'The Blacklist' recap: The death and birth of Raymond Reddington
Well, it happened. We finally found out the truth about Raymond Reddington’s real identity, from one of the only living people in the world who knew it.
Or did we? Oh, I see what ya did there, Blacklist! You gave us a riveting, emotional episode full of flashbacks and perfect casting on younger versions of current characters, not to mention a truly inspired choice to have Gabriel Mann play a young, fake, semi-Russian James Spader…
All to have it thrown back in our faces! Surely some of Dom’s long and winding tale of how and why the man who plays Raymond Reddington on TV began playing him on TV was based in reality. But judging by Red’s reaction to Liz’s glee at telling him she’s now, like, so in the know—we’re only getting half of the true story about the death and birth of Raymond Reddington. At best.
And y’know what, well played. To spend two hours thinking we were getting those sweet, sweet answers we’ve been searching for, only to have one millisecond of Spader’s face twitching turn it all on its head? It’s a bold move! I feel like one of those contestants on Survivor who just has to shake their head and laugh approvingly as they congratulate the remaining sacks of bones for pulling a fast one on them on the way out of Tribal Counsel. You’ve got to respect a misleading hustle.
These most certainly were not answers — they weren’t even questions! We’re living in a gosh darn house of mirrors. Because as convincing as Dom’s Fraymond Freddington origin story was (somewhat), and as engaging as Gabriel Mann was somehow able to make a brand new character (extremely), there has to be a reason Red isn’t telling Liz who he was before he took on the identity of Raymond Reddington. A reason for Mr. Kaplan’s death, for Tom’s death, for — shudder — Dembe leaving. And I just don’t see I was your mom’s childhood best friend and I did it to protect her! as a very good reason for any of those awful things to have happened…
And I don’t think the writers want us to see this story as credible. So then why introduce us to Ilya at all? Why show us Katarina’s journey post-fire, post-death of the (alleged) death of Real Raymond Reddington? There’s something here; we just don’t know what it is yet. But if this episode taught me anything, it’s that if we care about getting to the bottom of the connection between Raymond Reddington and Elizabeth Keen, then we need to hold onto every little detail — every little memory — of Katarina Rostova. Especially if they take place near that cursed Cape May…
THE BROCKTON COLLEGE KILLER, NO. 92
Oh, have I not mentioned the first hour of The Blacklist at all? How odd. Maybe that’s because it’s a salacious romp through the notoriously shady world of audio-podcasting that is a wild time, sure, but not exactly as long-lasting in the ol’ noggin once you see Elizabeth Keen show up at her maternal grandfather’s doorstep.
So let me give you the recapped version of the Brockton College Killer recap, if I may: In 2013, there were a number of killings on Brockton College’s campus, wherein young women went missing, and then their bodies showed back on campus frozen in such a way that when you pushed them over, their bodies broke apart like mannequins. It’s gross! But the twist is that the kid who went to jail for it because he was the only person connected to all the victims, Tobias Carlisle, is getting a retrial because a former classmate of his, Kimberly Owens started a true crime podcast called “THAW” that uncovered not only a number of missteps in his original trial, but a valid alternative suspect…
This is a very real thing that happens with true crime podcasts! Less based in reality, however, is the reveal that it was actually Kimberly Owens who killed all those women because she was obsessed with Tobias Carlisle, and never intended for him to get put in jail, so y’know, had to create a whole podcast to get him out. But then, after they’ve slept together, and he finds her head-hittin’ mallet and ask her to kindly leave him alone, she locks him in a freezer.
Luckily, season 2 of “THAW” is put to an abrupt end when the FBI finally catch up with Kimberly Owens and arrest her. Another Blacklister off the streets! But the most important story of this first hour is how Red is handling what he considers to be a betrayal by Dembe, and what Dembe considers to be loyalty. I was quite shocked when Liz just went for it, finally telling Red that it was her who gave the tip to the authorities that ultimately got him arrested and nearly killed by lethal injection. And while I readily admit that it was naive of Liz to think that she could just get Red put in a holding cell for a few weeks while she put on her detectives’ cap and got to work figuring out his true identity, I don’t begrudge her stance that she deserves to know the truth.
She has consistently had the worst plans possible to find said truth, but she didn’t ask for Raymond Reddington to come out of the shadows and to turn her life upside down six years ago. He did that. And he continues to keep the reason why a secret from her. “You think you deserve to know the truth? That you’re entitled to that?” Red asks Liz, as she replies with both immediate and apologetic yeses. It’s a really great scene between Spader and Megan Boone, who I hate to see at odds, but I always believe a little more than when they’re at peace. Because who could ever be at peace with this situation? Every time Liz says that she is, she just ends up mad again, ends up curious again. Just look at what happens in the second hour…
But first, Raymond and Dembe have to sort through their differences. Dembe reminds Red that he keeps his secret out of loyalty even though he believes Red should tell Elizabeth to the truth. But Red sees Dembe keeping Liz’s secret out of loyalty to her as a betrayal to him. It’s a very twisted web they’ve woven! Red spends most of the episode at Dom’s house, asking him veiled questions if he ever forgave Katarina after she betrayed him by secretly working with the cabal and going against Russia. Dom says the he forgave Katarina, but implies that his lonely life in hiding is no better for it. “You forgave Katarina, but not me,” Red asks. “I forgave my child,” Dom replies…mysteriously.
Red asks Dom if he’s at peace with his decision to forgive Katarina, and Dom says that he is: “I am because I loved her. The real question is: how much do you love Dembe?”
And the answer is, a whole hell of a lot! When Red finally makes his decision to forgive Dembe and shows up at his house to—well, nothing short of confess his unconditional love for him, I really thought he was about to give the full Sex and the City “maybe we could be each other’s soulmates” treatment. “I went away to think about you and me, and all I could think was that I missed you,” Red tells Dembe, who has his bag, plane tickets, and passport packed, seemingly ready to be excommunicated by Red. “I realized, you don’t need my forgiveness—ever. Because when it comes to this, you can do no wrong.”
“I appreciate that, Raymond,” Dembe responds. “But I can’t forgive you.”
Wow. That unexpected heartbreak hit me like a freight train. “I guess I don’t understand,” Red says in stunning stillness. “No, I suppose you don’t,” Dembe replies, and walks out the door.
No matter what anyone tells him, Raymond Reddington feels like he is justified in keeping his identity a secret — in asking others to keep it a secret too. And maybe he is. But decisions like that have costs. They have consequences. And in Friday night’s two hours, Raymond Reddington is paying the price.
Ressler finally comes clean to Liz about continuing to research Reddington’s true identity, and when he tells her that he found her maternal grandfather in the security footage from the P.O. Box, all that stuff she told Red circa an hour ago about no longer needing to know his secret because she realized, “I don’t care about who you were, I care for who you are”…oh yeah, that goes super out the window as soon as she gets a bonafide lead.
Because Liz has met Dom before. She didn’t know he was her grandfather then, but now that she does, she shows up at Dom’s doorstep all, What’s up gramps, you got the deets?
Dom tells Liz that he made a promise to stay away from her a long time ago in order to keep her safe. But now that she’s here, and the jig is up, he seems pretty willing to unload all the answers she’s looking for about her mother. They get in the car together because Dom wants to show her something, and from there, the majority of the episode is spent in flashback after Katarina Rostova stumbles out of the ocean, very much not dead, as she was presumed all those years ago.
It’s not as mystical or even as emotional as the landmark “Cape May” flashback episode, but the tradeoff is that it’s more informative (or at least, seems more informative). Katarina stumbles from the ocean into a church, and wakes up in a women’s shelter where she heals and mostly keeps to herself. But she knows that Russian agent Anton Velov will be looking for her — sure she’s not dead, knowing she’s a trader to her country — especially once an abused young Russian woman shows up at the shelter, and Katarina winds up killing her boyfriend before he kills her (in a very badass showing from Lotte Verbeek). After that, Katarina is on the run, knowing she needs to find a way to protect herself and her family.
She manages to get a message to a man we’ve never seen before who works at the U.S. Russian Embassy: Ilya Koslov, played by Gabriel Mann.
And y’all I admit, when I saw Mann appear on the screen, as a former lover of his eccentric performance on Revenge, I thought: Wow, what a perfect addition to a show with fellow eccentric, James Spader. And then later, with some small facial expression he made, I thought, Wow, that was so Red-like. And then, much, much later I thought: OOOOOOOOOH, I smell what you’re cookin’ here.
But the story that Dom tells Liz doesn’t have the same awe-inducing effect. It’s certainly interesting! And she buys it hook, line, and sinker. But questions remain…
The story he tells her includes many of the details we already know: Katarina giving Masha to Mr. Kaplan to protect before she disappeared; Mr. Kaplan giving Masha to Sam; before any of that, Masha shooing her father, Reddington, and Katarina removing his body from the fire, the bones from which would eventually dominate season 5. The detail that’s brand new to all of this is Ilya. He is Katarina’s oldest friend, and clearly in love with her, though seemingly content with it being unrequited, as long as he can make sure she’s safe.
Ilya was apparently also there when the house burned down, the night Raymond Reddington died. “We did everything we could, we got him out,” Ilya says as he takes Katarina’s photo for a new passport. Presumably his embassy connections are what give him the connections to be able to turn Katarina Rostova into Anna Croft, and his love for her is what makes him liquidate all of his assets to help get her parents out of Russia. It’s an emotional exchange between Katarina and her mother, but she goes along with the startling information that she’ll now have to live out her days in the United States, under a new identity, without any communication with her daughter or granddaughter…
Dom is a different story. As a reminder, he was also a Russian agent, and his daughter Katarina was his protégé, so he took the news that she was a traitor to he country especially hard. But when she shows up at his door, with Ilya waiting in the car, it is not all relieved hugs and rejoicing that she’s alive. As is Blacklist father/daughter tradition—it’s a little more complicated than that.
Especially once Velov’s men show up at young Dom’s door! For a moment it seems like he is about to give his daughter up, but no—he tells them that he’s meeting her at the airport and he can take them to her. But the men muscle their way inside, and it comes down to a fight with them on once side and Katarina and Dom on the other. And two men get them cornered, until Ilya shows up, swiftly shooting the remaining threats. They give Dom his passport and part ways, with him promising that he’ll get rid of the bodies and get himself to the United States. Which we know he did…
This is where things get a little more “inspired by a true story” than “based on a true story.” Dom tells Liz that from there Ilya and Katarina went to a hotel where Katarina called Masha at Sam’s and told her, “Whatever happens, mama will always love you.” Katarina fears for her daughter; she fears for what the cabal will do to Reddington’s reputation; she fears for Velov coming after her parents and Ilya. She is not in a good place.
When Ilya wakes with a start that night, he goes into her room to find it destroyed, and finds Katarina on the edge of the balcony, prepared to jump. He yells that he has a way to get her life back, and to get his life back too, which is what she seems to worry about most. And that’s when he presents his plan:
The world doesn’t know what happened to Raymond Reddinton…so we give them an answer.”
As we know from the trial, Raymond Reddington had access to millions and millions of dollars in accounts that were ultimately drained shortly after his initial appearance. That’s because when he emerged a year after the fire, Raymond Reddington was in fact Ilya Koslov, disguised as Raymond Reddington by Dr. Hans Koehler, and fed all the information he could possibly need to know about Raymond Reddington by his former spy-lover, Katarina Rostova.
Ilya becomes Raymond Reddington, and the sliver of Mann’s face we get to see as he walks into the bank to being draining the accounts is so deliciously Spader. Ilya does it all to protect Katarina, the girl—and now woman—he pledged his life to all those years ago. And she asks one more thing of him before heading into an unknown future: “If they get to me, if they take me…take care of Masha.”
“Like she was my own,” Ilya—Raymond—replies.
Dom and Liz arrive at the postal store where he tells her that Katarina gave both he and her mother a key to a P.O. Box inside. “She told us when she resurfaced, she would make contact with us.” He checks it every week, but for 28 years, he’s never heard a thing, until her mother sent that letter to Katarina on her deathbed. Liz thanks Dom for telling her the story, saying, “You and my daughter, you’re the only family I have.” He asks to meet her daughter, and she says yes…
A meeting I would love to see because I just thought we were pretending Agnes didn’t exist at this point. But the next scene we see is Liz showing up in Hong Kong to joyfully tell Red that she knows the truth now: “I know you were Ilya, and the incredible thing you did to protect my mother—to protect me.”
And Red’s response to finally being hailed a hero by the most beloved person in his life? “Who told you this?” She tells him she knows about Dom now too, and she knows he did it all to access Reddington’s accounts, and she knows that it worked, but she still has just one singular questions she’s unsure about: “You became Raymond Reddington, but then you stayed Raymond Reddington—and I don’t understand why?”
“I am what I am,” Red replies humorlously. “Popeye the Sailor Man.”
The episodes ends with Red showing up on Dom’s doorstep, a very popular place right now, demanding to know what he told Elizabeth. Dom tells Red that he should just thank him, and put all of this behind him for good. “Is that what you think you did?” Red spits. “Because I think you may have made things worse. So from the start: what did tell her word for word?”
A FEW LOOSE ENDS
THEY’RE ALL LOOSE ENDS!!!! So how about a few quick Q’s to get you rolling on what I’m confident will be a much considered analyzation in the comments:
Sure, that’s a great plan to hide Ilya in plain sight, but uh…what part of that plan was for Katarina? Just the money?
So what are we to make of “Cape May,” the episode that was very much a precursor to “Rassvet” and featured the current Raymond Reddington having an extended flashback that presumably only the real Raymond REddington—or, ahem, Katarina Rostova—would have been privy to?
Did Liz really not notice Red going full <BlinkingMan.gif> when she told him the story that Dom told her? I need answers people! Word. For. Word. Answers!