Dembe’s past love returns and a new threat looms over the Task Force.
The Blacklist - Season 2

Of all the relationships on this show, I am personally most invested in Red (James Spader) and Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq)'s. They love each other, but more importantly, they know each other — and are probably the only people left in their world who do. 

Yes, there's been bad times, but mutual respect and loyalty remain. So it's fitting that this week's Dembe-focused episode gives a little more insight into their dynamic alongside a revealing look into Dembe's past.

There's also a penny-pinching congressperson, but we'll get to that later.

The episode begins with Dr. Michael Albani (Cyrus Farmer) deeply disappointing his fiancé Aïssa Joachim (Zainab Jah) by explaining they'll have to skip the honeymoon so he can rush back to his Yemeni clinic post-wedding. Then he gets arrested by the military before she can finish reacting to his news. That's one way to get out of an argument, I guess?

Back at TFHQ, everyone is concerned that they've misplaced Red, who is clearly ignoring them. We know this because he's with Agnes (Sami Bray), keeping her company on a sick day. I'm on the record about hating our over-reliance on home surveillance tech, but you'd think FBI Agent Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) might have a Ring camera, if only to know when Red sneaks in. 

The Blacklist
'The Blacklist'
| Credit: Sony Pictures Television

Dembe gets a missed call from Aïssa and abruptly heads out without saying where he's going. This alarms Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff), who correctly points out, "Last time you ran out of here like this you got shot, captured, and tortured." Fair!

So who is Aïssa to Dembe? We travel to Marseille, France, in 1992 to find out. There, young college student Dembe (Emeka Anammah) keeps ordering wine even though he doesn't drink because a young Aissa (Sibongile Mlambo) is the comely bartender. 

Well, actually, he's at the bar to meet a contact for Red and deliver a package via swapped backpacks. But also the bartender. 

She makes him take her number, they date, they fall in love. She doesn't notice, for a while, that his job and mysterious friend/employer are a little more complicated than he lets on. They argue over The Double Life of Veronique (Aïssa prefers Point Break, which is a point in her favor). 

But push comes to shove when he arrives late for a dinner with police sirens in the background and a getaway car waiting outside. She refuses to leave with him, having figured out that "Raymond" must be a criminal. 

Dembe protests that it's more complicated than that. Red saved his life in Nairobi, and the police are after him for saving Red's life that same night.  "You have to understand," he says, "he was the most important person to me. Until I met you."

The Blacklist
'The Blacklist'
| Credit: Sony Pictures Television

It's so sweet and sincere and heartbreaking. He leaves alone. 

When he comes back almost three years later, she introduces him to his daughter. Firmly entrenched in Red's world, he still can't stay. 

So now we know: Aïssa is Isabella's mother, the love of Dembe's life, and the current fiancé of suspected terrorist/doctor without borders Michael Albani. 

Whew, that's a lot! Let's check back in with the Congress thing like I promised you earlier, as a little palate cleanser.

Congressperson Arthur Hudson (Toby Leonard Moore) is a member of the House Appropriation Subcommittee on Homeland Security. By combing through financial data, he's flagged a line item in the budget for an unofficial, off-the-books, really expensive task force.

Sen. Panabaker (Deirdre Lovejoy) alerts Cooper, Cooper alerts the Task Force. Their anonymity depends on delivering high enough profile targets that government officials don't ask questions, but with Reddington MIA, that well has dried up. 

Cooper is right to be worried. A little poking around into Hudson's background reveals that the congressperson is a stickler for the rules and an expert in finding out secrets. The last thing the Task Force needs is for anyone to aim a little sunshine at their shady informant. 

For now, all they can do is keep Malik (Anya Banerjee) watching Red's bathhouse and hoping he'll throw them a Blacklister soon.

Dembe is focused on other issues, namely, how his ex's fiancé got into this mess. Ressler finds out Albani is being accused of directing funds out of his clinic and to Houthi rebels. A Yemeni tribunal has already sentenced him to death, so there's a time crunch.

Like everyone who gets into trouble, Aïssa immediately asks Dembe to call Red. Dembe asks her for information, so she directs him to Dr. Jon Rapchinski (Paul Fitzgerald), the head of the NGO that Albani works for.

Ressler and Dembe visit Rapchinksi, who praises Albani and promises any help he can provide. Okay, so we know Rapchinski has to be the bad guy, right? Right. We're not amateurs here.

Dembe alerts Red by doing their version of a Bat-Signal, which is a chalk mark on a bridge pillar. When they talk, Red promises to help. Meanwhile, Ressler has discovered a fat bank account in Istanbul in Albani's name. 

Luckily, while studying the damning financial records with Dembe, Aïssa mentions a trip she and Albani took to Cypress that overlaps with a deposit in Turkey. Despite this information, the Yemeni government won't reconsider the execution. 

But not all is lost, because Rapchinksi has overplayed his hand. Not only has Ressler figured out that the director is the only person who could have made the banking deposits and withdrawals, but Rapchinksi booked a one-way ticket to Lebanon for that evening. 

Is Ressler the real hero of this episode?! Even I must admit it.

The Blacklist
'The Blacklist'
| Credit: Sony Pictures Television

While Dembe took the financial information back to the Task Force, Aïssa wasn't going to sit around and wait. That kind of go-gettedness is normally admirable, but unfortunately she's chosen to go to Rapchinksi and demand he get her a list of everyone who could have created the bank account. 

The villain tries to pretend he's doing the right thing, but when Aïssa sees the suitcase and passport ready to go, he realizes the jig is up. He begins to choke her.

Dembe and Ressler speed over, but we can tell they'll be too late. And yet! When they arrive, Aïssa is fine. Proving she's no fool, she had called a "friend" for help before confronting Rapchinski.

That "friend" is on his private jet. He's calling the right folks in Yemen to offer a nice swap: the good doctor in exchange for the bad doctor currently handcuffed on the plane with him. 

Later, Red calls Dembe to let him know that Albani has been freed and is on his way home. Dembe is grateful, but Red is troubled. He says that he would have understood if Dembe had chosen to stay with Aïssa in 1992. Dembe says "I know. I knew then, too." Red replies, "Good." 

Like I said up top, these two know each other. 

Coming home, Cooper discovers where his informant has spent most of the day. Agnes and Cooper talk about Red's odd behavior of late, which turns introspective when Agnes asks if Cooper loves Red (these men are her fathers now; it makes sense she wants them to be bonded). 

Cooper admits that in a way, he does love Red, even with all the worry he causes. The worry is a symptom of the caring. 

But are both men "soft and cuddly," as Agnes suggests? Maybe only for the people that they love. The ones they worry about.

The Back-list:

  • Dembe is excited to check out Debt: The First 5000 Years by David Graeber from the library. This book was published in 2011, so I have many questions. Why did the library not have the book already? Why hadn't Dembe already read it? Red pays his folks well, so why didn't Dembe already buy the book from a local bookstore (Dembe doesn't Amazon, I'd bet money on that)?
  • Arthur Hudson is not going to go away easily, I'd say. An honest politician? A rare and fun adversary for our Task Force. I can't wait for him to meet Red.
  • Ressler is delightful this week as he pumps Dembe for information about Aïssa. I love that the normally grouchy agent is secretly a gossip who just wants to know how weird it was to see your ex-girlfriend. 

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Episode Recaps

The Blacklist - Season 2
The Blacklist

James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.

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