The Blacklist dips its toes into sci-fi while Red steps up to the stage to receive his "Worst Dad Ever" award

By Jodi Walker
May 03, 2018 at 01:55 AM EDT
Scott Gries/NBC
S5 E20
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The Blacklist is really firing on all cylinders right now. And I do mean every cylinder; they have brought out all the gasoline tanks, and lit all the matches, and flicked every ignition, and they will stoke every flame standing between us and the contents of this duffel bag until, presumably, the season 5 finale. Witness protection daughters! Kidnapping! Pining! Sci-Fi world-building! Children being marched to fiery deaths! Whatever it takes to keep our grubby audience paws off that one big secret until the very last minute.

I expected that to annoy me more. I don’t love stalling tactics. But if this is stalling, it’s certainly an entertaining wait. The path to Ian Garvey over the last two weeks has made for a thrilling, clever ride, and those episodes stood out as two of this season’s strongest for that reasons. But once the dust settled, the aftermath of all that climaxing left me feeling a little cold heading into tonight’s episode, because we still didn’t have any answers. It felt almost guaranteed that tonight would be a let down: back to the basics of some random Blacklister and hunting down that same bag o’ bones we’ve been chasing after for the entirety of 2018. But then…

Boom! One of the lowest profile but most original Blacklister plots in quite some time. And boom! Jennifer Reddington is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters for calling her maybe-probably-dad out on exactly all of his maybe-probably-BS. I love Raymond Reddington as a character who has taken me on five seasons of criminal-slash-noble adventures, but the man has a bit of a savior complex when it comes to all the daughters he abandoned in order to protect them. Considering that both of their moms are dead, they both have just found other criminal men to put in their life, and they’re both, in fact, constantly in danger, all my jazz hands for Jennifer getting Red to admit that maybe all of his plans are not the best plans. Y’know, until whatever’s in that duffel bag throws all of this information in the metaphorical woodchipper and churns out some other version of the truth!

But that’s for future daddy-daughter encounters (oh, yeah, sorry Jen — every time you try to get out, they pull you back in, and oftentimes buy you a sunny apartment with gorgeous exposed brick). For now…

NICHOLAS T. MOORE, NO. 110

This episode starts out like The Witch meets The Quiet Place, leaving me both intrigued as to what this little girl and her dad were running away from in the snowy woods, and concerned that The Blacklist is about to go full tilt supernatural when the little girl is pulled out a jar of rust-colored powder and put two stripes on her father’s head, as though to protect him. Luckily for my fears — unluckily for his — the protection ward doesn’t work. As the little girl sprinkles the powder around her, some unseen force pulls the dad back into the woods. The little girl runs away, almost immediately out onto a highway where a truck barely brakes in time to avoid hitting her.

Lizzie finds out about the peculiar case of this little girl not because Red tells her she’s involved with the next Blacklister, but because he quickly tucks a newspaper away with an article about the little girl away when Lizzie comes to check on his concussion. You may recall that Red was recently in a major car crash and shot with a fun by Ian Garvey. He’s fine, he just has a concussion, and needs to stay in bed lest he drop dead from a cerebral hemorrhage. Naturally, he does not do that.

As Liz tells the others at the Post Office, she’s convinced Red was hiding the article about the “Girl From Another Time Found” because she’s connected to Ian Garvey and the missing duffel bag, so she wants to get to the girl while he’s still bedridden. (Here, we are just supposed to trust that Liz has learned absolutely nothing about Red over the last, which is…plausible.) The Li’l Jane Doe was found without out any identifying facorts walking on the western edge of New Hampshire, and though she has leukemia, she shows no traces of having been exposed to modern medicine, immunizations, or toxins that humans encounter on a daily basis. “Whatever Reddington is hiding,” Cooper says, “it’s time the truth came out.”

So Samar and Liz go to see the girl at a hospital in New Hampshire. They’re told that she’s been violent with the staff and won’t let anyone touch her, but when Liz goes in and says a few sweet things to her, the girl is all ears — because, of course, to know Lizzie is to love her. That is, until Liz almost steps over the circle of brown powder the girl has sprinkled around her bed and she begins screaming, “No! Don’t! You’re infected!”

Luckily, Aram has found a lead to help toward explaining the girl’s fears. In 2003, a deranged man was discovered wandering just 46 miles from where the little girl was found. He said his name was W.P. Frost, but there was no evidence that such a person existed, and like the girl, he’d had no modern dental work and exhibited rare biological pathogens. Samar and Liz go to see the Anomalistic Psychologist who treated him after he was found, Dr. Warner, played by fave character actor, Stephen Henderson. Dr. Warner tells them when he first met Frist, it was as if he was from another time, not privy to any pop culture or history after 1957.

Frost believed he had survived a cataclysmic world event called “The Age of Contagion” after a man named Carl Davies was accidentally priced with a contaminant at a medical research lab. This scene is all exposition, and the direction does a very nice job of keeping both the information and its delivery interesting and varied enough not to bore. As Frost explains himself in recording that Warner has, the town of Cambridge was fully infected in six hours, the state by the next day, and all of America was infected three days later. “The elders made it into the woods,” Frost said, and they only survived because there was a freeze that only a few of the unaffected survived. “Others, like you, carry the strain” Frost says to Warner in the tape. “That’s why we guard the New Haven, keep it pure.”

Altogether now: Hmmmm! As we see a group of people in old timey clothes with primitive tools dragging the little girl’s father from the opening scene through the woods toward what looks like a giant barbecue smoker, Frost explains that anyone who’s infected must be purified. Warner tells Samar and Liz that Frost was convinced that something called “the Ollo” would come for him, and his only protection from them was what he called Ryalite — a brown dust he would sprinkle in circles around his room. After three years in the mental facility, Warner was called and told that Frost had disappeared with nothing but a broken window and a sign of a struggle…

That, coupled with the fact that we just saw a bunch of mountain people light her dad on fire to “purify” him, things are not looking good for the little Jane Doe, and Liz and Samar know it. They head back to the hospital and find that she’s safe, and much more receptive to talking to Liz when she tells the girl that she knows about Davies and the Ollo and New Haven. The girl tells Liz that her name is Maybell and the Ollo came for her father when he tried to take her to people that he’d heard could help her sickness. Liz asks what happened to her father after he was taken, and she says, “That’s for Mr. Moore to decide.” Going to guess that was old guy conducting the barbecuing proceedings just now.

A nurse comes in and says Maybell has to go downstairs for a procedure, but while Liz and Samar are talking to the doctor, another nurse comes to get Maybell for her procedure. Uh-oh. As the elevator doors close on the giant man taking the little girl away, Samar races down the service stairs. She makes it to a floral van with an empty wheelchair beside it, but when she comes around, the guy slams Samar in the head with the door, knocking her out. He throws Samar in the back of the van with Maybell, and takes off.

At the Post Office, Aram is both freaking out and staying calm about this development, but he is having none of Lizzie telling him that everything will be okay. He says that there’s no footage of the abduction, the plates on the van are fake, and that she’s been taken by a professional. And he’s right about that: when the man meets up with Mr. Moore from New Haven, he tells him, “Delivered as promised,” and heads about his non-crazy-town business, saying that he’ll take care of the woman in the back of his van he wasn’t contracted to abduct.

But at least Ressler has gotten a lead on Mr. Moore — that’s Nicholas Tyler Moore, who vanished in 1973 from the exact county both Maybell and Frost appeared in. Ressler and Liz go to visit his widow, and she tells them he just vanished without a word. They tell her that a little girl might have seen her husband in a place called New Haven, and ask her if she knows anything about a Carl Davies. She looks annoyed, goes to her desk, and grabs a book. “That girl ain’t seen my husband,” she says. “She just read his book.” She hands them a paperback copy of The Age of Contagion by Nicholas T. Moore.

You may have guessed by now that Maybell and Nicholas T. Moore and WP Frost have absolutely nothing to do with Ian — it was just a little trick Red played on Liz to keep her away from him while he continues the real quest to find his Very Important Gym Bag. His pal Smokey has found out that Garvey’s number-two, Judson has been put in a federal detention center, so Red has Dember steal the beloved Mustang of one of that detention center’s guards in order to blackmail him into delivering an earpiece to Judson on the inside. The Guard does exactly that, and Judson tells Red that the last he saw of that bag, Garvey was taking it to Costa Rica.

So, Red sends Smokey to Costa Rica to continue the lead, because he has a new, much more important lead: Jennifer Reddington has agreed to talk to him about the wide he abandoned, Naomi, in exchange for him truthfully answering her questions. Red thinks that Garvey would have a kill switch on the bag o’ bones, sending it to another party should he die, and Naomi is the most likely answer. Jennifer’s main question when they meet up (see Loose Ends for her non-main questions) is…why did her father abandon her?

Red explains the Cabal — don’t miss that! — and all the shadow governments that were framing him, and then rolls out the big guns: “You weren’t abandoned. You were protected.” Jennifer and Naomi were put into Witness Protection so the Cabal couldn’t find them. Jennifer points out that her father couldn’t find her wither. “You survived,” he tells her. “So did your mother, to whom I hope you are now willing to take me.” Oh, she’ll take him alright.

But first, Aram has done some speed reading and found out that everything they’ve heard from Maybell and Frost — the wiping out of civilization, the survivors in the forest, the Ollo, New Haven — it’s all from Nicholas Moore’s little-known paper back, The Age of Contagion. The people living out there with Moore, most of them born out there, think that they’re infected, and that the outside world is contaminated — and that if they’re exposed to it, they have to be purified. In New Haven, the elders are arguing about what to do with Maybell; her grandmother asks Moore why bring her back just to kill her, and tells her: “She could expose us…it’s what’s best for everyone.”

Okay, this guys and his very extending game of LARPing suck. Luckily, the Post Office team is on the way because Aram found tax records of Moore buying a stretch of wooded land in New Hampshire just before he disappeared. Less great, Maybell is being marched toward the smoker by a bunch of adults who should surely know better, pleading with her mother not to let them take her, Shireen-style (RIP, sweet princess).

Ressler, Liz, and a bunch of police officers come rushing in just as she’s put inside the fire pit, a shootout ensues, and all the New Haven-ers retreat inside their cabins. The officers on sight are waiting for the Hostage Rescue Team to arrive before making any moves, but that doesn’t work for Aram, who is desperate to find out if Samar is inside. He picks up the copy of Moore’s book and approaches the cabin with his hands up. He explains that everything they’ve ever known is written inside this book, and for people who have been raised to be suspicious to the point of murder of any outside forces, they’re pretty quick to pick up what he’s putting down.

Literally, they pick up the book he leaves for them, and find that everything, even things outsiders couldn’t know like their security measures and purifying protocols are written inside the book. Many of the younger people rush out of the cabins, Moore shoots at a few, but is ultimately arrested for creating an entire insane world out in the woods for the last 50 years. Also, all the murder. Aram slams him up against a van and demands to know where Samar is, but Moore will only tell him that she’s “gone, gone away.” A veeeeery slow version of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” begins playing…

Red and Jennifer are pulling into a graveyard, and he’s saying this can’t be right. Jennifer walks him over to a headstone: “Naomi Hyland, Wife and Mother.” Red asks what happened. “You did,” Jennifer tells him. Naomi had long ago sat Jennifer down and told her everything about Reddington, and how scared she was that he would come back into her life and force her to tell him where their daughter was. To protect Jennifer from Reddington, she walked out of her life. “I know what it’s like to have somebody love me so much, they would rather cut ties than see me hurt,” Jennider says. “You didn’t abandon us to protect us — you just abandoned us.”

Jennifer says that Naomi was shot twice coming out of her apartment and no one knows why. She didn’t even know for a year, until Naomi’s husband tracked her down. He mentioned that one of Reddington’s enemies has kidnapped Naomi and cut one fo her fingers off. “Is that your idea of protection?” she asks Red. “No, it’s not,” he finally says. “It wasn’t nearly enough.”

Elsewhere, Samar wakes up bound inside the back of a moving truck.

A Few Loose Ends:

  • Nursemaid Dembe forever!
  • Heartbroken Aram for-never!
  • Sooooo, the bag isn’t with Naomi — just floating around in Costa Rica then?
  • “I don’t think you’ll be honest unless properly motivated,” Jennifer says to Red when agreeing to speak with him about Naomi. I have not been convinced until this very moment that she is his daughter.
  • Jen’s first question for her dad: “How does this happen? How do you close a restaurant down in the middle of the day? How can you be so calm when you’re on the FBI’s Most Wanted List?” Never leave Jennifer, we need your hot/reasonable takes!
  • “There was an FBI before 1957, so you know what that is, right?” “There’s no FBI anymore…” “Oh boy.”

James Spader returns as Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.
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  • 6
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  • 09/23/13
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