Since I am neither an accounting professional, nor a criminal overlord, I don’t know that I’d everneeded to use the word “ledger” before I started watching The Blacklist. But once I did…there was no going back. “Ledger” is practically a pronoun on The Blacklist, and we’re on the hunt for yet another blood-soaked, leather-bound book in Wednesday night’s episode.
But while the serialized aspect of The Blacklist was treading in familiar territory, the procedural plot was trying something very fresh: child assassins. That might sound like the plot of the Kingsman franchise or what we’ve come to understand about Tom Keen’s (RIP) upbringing in the Major’s School for Sociopathically Gifted Youngsters, this storyline was built on a much more realistic, and therefore much darker foundation: child marriage.
I’ve been known to get a little hot under the collar when The Blacklist dips its toes into sensitive subject matter without really having the appropriate motivations to back it up — it can seem exploitative and flippant. But here, the series managed to, in its own way, make a statement on this very real issue, by having a character who really, truly cared about it, and was in a position to make a difference. Calling on Samar’s signature principled grit, and her personal connection to the issue, season 5’s reappearing tendency for risky storylines finally struck an appropriate balance of, shall we say…careful sensationalism.
Plus, the non-child-assassin stuff was a rollicking ride of Red(i) mindtricks (do you get it? do you get it???). Nothing like wreaking professional warfare on your enemy while psychologically torturing/protecting your maybe-daughter at the same time…
ANNA-GRACIA DUERTE, NO. 25
Perhaps all of the aforementioned nuances should have been clear form the jump, given that Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” opened the episode: I learned the truth at seventeen / That love was meant for beauty queens / And high school girls with clear-skinned smiles / Who married young and then retired
Oof. We soon learn that the music is coming from a teenage girl’s headphones, who’s listening to her music so loudly she doesn’t even hear the man that appears to be her father come in. He tells her he can’t join her for dinner because he has a work meeting, and heads into his home office where he pulls out (hold onto your hats) a ledger, and makes a phone call. The man picks up the phone and tells Raymond Reddington that they have a deal…but if Ian Garvey ever finds out — BOOM! Gunshots! The man falls to the ground, his killer unseen.
When Liz arrives to visit Red for their Blacklister/Ian Garvey briefing, he tells her that the two go hand-in-hand this week: The recently murdered Jerry Juyal was the man in charge of smuggling drugs into the country for the Ian Garvey’s Nash Syndicate. But he didn’t work for them, merely with them, and he had just agreed to give Reddington a list of every one of the Nash Syndicate’s points of origin for the last 14 months…y’know, right before he was murdered in his home. Reddington assumes that Garvey killed Juyal to keep him from giving intel to Red, but Liz says the FBI has already deemed it a hate crime.
Apparently when Juyal took over running his port in Baltimore, he swapped the former management team for an all-Indian crew, which upset a group of local white nationalists. The FBI has pinned Juyal’s murder on the group’s leader, named — wait for it — Coogan Hudnutt. At the post office, they’re more concerned with finding the witness that was recently abducted from their care, they assume, by Garvey, but Red assures Liz that finding the ledger is more important to proving Garvey’s connection to the Nash Syndicate. But, as you’ll recall, it was actually Reddington that took the young man (probably to some luxurious island, thank goodness), in order to keep Garvey out of prison so that he still stands the chance of recovering his precious bag o’ bones.
So that should go well when Lizzie discovers that Red is the reason her husband’s nasty little killer isn’t currently behind bars…
And speaking of nasty, Red goes ahead and takes locating Coogan Hudnutt himself, by rolling into his white supremacist compound, shooting everyone (I think) in their non-vital organs before they can even draw their weapons. Red delivers Hudnutt to Brimley, Brimley does his thing — “who knew skin was so elastic” — and finds out that Hudnutt did indeed try to get some revenge on Jerry’s port operation, but he didn’t kill him.
At the same time, we see Jerry’s daughter Reva sitting at his wake. When she gets a text, she goes outside to meet another girl about her age who tells her: “Just remember, he was a terrible man and what he did to you was unforgivable.” The mystery young woman is clearly our Blacklister, Anna-Gracia Duerte, who meets with another teenage girl that “reached out through the network.” Anna-Gracia tells the other girl that she needs to be very clear with her what her help means: “If I get involved, he dies.”
The young woman is still unsure, so she takes Anna-Gracia’s number and head homes. At home, her father questions while she was out late, telling her, “If you want independence, you’re going to have to show me you’re ready for it, do you understand?” Sure, that seems normal enough. “Go get ready for bed, I’ll be up in a minute.” A little weird to say to your teenage daughter. “All I want is for us to get along and be happy,” the man tells her as he gets in the same bed and kisses her on the mouth.
So this is…awful. But in true Blacklist-gotcha fashion, just when you thought something was heinous in one way, it’s actually heinous in a different way! Ressler and Samar head to Jerry Juyal’s house, where they apologize to his daughter at the front door, but they’ll need to ask her mother Mrs. Juyal questions about her father’s death. Reva is confused: “I’m Mrs. Juyal — Jerry wasn’t my father, he was my husband.”
H’oh boy. Reva’s parents are with her once Samar and Ressler go inside, and she tells them she’s 16. Her parents say that it’s not uncommon for women to marry young in their culture, and that they arranged the perfectly legal marriage. But that doesn’t answer questions like why Jerry’s killer already seemed to be in the home when Reva was home alone, and why she stayed in the house to call 911, but didn’t see the killer leave. Reva is getting nervous and defensive like the teenager she is, and then suddenly passes out.
Back at the post office, even though Reva’s computer was wiped, Aram has uncovered what appears to be an underground chatroom on her internet history. There are 83 members, all girls under 18, all legally married to grown men; Aram notes that 700 million women worldwide were married as minors to adult men. This chatroom seems to act as a support group for child brides, and in it, they speak of a guardian angel: “a mythic white knight who sets them free.” So it’s clear that this guardian angel killed Jerry Juyal and staged the house to look like a robbery, taking the ledger along with it, but that doesn’t get them any closer to finding the ledger.
So Red pays a personal visit to Reva in the hospital — as it turns out, she fainted because she’s pregnant. Woof. He tells Reva that he understands why she would be protecting the person that killed her husband, and that he doesn’t want to hurt that person, but they have something he needs. Reva says she doesn’t know who the young woman is, all she knows is that they pay her back by telling her about another girl that needs help. The girl that Reva referred is Tara Raeburn, the child bride we met earlier in the episode. And now, Tara has made up her mind about how she needs to handle her husband, and Anna-Gracia Duerte is on her way.
She is not the only woman on a mission. Liz and Aram have been working on two projects: figuring out how Garvey could have gotten a wireless-controlling device into the witness’ transport vehicle, and if Aram gives Samar his grandmother’s amethyst ring, would she think he was proposing even though he’s not, and would that disappoint her or not, and if it did or not, would it disappoint Aram or not. Shockingly, the first task proves to be easier than the latter because Aram is our sweet southern child with a brain made of steel and a heart made of oatmeal.
From reviewing tons of surveillance footage, Aram finally spots a man outside the motor pool garage who he identifies as the man with heterochromia he saw when the witness was abducted. Unfortunately, Liz recognizes him too — as one of the bodyguards she saw at Reddington’s hideout just that morning.
“TELL ME IT WASN’T YOU!” Liz shouts as she storms into Red’s lair. “Tell me that after we finally found a witness to corroborate my ID on Garvey you didn’t TAKE HIM!” Red starts in with an explanation, but Liz isn’t having it. She tells him that she will not let him avoid her very simple and direct question, and when he attempts to avoid once more…she slams him against the wall. I can’t recall a time that we’ve ever seen Lizzie get physical with Red like this. “Did you or did you not steal Tony Mahea from FBI custody?” she shouts at him.
Red finally answers: “You know that I did.” Liz spits back that Red betrayed her and the entire Task Force for a duffel bag. And in true Reddington fashion, he somehow manages to explain how he was truthful in his utter dishonesty: “I betrayed no one, least of all you,” he tells Liz. “I told you I was going to get that duffel bag. If Garvey goes on trial, that would be impossible. So until I have that bag, I will do what I must to prevent that from happening.”
Like maybe-father, like maybe-daughter though: as intent as Red is to keep Garvey out of custody, Liz as just as intent to get him into it. Knowing Red wouldn’t have killed the witness, she goes looking for him once more, putting out feelers to other law enforcement agencies. A customs agent at a local airport says that he saw a young man who looks like the witness getting in a private plane with a man in a fedora. But when Liz and Aram go to check it out, it’s a setup. Garvey also got wind of Liz’s search for the witness, and knew that if he got his hands on Liz, he would just as much leverage over Red as Red has over him. Luckily, Red was following Liz — ugh, the things this show make me say — a shootout ensues — double ugh! — and Red’s people get Liz and Aram safely away from Garvey’s people…
Right back at square one, with no witness for Lizzie, and no ledger for Red. Samar and Ressler are working toward the latter, at least. At Tara’s school, Samar finds out that the plan for the guardian angel to kill her adult husband is already in motion. At the husband’s car dealership, he insists to Ressler that he and his wife are very happy so there’s no way — BOOM! Anna-Gracia pulls a car up right outside his office, and right as Ressler notices something is fishy and dives for safety, the car blows up. Ressler chases after Anna-Gracia; she gets away, but not without leaving prints on one of the employee’s jackets.
That’s how they find out that the Blacklister is Anna-Gracia Duerte, who came to the U.S. from Brazil when she was 13…with her husband. So that explains why a 17-year-old would find the inspiration to go full vigilante. At the address listed on Duerte’s marriage license, Ressler and Samar find an open window and billowing curtains. They split up, and Samar races to the roof where she finds Anna-Gracia by the ledge, shouting at her to stay back. This episode would have been made or broken on how this scene went, and I spend the entire time worried that The Blacklist was about to make a huge mistake. But I should have known Anna-Gracia and the show were in good hands with Samar.
Anna-Gracia tells Samar that a man three times her age raped her when she was in Brazil, and when she reported it to the police, her parents were so ashamed, so angry at her, that they made up a story that she was in love with the man: “They went to Robert and made a deal like I was something to be traded!” She tells Samar that the day she snapped and killed her husband was the day she decided she would die if it meant saving others from that hell.
So Samar shares he own story: She tells Anna-Gracia that when her parents were murdered as a child, she was sent to live with her father’s family. She started to heal with the help of her cousin, until the day that her aunt and uncle announced that at 15, her cousin was to be married to a stranger. And the next day she was gone. “I didn’t have a chance to help her — please give me the chance to help you… this isn’t where your story should end.” Samar takes Anna-Gracia’s hand and walks her off the ledge.
Indeed, Samar is able to help Anna-Gracia, telling the U.S. Attorney in a masterful bout of persuasion, that if this goes to trial, he’ll be the man fighting against a martyr for the most wide-spread sanctioned abuse of women in the world today. “She’s learned everything there is to know about pain and betrayal,” Samar says. “Let’s teach her something about mercy.” He decides not to try her as an adult, meaning that she could be fully free by the time she’s 21. Anna-Gracia can’t understand why they would do that for her. “Because for the first time in a long time, someone is going to treat you like what you are,” Samar tells her. “A child.”
And since Red ultimately apologizes to Liz, not for stealing her witness, but for putting her life in jeopardy by revealing to Garvey how important she is to him, and since he, y’know, recently saved her life, she does him a favor…
That’s how Dembe, Red, and Liz end up picking through a dumpster to find the ledger Anna-Gracie threw out after killing Jerry Juyal. Dembe finds a bag of noodles; Liz finds an explanation from Red for why this ledger is so damn important: Garvey isn’t afraid of legal threats like her witness, or of the FBI, or of drug cartels. What he’s afraid of is losing his power. “Which is exactly what I intend to take from him when we find this ledger,” Red tells her.
And as he tells Garvey when he calls him at the end of the episode, with a liquor drink and a ledger covered in blood sitting in front of him: “Now I’m not the only one who’s missing something of value.” He’ll be in touch.
A Few Loose Ends:
- Hard to say if Aram ultimately got the reaction he was hoping for from Samar when he gave her his grandmother’s ring, or even if he knew what reaction he wanted, but he knows one thing: “Everything I want is right is here.”
- This was quite the episode for beloved side characters, and um, excuse me, when one of those white supremacists called Dembe “that,” I nearly lost my shit. Thankfully, Red fully lost his.
- “I can guess what a woman’s going to do, but why she does it, I got no clue.” Oooooh Ressler, always on brand.
- “Does an opossum have 13 nipples?” “I have no idea.”
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