The Blacklist recap: A presidential plot
Y’know, recapping a show like The Blacklist can be a bit intimidating. There are a lot of moving parts, and sometimes the parts you thought would be important become meaningless, and the parts you thought were meaningless become paramount. Sometimes plots disappear mid-season; sometimes plots disappear in season 1 and then show back up in season 3, and then once again in season 6, and expect you to remember every dark and twisted detail. Basically, you’re going to be wrong sometimes (ahem, a lot of times).
So there is truly no safer feeling as a recapper than when the characters within the show have no idea what’s going on either. You can’t be wrong! You can only repeat their questions back and maybe make a few educated guesses at the answers yourself — which makes you stand the chance of not only not being wrong, but of being stone-cold right.
Still with me? Good! Then please help welcome to the screen an episode that causes Aram to ask, “Am I understanding this correctly: The American president is part of a plot to assassinate… himself?” And then he just… never gets an answer! Friday’s episode ends with the Task Force in a spot so sticky it feels as if they could never get out of it, let alone figure out why the president would be plotting to have himself assassinated. As they get closer and closer to finding the dossier detailing Anna McMahon’s plot in this episode, Red says giddily, “Don’t you just love the anticipation? The moment before the curtain goes up, wondering if the show will live up to the hype and expectation.”
Cooper says he’d prefer to be underwhelmed. But then the curtain on the dossier lifts to reveal an uncontrollable forest fire complete with acid rain, and they didn’t even know this play was about forests. For us, that means this reveal is anything but underwhelming. I can’t exactly say if it’s a success until I understand just why the president would plot with all his angriest employees to have himself assassinated (and until I know I my sweet summer child, Aram, has gotten out of going to prison forever), but I can definitely say I’m intrigued as to just where all this is going with one episode until the end of season 6.
ANNA MCMAHON, NO. 60
We have been following the trail of Anna McMahon’s lustrous ginger locks for months at this point, so to see her listed at No. 60 felt like a bit of a letdown. But I of course know we can’t put too much stock in the numerical order of the Blacklist, because make no mistake: This is one bad lady.
I very much enjoyed the tappy, tinkly, mounting piano music that scored most of this episode, especially in the cold open as the first vestiges of the cat-and-mouse-and-mouse-and-cate game that would dominate the hour emerged. The episode opens on a sweet-looking family getting ready for their days at work and school, but quickly transitions to the president barking at Anna and Agent Sanquist (who I have been anti-affectionately calling Lurch for the past few recaps) that they better find that dossier detailing their plot against the United States, or else.
It quickly becomes clear that the son in this adorable family we keep dropping in on is the very little boy who had a very important flash drive dropped into his very cute backpack by Bastien Moreau. That flash drive fell under his bed, where his dad apparently found it, and upon seeing that it was encrypted, asked his tech-savvy friend to see what was on it. On the morning we find the Grim family, the friend is calling John Grim to be like, Bro you gotta get over here, there’s a terrorist plot on your kid’s flash drive.
Unfortunately, the morning we find the Grim family is also the day after both Anna McMahon and Reddington have been told they’re in possession of the dossier compiled by Christopher Miles, obtained by Bastien Moreau, and located once more by the finder in last week’s episode. Anna McMahon and her people had a small head start on the Task Force, so Agent Sanquist is showing up on the Grim’s doorstep just as Aram is trying to call them to tell them not to talk to any Lurch-like characters who may show up on their doorstep.
Mr. Grim is already on his way to his friend’s house to see what’s on the flash drive, but after a little light threatening, Mrs. Grim tells Sanquist the flash drive was passed off to their friend Sam. Sanquist heads over there with his Secret Service buddies, beats the hell out of Sam, and eventually discovers that Sam doesn’t have Christopher Miles’ flash drive, but a copy of it. The original flash drive is in the possession of John Grim…
Who spotted his friend Sam being tortured by what appeared to be government officials and, knowing that the flash drive Sam cracked contained a treasonous plot by American government officials (I guess Sam gave him a few deets over the phone?), takes off in a panic. When the FBI arrive at the Grim house, they discover from camera footage that Mr. Grim went back and got his wife and son, waved the flash drive at them, and they all took off in his car. They assume that since this is an average family with limited resources trying to stay off the radar, that they’ll simply hole up in a hotel somewhere.
And they’re correct. Red employs the canvassing help of a friend (well, a friend once more, just as soon as Red apologizes to his niece) with a network of hotel maids and janitors, who quickly identify and locate the Grims. Now the Task Force has the jump on Anna McMahon’s team and shows up to hotel room of the the poor Grims, who don’t know who to trust. We know the Task Force are the good guys, but Mr. Grim simply knows they’re the FBI and could very well be in on this government plot. As Liz and Ressler take them outside, they get a call from Cooper saying they’re being followed by Anna McMahon’s men.
He knows this because Anna McMahon showed up at his office demanding to know why his agents were investigating the Grim family. He demanded to know why she knew that. And when she wouldn’t tell him, he told her what he knew: “You’re involved in a plot against this country. You know why we’re looking for the Grims because you’re looking for them too — they have a flash drive that details your treason.” That shuts her up. It also makes her angry: “I’ll have your job for this.” Cooper responds that he’s sure she will, but not if they get to the flash drive first, and I loooove the badass side of Cooper that this story line has brought out. (To be fair, I do not ultimately loooove where it lands him.)
Just as Liz and Ressler are getting the Grim family to their car, Sanquist and his men show up. Mrs. Grim seems to trust Liz and tells her that’s the man who came to her house that morning, but when Mr. Grim also recognizes him as the man who was torturing Sam he… kind of lunges out at these Secret Service agents, because Mr. Grim is just an insurance broker who found a flash drive under his son’s bed, but he also happens to be quite brave, with a fury for justice, as this episode reveals.
Sanquist shoots Mr. Grim in the chest, which sets off a shootout between the FBI and the Secret Service (not great!), and ultimately leads to Mr. Grim being taken by Sanquist, while Mrs. Grim and the son are taken to the Post Office. After questioning (unfortunately, in the form of having a finger pressed into his bullet hole in the case of Mr. Grim), both parents tell the same story: They no longer have the flash drive because they sent it to a friend at the Washington Post.
This leads to both Anna McMahon and the Task Force trying to track down mail, which even for Aram is no easy task, and given that Sanquist is suuuuuper-willing to torture mail carriers, McMahon’s team ultimately ends up in possession of the truck that should be carrying the flash drive package first.
Well, McMahon’s agents do — she’s busy trying to assuage the POTUS that he’s not going to be found out for his plot against the United States, the details of which we still don’t know, but we do know that Diaz’s wife seems to also be in on it. As they head to a speaking engagement, he mentions that they’re gearing up for a re-election campaign, and she hisses back, “Are we? Because I’m pretty sure there’s something you have to do first.”
These words will become extra-confusing very soon! After the Task Force realizes that the men who have been tracking the Grims are not only real Secret Service agents but the personal body men of the president, Cooper heads to the White House to inform Diaz that his life could be in danger. Aram is also tracing the phone numbers he found on the burner phone of the agent who was killed in the shootout, and just as Cooper arrives outside the Oval Office, one of those traces finally picks up because two of the phone are calling each other. As Cooper listens in, he hears Anna McMahon tell the President of the United States not to worry: His involvement in the plot is untraceable.
Um, excuse me, treason pals — consider yourselves traced. Cooper busts up out of the White House and back to the Task Force, where his team is now in possession of the dossier. There was yet another shootout between the FBI and the Secret Service when they discovered where Sanquist was holding Mr. Grim, forcing him to sort through the packages to find the flash drive. Unfortunately when Liz and Ressler arrive, Sanquist immediately shoots Grim (and they immediately shoot Sanquist) before taking off and leaving him for dead. But what Sanquist didn’t know is that Grim — a hero! — had already pocketed the package he sent to the Washington Post, and with his dying breath turns it over to Liz.
On the flash drive, they find Christopher Miles’ dossier on “The Princip Initiative,” and the helpful video explainer he included in it for Ava Ziegler, detailing the plot he unintentionally stumbled upon: “One to assassinate the sitting American president.”
SAY WHAAAAT?! The Task Force has just been bowled over by the fact that the president is involved in this plot, and now they’re finding out that the plot is to… kill the president? Like I said earlier, there’s some comfort in the Task Force being just as confused as myself, but in this case, I want some answers. From the rest of the details Miles gives in the dossier, he doesn’t seem to be aware himself of Diaz’s involvement, but he does know the hit is to take place during a series of presidential debates. Of those three debates in the series, one has already taken place, one takes place next month, and one takes place…tomorrow.
It’s a little tricky knowing how to proceed given that — again — the president seems to be in on the plot to assassinate himself, but Cooper informs them, “I don’t care if the president is involved in a plot to assassinate himself or not, our job is to keep that from happening,” which, as far as absurd lines go, is really an allstar contribution to The Blacklist canon.
In a hospital room where Sanquist’s gunshot wound has been tended to, Anna McMahon shows up to talk about the fact that the FBI now knows they’re both treasonous terrorists. Well, that’s more Sanquist’s take; McMahon has a plan. They can get what they want and take down Reddington at the same time, she says, but not if POTUS knows they lost the dossier: “Diaz cannot know the truth.” And Sanquist must agree because when Diaz shows up in his hospital room, he tells him that his Secret Service team successfully obtained the dossier…
And back at the Post Office, while Liz is on the phone in a back hall we’ve never seen before asking Red if he can make any sense of this, McMahon shows up with a SWAT team and starts putting Aram and Ressler under arrest for conspiracy to commit murder. “You’re going to prison, Harold,” she tells Cooper in his office. “Because I know about your plan to assassinate the president.” And that’s what we in the business would call: not good.
A FEW LOOSE ENDS:
Liz manages to escape McMahon’s raid as far as we know, but her last words to Red were, “I can’t just stand here, I’ve got to do something,” before she rushed off — fingers crossed, to go full Lizzie McClane.
Also in that call, Red reassured Liz that she was safe to bring Agnes home, and she shouldn’t be fearful of her mother just because the KGB still seems to looking for her, and we really can’t ignore all the If I Did It-style talk coming out of Red these days anymore, can we? “If she were here,” Red tells Liz, “I’m sure she’d tell you she made so many mistakes. She was scared and uncertain and just… trying to do the best she could.”
And this line in regard to the president potentially planning to assassinate himself: “Whatever the case, he’s carrying a heavy burden — people who kill themselves always are. Burdens they can’t imagine ever being able to cast off.”
Aram’s reaction to finding out the president might be involved with a plot against the United States: “I feel terrible. I voted for him!”