The Blacklist premiere recap: 'Smokey Putnum'
Red is back, broke, and better than ever
Help yourself to the pretzels and the cheeses, because just like at the Terrace Vista Motor Lodge, we are all family here in The Blacklist recaps. And, yes, I will throw quarters at you if asked.
The Blacklist has returned for its 5th season, and finally, the paternal cat is out of the convoluted, hole-riddled, sphinx-guarded parentage-bag…and everything is surprisingly chummy post-reveal! Yes, Red was absent from the majority of Elizabeth’s life until she was 30, at which point he reentered it, bringing with him a world of pain, lies, and semi-frequent homicide. And yes, he repeatedly lied to her about not being her father, whether it be through omission, going along with the idea that someone else was her father, or just straight up being like, Girl I am not your dad, stop asking!
But that’s all over now. Science says Raymond Reddington is Liz’s dad and she’s ready to get a “LIL’ RED” vanity plate, cross-stitch a new Christmas stocking for the mantle, and make this non-traditional family official.
And you know what? Protagonists’ emotional well-being be damned, Red and Liz working together was a Good! Time! The jokes were flowing like motel bathtub wine, the general narrative theme of early season 5 was revealed to be a kind of Reddington’s Eleven situation, and now, rather than being surprised that she’s been purposefully kept out of the loop for an entire episode’s mission, Liz seems downright tickled by it. And I get it. Watching James Spader shoot a bunch of people to the tune of some slowed-down ’70s folk song and good old-fashioned bloodlust is fun; watching James Spader actually have fun is…well, more fun.
It was probably worth spending an entire season decimating Raymond Reddington’s criminal empire just to hear Spader’s insane delivery of, “Come, dip your TOES in.” Liz does not, in fact, dip her toes into the body-temperature waters of Red’s motel pool, but the season 5 premiere does see her dive headfirst into the idea that her professional relationship with Red can expand to fit the casual reveal that he is her biological father. She insists, “Knowing who my father is at this point isn’t going to change who I am.” But we’ve been watching The Blacklist for five seasons now, and we’re not as idealistic as naive, hopeful Lizzie. We know that within this father/daughter duo…it’s only Papa Red who will never truly change.
SMOKEY PUTNUM, NO. 30
You know it’s going to be a fun, mostly non-painful episode of The Blacklist when the name of the Blacklister sounds like it could be a bar in Brooklyn. You also know it when Red wears a baseball cap instead of a fedora (which has a similar feeling to when Ron wears his red shirt on Parks and Rec, but I really hope does not signify the same thing).
Within the first five minutes of the season 5 premiere, Red has pretended to be a valet, stolen a beautiful convertible, evaded police in a car chase, sold that stolen convertible, and used the cash to pay off his extended stay at the Terrace Vista Motor Lodge. That’s where Liz finds him when Cooper sends her to inquire if he has a Blacklister for them. See, Coops is a little worried that the complete, total, and meticulous destruction of Red’s criminal empire at the hands of Mr. Kaplan (RIP, queen) means that Red might not have the inside hookup anymore . And the thing is, the Task Force’s jobs and Red’s continued freedom — and if we’re going to get meta here, the concept of this show — kind of ride on the idea that Raymond Reddington can deliver the world’s worst criminals to the FBI.
Coming into season 5, however, Red is broke and without contacts or alliances…and he’s also never seemed happier. Liz tells Red that those things, nor the fact that she now knows he’s her father, doesn’t change the fact that she needs a case. To which Red responds: “Then I suppose I’ll need my pants!” (Next: Talk carnie to me)
Once Red’s legs are dried and fully ensconced in fabric, he takes Liz to a bail bondsman’s office and, like any person on the FBI’s Most Wanted list might, asks him for a job as a bounty hunter. Red arranges that, in exchange for $40,000, he’ll track down a man wanted for embezzling over $2 million from a carnival company and deliver him to his court hearing in two days. That man is Smokey Putnam, and though he is not a Blacklister (um, except that he totally, titular-ly is; see end of the recap for quibbles) like the Post Office needs, he will provide what Red needs: rent money.
Welcome back down to earth, Red, the water is fine — which is to say not body temperature at all, but chilled by the icy cold of rent and reality.
So, with Red’s assurances to Cooper that he can definitely become a key player in the criminal world once more, he and Lizzie are off on a familial caper so grand it’s practically Griswold-ian. First stop: Kentucky, where we meet two carnies who speak in a secret carnie language that I knew nothing about, and now need to know everything about. They say they don’t know where Smokey is now, but they think it couldn’t have just been him embezzling the money because his boss Ms. Hawkins always counted the books, and she’s the one who cut the deal to testify against Smokey.
Top FBI wunderkind Lizzie Keen spots a photo of Smokey and a woman who turns out, upon inquiry, to be his girlfriend, Tammy Lynn. Tammy Lynn’s ceiling, upon inquiry via a few of Red’s carefully shot bullets, turns out to contain Smokey Putnam.
With Smokey in tow (he is very much a character, but not in the insane way that Julian Gale was a cHaRaCtErrrrr last season), Red and Liz begin an exciting road trip back from Kentucky to D.C., made even more exciting by their car being surrounded by vehicles full of skinheads trying to shoot them. There are face tattoos and assault rifles, and Lizzie straight-up shoots a guy through the neck…so, y’know, your typical family road trip.
Apparently, the carnival where Smokey worked has a side hustle of laundering money for a massive drug cartel. And that was the money Smokey decided to run off with. He tells Red if they just let him go, he’ll happily write him a check for his 40 grand because if they turn him in and he’s convicted, he will most certainly be killed by the cartel in prison. Red says no dice, but since their car was rammed to smithereens, he does treat Smokey and Liz to a bus ride to the Cincinnati Amtrak station. Unfortunately, the cartel creeps are listening in to the phone call Red makes to his boss and intersect them in Cincinnati.
More fortunately, Red knows exactly where they’ll take Smokey as, in a ploy to gain his freedom, Smokey told Red where he’d hidden the embezzled cash. Red hot-wires a car, and they intercept the baddies in a warehouse in Richmond, where Liz somehow gets a gun trained on the leader’s head. Red tells him if he takes his money and leaves them Smokey, then Smokey will keep the cartel’s name out of his mouth in the trial. If he doesn’t take the money and leave, Red will shoot him.
Liz disagrees. She can’t stand by and let a skinhead drug cartel walk away unscathed in the name of Red getting $40,000. She says if the man tries to walk out, she will shoot him. Red says there’s only one person in this room who’s going to follow through on killing him (UGH, Daaaaad!). And he’s right — Liz doesn’t pull the trigger. Because as I noted earlier in the recap, no matter what Lizzie hopes, there’s only one person in this duo who always does what he says and says what he means.
So, Lizzie lets the cartel get away with the money, and at this point, I’m not sure what exactly that’s supposed to tell us about her current state of being. But I am sure that Smokey’s pointed story about how he became a gambler just like his daddy, who was a gambler just like his daddy, is supposed to point us in the general direction. “No way to avoid the family curse,” he tells her as Red wakes from a nap in the back seat. “In nature versus nurture, nature wins every time.”
Smokey seems to have endeared himself to Liz, but with Red’s insistence and one more ill-fated escape attempt, Liz helps hand him over to the authorities for his hearing and Red’s payday. Afterward, she says her piece: “You may be my father, and I am going to help you rebuild your empire because it will enable us to catch criminals — but I’m not going to lose sight of who I am in the process.” Sure thing, Lizzie, you do you, girl. Maybe try to have a little fun while you’re at it, life’s been hard. (Next: Hello deception, my old friend)
But Liz still can’t get past that they put Smokey in jail so that a neo-Nazi drug cartel could continue to thrive. And that’s when Red gives his “ha, ha, ha, not so fast” look and I give my first annoyed lip curl of the episode (to be fair, a pretty long way in!). Because, listen, I get that it’s fun when there’s a big reveal at the end that shows that Red has been smarter than us all along, that he has a secret plan that will make everything work out perfectly and continue to help him straddle the line of morality like some sort of ethical Olympian gymnast…
But is that worth sacrificing the integrity of this show’s other main character again and again? Was there any reason Red didn’t tell Liz that the plan all along was to pay off a guard at Ms. Hawkins’ prison to put her into a fake prison transport vehicle, delivering her to Red rather than to the courthouse to testify against Smokey? That at some point in this caper, Red came up with a plan to make Ms. Hawkins, a top-notch money launderer, and Smokey, a logistics and tactics expert of carnie proportions, the first new team members of his new criminal empire, and just decided not to share that with Liz for no reason whatsoever? Shouldn’t Liz be the first member of Red’s trusted team?
My hope for Lizzie in season 5 is not that she will stay the same under Red’s new parentage, but that she will be allowed to have transparency and control in any single aspect of her life. Seriously, her complete and total understanding of any one facet of her own life for any one moment in time is all I ask. Because Liz never gets to know anything. She doesn’t get to know who her dad is, or who her husband is, or what her dad’s plans are, or what’s in the box that her dad and her husband both know about…
That’s right. Chekov’s suitcase from the season 4 finale is back, and it has just as many gross bones in it as ever. Throughout the episode, we flash to Dembe telling Red that he is tracking the secret suitcase that Mr. Kaplan dug up in the finale, but ultimately he can’t find it. We, of course, know that Tom Keen retrieved the suitcase from a bus station and periodically checks its contents to make sure they’re still really gross old bones. They are!
What we can’t be sure of is whose bones they are, what they mean, and what Tom knows about them. He definitely knows something, because when Liz gets home, he seems prepared to deliver some news until she giddily tells him she also has news: Red is her dad. And as Tom has a vision of Red busting into their apartment and murdering him, he quietly pushes the suitcase — both literally and figuratively — behind the couch.
Elsewhere, Red tells Dembe: “We need to find that suitcase.”
A Few Loose Ends:
- It seems a little soon for Lizzie to be foxtrotting around the Motor Lodge with the absentee criminal father who upended her life and is still keeping non-stop secrets from her…but hey, it’s to the tune of a jazzy cover of “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” and it’s fun.
- And speaking of fun, Ressler may not be The Blacklist‘s most fun character (unless he’s kicking gnomes), but he is its most resolutely righteous character in a show full of people who are just constantly doing bad in order to do good…or whatever. So, I’m not sure that I’m loving him covering up his accidental murder of the National Security Advisor via a slimy fixer who turns around and blackmails him for favors the moment he finds out he’s an FBI agent. We’ll just have to wait and see on that one.
- Elsewhere in the Post Office, Aram and Samar are officially an item. And that item is making out in the freight elevator, ayooooo!
- Okay, this Blacklister numbering system must be revisited. I’m not going to let it ruin an episode or anything, but you’re telling me that a carnival worker who kind of, like, didn’t even mean to be a super-criminal is No. 30 on Raymond Reddington’s super-criminal list? Does the Blacklist have some kind of predictive numbering function where it can anticipate all the crazy stuff Smokey is going to do as Red 2.0’s first angel investor?
- Spy Baby Agnes Sightings: 0. Spy Baby Agnes Mentions: 0. Spy Baby Agnes’ Spy Baby Toys Kicked During Her Dad’s Death Visions: 1.