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TV Show
S4 E1
September 23, 2016 at 01:40 AM EDT

Welcome back, Blacklist-ers! Have you enjoyed a summer full of fun, sun, and not having to decide if men were being overly protective of you because they were your long-lost Russian dad or just run-of-the-mill obsessed with you? Well, too bad, it’s all over now: The leaves are changing, the temperatures are dropping, and the Post Office gang — all FBI, criminal, and Keen factions included — are spread so far it’s hard to tell if anyone is on the same team heading into season 4.

Thursday night’s premiere picks up right where season 3 left off, and I have to admit that by the end of the hour, the plot hadn’t advanced much past that kicking-off point. Elizabeth Keen is still in the hands of Alexander Kirk; baby Agnes is still in kidnapped-limbo; and perhaps worst of all, Reddington and Mr. Kaplan still seem to be at odds. Indeed, season 4’s premiere prioritizes establishing the emotional stakes over building action or revealing any huge plot points. I mean, sure, at one point there were three different characters kidnapped by three different bad-guy entities, all at the same time, so the plot stakes aren’t exactly low…but the Kirk conundrum remains far from finished.

He is Elizabeth’s father, after all. Or so he says. And certainly the biggest news of the premiere is how he says that familial relationship affects Reddington’s connection to Lizzie. But in an hour low on big reveals, it still feels like everything has doubled: the daughters everyone thinks they need to protect, the maybe-dads, the division between beloved characters whom we never want to see fight but are forced to because of (ugh!) principles. Even with many of our favorite characters at odds, it’s not in their disagreements where we find our season 4 road map, though. No, if there’s one thing this episode makes clear about the future, it’s that we’re at war with Alexander Kirk.

First, of course, someone has to find him…

ESTEBAN, NO. 79            

On the whole, Esteban winds up being a pretty mundane Blacklist-er, which is mostly fine since we’re more concerned with catching up on our favorite main characters anyway. Yes, Esteban does have a torture chamber, and yes, he does put his glass eyeballs into some poor young woman’s hands and tell her she’s the only thing that can save her family… But none of that has much to do with the topic at hand: finding Elizabeth Keen, who, you’ll remember, is alive!

The premiere picks up just after has Red learns Mr. Kaplan aided Liz and Tom in faking her death and escaping to Cuba, and by doing that, also led Alexander Kirk — who spent the latter quarter of season 3 trying to abduct Liz, and who everyone thought was at fault for her death — right to her doorstep. Liz, Tom, and baby Agnes are gone when Red arrives with Dembe and Mr. Kaplan, but Red knows just how to get started tracking them down. But first! A steely lecture for Mr. Kaplan that breaks my bestie-heart: “As you well know, one of the keys to my success is a clear and consistent understanding of my own limitations.”

Okay, Red, I’ma stop you right there: I would not really classify you as someone who consistently admits to his own limitations. He certainly plays to his strengths and seems to have few limitations — but his no. 1 Achilles heel is one Elizabeth Keen, and he stays splashing around in that pond. So, I get where he’s coming from with this betrayal issue, but… Okay, I said I’d let him finish: “So often people overestimate themselves and misapply their gifts… The cleaner suddenly fancies herself the strategist. Wisdom is learning the boundaries of one designated lane.” Basically: Stay in yo lane, Mr. Kaplan.

Red knows exactly what his lane is: He tracks down the kidnapper Tom injured in the season 3 finale, cuts his head clean off when he finds out he’s dead, and then marches said head around Havana until he figures out who it is. All it takes is shooting four corrupt cops and leaving the fifth with a fat stack of cash. Finding out Kirk has worked out some sort of protection from the Cuban government means there’s a very specific man who will be able to track him down: Manuel Esteban, a “Chilean spymaster” who also happens to be an informant for the CIA.

NEXT: Trouble at the Post Office

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