The Blacklist finale recap: 'Drop Dead Fred'
I’m sure we’ve all waffled in our suspicions about exactly whose bones might be in that that duffel bag. Admittedly, I’m not much of a Blacklist theorizer because I like for the series to surprise me — what if it was Mr. Vargas in that bag or something? I don’t want to dig so deep that I spoil that Mr. Vargas reveal! But even I had considered, and ultimately landed on the Imposter Theory. What secret would Raymond Reddington want to hide so badly that he’d risk everything except Lizzie’s life to protect it?
That he’s not actually Raymond Reddington, of course. That the man we’ve been watching for five seasons; who’s gotten out of so many spots by being Raymond Reddington; who’s gotten into so many spots by being Raymond Reddington; who’s gotten access to the FBI and to countless other criminals and to Special Agent Elizabeth Keen/Li’l Masha Rostova is, in fact, and imposter. The entirety of season 5 has been spent chasing Red’s duffel bag (remember the suitcase?! those were the days…), and at some point, it started feeling inevitable: The only justifiable and satisfying answer to its contents would have to be Raymond Reddington’s bones.
Though the details of How, Why, When, and Where I can’t begin to imagine, the who of it all became fairly unavoidable about the time we made it halfway through the season with Red — Fred? let’s workshop how we’re gonna handle that at a later date — still fighting tooth and nail to keep the secret Liz was begging him to reveal. The best thing this finale does is take the unavoidability of these obvious ends and subvert their means. Yes, we know the bag contained the bones of the biological Raymond Reddington, and we know Lizzie knows the bag contained the bones of the biological Raymond Reddington, but we also know that Red doesn’t know that Lizzie knows the bag contained the biological bones of Raymond Reddington.
Is not only a runaround of Friends-ian proportions, but an intriguing setup for season 6 of The Blacklist, a numeric landmark that will officially push the series into the “long-running” category (even if it also pushes it to Fridays). A procedural could happily truck on forever rolling out Blacklisters in cults and bioterrorist Blacklisters and body-stewing Blacklisters, without ever running out of ideas. But to keep the serialized element of this show going, it takes a major tweaks. And revealing that Raymond Reddington isn’t actually Raymond Reddington, and that Elizabeth Keen his maybe-fake-daughter will now be secretly trying to take him down with the help of her maybe-real-sister…well, them’s some major tweaks.
Sure, I have my concerns about this direction because, in the past, Elizabeth Keen has almost always been at her best when she’s teamed up with, not against, Raymond Reddington. But my gratitude for finally receiving some answers — no matter how they’re contradicted in the future — and my excitement for this new direction overrides those concerns. So…
Much like this episode, now that the beans (er, bones) have been spilled, let’s spend a lot of time and some snazzy beats rewinding it all to better understand exactly how this rollercoaster went down.
SUTTON ROSS, NO. 17
As you’ll recall from last week, both Red and Liz tracked down footage of who Ian Garvey delivered the bag o’ bones to in Costa Rica: Max Birmingham. Both Red and now Liz know that Max Birmingham is in fact an alias for Sutton Ross, a former hijacker or Research & Development strategies for countries and big companies, and the rocker of one helluva receding mullet. We know that because in the opening sequence, we see Ross strolling like a badass into Veritable Robotics with a team of people wearing FBI jackets who are definitely not FBI agent behind him. By way of a lot of confidence, a little force, and a fake warrant, Sutton’s team manages to take one of the employee’s away in handcuffs, as well as every file in the guy’s office. But when the company’s lawyer chases them outside, he finds that they’ve left the man and all the files behind, appearing to take nothing.
In fact, it was all a distraction for Ross to get inside the corridor of the man’s office and take something else entirely without being noticed: three hard drives from the research lab of Robby Desai who’s bene working on an exoskeleton-manned-robot that could be worth a lot of money in the wrong hands. Aram is happy for a distraction from the hospital where he’s been watching over Samar and annoying the doctors with his personal research. Plus he’s a huge fan of Desai’s — he follows him on Instagram. From looking at the backup drives, he sees that nothing could be done with the research inside of them without the man behind it, and from Desai’s Instagram he knows that very man is taking his children to see a play at this very moment, and that Ross is likely on his way there to abduct him. (Recap continues on next page)
Red is also trying to track down Ross using his own personal brand of expertise: suits. He observed the tailor label inside Ross’ suit from the surveillance footage in Costa Rica, and now he and Dembe are inside a Mr. Lundgren’s tailor shop. It also just happens to be where — WHAT??? — cult filmmaker John Waters gets his trademark suits cut, and thanks to a little persuasion in the way of fabric tips, Red gets the address of Ross’ accounts manager, which gets him all the info he needs. We also get a touch of foreshadowing from Mr. Waters himself when he rolls out a bunch of alliterative fake names for Red — “Don’t tell me, it’s Rafael Rayburn or Rufus Reddinton!” — before Mr. Lundgren interjects with the “right” name: Raymond Reddington.
Which puts both Liz and the FBI, and Red and Dembe arriving at the exact same time to interject in the abduction of Desai in hope of ultimately getting the bag from the abductor: Ross. But after a shotout, Ross manages to shake all of them. Both Red and Liz take off individually, chasing Ross’ getaway car, and any hopes of finding the duffel bag. Red calls Liz to tell her that she needs to leave Ross to him, and she’s all, “You’re a fugitive, I’m a cop, you get in my way, and I swear to god, I’ll arrest you,” which is very bad ass, right up until she slams her car into a dumpster. Choosing to let Ross get away for the time being, Red turns around to check on Liz and call her an ambulance and baby girl attempts to read him his Miranda warning while also passing out.
Liz tells Red she’ll get him for this, and he responds before leaving, “You’ll try — but there’s a fine line between fishing, and standing on the shore looking like an idiot.” I mean, damn Red, the woman has a head wound, must you! The thing is, it’s so easy to root for Red because he is a consummate badass and Liz is always briefly badass before slamming her vehicles into dumpsters and passing out just when she was getting somewhere. So it’s been interesting to find myself straying further and further form rooting for Red this season, because what Red wants is the opposite of what we want: along with Liz, we need answers, and Red aims to keep them from us.
So as the Red and the FBI recover from losing Ross and assessing where he’s headed next with Desai — the Post Office via some good old fashioned Aram-doing everything, and Red via Brimley torturing one of Ross’ lackeys whose “lips are sealed tighter than a bull’s ass in fly season” — it feels odd to be so actively rooting against Red getting there first. But here we are. Helpfully, my new allegiances are at least a little justified when the Post Office is finally able to pull their own fast one on Red (one outta 112 ain’t bad!).
Red pulls up to the pharmaceutical plant where he knows that Ross is meeting the Serbians he’s supposed to be selling Desai’s tech to, only to find…that Ross is meeting with Ressler wearing a very Balkan suit. As soon as he hands over Desai and his tech, FBI agents storm Ross, and he — and, somewhere, the duffel — are finally within Lizzie’s grips, and just outside of Red’s.
In the Post Office interrogation room, Ross tells Liz and Ressler than he’ll give them the information they want about the bag if he can have five minutes alone with Liz, without any recording devices. Upstairs, Red makes gets firm with Cooper: “The duffel bag is mine; its contents are personal. I want my privacy protected — you and Agent Keen are not honoring that, so I see no reason to honor mine…I get Ross, or the Blacklist ends.”
That’s gonna be a yes from Liz, and a no from Coops, respectively. Now I’m going to tell you what we see happen…then, I’m going to tell you what actually happened.
We see Liz and Ross talking alone without any voice recording, and obviously he flips the table, locks the door, sprays the two-way mirror with a fire extinguisher, and by the time the team gets inside, he has Liz in the air ducts. He gets a security guards gun, and scared for Liz’s life, Aram caves and gives Ross the code to get out even though Liz and Red both insist he’s bluffing about shooting her. Ross calls Red, tells him, “Your life for hers,” and Red says, “Done.” Duh. Cooper obviously sends a whole team with Red, but Ross obviously finds a way around that, with the help of the FBI falling for what was very clearly a distraction involving three vans and three men with bags over their heads, none of whom were Red.
Finally, the real Red (ha!) gets the bag taken off of his head, and finds himself sitting across from a very bloodied Liz. “This is my fault, I should have just let it go,” she whimpers. Immediately, I — and I’m sure, you — are onto her here. Liz has been chasing these bones for well over a year in the show’s timeline, and before that, her husband was chasing them. Her husband, who died. Getting a little roughed up by some rando we’re supposed to assume got the bones because he has a long ago vendetta against Reddington from when he was in the Navy and set him up to look like a chump in front of the Chinese, is not going to persuade our girl. I remember ‘Ruin’!
But, that’s me; if there’s one thing we know about Red, it’s that he has a singular blindspot: Lizzie. “Whatever this is, it’s ours. I should have respected that,” Liz continues, and Red cuts her off: “You have nothing to apologize for, not to me, ever.” I guess we’re all singing different tunes now.
Ross brings out the duffel, sets it in front of them, and has his men drag her back into another room as she begs, “No, no, no.” Ross demands for Red to explain the bones, he briefly refuses as he listens to Liz’s screams in the background, then Ross hits him with the big guns: “Perhaps her life isn’t worth you revealing your precious secret for. After all, what is she to you, really?” Finally, Red caves: “The truth…the truth is that I am not…”
BOOM — Ressler and Cooper come in shooting, Red runs to the back room where he finds Liz handcuffed to a railing and hugs her, then he walks back out and shoots Ross dead as he’s being handcuffed.
There’s a brief joyous interlude where we find out that Samar is out of her coma, and saying yes to Aram’s proposal, and then suddenly, the world turns upside down. Liz’s voice comes over the scene as though it’s a narration which is…new. “The whole thing ended just like it always does: with the bad guy dead on the floor, with the Bureau confused but satisfied, with Reddington gone, his precious duffel bag still a secret like he wanted all along,” we hear Liz’s voice say as we watch Red take the duffel bag back to Dom’s house. “Except it’s not a secret, not to me. Because this time—I have a secret too,” Liz continues as we finally see that she’s giving this oration in a graveyard. “I learned that from you,” she says, turning to a man…
You guys — I screamed. TOM! She’s talking to Tom! But as quick as I could muster, “YOU CANNOT BRING ANOTHER KEEN BACK FROM THE DEAD, YOU SON OF A—” it’s revealed that this is just a part of Liz’s imagination as she talks to Tom’s headstone. Tom Keen isn’t back, but in figuring out what she needed to avenge his death, for Liz, it’s almost like he is. In their brief moments off-tape and alone, Ross revealed the truth about the duffel bag, and they came up with a plan to get out of the Post Office. Once outside Liz found out why Garvey gave the bones to Ross: “Because he wanted me to help get the truth to the person he cares about most.” Jennifer Reddington, of course.
Jennifer knows the contents of the bag too, she’s seen the same envelope that Tom saw before her, and she tells Liz that they can get to the bottom of this, but they have to have Red’s trust. Liz may have never had the truth, but she’s always had Red’s trust. That’s how she tricked him into thinking her life was in danger, that’s how she got him in front of Ross, and as she tells Tom, “While it didn’t work how I planned, it worked even better: I got the truth that you and so many people have died trying to expose.”
We get a highly fulfilling montage with the likes of Diane Fowler, Sam, Naomi, Mr. Kaplan, Tom — all saying to Red something along the lines of, You have to tell her the truth. But he never did. And now, as we see Red burning the bones, and what he assumes is the lingering existence of his secret, once and for all, Liz finally knows. And the memory of Tom says it for her: “You know now that those bones in that bag are Raymond Reddington’s—the real Raymond Reddington’s.”
“Why [that imposter] came into my life, why he took your life, why he spent the last 30 years pretending to be Raymond Reddington,” Liz says: “I’m going to figure it out and I’m going to destroy him.” Liz assures Tom she’s not scared because she’ll have help. Jennifer walks up the hillside and asks if she’s ready to go.
“Oh yeah— I’m ready.”
A Few Loose Ends:
- Obviously we can’t take the reveal completely at face value, but still, what an exciting unveiling of the long-theorized Imposter Theory. DAAAAAAAAAAAAMN.
- After five seasons of watching him care for her, I do believe Red, er, this man, when he said he was trying to protect Lizzie by keeping the truth from her. So what exactly did this Fraymond Freddington think he was protecting her from? And can he now protect himself from her?
- As always, thank you for watching and reading and gasping along with me! I beg of you to drop enough thoughts and theories in the comments to hold us over until season 6.
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.