treatment to the boy who sold her the accidental murder weapon. He’s going to lock the kid in this barrel, position it in the sand under a pier, and as the water washes over it, leave him there to die.


It’s definitely creepy and awful, and made all the creepier and more awful by the fact that 15 years later, Red is calling Liz to tell her that his network of spies has informed him that this Debt Collector has recently been hired to go after her. I immediately thought it was suspect that Red’s spies could find out she was being targeted, but not by whom, but I will admit right here that I did not figure out just what that disconnect meant until the moment of the final twist.

Red and Dembe are currently hitching a ride back to America in the steerage hold of a ship since Red recently murdered his business partner (with perfectly good reason — he had been the cause of the man’s son to be murdered 20 years earlier!), losing him most of his usual European routes. So the Post Office is on their own tracking down the Debt Collector, whom Liz describes as “an avenging angel who’s hired to exact poetic revenge.” And they’re off to a good start, immediately tracking down the body of the young drug dealer who got his recompense 15 years ago.

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James Spader returns as Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.
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