In Friday night’s episode of The Blacklist, Elizabeth Keen says of Raymond Reddington (almost in awe, despite being the one who landed him behind bars in the first place): “That man is capable of anything—he’s going to get the immunity agreement upheld, and it’s only a matter of days before he’s out.”
Indeed, as odd as it may sound, we need to enjoy Red’s time in federal prison while it lasts. Over the course of this one episode, our very favorite Concierge of Crime goes from having his life threatened by a pretty credible prison gang, to receiving tiny bottles of champagne for himself and his new Robin-esque sidekick via a foolproof delivery system. Cheers, folks, to an exceedingly rare, but also a necessary type of Blacklist episode: simple and to the point. Sure, Liz was putting on her most Oscar-worthy act as a daughter-double-agent, and yes, Jen and Liz made a little headway on their Mary-Kate-and-Ashley-style grassroots investigation into Fraymond Freddington. But, mostly, this was just a good old-fashioned Blacklister hunt for justice, with Red doing his thing on the side.
We all knew the second Red entered that prison that he was going to be accomplishing impossible feat after impossible feat, but when he does it with such style, and to always amp-ing tune of Delta Rae’s “Bottom of the River,” it’s hard not to get on board…
Plus, what a pleasant surprise when those impossible feats ended up not resulting in a daring escape, but instead, in the much more subtle creation of an Oregon Trail within the prison pipes comprised of string, rats, and bribery. But, of course!
THE PAWNBROKERS NO. 146/147
Perhaps there was room for some extra panache in Red’s storyline because our Blacklisters this week are but a humble pair of married Methodist pawn store owners who remind Aram of the elderly couple that used to babysit him—y’know, if he swapped out oatmeal raisin cookies for massive amounts of cash that Rod and Delaine Uhlman front to criminals in exchange for “high value, ill-gotten gains” as collateral, which they sell to the highest bidder after 30 days if they’re not repaid in full with interest.
The Pawnbrokers are an assignment from a very much incarcerated Red, presumably to further prove to the judge in his upcoming trial that he is a valuable asset to the FBI, but as always, there’s a small possibility that the assignment might come with an ulterior motive—stay tuned for that. But, for now, Liz is shocked Red can give an assignment at all, given that he’s just been well and thoroughly beaten up when she goes to visit him. His arrival at prison commenced with immediately grabbing a seat beside the smallest, most unassuming inmate in the cafeteria, Vontae Jones (Coy Stewart): a scrawny kid in huge librarian glasses, clearly not looking for any trouble…
Unfortunately, Raymond Reddington sat down across from him.
Vontae attempts to give Red the lay of the land in between his unsolicited monologues, but while he’s talking about an inmate named Baldomero, who was locked up for robbing an armored truck and killing both guards, who should walk up, but Baldomero. Apparently, he’s a former acquaintance of Red’s, and when he takes Vontae’s lunchmeat, said acquaintanceship returns to being decidedly unfriendly. When Red demands an apology for the meat theft, Baldomero tell Red that he’ll be force-feeding him his lunchmeat later (???); Red tells Baldomero if he so much as looks at Vontae’s pimento loaf again, he’ll be sipping his dinner through a bendy straw; Baldomero beats the crap out of Red’s face…
And that’s how Lizzie finds him! Red’s new pal Vontae rightfully has some concern about Red meeting his intel that Baldomero plans on shanking Red in the yard the day after next with simply continuing to pull string after string from his bed sheets—but we know that look in Red’s eye. He’s got a plan. Red bids Vontae farewell with a request for pen and to see if he can identify who it is on the block that’s playing records, as he’d love to “buy, rent, or borrow” said player. Looks like there’s a new Dembe in town: a slightly different build, yes, but equally lovable.
Back in the free world, Ressler and Liz are staking out the Uhlmans’ pawn shop to see if anyone coming or going is a high-stakes criminal. Finally, Aram gets an I.D. on Tom Hardekopf; not a known criminal, but an MIT grad working at a tech firm, who secretly has a contract with the NSA.
Sophia Quail, a code breaker with the NSA shows up at the Post Office to tell them that Hardekopf wasn’t just any contractor: he’s been developing a decryption algorithm for the last four years to break the code used for Chinese diplomatic cables sent from Beijing to the embassy in D.C. Hardekopf’s completed decryption algorithm will be an immeasurable breakthrough for the NSA, and now it seems that he’s used it as collateral for a cash loan from the Uhlmans.
Next, we see Hardekopf entering an underground poker game with a $200,000 buy-in; we see Hardekopf go all-in; we see Hardekopf lose; we see the Uhlmans find out, shoot him in the stomach, and torch his car rather than wait out the remainder of the 30-day expiration date on his collateral. Which means, where the Post Office formerly had 30 days to help the NSA get their code algorithm back, they now have…well, next to no time, given that Aram hacked a webcam in the Uhlmans’ pawn shop and found out they’re already making arrangements to sell the code to the Chinese intelligence service, MSS
Ressler says there’s no way the Uhlman’s will tell the MSS specifically what’s on that drive until they have the money in hand, which means there’s still time to make a higher bid and keep the decryption algorithm a secret. It can’t come from the FBI or NSA, obviously, but perhaps—all heads swivel to Samar—from Mossad.
As the Task Force rushes to stop a valuable algorithm from being obtained by an opposing government, Red rushes to…do…something. He’s tying string together, he’s having Vontae collect secret lunch meat, he’s luring a rat out of the pipes in his room that he saw earlier in the episode. Because, as he tells Vontae while writing out a note and tying it to the rat along with an extreeeemely long string: “If this little fella found his way in, he can find his way back out.” Vontae earns aaaaall my love and respect when he pauses and then responds: “Are you insane!? Ain’t not message-in-a-bottle nonsense gonna work.”
And surely, it should not work. But he is Red, and this is The Blacklist, and so it does. An exterminator spraying outside the prison walls finds a rat in one of his traps that happens to have a note attached to its back reading, “Call this number and you will receive $10,000,” with a number that of course leads directly to Dembe.
Dembe delivers $10,000 in cash to the helpful exterminator, removes the string from the rat, ties it to a bottle along with a second string, and when Red pulls it back inside, he finds just what he’s been hoping for: a literal message in a bottle that reads, “What can I do? –D.” Even from inside prison, Red has his hand in every pot, including the Post Office’s current endeavor. Though Quail questions how loyal Samar could be to the U.S. as a Mossad agent, Aram sets her straight, and Samar heads into the pawn shop to double the MSS offer: “If you’ll take $2 million, then you’ll surely take $4.”
Indeed, the Uhlmans will, but retrieving the drive requires going to a second location, and since Samar couldn’t risk wearing a wire, she has to head out blind as the rest of the team tracks her phone. Cooper and Quail step out to make vague, cryptic calls to their higher-ups.
Ressler, Liz, and backup officers are able to get eyes on Samar and the Uhlmans as they prepare to make the switch. They have to be sure Samar has the briefcase with the drive inside before they storm the scene. But just as the switch is made, a van plows through the parking garage, shooting bullets in every direction, one making contact with Delaine Uhlman. A man jumps out of the car and grabs the case and Ressler shoots him, but another man snatches the case just as fast, and the van squeals out of the garage.
The man Ressler shot is quickly identified as an MSS agent, which means the FBI has to get to the Chinese embassy before the agents can take refuge there and see what’s on the drive. And just as their van pulls up to the embassy, and the gates begin to open—BOOM!—Ressler and Samar’s SUV T-bones the van, detaining the agents and the case. Back at the office, Quail tells Cooper, “I have to admit, your task force—whoever they are—they’re good.”
Hey, how ’bout whoever you are, lady?! Cooper has got you aaaaall figured out. He tells Quail that his team is indeed good, so he couldn’t figure out how MSS knew where to find Samar, the Uhlmans, and the NSA drive. That is until, on a hunch, he asked his team to go ahead and start using Hardekopf’s decryption algorithm to sort through those Chinese cables Quail was so excited to de-code, and wouldn’t ya know it? Her name was all over them. She was the one who called the MSS and told them where the drive was headed.
Was this a double-cross we needed? Nah. But Broadway star Donna Murphy was a pro in the role, and we did need the Post Office to bust the Uhlmans and their warehouse worth of past collateral goods criminals because—well, I’ll let Red explain it during a prison yard performance that should surely win him a spot in the prison talent show, if that is a thing this prison with record players and a pretty loose open-cell-door policy has…
In the yard, on the day that Red’s stabbing has been scheduled, Red struts up to Baldmero with Vontae by his side, and wonders aloud if Baldomero’s playmates and subordinates might like to know the truth: that Baldomero is awaiting trial—and talking a real big game—on a crime he didn’t actually commit. Red knows this because the men who knocked over the truck Baldomero is being charged with robbing, did it to pay a debt to Red. And since Red ultimately wouldn’t take the unlaundered cash attached to two dead guards, those men had to pawn all the contents of the truck…
Pawned contents that have now been found inside the Uhlman’s seized warehouse in Maryland, proving Baldomero’s innocence (of this crime, at least). Apparently, Baldomero was so willing to take the rap for a crime he didn’t commit because it meant he stayed safely inside jail, rather than on the outside where he is very much in the bad graces of Annunzio Ross, a man apparently known for “a long memory and a passion for vengeance.”
If you’re wondering if this is a rather lengthy soliloquy to be giving in a prison yard—it is!
But these prisoners have fantastic listener retention, and they remain rapt the whole time, seeming to ultimately come down on the side of believing Red. It helps that moments after Baldomero unsuccessfully attempts to stab Red, the warden arrives to tell him that his lawyer is there: “Something about you getting out.”
Later, Liz tells Red that she hopes this complicated plan was worth it, which is kind of a weird thing to say considering that it went off almost flawlessly and they caught, like, a bajillion criminals and one treasonous NSA agent in the process. Beyond that small amount of success, Red says he also managed to do what he has to do to “stay alive long enough to win my freedom back.” And it’s not like Baldomero is out there walking the streets: we see him immediately get stabbed inside a club bathroom, courtesy of Annunzio Ross.
Plus, Red isn’t just safe. He ends the episode strutting through the cafeteria with all eyes fearfully and/or adoringly on him, Vontae safely by his side, and a gifted record player waiting for him in his cell. As far as he knows, everything is turning up Red. But back at Lizzie’s apartment, Jennifer’s hacker friend has made one small discovery: he couldn’t recover the data that Red deleted from Koehler the plastic surgeon’s dossier, but he did manage to discover that his file names were coded using the patient intake dates…
October, 3rd, 1991: that’s when someone went under Dr. Koehler’s knife and came back out as Raymond Reddington.
A FEW LOOSE ENDS:
- Who knew three little numbers could break your heart so fast? Samar handled her undercover work with the Uhlmans like a boss, but when Delaine was shot, she’s the one who called 911. But every time she dialed, she got an error message instead of a 911 operator. When the camera shows her call log, we see that she’s been repeatedly dialing “119” instead, and by the end of the episode, Samar is reading the Wikipedia page for Aphasia: “the loss of ability to understand or express speech, caused by brain damage.”
- What’s going to happen to Samaaaaaaar?!
- The only thing making me feel a little bit better is the knowledge that Vontae and Dembe might one day meet and become best friends.
- “Vontae, may I offer you a bit of unsolicited advice?” “No.”
- The Blacklist recap: Liz drops a bomb of betrayal
- The Blacklist bosses on what Liz’s decision, Red’s ‘dangerous’ new situation means for season 6
- The Blacklist bosses tease ‘unusual’ start to season 6