The Blacklist recap: 'Ilyas Surkov'
The FBI accidentally teams up with the CIA, while Red accidentally teams ups with a bulldog named Coco
You’ve heard of exposition; you’ve heard of Game of Thrones‘ patented sexoposition; now, let me introduce you to…Spy-Baby-Agnesxposition! After weeks of concern for the whereabouts and well-being of the Keens’ daughter, Agnes — who is either the most self-sufficient infant in the world, or is being kept by a team of nannies to rival even the richest of Real Housewives — she was finally revealed in Wednesday night’s episode to have been sitting patiently, listening to her father explain his ill-advised exploits featuring her family heirloom bag-o-bones all along. And though we should perhaps still be worried over whether she’s being fed, we don’t have to worry about her appropriately emoting to Tom that he’s being an idiot, that “delayed honesty” is not a thing, and if it was a thing, it would most definitely be a lying thing. PTL for Baby Agnes.
In a slightly less significant return, but still an important one, after weeks of waiting for a Blacklister story line that isn’t convoluted, trivial, or baffling in its Blacklister assignment, we’re finally treated to one, with a few twists and turns to boot. Wednesday night’s hour won’t go down in history as the best Blacklister ever, but it might go down as the episode to figuratively scream, “IT’S A PARALLEL, DO YOU GET IT?” the most times without ever bothering with a single gratuitous shot of a mirror.
Regarding a woman who was conned into helping a man she idolized while he repeatedly lied to her, Cooper says, “She had no idea the man she admires was the devil she thought she was hunting.” As it turns out, that devil was more of a…morally ambiguous vigilante, fighting for a cause he deemed worthy, and telling the necessary stories along the way to win more noble people to his dangerous cause. Additionally, as it turns out, when faced with the similar bones of Reddington and Elizabeth’s complicated connection, it’s no easier to pick the good guys versus the bad guys, the right and the wrong, the lies worth telling and the truth worth following.
Hopefully Baby Agnes tracks down that bag of bones soon though, because those might really provide some moral clarity.
ILYAS SURKOV, NO. 54
This cold open had me at British children. In Leeds, England, some little British nuggets are partaking in an idyllic summer day tradition: a lemonade stand. Suddenly, they’re yelling inside to their mother that it’s snowing outside. It seems impossible, given the weather, and indeed, it is. That’s not snow, it’s ash, and that’s not a warm summer breeze, it’s the residual blare of a nearby chemical plant explosion.
And that’s not your average chemical plant explosion, either. As Red tells Lizzie, newspapers are saying it’s the work of terrorist Ilyas Surkov, but Red knows one important thing about Surkov: He’s dead, and has been for 15 months. So, Red asks Lizzie, who exactly is using his name to commit terrorist attacks? But she also has a question for Red before she reports back to the Post Office team: Did he have anything to do with the police finding Dr. Nik’s body in an empty lot? Red says Nik’s death could possibly be connected to him, but he doesn’t know why it would be; he promises he’ll find the killer.
At the Post Office, Aram finds that in the 15 months since Red claims Surkov died, he’s “taken credit” for three major international attacks, including the chemical plant explosion in Leeds. So it’s time for Liz and Ressler to head across the pond and meet MI6 agents with names like Liam Gladstone. Gladstone doesn’t buy their copycat theory because, with the help of the CIA’s Surkov task force, they’ve placed secret chemical markers into the C-4 of the company suspected of selling explosives to Surkov. The C-4 used in the Leeds explosion contained those chemical markers, meaning it must have come from Surkov.
The Post Office continues with Red’s theory, setting out to find who is buying the C-4, if not Surkov. The known seller identified by MI6 and the CIA is Raqquan Ghaffari, a demolition contractor in Belgrade who speaks Arabic — and you know what that means. UNDERCOVER SAMAR! Which apparently now means she’s accompanied by a worried-sick Aram…to Belgrade. Internationally. Aram! (Recap continues on next page)
It doesn’t go that well. Samar, of course, looks amazing in a plum satin suit and luxurious braid, and using a codename identified by MI6 surveillance, she’s able to convince Ghaffari that she’s with Surkov’s team and he’s sent to her to ensure the rumor that MI6 has tagged his chemicals isn’t true. But at some point, as Ressler and Liz look on and Aram listens to the wire feed from the car, Ghaffari catches on that something is up and Samar takes off after him. But just as she catches up with him in the alley where Aram’s car is, a van pulls up, and people hop out and grab both of them. Aram exclaims, “Oh my gosh, no!” but is frozen in fear until he scrambles into the driver’s seat of the car. That’s when he remembers he doesn’t know how to drive.
Luckily that’s when Ressler arrives to take over the driver’s seat, and the Post Office crew takes off after…whoever that crew is that has Samar and Ghaffari. When Ressler backs them into a corner they can’t get out of and everyone barrels out of their cars with guns drawn, but also everyone has American accents and seems kind of agent-y, things get even more confusing. “Donald Ressler, FBI. Who the hell are you?” asks Ressler. The guy who seems to be in charge responds: “Reuther. We’re CIA.”
The CIA team takes Ghaffari and the FBI team to their safe house to figure out what to do with him — and each other. Liz immediately backs down on the FBI’s behalf. She says if they can get him to talk about who he’s been getting his orders from, they’re happy to sit this one out…
Liz sits outside the interrogation room talking to Agent Calhoun, who tells Liz that she’s been searching for Surkov for six years; she left the Agency in 2015, but a year later Reuther called her and talked her into coming back in for the hunt. Now they’ve got Ghaffari in their grips but he’s not talking. After roughing him up, Reuther comes out and says he’ll crack eventually, but Lizzie says sassily, “You’ve tried your way, now I’ll try mine.” She saunters in with Samar, literal seconds go by, she leans down and either says or does something we can’t see, then pops back out the door with an, “Okay he’s ready to talk!” Lizzie Keen, wunderagent.
And she’s not the only Keen with boundless confidence. Now that Tom knows Dr. Nik is dead, likely because of the suitcase, he has to figure out who killed him and where they took those bones. As Tom explains it to Agnes — a highly impressionable baby — he thinks that sketchy Pete killed Nick after ID-ing the bones, and he knows the ID of the bones is extremely valuable because Reddington has tried so hard to keep it a secret. The only thing he knows about Pete is that he works at Draken Research Center, a place where they test drugs on human guinea pigs.
So Tom makes himself a guinea pig. He signs up, gets assigned a bed, and immediately qualifies for one of the riskier trials, as he’s informed by the nice nurse who’s been taking care of him. But he doesn’t even make it through the first dose before ripping out the IV and going on the hunt. He breaks into Pete’s office and finds only one thing of interest: a photo of Pete, where you can just make out the photographer’s outstretched arms in the reflection of his sunglasses. One of the wrists has a heart tattoo just like the one Tom talked to the nice nurse about earlier. Back in his patient room, Tom confesses to the nurse that he’s there looking for Pete: “He took something from me that is very important, something that is only going to get him in trouble.” She seems concerned but unwilling to give Tom any information.
Liz has Ghaffari primed and ready to talk though, so Reuther heads back in with his translator, while at the same time, we’re seeing Cooper talks with Leon Cox, the CIA Director of Operations, to talk about their teams’ impromptu little meet-up. Just one thing — Cox says there’s no safe house in Belgrade, and the Surkov task force is currently in London. So who the hell are these guys?
Reuther pulls a gun just as Ressler does, and suddenly everyone is shooting. All the other “CIA” members get away except Calhoun, who gets taken back the Post Office for her own round of questioning. Calhoun remains loyal to Reuther, but there’s only so long she can deny the fact that no one at Director Cox’s office has ever heard of Reuther and that he apparently recruited their team onto a fake CIA task force. Ressler says it’s Reuther who’s pretending to be Surkov and organizing these attacks, and they now have intel from Ghaffari that there’s another one planned nearby in Virginia. (Recap continues on next page)
Reuther’s real name is Brian Osterman, and Cox says he was disavowed from the Agency in 2008, after which he became disillusioned and went dark. He pilfered a missing black-ops slush fund to operate his own fake-CIA task force. “You and your team are Ilyas Surkov; you just didn’t know,” Cooper tells Calhoun. “But you do now and you can help us stop it.
Calhoun takes the FBI to their nearby office, where everything has been ransacked, but Lizzie finds one clue: folders labeled “Cyclone.” Between that and knowing from Ghaffari that Surkov, a.k.a. Reuther, a.k.a. Osterman had requested C-4 powerful enough to go through 3.5 cm of Kevlar, Aram is able to figure out that the Virginia target is a Cyclone-class patrol ship currently docked at its home port in Norfolk.
Liz quickly finds Osterman posted up with a sniper rifle aimed toward a swarm of Navy officers. But Osterman tells Liz she has no idea what she’s just walked into: “Surkov is dead, but I’m not using him as a cover — the CIA is.” Osterman claims that when Cox found out Surkov was dead, he decided to use his name to do America’s dirty work. But soon it became clear “the jobs we were doing weren’t America’s filthy work, they were Cox’s.” At this very moment, Osterman has his gun trained on a CIA agent delivering C-4 in a backpack as part of a “false flag operation.” Liz says she still can’t let him shoot a CIA agent following orders, so she shoots him in the arm. Then there’s a huge explosion. “You believe me now?” Osterman asks.
Back at the Post Office, Cooper confronts Cox. Cox says that it’s not so simple — the ship was never his target, but a compromised communications cable to allies across the Atlantic that had to be destroyed. And he took the precautions to make sure his agent wouldn’t die while doing it. Cox said he avoided international conflict “at any cost, Harold.” Cooper insinuates that he’s keeping the nation terrified to keep the defense budget up, and Cox asks Cooper if he always does everything by the book, has never any bent rules “for the greater good.” I lean forward toward my TV…Cooper basically says that he has people he answers to, and Cox needs to as well. I would not mind seeing how this shakes out…
Just like I would like to see how the unidentified tussle between Tom and Red over the suitcase plays out. And I’m in luck. Red bribes/threatens an evidence clerk to get him Nik’s remains, and within that he finds a suitcase key and a cell phone. He and Dembe assume Nik is the one Mr. Kaplan entrusted with the bones. But inside the burner phone, Red finds a number. And when he calls that number…he finds Tom’s voice.
A Few Loose Ends:
- Throughout the episode, Red was also working on finding a way to funnel the serious cash that his little AirBnSafeHouse enterprise is bringing in already, and he somehow ends up buying a dog grooming non-profit. Don’t ask questions, just enjoy the adorable dogs at the Critter Cabin.
- I hadn’t taken much to Hawkins until this episode, but finally, someone acknowledges that Dembe is a “friggin’ babe.”
- Speaking of, is it just me or does Ryan Eggold have chemistry with everyone? Every time Tom gets a new person to play off of, I briefly think he’s going to make out with them. Perhaps I’ve never truly gotten over Jolene…
- Liz is truly torn up over the death of Dr. Nik. (GOOD!) At his funeral, she tells Tom, “I don’t know if I can lose any more friends without crawling into the fetal position or becoming a stark-raving vigilante.” Tom says Reddington already has their family’s one allotted spot filled, but “stark-raving vigilante” really does seem to be the profession of choice around these parts, doesn’t it?
- But not good ol’ Aram, he’s strictly by the book. He tells Cooper that he doesn’t like the way he buckled under the pressure of Samar being kidnapped in the field and he’d like to request to be occupationally trained. Take care, sweet boy!
- Pete’s girlfriend meets up with Tom to tell him that she’s changed her mind about helping Tom because Pete has been missing for a week and she wants to find him. But that might be easier said than done, as we see him in a hotel room buzzing his head with a seriously bandaged hand, looking more than a little deranged.
- MEERA MALIK MENTION!!!!
- Spy Baby Agnes Mention: 1! With an additional mention of a nanny! Spy Baby Agnes Sightings: 1! With only brief mentions of murder and skeletal remains from her dad!