The Blacklist recap: Ooh, purgatory is a place on earth
For an episode that featured a woman dangling out of a hole in the middle of a skyscraper, only Donald Ressler’s biceps standing between her and plummeting to a gruesome death…it was kind of a mild and introspective hour of The Blacklist. After losing Samar out into the ether of eternal hiding last week, I expected this week to be full of mourning. But Samar isn’t dead, and the fact that Aram knows that means he can’t mourn her yet.
“This isn’t heaven or hell—it’s purgatory.”
That’s what Aram tells his new enemy Raymond Reddington while he’s blackmailing Red into taking him to Samar. Well…sort of his new enemy, and sort of blackmailing him. My fear at the beginning of this episode was that Aram was going to go full Dark Phoenix, scorching earth and allies until he felt his betrayal had been avenged. It might have been a little fun to watch, yes, but it simply wouldn’t have been Aram. He’s the one who always sees the good in “Mr. Reddington,” and for him to pull a complete 180 on that opinion simply because Red finally did something to hurt him (think of all the things he’s done to hurt Aram’s good friend Liz in the time that they’ve been acquainted), would not only be hypocritical, but it wouldn’t fit the character the writers and Amir Arison have done such a strong job of building…
Luckily, that’s not what was going on! It wasn’t a 180; it was a 360. Yes, anger and loss can cause people to act outside themselves, as Aram does when he, ahem, hacks one of Red’s bank accounts, steals $60 million, and demands that Red take him to Samar. But the part of it all that’s most out of character isn’t lashing out at Red (who deserves just about any act of rebellion that gets thrown at him by his wayward Task Force step-children, by the way), it’s acting against Samar’s wishes. Aram, no matter how much he loves her, would never do anything to further endanger Samar further—precisely because of the love he has for her. Aram was always going to come back around to himself. And even if he’s not fully healed yet, now that he’s said goodbye, he can also begin to mourn his painful loss, as we see at the end of the hour.
But that’s just the emotional side of what was happening in Friday night’s episode! On a logistical side, again, six people fell through a hole in the side of a Manhattan scraper, and a seventh only didn’t because Ressler has been pulling double-duty on arm day, and pulled her back inside. That was the work of one pretty fearsome Blacklister, and all the more formidable because she’s ultimately still loose in the world by episode’s end. And more importantly: she’s a Blacklister who puts us one step closer to figuring out what that wily Anna McMahan is up to.
OLIVIA OLSON, NO. 115
With the personal drama that’s been going on at the Post Office, we’ve briefly lost sight of the fact that a justice department official who works in partnership with the President of the United States is currently orchestrating a conspiracy against the United States, the knowledge of which is the only thing that saved Raymond Reddington from lethal injection. So, yeah, they reeeeally need to get that little mess figured out.
And Red has the first step figured out to already. He tells Liz there is a woman named Olivia Olson who used to orchestrate hostile takeovers on Wall Street, and now she does it for criminal organizations: helps them expand by identifying competitive organizations that are vulnerable, and undermining those vulnerabilities until they can be absorbed. Red says in that way, Olson is his competition, and he wants the FBI to find her and take her out. And they have to do it because he also tells Liz that Olson is working with Anna McMahan.
As usual, Cooper is completely cool with Red using them for criminal gains because the net total will be a criminal loss, while Ressler is super peeved. He’s especially on Red’s case right now because, as he tells Liz, he is not actually okay with her letting go of the quest to find Reddington’s true identity. But there’s no time for side investigations currently because the Task Force needs to go after this Blacklister who works with Anna McMahan…all while Anna McMahan is simultaneously the Task Force’s new boss, as you might recall. That means they need to tread very lightly.
Which is why Ressler is really, really peeved when Reddington tips them off to Olson’s next meeting with a new client—and who should end up being that new client they watch walk through the door? Reddington. He just happened to “omit” that little fact (“‘hiding’ implies I cared one way or another about you finding out—I didn’t”), and now they can hear from the bug they planted that Red is telling Olson he wants her to betray Anna McMahan. Well, I should say Reddington tells a laptop he wants intel on McMahan. Olson is never seen anywhere in person; she does all her communication via laptops that combust once she’s done talking. It’s pretty rad, honestly.
But Red is the one who ends this conversation once Olson refuses to give him any info on McMahan, telling her that she’s had a nice long run, but he plans on hostilely taking over her role as the criminal hostile take-over-er.
So, she obviously calls Anna McMahan and tells her exactly what Reddinton says, and Anna McMahan obviously shows up at the Post Office demanding that Cooper tell her what’s going on, which is obviously exactly what Red wanted: “Sometimes my grasp of human nature inspires even me.” Red tells Coops that lying low hasn’t really been getting them any answers so he thought it best to force the issue instead: “Let her know we’re looking, put her on alert, make her think twice—and in doing that, possibly, hopefully cause her to make a mistake.”
Indeed, Olson quickly made a mistake that the Task Force could identify. While she was talking to Red via the laptop, Aram was able to track the moving vehicle she was transmitting from. And when Red and Liz got cut off my two 18-wheelers while chasing Olson’s van, Aram was able to identify their connection to a legitimate hostile takeover company called Rain Cloud. The Task Force really needs Aram—this will come up again later. At Rain Cloud, Red and Liz arrive just as a very secret board meeting is finishing up where Olson informs her staff that to help their current client, they need to crater the public’s opinion of a certain New York City contracting company.
And that means waiting until the sky deck at their newest building is full of people (people trying to raise money to cure Parkinson’s, mind you!), and creating a gas leak so explosive that it warps the beams supporting said sky deck, sending those people plummeting to their death. That’s the very chill plan they’ve just agreed on when Olson gets word that the FBI is raiding Rain Cloud. She’s been taking part in this board meeting virtually, of course, but immediately enacts a malware that will destroy all the Rain Cloud servers. Even when Liz and Ressler come busting in on the meeting, there’s nothing they can do to stop the servers from self-destructing. There are bits and pieces of data that the FBI tech team is able to salvage, but there’s only one person who could make sense of them…
Aram is placing goodbye notes on his co-workers’ desks when Red comes in and tells him that stealing $60 million from him was a terrible mistake. But Aram didn’t do it as vengeance—he did it as leverage. Reddington will get his money back once he brings him to Samar, and when Red sees that determined look in Aram’s eye, he takes him.
Or rather, he puts Aram on his jet. I don’t think Red ever entertained the idea that Aram would get off that plane anywhere but back in DC. Because there are two things we know about Aram: he loves Samar, and he loves to help his friends. Red tells Aram that he thinks he didn’t say a real goodbye to them because maybe he thinks he’ll see them again, but he wants to be clear: “If you become a part of Samar’s new life—Harold, Donald, Elizabeth, you’ll never be able to see them again, ever speak to them again. Never be there for them when they need you.”
And it’s that last part that gets Aram, as he hears Red on the phone talking to Liz about Olson and Rain Cloud, and the dangerous plot they know is going into action, but can’t identify from the data jumble Olson left them to sort through. He’s always going to want to help. Red has told Aram that he must understand that he’s being watched and the Mossad are expecting him to lead them right to Samar. But Aram says he’s not with Samar yet—for this very moment he’s in purgatory, and he can still help. Aram looks at the data and figures out that Olson’s plan must be taking place in a new hotel construction in midtown Manhattan, and Liz and Ressler take it from there. “Another hour in purgatory,” Red says knowingly (always knowingly).
Ressler and Liz call the hotel to tell them to evacuate the building but it’s too late. Olson’s assistant has already enacted the plan, and just as the party is really getting into motion—BOOM—there’s an explosion that blows a hole right through the sky deck, leading straight to the street way, way, way, way below. A handful of people fall through it immediately, and it is tough to watch. Watching Ressler pull the one woman dangling from a steal beam is a little easier because it’s just so absurd.
But I was extremely relieved to see that she made it, and relieved to see Liz recognize Olson’s assistant as he walks by the scene of the crime. Ressler slams him against the side of a car and says, “Talk. NOW.”
He does, and when the FBI arrives at Olson’s lair, she’s gone, but she hasn’t been able to self-destruct her servers yet. They have all of her files, and yet: Olson is giving a knowing (always knowing) smile as she drives away into hiding. She still feels like she’s won…
And maybe that’s exactly how Red wants her to feel, because it’s certainly how they’re making Anna McMahan feel. Cooper gives her the full rundown of how the Olson case shook out, and hands over all the files they recovered, just as she requested. But he plays dumb when she asks if Reddington bothered to tell him why he chose Olson as the Blacklister in the first place. Of course Cooper knew it was because of her connection to McMahan’s conspiracy, and of course Cooper made a copy of Olson’s files before he handed them over to McMahan.
That’s how he knows that the data she ultimately turned over to her team to investigate was missing just one file that must be connected her plot against the United States: “The Third Estate.” Red tells Cooper it’s a reference to the French Revolution: “It means everyone else—the 99 percent.”
Back at the Post Office, Liz is emotionally reading her goodbye note from Aram…just as Aram walks in. He didn’t get off the plane; he came back from purgatory. Maybe it was because he realized he’d be endangering Samar. Maybe it was because Red told him about what a heavy burden it is to bring pain to those you care about because there’s no other available path, and that showing up and making Samar leave him again would only make the burden heavier. Or maybe it’s because he realized he was strong enough to say goodbye.
What we know is that Aram got on that plane because he loves Samar. “And I came back because I realized the best way to love her was to honor her wishes.”
A FEW LOOSE ENDS
Liz tells Aram that couldn’t have been an easy decision to make. “Or a cheap one,” he responds. He owes Reddington $56,000 in interest on the money he briefly disappeared. Liz offers to pay for drinks.
Back in his apartment, Aram stares into a clock that he now knows is a camera planted by the Mossad: “I know you’re listening, watching me, hoping I might lead you to her. But I won’t, do you hear me? She’s gone!” And then to himself: “She’s really gone.”
Might I cheer you up with Red’s thoughts on Olson’s chosen form of communication? “I’ve never made a virtual acquaintance before. I must say, it feels…pornographic.”
And bring you right back down with the news that something is definitely up with Reddington’s health. This episode includes pills and a self-administered butt injection.
Perhaps Ressler will get to the bottom of it, though. At the end of the episode, he’s calling someone named M.J. who led point on Katarina Rostova at the FBI back in the day. And hey, I’m with Ressler here: I would very much still like to know who the hell Fraymond Freddington is!