By Jodi Walker
March 20, 2020 at 09:59 PM EDT
Virginia Sherwood/NBC

The Blacklist

S7 E11
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The Blacklist is back, baby! And Mr. Raymond Reddington is feeling himself in this midseason premiere.

One can imagine why: He believes that Katarina Rostova — or "the woman from Paris" as she is perhaps more accurately known — is dead. We, of course, know that said woman is not dead, and we know that Liz knows the same, given their tentative alliance at the end of December's midseason finale. Liz has also now shared with Ressler that the woman who is allegedly her mother is still alive, and I was relieved to hear her share the information; it makes me feel like she's at least she's distrustful enough of the situation to not keep it a total secret.

At least, that's the most optimistic angle from which to look at Liz aligning herself with someone who happily lied to and endangered her (and her child!) for months, then tied her to a pipe, shortly before faking her own death and disappearing. (Ahem, again.) Red, however, is burdened with no such baggage; with the knowledge that the woman who abducted him in Paris is dead, he's seems to be living life with a sort of unburdened giddiness that we haven't seen from him in… multiple seasons?

Our favorite crime-kingpin-with-a-heart-of-gold is thieving just for the thrill of it — siccing the Task Force on a Blacklister simply for some good old-fashioned monetary gain with no alternate agenda. There's not even a hidden agenda! And as a special treat for us — the audience — in these trying times, this week's Blacklister is a particularly easy criminal pill to swallow. She combines a number of my favorite Blacklister archetypes, including the Robin Hood-style avenger, and most importantly during these times of social distancing, she's not unleashing any kind of biological warfare.

Now, with the audience in need of a good distraction and Reddington blissfully ignorant, it's time to let the good times and million-dollar forgeries roll…

VICTORIA FENBERG, NO. 137

In the midseason return, we're greeted with a nice, long cold open filled with beloved characters having a rollicking good time. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the image of Dembe receiving a gorgeous scarf from Red for his birthday. But of course, there's little time to relax when you're Raymond Reddington, or Raymond Reddington's most beloved right-hand man. In the middle of Dembe's birthday dinner, Red gets a call that there's a potential buyer interested in his nesting casket. Now, I'm sure we are all familiar with nesting caskets, but just in case, I'll explain:

Some time ago, Reddington and five criminal colleagues stole a set of six golden caskets that fit into each other like Russian nesting dolls. But whereas matryoshka didn't appear on the scene until the 1800s, these Byzantine nesting caskets were forged in the 12th century, and are therefore absurdly valuable. At least, that's what Red explains to the man guarding his vault hidden in Ukraine, further guarded by a number of fingerprint scanners, inside of which sits this tiny stolen nesting casket (and also a pile of humorously large gold bricks).

Unfortunately, when Red and Dembe swing by to see their appraiser before meeting up with the larger-casket holders, the appraiser tells them that the itty-bitty nesting casket is worth "about as much as a politician's word." It's a fake, etched with modern tools, and since there was no sign of a break-in at Red's vault, it means the casket must have been a fake when he first stole it. And while the dollar signs do briefly shutter out of his eyeballs at this discovery, Reddington isn't exactly as downtrodden as one might expect at the loss of a multimillion-dollar black-market sale. That is, of course, because he has a secret weapon: the Post Office.

Red simply calls up Lizzie and tells her that there is a masterful counterfeiter roaming around out there, and given that forged and stolen art represents 10 percent of a market valued at over $50 billion, this admittedly selfish lead (the casket's counterfeiter, once found, can surely lead him to the real deal, after all) could be "the tip of an enormous iceberg" for the FBI.

And indeed, it is. Red informs the Post Office that he originally lifted his li'l casket from the Olympian Gallery, and he thinks if this person was able to forge one piece in that gallery, there could be other counterfeits inside. He even has a lead on a self-portrait that he suspects to also be a fake, and when the Post Office tips off the gallery, they confirm that it is. But they also know it wasn't a fake when it came into the gallery, which can only mean the original was somehow switched out with the forgery.

Reddington quickly tracks down the owner of the stolen original, buys him a martini and a seafood tower, gets the name of the appraiser who sold the stolen portrait, and shows up at his house while the man is taking a bubble bath. And now, as definitive proof that Reddington is living like a hooligan during this carefree, post-Katarina-era, I offer you this exchange:

The appraiser tells Red from the bath that it would be suicide to give up the forger who provides him with real pieces to sell on the black market. And at the point when Red might normally signal to Dembe holding up an aimed gun to signify that a suicide can, indeed, be arranged — he instead signals to Dembe, who is holding… a waffle iron… next to a man in a bathtub… and then proceeds to invite said man downstairs to enjoy some breakfast-as-dinner in his own home while they talk next steps.

The Task Force, for their part, are going about finding this art forger the old-fashioned way, a.k.a. without the threat of death-by-waffle-iron. They find out that the only time the Olympian Gallery hasn't been under constant surveillance was when a gasoline explosion briefly took out their security system. Some eagle-eyed watching of their security footage in the moments before and after the explosion shows that it was actually a rigged car that caused the explosion that day, and that car belongs to…

Richard Vitaris, a.k.a. the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the pharmaceutical company owned by the Fenbergs. And the Fenberg family just so happen to be the private owners of every single work of art that has thus far been proven to be counterfeit. Mr. Vitaris' lawsuit states that the Fenbergs' company knowingly misleads the public and the FDA on how addictive their drugs are, which ultimately led to his son becoming addicted to their pain medication, which he was prescribed after a simple football injury, and eventually overdosed on.

The thing is, we've been seeing Richard Vitaris in interspersed scenes, and we know that he's merely the trigger man for this operation. While he creates distractions and diversions, a woman comes in and replaces original art with flawless counterfeits of her own making. This woman also conveniently knows the key codes to access the Fabergé egg of a private collection in an office where everyone seems to know her…

And when the FBI goes to the Fenberg estate to warn Mr. and Mrs. Fenberg that someone is targeting their family's art, that very woman is revealed to be Victoria Fenberg, their only daughter and manager of the Fenberg art collection.

It seems that Victoria secretly agrees with Mr. Vitaris about her family's complicity in the death of his son, and has used the power she has in her standing within the family to secretly bankroll the lawsuit against them. She assures the FBI that all her family's art pieces have been authenticated while knowing full well that she's standing in front of the very painting that she intends to be the last switcheroo that will finally get Mr. Vitaris enough money to pursue this lawsuit with the same amount of power as his opponent: her own family.

Unfortunately for Victoria, now that the FBI is onto Vitaris' attack on the Fenberg family collection, their estate — where the final painting currently resides — is on full lockdown. But Mr. Vitaris isn't afraid of being caught, as he tells Victoria when she calls to tell him that they have to scrap their final heist: "How else do you think this ends? Me going home to my son? The only way to make sure others don't die like him is to see this through. And to do that — you're going to have to make the swap." Victoria agrees, and Mr. Vitaris thanks her for everything she's done. Then he shows up at the Fenberg estate disguised as one of the art movers, and at the moment the FBI tells the family they have reason to believe Vitaris is planning one final heist…

Mr. Vitaris deliberately runs into Liz, revealing himself to be the very man they're looking for, and causing enough of a commotion for Victoria to enter the house (her parents' house) alone and switch the real painting with her counterfeit, ensuring the class-action suit against her family will have enough money to at least have a fighting chance.

The Post Office later confirms the painting was somehow switched even though Vitaris never made it inside, but he insists he was working alone. When Victoria exits a visitation with Vitaris, however, Ressler is there waiting to tell her that he realized there were only three people on that property whose belongings the FBI didn't search: her mom, her dad… and her. Ressler knows it was Victoria Fenberg who was stealing from her own family, but he has no proof. Red doesn’t really have proof either, but he does have something else: waffle entrapment.

When Victoria arrives at her appraiser's house to sell the final painting, she finds he already has guests. "Miss Fenberg, care for a waffle?" Reddington asks. "They're buckwheat!"

By assuring Victoria that he's on her side with regard to using her father's spoils to bankrupt his own destruction, Reddington convinces her to tell him where she sold the authentic nesting casket (which was, in fact, her very first counterfeit). That brings Reddington to the home of a lovely art collector who is happy to show him around her not-so-secure art collection, which is how Reddington eventually ends up in a car with Elizabeth, showing her the real Byzantine deal.

Liz tells Red he thinks the casket is exquisite because of what he knows about it — "where it came from, who made it" — but she prefers her art to have more of an emotional connection. And this is where I tell you that earlier in the episode, Liz decided to play smart by playing dumb with him, and just flat-out ask Reddington if the woman from Paris was, in fact, her mother, even though she believes she already knows the truth on that matter. And when talk in the car turns to Katarina Rostova once more, Reddington reveals Victoria Fenberg to be my second favorite kind of Blacklister archetype, just after the Robin Hood Blacklister: the Parable Blacklister.

Though Red insists to Lizzie that he was simply in this casket quest for the cash, he makes room for a lesson here too. "I was convinced my casket was authentic, so it was nearly impossible to believe it wasn't," he tells her. "But it was a fake — and she was too."

And then Raymond Reddington heads on his merry way to sell his tiny casket for the price of a private island. But not before telling Liz not to worry — he'll be back in plenty of time for Agnes' ballet recital.

A FEW LOOSE ENDS

It's good to be back with you in the loving, sometimes tedious, often confusing, but blissfully distracting embrace of The Blacklist!

It is, however, bad to see that Aram is still in what feels like a highly suspect romantic entanglement. And not because Elodie is already married to a man in a vegetative state, but mostly because she has a suspicious number of questions about his previous cases, and a kink for breaking the law. Methinks an alternate spelling for Elodie might be T-R-O-U-B-L-E.

That sly smile Victoria gives after her father assures her that Mr. Vitaris' arrest is for the best, and she obediently responds, "I know, daddy"… <chef's kiss>

I also very much enjoyed Victoria's counterfeitin' kimono.

For posterity, Reddington's word-for-word response to Liz asking him if the woman from Paris was her mother: "A kindly woman comes into your life and takes an interest in you and your child? It's only natural for you to make that wish.… I know you don't want it to be true, Elizabeth, but your mother is gone."

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The Blacklist

James Spader returns as Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.
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