The Blacklist recap: The grand illusion of Katarina Rostova
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I’m going to call this episode of The Blacklist “A Serene Imposer.” Both because it’s an anagram for “season premiere” and because it kind of describes Katarina Rostova: the forceful presence driving us into season 7 of The Blacklist, and the quiet enigma underlying most of the complications in Elizabeth Keen’s tumultuous life.
For the record, “A Messier Reopen” was a perhaps slightly more apt but definitely less positive spin on the anagram. (And “Sir Enema Repose” was the third option, so I know these aren’t great, but rest assured that they could have been much worse.)
As we head into season 7, now more than ever I am craving some definitive answers from The Blacklist. It seems that the closer we get to learning the truth about Elizabeth Keen’s past, the more deserved that truth feels. Especially given the headway we made toward some legitimate clarity in season 6: Lizzie learned that Raymond Reddington is her (probably, maybe) biological father, that the man she’s known as Raymond Reddington for the last six years has been an imposter all along, and that her mother, Katarina Rostova, helped that imposter, Ilya Koslov, assume Reddington’s identity after Li’l Lizzie shot her real father and he was left for dead in a house fire.
Sure there’s the caveat that none of those reveals can be fully trusted because most of them have come from unreliable narrators with unclear motives, especially anything Ilya-related, but the fact of the matter is this story has really gained some momentum recently, and I’m afraid I won’t take kindly to a slowdown.
We entered this premiere already knowing that Katarina is alive and had Reddington abducted for unknown reasons, and we leave it knowing the exact same thing. It certainly softens the blow of an uninformative premiere if it features a brand-spankin’-new addition to the Blacklist warehousepital™ canon: a fake French warehouse-hospital, heretofore known as… warefauxspital™. But still, by the end of the episode I found myself comparing the season 7 premiere to its titular Blacklister: a very impressive illusion.
LOUIS T. STEINHIL, NO. 27
The episode opens with Aram helping Liz screen nanny applicants via deep-dive background checks that reveal everyone has some debt problem or glovebox full of parking tickets they’re not including on their resume. (To me, these issues would not necessarily preclude someone from being a nanny, but only the best for Spy Baby Agnes, I guess.) “Is it just me, or does it seem like everybody has a skeleton in the closet?” Liz asks. Pay attention to that idea — it’s a well-documented theme throughout the episode.
Particularly for Liz, who has a Kardashian-sized walk-in full of skeletons, a few of which she has to divulge to Cooper and Aram — like the fact that she turned Reddinton in to the police last year in order to find out his true identity, which turned out to be that of a former KGB agent whom she has allowed to continue working intimately with them at the FBI, oops — once Dembe calls from Paris to say that Red has been taken.
After last seeing him syringed by Katarina Rostova in the season 6 finale, we now find Red waking up in a French hospital, being told by a doctor that he was found beaten within an inch of his life and that he’s recovering from emergency spinal fusion surgery — that’s why he can’t feel anything below his waist. Though Red later notes that this isn’t the first time he’s been paralyzed, it’s still a concerning position to be in. Especially once he meets Inspector Oban, the French detective who tells Reddington that he needs to be told everything Red knows about Katarina Rostova before he’ll even consider releasing him back to the United States.
Reddington gives Inspector Oban a telephone number for his lawyer, Marvin Gerard, that winds up being a direct line to the Post Office; Cooper plays it reeeeal cool when he answers, telling Oban that the FBI has captured Marvin Gerard, and they’ve got a tap on all his lines. Cooper says they’ve been chasing Reddington and they’ll need to extradite him back to the U.S. immediately, so Oban begrudgingly arranges for a meeting with an attaché at the French Embassy.
That attaché meets Cooper outside the embassy and guides him to a park so they can be away from listening ears. Or, y’know, because he’s not actually an attaché, and he works for whoever is currently holding Reddinton captive. As we find out via a fantastic tracking shot of Inspector Oban storming out of Red’s hospital room because he’s frustrated by the personal attention Cooper seems to be paying to getting Red extradited…
This is no hospital at all. Oban storms through the hospital hall, into the hospital elevator, and right through the elevator wall, which open up to reveal what looks like a makeshift television studio. There are prop walls and people in nurse’s costumes easting craft services, and television monitors where Katarina Rostova can keep an eye on Reddington. Because Red isn’t in a hospital and isn’t even in Paris — he’s in a warehouse in Annapolis that’s been dressed up like a hospital. And as the Post Office gang soon finds out after a second visit to the French embassy, the man Cooper originally thought was an attaché was in fact hired by someone named Louis T. Steinhil.
It’s an anagram for “The Illusionist,” the fake-attaché tells the FBI — how dramatic! Creating elaborate illusions is apparently Steinhil’s specialty. Like, say, an illusion that he’s a French inspector investigating Katarina Rostova, when in fact he’s been hired by Katarina Rostova to get information out of Reddington. What information is still unclear, given that the only thing Oban/Steinhil ever asks Red is what he knows about Katarina, and Red won’t say anything about Katarina except that she’s an illusion because he’s protecting her…
It’s really not a great plan, or at least not a clear one, especially given that Reddington’s Very Special Skill is always being able to see three steps ahead.
Red nicks a phone from an orderly’s pocket, and while trying to break the password notices the photo on the lockscreen features the orderly at a Washington Nationals game — not very French. A closer peak at the fake buildings he can see through his windows, and Red is able to figure out that this is a setup at about the same time Aram is tracing the other wire transfers from the shell corporation that paid the attaché actor, and realizing Red is likely being kept in a warefauxspital™ in Annapolis.
But Red has already come up with his own plan for escape: blinding the security camera with the glare from the radio screen, asking his nurse to turn the music all the way up, then muscling a syringe away from her, holding it to her neck and demanding to know the truth of what’s going on. She tells him that he didn’t really have surgery, and he’s not really paralyzed; they’ve been giving him epidurals to keep him partially immobilized at the instruction of a mysterious Russian woman.
This is all done to the tune of some wonderfully jazzy French music, which makes it all the more dramatic when the nurse suddenly lunges for a first aid kit…
Which of course contains a gun, which of course Red is able to wrestle away from her and tuck under his legs in his wheelchair so he can force her to cooperate when the other nurses come in to check on the blocked security camera. She tells them that she was just giving Reddington his next dose of meds, and Red says he’d like to speak to Inspector Oban — he has something important to tell him.
That something winds up being the iconic line: “The next time you want to convince me I’ve broken my spine, you damn well better break my spine.” The paralyzing agents have worn off, and with the help of the nurse blockading the door and his gun, Red shoots Oban/Steinhil up with ketamine and rockets through the fake window of his hospital room. He manages to make his way through the studio before anyone catches on, but since he’s hobbling around the alleys of Annapolis, Katarina and her many, many cars full of men catch up with him easily.
Soon Katarina has Red strung up to a chain-link fence inside a different warehouse, and has the nurse who aided in his escape begin draining blood from his body: “I went to great lengths to only pretend to hurt you, but we’re past that now, Raymond,” she tells him. “I can assure you that before we’re finished, you’re going to tell me everything that I want to know.”
A FEW LOOSE ENDS
Indeed, I do feel assured that we’re not quite finished yet. This premiere was part one of a two-part “Louis T. Steinhil” series, so I remain optimistic that answers are on the way about what the hell is going on with Katarina. But I just have to state one more time for the record: This lady has not actually asked Red anything yet. So why is she so big-mad that he hasn’t told her anything???
We do find out via Steinhil’s questioning of Red that the Townsend Initiative mentioned in the season 6 finale is believed to be — at least by Katarina — “a standing order to kill Rostova that is very much in play.”
When Red refuses to tell Oban/Steinhil anything about Rostova, he justifies his protection of her by saying, “Some people in this word are soulmates — Katarina and I shared one. Betraying her would be like betraying myself.” Uh, what’s that about sharing?
Okay, one more thing about the enigma that is Katarina: Is it a little weird that when they don’t know her name, people still always identify Katarina as a Russian woman… even though she has no discernible Russian accent? Am I missing something??
Liz spends much of this episode explaining the new information she’s gained about Reddington to her out-of-the-loop co-workers, and then having to tell them why she remains just as committed to him now that she knows he’s not her father. “I was no one to him, the illegitimate daughter of a childhood friend,” she tells Cooper. “And he devoted his whole life to me. Do you know anyone else who would do that? Because I don’t.”
I hope Liz holds on to that sentiment, because methinks some things are about to get revealed now that Red and Katarina are face to face, and with the Post Office right on their tails. Welcome to season 7, folks — sound off in the comments!