The Blacklist recap: Murder mystery party
Here I was thinking that The Blacklist was simply giving us a bottle episode with a classic whodunit construct this week… and then, without any warning, the writers came out swinging at these already fragile heartstrings in the final five minutes of the episode.
Perhaps I could blame it on all the social distancing, but I found myself rather emotional watching the whole Post Office gang show up for Agnes and Liz at the most adorable little dance recital you ever did see. But even more than seeing a bunch of jacked FBI agents smiling sweetly to the tune of Swan Lake from the audience, it was what came after the recital that really got me going: when Liz spotted Reddington in the wings, watching his granddaughter's recital with a mysterious lady friend. When they spoke afterward, Liz reminded Red of something he once told her: that she deserved a bigger life than just dwelling in the past. The implication being that Red, too, deserved a bigger life than hiding in the shadows.
For better or for worse, however, neither Liz nor Red knows how to live a life outside of what their rather unique set of circumstances has forced them into. But they don't let that realization keep them down for long. Before Red leaves, Liz tells her maybe-dad: "Hey, we may not have bigger lives, but at least we have each other." It's quite sweet…
Until you recall that Liz is currently keeping a huge secret from Red (y'know, that her maybe-mom — maybe-Katarina-Rostova — is not actually dead) that hugely endangers him, and likely everyone she loves. And until that secret comes out, whatever semblance of an unburdened life Red thinks he's living is really just a blissful temporary ignorance of Lizzie's own making. But again, this existential Blacklist crisis doesn't come about until the last few minutes of the episode. Up until that point, we're basically bouncing around in The Blacklist's version of Clue.
That's right — it's a murder mystery party. And you better believe the butler did it.
CORNELIUS RUCK, NO. 155
At the end of last week, I thought we'd heard the end of Raymond Reddington's itty-bitty golden casket, because I foolishly assumed he would be raking in his millions off-camera as usual. But no! The caskets are very much still in the picture, and they just keep getting smaller.
My assumption is that this week's episode was originally supposed to air directly after last week's hour, making for a two-part midseason premiere, but with the current need to stretch programming out as much as possible, part 2 got pushed to this week. And that's all good, because it was a fun little hour on its own, plus it means one more week of fresh Blacklist as we stare down the barrel of lots and lots of reruns in our future.
Ahem, on a more positive note: This episode kicks off in a very James Bond fashion, with Red's plane landing on open water and him deboarding to a posh butler named Arthur holding a tray with a single glass of champagne. Red makes sure the butler knows that Dembe won't be staying, because there are apparently no "seconds" allowed on this super-secret island designated exclusively for super-secret meetings, where Red has arrived to meet his colleagues for the super-secret sale of their super-secret tiny caskets. At the house where the meetings will take place, he's greeted by the casket broker we heard talk of last week: Cassandra.
If you can believe it, Cassandra (Joely Richardson) is a gorgeous, towering blonde who gives very sensual cheek kisses and makes mention of some unfinished past with Reddington. But for now, things are all business. Gathered inside the mansion are the other four casket holders, whom we meet in flashy character moments. Annika is a security specialist who is doing a Naomi-Campbell-level wipe-down of all the rooms to make sure nothing has been bugged. Margo is a top-tier lock breaker testing her skills by picking six padlocks in under 30 seconds, with a shot of aquavit in between each one (it's like an analog version of that scene from Swordfish — you know the one). Then there's Mahmoud, the explosives specialist who's losing his hearing… and perhaps trying to gain another chance with Margo. And finally, Joko: a permanently grumpy gunman.
Together, these six people pulled off the casket heist three years ago, and now Cassandra says they're safe to make a sale to a buyer with a particular interest in Byzantine art. Joko flares up that they should be asking a higher price for the caskets; while the other five are all getting 18 percent, he's only getting 10 percent because he thinks everyone just sees him as a goon with a gun. In this tense moment, we get to see a different side of Red: a less flashy, more diplomatic side. Red calms Joko down by explaining that he's getting a smaller cut because he came into the deal late, not because they undervalue his contribution. But just like the rest of them, he has already accepted his cut, so they need to trust Cassandra's role as the architect of this deal.
They all present their variously sized caskets, but as Margo sets the final and smallest casket on the table…
She drops dead.
Well, there's some coughing and stuff first, but we really don't see much of how Margo dies — simply Red inspecting her body once they've placed her in the walk-in freezer. He finds busted blood vessels under her eyelids and fingernails, which leads him to believe she was poisoned. So at 2 a.m., after everyone has headed to bed, Red shows up at Cassandra's door — not to request some sexy time, but to sexily ask her to go downstairs and perform an amateur autopsy.
With knife, tongs, and ladle in hand, Cassandra and Red open Margo up and find that she was indeed poisoned. During said autopsy, they also manage to drop some exposition about the time they spent together in Marseille after a job, where Cassandra decided to leave her former life behind to run away with Reddington, and she thought that plan was mutual. "I was going to," Red tells her. "Until I found out we took nearly $40 million from that vault, not 30. You're either very bad at math or very good at lying." Cassandra counters that she took the extra money because she sensed he had already left her behind, but there's not a ton of time for sorting out relationship equity because Joko has just been found in his room by following a trail of his severed fingers.
Annika starts panicking while trying to figure out how to get off the island in the middle of a storm, takes a hit of her inhaler, and drops dead too. Naturally, Mahmoud uses his explosive skills to blow the door on the safe where the island staff stored their guns because he assumes Cassandra brought them there to kill them off one by one. It's a pretty fair assumption, all homicides considered, but when Mahmoud winds up turning the gun on Red, Red shoots him on the spot.
Then there were two. And given her previous lies for money, Red is no longer so trusting of Cassandra. She swears to him that she's not the one killing their friends — but she does know who is. Well, sort of.
In a rather long bit of exposition, Cassandra explains that she brought them all to this island because she cut a deal with the FBI after being caught in the middle of another underground sale. But she swears she wasn't giving up the other five casket holders. The government was interested in something else: the caskets themselves. Apparently, one of the archeologists who found the caskets was actually a CIA agent using the dig as his cover to meet with Turkish sources and identify American operatives working inside the Turkish government. But the Turks figured this out before he was able to leave the country, and the CIA agent was killed…
But not before he hid a microdot containing a list of the American operatives on the surface of one of the nesting caskets. The Smithsonian was sponsoring the dig, so he knew he could get the intel back to America if he put it on one of the caskets, but then the caskets were stolen. So when Cassandra was caught by the FBI, she ultimately brokered this deal to hand the caskets over so the CIA could secure their intel, and the six criminals comprising the Casket Crew would still walk free. "Then it went sideways," Cassandra finishes.
"It went sideways because they weren't CIA agents," Red tells her after taking all this in. "They lied to you — and we won't know why until we read that microdot."
Knowing there are enemies on the island, Cassandra and Red sneak off to a barn, where Cassandra busts out the caskets and Red busts out yet another amateur skill: microscope making. Apparently his dad was a lover of the lens! With nothing but a phone, a pair of binoculars, and some tape, Red fashions a microscope they can use to identify the microdot. And in a happy accident, a lone Turkish operative stumbles upon them in the barn, so they hold him at gunpoint until he admits the CIA agent told them the microdot was on the smallest casket before they killed him.
Indeed it is, and once found, the list doesn’t name American operatives inside the Turkish government — it names Turkish assets inside the American government. Which is why this crew of mystery Turkish murderers are so eager to get their hands on it. As Red soon realizes, they're being led by a finder named Cornelius Ruck, a.k.a. Arthur the butler. "Cassandra, do you realize what this means?" Reddington asks…
"The butler did it."
And so begins the game of cat-and-mouse where Red and Cassandra singlehandedly (doublehandedly?) take down a team of men armed with assault rifles using only one handgun, a few cans of gasoline, and — I kid you not — the snapped-off bill of a taxidermied swordfish.
Once everyone is defeated and all six caskets are safely in Cassandra and Red's possession, they walk off into the sunrise arm-in-arm. Reddington's plane returns to pick them up, and they head straight to Red's appraiser's office to find out how much money they're about to make. "This calls for a celebration — in the south of France, perhaps," Red proposes. Cassandra knew about Red's obligation to Lizzie in the past, but now Red tells her that his obligation to watch over Liz has been fulfilled. Of course, there is one thing he still has left to do before he and Cassandra can try out Marseille part deux…
Little Agnes' recital, of course! And Red brings Cassandra to the recital with him, which seems… significant. But as Cassandra watches Red watch Agnes, she realizes that Red is not the free agent he claims to be. "You may have come into her life out of obligation," she tells him sweetly as she turns to leave. "But you're staying in it for love."
A FEW LOOSE ENDS
- Indeed he is, and given Liz's outpouring of affection as described at the top of the recap, she seems to have also lost no love for Red, so… when is she going to tell him her extremely dangerous secret???
- I know it was island rules, but sending Dembe away at the top of the episode is just asking for it.
- RIP the Casket Crew — they really were a motley bunch.