The Blacklist finale recap: 'Mr. Kaplan: Conclusion'
Well, that's what we would call sticking the landing.
No, not necessarily the landing of the entire season; there were parts of this two-hour finale that were occasionally uneven or unnecessary (the Gale parts… I'm talking about the Julian Gale parts). The final landing of Thursday's finale, however…
Y'guys. When it was Tom! With a beard! Who, at this point, I thought might have just been an extended dream sequence I'd had after staying up until 3 a.m. to write a Blacklist! I screamed. I'm not proud of it. My apartment neighbors probably didn't love it. But, indeed, I yelped, and it was a yelp well earned. Thursday's season 4 finale, especially the second hour, built to such a fever pitch with the voluntary deaths, and the accidental deaths, and the can-they-or-can't-they kisses, and the inverse Maury moments that it didn't seem like the tension could build any higher. And it didn't — that mound of tension burst wide open with the reveal of the aforementioned beard, the long-lost husband attached to it, and a suitcase full'a bones potentially belonging to a long-lost mother.
There's going to be a season 5 of The Blacklist, after all, and so we need a new road filled with question marks and plotholes to walk down. Because the final suitcase was more or less a jump-scare: the edible flower garnish of this final Blacklist course. The meat of this finale is the small fact that after four seasons, many suggestions, just as many derailments, and countless false starts — The Blacklist finally confirmed that Raymond Reddington is Elizabeth Keen's father. They did it with DNA, and a test that passed directly from the hands of golden boy Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) to perma-orphan Lizzie/Masha Keen/Rostova. It was the real deal, and after four seasons, we finally got our answer, not with a bang, but with the culmination of a long, drawn-out, "Come ooooooon, you guys."
But while the familial ties between Red and Liz may be what this series has been circling around for four seasons, it wasn't what this finale focused on until its very final moments. That's what's weird about a two-parter like this. By the time you get to the end, you've traveled so far, you almost can't remember how you got there in the first place. One day you were a nanny for a nice lady and her spy-baby, and the next thing you know, you've spent three decades shoveling blood and guts in the name of creating an immoral criminal empire only to be shot in the head by the only person who shares your unique life's mission, and now you must destroy him. We've all been there, right?
KAPLAN, NO. 4
Taken as a whole, Thursday's two-hour finale was about Mr. Kaplan's efficient and systematic takedown of Raymond Reddington — of his criminal empire, of his power, of the relationships he holds most dear. Of course, this has been happening for weeks, but as many different characters reminded us throughout the episode, we've finally come to an endpoint. Kaplan's final stand takes advantage of Red's constant underestimation of her devotion to Liz, and just how far she'd be willing to go to protect her charge, especially from him. When Kaplan throws herself off that bridge rather than go to prison, Red might have won the war she waged against him. But Mr. Kaplan took measures to make sure Red hasn't fought the last battle in his fight to stay in Elizabeth's life.
Her first step: take down the Post Office task force, the one thing protecting Red from being prosecuted for his many, many crimes. Unfortunately, our beloved task force is also being protected by Red in many ways. Because as we soon find out, via Special Agent Julian Gale (Enrique Murciano) getting misty-eyed over a pile of criminal bones for what must be the 100th time, he has managed to instigate the assembling of a federal grand jury to hear testimony on whether the task force enabled Raymond Reddington to continue to commit crimes while working as an FBI informant. Poor Aram (Amir Arison) is subpoenaed and granted immunity, which takes away his right to plead the Fifth Amendment; he must either testify against his friends on the task force, or he'll be going to jail.
And even Red is coming up short on ways out of this mess. Kaplan has drained his accounts, meaning that none of his people are getting paid, meaning that none of his people will work for him anymore. The criminal empire that Red has spent half a lifetime creating in order to facilitate his protection of Lizzie is now completely useless. Well, not completely useless. Red does have a boa constrictor on loan from Bremley, and enough knowledge to get a lead on the person Kaplan most recently paid to work with her…
Mario Dixon is basically just a super-good thief. First we see him abduct a man who works at the Stone Canyon Storage Facility, which, considering that it requires a retina scan to use the elevator, is clearly not your average storage facility. By the time Mr. Kaplan is having that man's eye physically removed so that Mario can pull it out of a jar and use it to infiltrate said storage facility, it becomes clear that there is vital information contained inside that Dewey Decimal system: Red's signed immunity with the Department of Justice linking him to the task force, to be specific.
But when Mario heads out of the storage facility on his motorcycle, not only are Samar and Liz after him, but pretty much every division of law enforcement in the country, on account of Stone Canyon Storage Facility storing "the government… the secrets… everything," per its employee who now has one eye. But once Mario is in Liz and Samar's custody, he knows the power he has over them from having seen Reddington's immunity deal. So they just go ahead and take advantage of what they're already about to be indicted for and pass Mario along to Red, who tends to color a little outside the moral lines.
Needless to say, Red convinces Mario that he will let him go, as well as pay him with what turns out to be a small box containing a private island (more on that later), if he tells him where he was supposed to be meeting Kaplan next… and then he shoots Mario and his guards and leaves with his island-in-a-box still fully in his possession.
Apparently, the island is an escape hatch of sorts. It's totally secret with a fully paid staff who will know when their employer has arrived because (s)he will carry an old key that fits perfectly in an old door, currently contained in the box that Red dug up at Katarina's father's house. And when Red ambushes Mr. Kaplan in the theater where she was supposed to be meeting Mario, that's what he offers her: the island — a way out. But Kaplan tells Red she's not going anywhere: "So you better make sure you finish the job this time… for both our sakes." But suddenly…
Gunshots! Kaplan had a plan B: She made a deal with the actual devil, Julian Gale, who comes into the dark theater wearing sunglasses and shooting at Red and Dembe. He chases after them as they hop in their car, and repeatedly shoots at the windshield, leaving the tires untouched. When, oh when will someone think of the tires?
Gale is surprised to see that Kaplan didn't run from him when she had the chance, but he's furious that Red made off with the document linking him to the task force. But Mr. Kaplan tells him he doesn't need the immunity agreement: "I've been his cleaner, keeper, and confessor for 30 years. And I'm prepared to tell you everything you need to know… in open court."
And with that, we head into the second hour, where Red must destroy the lingering threads of his ransacked life. As Mr. Kaplan goes in front of the grand jury to prove that she has intel on Red worth granting her immunity, Red sits in a sad hotel room burning all of his fake passports and social security cards. Kaplan informs the jury that in addition to the 86 bodies she's already given to Gale, she can give exact locations and times the bodies were buried — on the condition that she gets one day without a protective detail to get her affairs in order. They begrudgingly agree because she's all they've got; Aram refused to rat out the task force, even in exchange for immunity, and is currently sitting in a very clean-looking prison (but for Aram, that's still way too much prison).
Cooper fears they're all going to be arrested, and even though Liz thinks the only way to fight this is to all do it together, there's nothing Red can do to protect them. "To be honest, that's what makes me angriest," says Cooper. "Here we are, at the end, and we still don't know why he walked into your life that day." Yes, Red made this mess, but as least he has one final last-ditch inroad to potentially get them out of it.
Red knows of a man named Henry Prescott who "knows how to bury problems." At first, it seems like Prescott is just some kind of incredible fixer who Red thinks can come into this mess with some organizational bins and a "giveaway" pile and make everything okay. But there is no Olivia Pope big enough to handle this one, and luckily those aren't Red's intentions with Prescott. No, once they track Prescott down using one of his NFL clients who frequently finds himself in situations in need of fixing, Red tells Prescott he needs to know about a package he picked up on Nov. 19, 2015. Prescott takes him to his archives, which amounts to a basement full of barrels, and Red brings Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff ) along for some reason…
And that reason is that when they open the barrel marked 11-19-2015, they find the preserved body of Reven Wright floating around in formaldehyde. (This also got a gasp out of me, although not quite as embarrassingly loud as my Tom gasp.) Let me break it down for you: Red needs to stop a federal grand jury from hearing Mr. Kaplan's testimony; Reven Wright's body contains a bullet shot from the gun of Laurel Hitchin, one of the only people in the nation powerful enough to stop a federal grand jury investigation already under way; and all Red has to do is convince Ressler to concede to not getting real justice for Reven, and convince Laurel they're not bluffing.
A mention of the name Henry Prescott does the trick on the latter, and the looming threat of federal prison works on the former. So Laurel Hitchin marches into the jury proceedings to tell them that the Raymond Reddington task force is a matter of national security far too sensitive for anybody in that room, very much including Special Agent Gale — and, oh, that is delicious to watch. But before Kaplan finds out that her shot at locking Red up and far away from Liz is over, she's taking care of those affairs she mentioned. Namely, taking a bus to somewhere called Tansi Farms, finding a tree with a "K" carved into it, walking three paces, and digging up an old suitcase.
That suitcase gets deposited in a nondescript locker at the bus station, and Mr. Kaplan receives the call saying that the investigation has been canceled. But before that, she receives a different call: Liz, not trusting that Red can really put an end to the grand jury, asks Kaplan to meet with her. So Kaplan's men pick Liz up and take her to some picnic tables in the middle of nowhere, where Kaplan waits for her — it looks distinctly like a meetup scene from MTV's Catfish, and the similarities don't stop there: This is a meeting about truth and lies.
Mr. Kaplan has survived two gunshots to the head, cleaned up countless murders, and taken down the criminal empire of Raymond Reddington, but for perhaps the first time ever, here sitting with Liz, she seems defeated. She tells Liz that she swore an oath to her mother to protect her, and she fears she's failed both of them: "I don't know how to keep you safe." But seemingly unlike Raymond, Kaplan does know how to tell Liz the truth. Addressing her as Masha, Mr. Kaplan tells Liz, "If you want to know why he came into your life… I can take you. We can go together, but it has to be your choice.
So Liz gets in the car with Mr. Kaplan to finally get some answers. But the Post Office has been working on tracking her, and soon Red's men are forcing them off the road. Kaplan stops the car and tells Liz, "Elizabeth, if you get out of the car, you choose Raymond. If you stay, you choose the truth." And Liz…
Gets out of the car. I was really surprised! Even before the big reveal, Liz chose to side with Red over and over again this episode. But the ship has beyond-sailed for Mr. Kaplan, and rather than turn herself over, she shoots Boz and takes off in the car. The next time we see her, she's stopped on a bridge; Red gets to her first, and the FBI follows. Out of their cars, standing on the bridge, Red tells Kaplan that she was so intent on destroying him, she was willing to hurt one of the only people she's ever loved. Kaplan says that's partially true: "I was so focused on you, I didn't see that getting you away from her is unnecessary. All I have to do is give her the truth… our secret at Tansi Farms."
Red has shown a lot of weakness this episode — at times he's been powerless and out of control, states we rarely, if ever, see him in. But this is the first time he ever seems truly fearful. The truth is not how Red wants to protect Liz. Mr. Kaplan says she's planned for this moment: When he shoots her dead, her confidante will be alerted and Elizabeth will be given their secret from Tansi Farms. Red tells her the only problem is that he never should have shot her the first time, and he doesn't intend to hurt her now.
But Red is not in control of this situation, and he hasn't been for a long time. Kaplan chokes out, "I loved you, Raymond," and then flings herself off the bridge, as we all knew she would the moment she chose to surrender herself on a bridge. And so Kate Kaplan's life ends here, but her truth lives on in the contingency plan she left behind.
Before that plan can even get set in motion though, Cooper has his own truth bomb for Liz. As he said earlier, he doesn't like that even here at "the end," Liz doesn't know why Red came into her life. And even though it's not exactly the end anymore, he's already gone through the trouble of digging through a 30-year-old box of evidence to take a swatch of a bloody shirt that belonged to Red when he was working in counterintelligence overseas, and to run that DNA from said bloody shirt against Liz's DNA on file. Twenty-four hours later, he has a sealed envelope for Liz telling her once and for all if Raymond Reddington is her father.
Liz opens the letter.
And the next thing we know, she's barging into Red's hotel room: "You lied to me," she tells him. "What was it you said? 'A father who was a career criminal and a mother who died of weakness and shame.' Why didn't you just tell me who you were? Come into my life, give up everything, go broke trying to protect me… and not tell me you're my father?" Shock — also not an emotion we see from Red very often. Liz asks him if he was afraid she'd turn out like him: "Because guess what: I am like you." And you guys, Megan Boone hasn't had a lot to do this season, but she is doing something with her mouth in this scene that is so very Spader, I'm also certain they can't go takesies-backsies on this claim.
Red starts to tell Liz she needs to walk away — and now she's really mad. "Walk away, are you serious?" she asks. "How can you be so smart and so clueless?" Liz is terrified, and she doesn't understand why she wants to help him after everything he's done to her. "But anger and fear and a certain amount of hatred are all normal… in a family. And that's what we are, and I'm not going to walk away from that." And then my notes say, ARE THEY GOING TO HUG?!?!?
And then they hug. And you see on Red's face that it's everything he ever wanted.
Later, Dembe asks Red if Liz now thinks him being her father is Kate's secret. Red confirms, yes; Liz doesn't know about the suitcase… yet. "Raymond, I'm not sure Elizabeth will ever be ready to learn about what you did to Katarina," Dembe tells him. Red says they have to find that damn suitcase.
But someone else has gotten to it first, and you already know who: Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold)opens the storage locker, pulls out a battered old suitcase with a luggage tag on it reading, "Elizabeth Keen," and opens it to find a mishmash of human bones. He calls someone: "Hey, I got it. Mr. Kaplan's instructions were very specific. I'm on my way."
A Few Loose Ends:
- On my way to wheeeeeere?! Who was he talking to?? Whose bones are those?! Why were they in a suitcase with Elizabeth's (not Masha's!) name on it? Where the hell has Tom been while he's been growing that beard???
- In other news, Aram thought that Janet was being totally supportive of him during his subpoena process and resulting jail time, but Samar figures out that Janet is the one who ratted out Aram's involvement in the task force in exchange for the clearing of her criminal record. And when Aram finds out that Samar didn't tell him because she saw how happy Janet made him — he finally lays a big ol' kiss on her. And I might have kind of been actively rooting against these two after their many, many setbacks… but it was real cute.
- Speaking of cute: Aram's passionate voice crack when he's raging about being proud of the work they do on the task force.
- In much weirder, less cute news: Ressler killed Laurel Hitchin?? On accident?! She makes him come to her house to get his badge back after his suspension, she mocks him, and I think she says something about him peeing standing up (???), so he backhands her, she falls into the counter and… dies! And then he calls Henry Prescott to clean it up!
- "Julian, it's been a long time. You look fit — jumping jacks?"
- I had to pause my TV to reset my eyes from rolling them so hard when Cooper said, "It's a slippery moral slope we've navigated with care," regarding working with Red… Red, who personally murders basically every Blacklister they catch, almost always after telling Cooper he definitely won't murder anyone this time.
- I don't want to ask, but you know I have to: So Raymond Reddington is Elizabeth Keen's father… but is the man we know the real Raymond Reddington?
- RIP Kate Kaplan. I may not ever understand your devotion to Lizzie Keen, but I will cherish you, your li'l spectacles, and Susan Blommaert's portrayal of you 4ever.
As always, thank you so much for watching along with me in season 4. I eagerly await all your thoughts and theories on who's in the suitcase, what Red did to Katarina, and any lingering secrets in Liz's DNA. See you back here for season 5!
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.