It's like '50 First Dates'... but if the dates were murders!

The Blacklist - Season 5
Credit: Will Hart/NBC

Congrats are in order! Liz and Tom just tied the knot, Cooper managed to get through his B-plot without compromising every ounce of his integrity, and Dembe definitely just secured himself a mini-golf championship. Mazel tov, indeed.

When an episode is split between Cooper trying to help a kid we don’t know, Tom working with a woman we barely know, and Liz and Samar saying lines like “Our two victims with nothing in common owned a murder business together” — an absurd, but highly accurate statement, by the way — you know we’re not really dealing with a pivotal hour of The Blacklist. But as with any time this show flies fast and loose with the laws of logic and neuroscience, we are dealing with some kind of Blacklister. Enter: anterograde amnesia. It’s like Groundhog’s Day if Groundhog’s Day was super murder-y!

Going off twists and turns alone, I might have given this Blacklister plot high marks. But if Reddington’s C.I. status is being evaluated off the quality of his tips, I’m concerned, given that this return-of-a-notorious-murder-business basically ended up being a super-mad-mom with a proclivity for vengeance who was, by the by, completely done murderin’ by the time the Post Office crew got to her. Not a very impressive look for the FBI, especially when their boss is out carrying around unregistered guns and decking drug dealers.

But, hey, I’m not here for a Task Force performance evaluation; I’m here to page you Blacklister number: 9-0…


The episode opens with a man waking up to a radio alarm clock proudly announcing that Roxette’s new single just pushed Janet Jackson off the chart, placing us somewhere around 1989. I immediately note that there’s no title card telling us the date like there often is in a Blacklist flashback, but my Lizzie-like profiler intuition stops there. The man sits down to breakfast with his wife as Tom Brokaw reports on the fall of the Berlin Wall — so, definitely 1989 then. The man’s wife tells him that their girls have left for school already; he gets a page (hey, did you hear, it’s 1989!) announcing it’s time for him to leave too.

The page reads “342,” and we next see him at a P.O. box marked 342, retrieving a red folder. Inside is a dossier of information on a man who he tracks down at a Pennsylvania farm and shoots dead while he’s chopping wood. Between this and Stranger Things, the ’80s seem like a really wild ride.

Over a practice round of mini-golf — Red and Dembe have a tournament scheduled for the weekend — Red tells Lizzie that he’s come into contact with a man named Mitchell Dunning who believes he’s about to be assassinated and that an organization called The Travel Agency will be performing said assassination. As Aram’s research reveals back at the Post Office, the Travel Agency was “a consortium of anonymous killers” in operation for nearly 30 years until it mysteriously closed its murder-doors 12 years ago… until now, it seems.

Cooper has another matter to attend to, so he puts Ressler in charge of tracking down Dunning. When Samar and Liz find him in Dupont Circle, he’s frantically packing his car alongside his wife. And just as he’s trying to tell them they must have the wrong guy, he’s not trying to avoid an assassination attempt, he’s shot twice in the chest. Liz and Samar don’t see where the shots come from, but we see the same Oldsmobile from the episode’s opening murder, only this time, the barrel of a gun is retracting back into the trunk from where the Oldsmobile symbol should be. Handy.

In Dunning’s car, they find a newspaper article detailing the recent murder of a man who was chopping wood at his farm among Dunning’s packed things.

And speaking of leads, Tom doesn’t have any new info on the whereabouts of his bag o’ bones, but he’s about to find out someone else does. As he’s exiting the D.C. courthouse, Dembe kindly invites him to join Red in his car. “Mr. Kaplan gave you a suitcase,” Reddington says. “In it was a skeleton she never should have unearthed and whose identity must remain secret.” Red insists that persisting in his quest to I.D. the bones will only put him and anyone else he involves in harm’s way (R.I.P. Dr. Nik). “Secrets put people in harm’s way,” says Tom. I guffaw.

Tom at least has the decency to say that “keeping [people] in the dark” is a talent that he and Red share. But he goes on to say he’s “not in that business” anymore because on the Keen family coat of arms, the Latin clearly states: Delusion is our Name, Secrets are our Game.

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Red says whoever has those bones now will be looking for him because “knowing their value, he knows they are most valuable to me.” Red will allow himself to be found, get the suitcase back, eliminate its brief babysitter, and rebury it with Liz none the wiser. Tom tells him — I kid you not, my friends — “Whatever secret you’re hiding from Liz, it will come out. Family secrets always do.” I truly wonder if Tom can hear himself speak or if he has some sort of very specific self-audio-hearing-impediment.

Liz, clueless that the two most important men in her life are secretly conspiring about the most important bag of bones in her life that she doesn’t know about, has arrived with Samar at the farm of Mr. Knobbs, a.k.a, the wood-chopping man. It definitely seemed like Knobbs was murdered in 1989 since his murderer was fresh off a Berlin Wall breakfast served from Blue Cornflower Corningware, but Knobbs’ daughter is speaking like her father died rather recently. She doesn’t know of him ever encountering a Mitchell Dunning, and of his homebody ways, she says, “I don’t think Dad ever left the state again after he closed the agency.” Samar and Liz both do a Scooby-Doo-style double take as they clamor to get Knobbs’ daughter to explain what she means by “the agency.”

And wouldn’t you know it, Knobbs owned a travel agency; a little digging into the old records in the basement reveals it to be The Travel Agency. Among Seawall Travel’s old records are a list of people that the Post Office knows to have been killed, as well as a photo of Knobbs and his wife on vacation, where Mitchell Dunning can be seen in the background. That brings about the discovery that these two apparent strangers, in fact, owned a “murder business” together, but that said murder business is no longer out there murderin’ — its employees are now in the business of being murdered. Cue more Scooby-Doo noises, but from me this time.

Don’t forget, Cooper is currently away from the office attending to some personal matters in the form of tracking down a young man named Isaiah, the son of some family friends who’s headed down a dark path. And listen, I always enjoy building out Cooper’s character more because I love Cooper and I really love Harry Lennix, but this story line just doesn’t add up to a whole lot. It’s pretty cute that Red is so insistent on helping Cooper rough up some drug dealers, and I appreciate the recognition from Cooper in regard to Isaiah’s father’s death that, “It’s the gospel truth that if you’re black in this country, and you say the wrong word, you can be killed.” Though it doesn’t make up for that ill-advised “cop-killer” story line a few weeks ago…

But, in the end, Cooper gets Isaiah out of a tough spot without having to do anything that would compromise his job as an FBI director, and for some reason, Red is the one who has to remind him that acting recklessly would weigh on his conscience. Which just doesn’t seem like something Cooper would need reminding of, let alone from Red, let alone in regard to protecting a character we’ve never heard of before. But hey, everyone is allowed the occasional mental health day to punch out a drug dealer in an underground club — Coops earns his PTO just like the rest of us.

Suddenly, we’re back in 1989. And not just back at the house of the man who killed the Travel Agency owners, but it seems like we’re back in the exact same scene that opened the episode: same alarm clock, same Tom Brokaw clip, same crossword puzzle, same wife, same conversation about the daughters — everything exactly the same. At the Post Office, the team is finding out that the Seawall Travel Agency run by Knobbs and Dunning extended far beyond its two bosses. There was a large support staff doing all kinds of jobs within the murder-for-hire chain of command, all of whom are dead now. All killed… except for one man.

Ressler and Samar go straight to that man, who, in the middle of being told he’s in trouble by the Post Office staff, is shot at, seemingly out of nowhere once again. But this time, Ressler sees the gun barrel retracting into a shockingly pristine ’85 Oldsmobile. After escaping death, the man tells the FBI that nobody in the Travel Agency ever saw each other, but he used to work with an asset who drove an Oldsmobile just like that 30 years ago. The only thing he knows about the man is that he would drop dossiers for him in a P.O. box in Seven Valleys, and then page him the P.O. box number to notify him: 3-4-2.

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At the Post Office in Seven Valleys, Ressler and Samar find out that the box has belonged to a Mr. Dawson for over 30 years, but he lives up the road at an assisted living home. At the home, they find Mr. Dawson is out with his wife Eleanor, who comes and takes him out for the day from time to time. You see, Mr. Dawson suffers from anterograde amnesia, a brain injury sustained years ago during a robbery that means he can’t form new memories. He remembers everything that happened before the robbery, and nothing that happened after the robbery — the robbery that took place in 1989. And everything… starts clicking… into place…

For us, at least. For Lizzie and Samar, it takes going to Eleanor’s house and discovering that it exists in a time warp, save for the attic, which is a treasure trove of technology that keeps the ’89 Brokaw loopin’, the ’89 newspapers comin’, and the red yarn connectin’ Travel Agency employees all over the country. Of course, they didn’t know they’d find out that Mr. Dawson’s wife had spent the last 30 years creating a murdering-of-murderers business, so someone called ahead to let her know the FBI would be dropping by.

Eleanor tells her husband one of their daughters has taken a fall and they have to go to the hospital, but in the car, she begins telling a different story. She didn’t know about his secret career at the Travel Agency back in 1989, but while she was struggling with the medical bills from his brain injury, the bank asked why she hadn’t dipped into her husband’s other account. She followed the money, connected the dots and… “You can’t imagine how angry and afraid I was — to find out the man I loved, the father of my children, was a monster.” But the most monstrous reveal comes when Mr. Dawson asks what they’re doing at the cemetery, and his wife tells him: “Calvin, sweetheart, we’re here to see the children.”

The Dawsons were in Miami on what Eleanor thought was a family vacation, until her appendix burst; when she went in for surgery, Calvin said he would take the girls out of the hospital so they wouldn’t be scared. Instead, he took them on an assassination mission, leaving them in the car for what should have been a two-minute job. But the target knew he was coming. Calvin was beaten and left for dead in an alley as his two daughters remained locked in the back of the car, too young to know how to get out before they asphyxiated.

As Calvin Dawson finds out that he caused the death of his daughters, he also finds out that his wife has spent the last 30 years avenging them with the systematic murder of every employee of the Travel Agency, using its own methods — the P.O. box, the dossiers, and Mr. Dawson himself — against it. “It doesn’t bring the girls back, or make me feel as good as I thought it would, but you did it,” Eleanor tells him as the FBI arrives at the cemetery. Liz approaches the pair, telling Eleanor that she’s a mother too, that she understands. “Oh good,” Eleanor says, “then you’ll understand this.” She shoots her husband, and an agent shoots her, bringing an end to the Travel Agency once and for all.

The next thing we know, Liz is racing with Tom across town, apparently inspired by the very tragic Dawsons. “With everything I see in a day, I just feel so lucky to have you,” Liz tells Tom as they arrive at City Hall. Under the fluorescent lights, with the pens attached to the table, Liz Keen is ready to make it official with Tom Keen. Which is super romantic and all, but…

A Few Loose Ends:

  • Tom is still in the seemingly unbreakable habit of keeping unnecessary secrets from his once-again-wife. He spends the entire episode communicating with Pete’s former girlfriend Lena, even she’s being threatened by a mysterious man, presumably sent by Pete, and Tom will probably get her killed just like he did Nick because people just looooove helping Tom even though he’s basically a pile of handsome poison.
  • “And here I thought all old, rich white men were good at golf.” I love Red being bad at something as much as I love Liz getting a good zinger.
  • Now, I’m no medical expert, but can anyone tell me if it’s true that someone suffering from anterograde amnesia would put all visual cues in conflict with their stunted worldview (say, an Xbox or a 2017 Suburban) “into a mental spam folder”?
  • That any ol’ person who stumbles upon the identity of Mr. Kaplan’s bag o’ bones could immediately connect their value to Raymond Reddington is making it harder and harder to think those bones belong to anyone but… Raymond Reddington. Other theories?

Episode Recaps

The Blacklist - Season 2
The Blacklist

James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.

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