On the bright side, there are elephants...

By Jodi Walker
October 12, 2017 at 02:08 AM EDT
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Will Hart/NBC
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  • NBC
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It may not have dragons, or princes, or elves — for the record, it does have elephants — but make no mistake: The Blacklist is a fantasy show. It is the stuff of fantasies, of imaginations run wild. A master criminal with omnipotent-like power who commits sin after sin but possesses the unreal ability to remain a lovable goof and make you think fedoras look cool. His daughter, born into an elite spy family, ensnared in a web of lies and espionage, corruption and secrets, casually works for the FBI. Together, they put away the world’s worst criminals while surreptitiously and constantly committing their own corruptions to build an international criminal empire.

It’s a heightened, absurd, fantastic premise that happens to exist a world very much resembling our own. So I don’t know why, with limitless procedural plot possibilities, the series had to take something as real, present, and loaded as wrongful death by police and trivialize it with a Blacklist-style framework featuring some high-heeled dominatrix paying desperate police officers to stage deadly force situations in order to scam people out of money from former lawsuit settlements via, y’know, methodically planned murder. If only the circumstances of unarmed killings were that improbable.

The most frustrating part is that, otherwise, there’s a lot to like about this episode — Red and Tom having a passive-aggressive-off, Glen showing his vulnerable (and gassy) side, Aram finally getting to do the thing where he solves the entire case by himself for the first time in season 5, and again, elephants — but I couldn’t helped but be distracted by the frivolous filter The Blacklist inexplicably applied to this real-life issue.

It’s one thing to not want to politicize your very fictional show. It’s another thing to look a politicized issue in the face and say, “No, I think our thing is more interesting.” Cooper tells Ressler that the police officers who let “anger and emotion, prejudice and carelessness” get in the way of their commitment to protecting people are “every good cop’s worst nightmare.” And that’s true. So it’s especially unfortunate that the truth of that message is trivialized by an outlandish plot device.

MISS REBECCA THRALL, NO. 76

I did, however, enjoy the slightly leading, cheeky title of this week’s Blacklister. The episode opens with two police officers kicking the door of an apartment open. One cop, Officer McGuiness, comes across the occupant in his kitchen, and the man pleads for the officer not to arrest him. The police officer, clearly shaking, looks the man in the eyes and says, “I’m sorry, Scotty.” Then he shoots him in cold blood.

The other cop hears the shots and comes running as McGuiness quickly pulls out another gun, shoots two shots into the wall behind him, wipes down the gun, and puts it in the hands of the now dead man. Back at the police station, McGuiness sits in his car, clearly stunned. A pair of spiked red high heels enter the frame and walk toward the car; a blond woman gets in and tells him that his funds are now available. McGuiness says he didn’t think it would be this bad. “You’re alive, Officer McGuiness, which is more than we can say for Scotty Stansbury,” she responds. “You’ve done your job. Now let me do mine.”

Her job is…complicated, as we’ll soon find out, because Red puts the Post Office on the case, telling Lizzie that he has reason to believe the recent police killing in Baltimore was a premeditated murder. The Post Office finds that, indeed, the gun that was found on Stansbury at the crime scene was reported stolen three weeks ago but Stansbury was never a suspect, despite his criminal past. Cooper tells Liz and Ressler it might be worth investigating, so they head to the police station to ask Officer McGuiness and his partner a few questions. It’s a well done scene with frequent cuts between the two cops explaining the altercation — they’re both telling the same story, but whereas the partner is simply explaining what he believes to be true, Officer McGuiness is lying through his teeth.

They both say there were four shots fired, Stansbury’s two first, which both missed, followed by McGuiness’ two. Liz asks which shot hit Stansbury: “You said you fired twice; I assume you remember which missed and which didn’t.” And while I do love when Liz gets to put on her Criminal Minds hat, her logic that McGuiness is dirty because he said it was the second shot, when it’s generally the second that misses, is silly. Yes, McGuiness had the wrong reasons for shooting at his victim, but he shot him all the same. He would have no reason to lie about which shot made contact. But, whatever, now we’re all on the same page — the kid is dirty, dirty.

And speaking of dirty, there’s that blond woman from before. Oh, and look, she has someone bound up in her basement in full latex kinkery, breathing out of a tube connected to his latex hood. Wonder who it is… (Recap continues on page 2)

Definitely not Red, because this week — thank the TV gods — he’s not a part of the Blacklister mission, so that he can reveal at the end of the episode that he had a secret plan all along benefiting his own agenda, and Cooper’s all, Why I never! But I digress. Red comes back to his room at the beloved Terra Vista Motor Lodge to find his door kicked in and “Rivera wants you,” scrawled on his bathroom mirror. Peering down at the pool, he sees that Dembe is already tailing three Latin cowboys out to the parking lot. As Red tells them later, you really shouldn’t reserve a rental car under your own name and address when you’re coming after someone.

It seems that Red owes Rivera guns, and the lack of them is getting his men killed, so he’s now ready to kill Red. Red tells them to give him 36 hours. And so comes the only part of the episode that I wish existed: Red constructing an elaborate scheme to steal guns and money, turning Tom into a hostage, and grabbing some major bro-time with our favorite zany accomplices, old and new.

Red has no guns, no money, and no plane with which to deliver them. But he does have one Glen who, in a fit of DMV sympathy, agrees to loan Red $1 million cash for two days; he has a former crime enemy, Adika, who begrudgingly agrees to sell him the guns if Red gives him Tom — posing as his munitions man — as collateral; and he has his carnie pal Smokey to figure out where to covertly land Adika’s plane when it arrives with the goods. What could go wrong, especially when Tom is also secretly working with Dr. Nick behind everyone’s back to test the DNA of Mr. Kaplan’s Great Big Bag o’ Bones?

Back on the right side of the law (well, kind of), Ressler and Liz meet with Stanbury’s parents, who insist that Scotty would have been unarmed when he was shot. Interestingly, their lawyer looks just like the blond dominatrix/cop-hiring mercenary, just missing all the high heels and leather. Apparently, Scotty grew up in a house full of lead paint that left him with cognitive impairment, so his parents sued and Scotty was awarded a $500,000 structured settlement. But a company called Waterday Financial offered to buy his settlement for an immediate lump sum of $100,000, and he took it because he didn’t know any better. “Ain’t no way he shot the officer,” his mother says. “But for him to be in a position where that’s a question — I blame Waterday for that.”

Aram does too. His research shows that Waterday buys a ton of structured settlements “from people without the cognitive ability to know they’re being duped.” It’s not a crime, but it is suspicious that Waterday also makes loans, frequently to cops — cops like Officer McGuiness

Cue the CEO of Waterday saying of course it’s a coincidence that a cop with a loan from Waterday just killed a man with a settlement buyout from Waterday. His reasoning: “Look, we’re a nationwide company. We made over 1,400 home loans in the past fiscal year, 174 of them to cops.” Um, excuse me sir. I’m no mathematician, but 174 cop loans all over the nation, and one of them kills someone who has also recently done business with the company? Those are not “of course it’s a coincidence” odds. The bit that finally makes this guy seem a little less guilty is that the structured settlements only pay out as long as the victim is alive. Waterday recently payed $100,000 for Scotty’s settlement, but they had only recouped $62,000 at the time of his death. So it simply couldn’t be them…

But Liz and Samar aren’t buying it. They’re unable to get a warrant for Waterday’s records though, because they only have an example of this one possible instance of corruption. So Aram, precious FBI angel, finds more. He reviewed the class action lawsuit that Stansbury was a part of, and he found that four of the other plaintiffs also sold their settlements to Waterday and that three of them…are dead. Killed by police officers who got loans from Waterday that they never seem to have paid.

What. A. Coincidence.

Oh, and there’s our ol’ pal, Squeaky, strung up like a latex ham by the blond woman — most certainly Miss Rebecca Thrall at this point — in a sex dungeon. But this time, the mask comes off, and wouldn’t you know it: It’s the slimy president of Waterday. Soon he’s getting a call from his office, and Ms. Thrall lets him answer since they only call for emergencies during his happy special fun time. It’s bad news: The FBI is raiding his office; they know about the Waterday scam. Then it’s worse news: Rebecca realizes the Feds don’t yet know about her connection to Waterday, so she goes ahead and just holds homeboy’s latex breathing valve shut and is on her merry way.

And speaking of merry: elephants! There’s a problem with the landing strip space that Smokey has scouted for Red’s ammo delivery: It’s full of trees. But Smokey just needs to get Leroy and Quackers on site, and then all will be well. Who are Leroy and Quakers, Reddington asks. Why, they’re the elephants Smokey has brought along to create a runway, alongside his human carnie pals. It’s not really explained what runway-clearing skills the elephants are bringing to the table that a few trucks couldn’t do…but who cares, elephants are always welcome.

With the runway cleared, Adika lands in his plane, delivers his goods, and gets his money from Red. That’s when the FBI shows up. (Recap continues on page 3)

The Feds are really working double-time tonight — Aram has already figured out who the next target is. Waterday doesn’t just buy settlements from the cognitively impaired; they also take out life insurance policies on them. So they’d only been paid a small part of Scotty’s lawsuit settlement before he died, but the $5 million policy they took out on his life, and all the other victims’ lives, proved much more fruitful. Based on that, Aram pinpoints Robert Erwiler as the next cop target.

Sweet Robert is buying scratchoffs at the gas station, saying, “Might be my lucky day,” as a cop watches him from her car outside. Aram repeatedly tries to call Robert to warn him, but as it’s an unknown number, he doesn’t answer. He rejects one final call as the cop lights flash on behind him. And this is the point where I stopped just feeling a little uncomfortable with this story line and got all the way off board. Seeing Robert, who is a black man with a cognitive impairment, cowering in fear inside his car, having no idea why a gun is being drawn on him by someone who is supposed to protect him — that’s not just a story line. That’s a real-life fear for many, played here for drama-for-drama’s sake.

And The Blacklist got its terrifying moment, dammit. Just as my stomach was fully in my feet, and it seemed like Robert was about to become yet another victim, Liz and Samar pulled up, guns drawn. The cop drops her weapon, and Robert crawls out of the car, terrified.

Where’s Ressler during all of this, you might wonder? Well, he’s attempting to settle the score with his fixer. He’s supposed to just be picking up a car from impound, but he soon finds out the car is carrying a little extra cargo, in the form of a dead body in the trunk. And that’s how he rolls up to the crime scene to save the day, convincing the crooked cop — the irony of Ressler’s current crooked status is not lost; it is painted on with the widest of paintbrushes and the most neon of paints — to give up her mercenary employer. She calls Rebecca Thrall and says she wasn’t able to kill Robert. So Rebecca suggests they meet…

Where she of course attempts to shoot up the cop car and kill her final loose end. But it wasn’t the police officer in the car; it was Liz: “Good to see you again, Ms. Thrall.”

On the site of another FBI takedown, Red and Tom snark at each other in the back of a truck about which one of them lies to Liz less (it’s a tie — they’re both allergic to truth!); Tom fumes at Red that he only agreed to help because Liz (recent daddy’s girl convert) begged him to; and finally, Red gets to make his favorite reveal. There was a secret plan all along! It wasn’t the FBI that arrested them; it was Smokey ‘N the Gang in disguise. Red and Tom are free, and Cooper happily accepts a side order of Blacklister No. 2 in the form of Adika.

Oh, and Red happily commandeers Adika’s jet. He doesn’t have a pilot for it per se, but it does make for a nice place to lay his head now that the Terrace Vista Motor Lodge is compromised. Red and Dembe are basking in their little slice of paradise when Glen comes out of the woods, settling in for a night of hot dogs, farting, and bro-ing out with his dude pals. I will never get bored of Glen being the one person in the world who can make Red uncomfortable. Red, Dembe, and Glen sit outside under the twinkle lights someone has rigged up on the jet’s wing. It’s a fun little ending to a burdened episode.

A Few Loose Ends:

  • Dembe thinks finding money, guns, and a plane in 36 hours is impossible. “No Dembe. That periodontist in Tarkio — she was impossible. This is simply improbably.”
  • Nick tells Tom that his former residency-mate at Harvard can help them identify the DNA of his gross bones: “He’s plugged into some sort of network for criminal drug activities. You two should get along swimmingly.” Tom, do you need a doctor for that DOCTOR BURN?!
  • Either way, the guy finds usable DNA in a tooth, so now it’s just a matter of time before we get that sweet, sweet tooth-truth.
  • Telling Liz that he has a dead guy in the trunk is the second time in recent memory that Ressler has used his notoriously dry wit to cover up blatantly confessing to a misdeed.
  • And speaking of, this Ressler stuff is building to a baaaaad conclusion, don’t you think? For when it does: Red makes a point in tonight’s episode to tell Ressler that he can count on him should he ever get involved in a difficult situation.
  • Spy Baby Agnes Sightings: 0. Spy Baby Agnes Mentions: 0. Spy Baby Agnes’ Parents Involved in Highly Dangerous Missions Sometimes Including Being Taken Hostage: 2!

Episode Recaps

The Blacklist

James Spader returns as Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.
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  • TV Show
seasons
  • 7
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network
  • NBC
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