The Blacklist recap: A cargo crate of lies
What better time than the present for a little Blacklist closure? We've known something was up with Aram's high-octane girlfriend Elodie for quite some time, and now we know what (spoiler alert: she's a stone-cold, high-octane murderer). And we've known something was up with Agent Park's past from the moment she joined the Task Force. And now, thanks to some classic well-intentioned Reddington scheming, we also know what.
Looking back, the latter half of season 7 has felt like a return to classic Reddington scheming in more ways than one. Three out of four cold opens have featured Red and Dembe just out and about, checking in on their various active crimes, and coloring in more of the Reddington-criminal-empire canon than we've been privy to in quite some time. And frankly, it's been a relief to find that the crimes keeping Red flush with private planes and ever so many warehouspitals are ultimately as wholesome as your run-of-the-mill tritium tradin' and whale-vomit sales.
And the simple fun of these Reddington storylines the last few weeks has cleared the way to explore our trusty Task Force agents a little more, revealing the deeper ties that bind them all together as a team. After all, Red and Lizzie's connection may get the bulk of the plot attention — what with the Russian spies, and burn scars, and bags-o-bones always lurking around every corner — but they're not the only ones with skeletons in their backstories. As Liz says to Cooper at the end of the episode, with the implications of the past, present, and future written between her every word: "When it comes to family…it's complicated."
Put it on next season's poster—we got ourselves a tagline, baby!
The episode opens with Red and Dembe tracking a shipment of some kind on the southern coast of Alaska. But when they get to where their GPS tracker says the shipment should be, there's nothing to be found…
Until they look to the body of water behind them where, just barely visible beneath the surface, are three shipping containers. Apparently, all the cargo inside them is missing, along with Reddington's drivers. As Red tells Liz later, the cargo was taken in an area of Alaska known as the "Alaskan Triangle" because it's estimated that around 16,000 people have disappeared there over the last 50 years. "I don't want you to find my trucks," Reddington says. "I want you to solve one of life's greatest mysteries."
Sure, sounds easy enough! Back at the Post Office, Agent Park confirms that the Alaskan Triangle disappearances are much more than a myth. As you'll recall, Agent Park is from Alaska and worked at the Anchorage field office after Quantico even though she could have had her choice of placements. We know that Park explained the reasoning for her secret Alaskan past and sudden departure to Liz earlier in the season, but we still don't know the content of that explanation. According to the response Agent Park receives when she arrives at the Anchorage field office per Cooper's instructions…it's not good.
"You and I had an agreement," Park's former director says the minute she walks through the door. Their agreement was apparently that Park would never return there, but Park promises she's only come for a case and not "to look for him." The director tells her that better not be the reason, because she won't protect her again.
Well, color me intrigued. Especially once Liz and Ressler go to question the port manager who dispatched all three stolen cargo crates, and he shoots at them with a shotgun. Ressler winds up killing him in the resulting shootout, which is how they find a room full of computers in his otherwise rickety cabin. Within those hard drives, they find the likely next target: an arriving cargo container carrying $14 million in German pharmaceuticals. Agent Park says they might have an opportunity to catch whoever it is that's been stealing cargo and disappearing people all over the Alaskan Triangle if they just let the pharmaceutical crate get shipped out as planned…and stolen as planned…with her in the driver's seat.
"We're the FBI, we're supposed to stop crimes, not facilitate them," the Anchorage field office director growls at Park, and it's almost adorable to hear her say that to this particular Task Force. Facilitating crime in the name of stopping crime is what these guys do best—and do it they will. But as usual, they will do it in the most convoluted way possible…
Park drives the semi-truck they're anticipating being stolen with Ressler and Liz tailing her in a car, and absolutely no other back-up. They're on the road for hours with no signs of trouble, and just when they're about to conclude that the Alaskan Triangle thieves have already been tipped off, Park encounters an accident on the road. She's still able to get through, but when Liz and Ressler arrive, the medics are also arriving so they hang back to make sure their assistance isn't needed…y'know, in the middle of their undercover mission. And wouldn't you know it, when they get to the weigh station where they were supposed to meet Park, she's not there, and her earpiece is on the ground.
The men who took Park throw her into a cargo crate at what appears to be a makeshift campsite. But the cargo crate already has an occupant: a man in a short-sleeve shirt who looks like he's about freeze to death, and who swears he doesn’t know why he's there. Park asks what he was hauling when they hijacked him, but he says he was being hauled. He was abducted and thrown in the back of a truck, and that truck was then hijacked, but he swears he doesn’t know why.
So, naturally, Agent Park introduces herself to this strange man by her full name and occupation, plus an additional cryptic identifier: "Well, Mr. Nobody, I'll let you in on a little secret — I died once in Alaska, and I didn't come back to do it again." It's a bold line with not a lot of promise to back it up considering they're locked in a cargo crate.
Luckily, Red has made a little headway in identifying their captors. He follows the trail of some of his stolen cargo to Italy, where he shows up at a perfumery and pulls out all the dramatic stops. Telling the perfumer he's heard about his newest scent, he's allowed a sniff in which he correctly identifies as having an "almost bottomless bottom." He asks if it's ambergris he's detecting, and when the perfumer confirms it is, Reddington tells him he recently had a $3 million shipment of ambergris stolen in Alaska, and starts breaking bottles until the man tells him who supplied him with the ambergris…
Ambergris is, of course, whale excretion; I do not recommend googling it.
Reddinton informs the Task Force that they're looking for Twamie Ullulaq, the man we've now seen questioning the connection between Agent Park and the other man, saying their dual-arrival can't be a coincidence. Reddington tells the Task Force that Twamie is a native Alaskan who the U.S. Military trained in counter-terrorism, and then mockingly encourages Coper to tell the rest. Apparently, during the Cold War, the military was concerned they couldn't defend Alaska, so they trained and armed local volunteer civilians in exchange for land upon which the government promised to build housing and schools. "And when the Red Scare ended, so did that commitment," Red finishes for him. "Imagine that—your government breaking its promise to indigenous people."
So for the last 50 years or so, Twamie has been using the land that was granted but never completed to…disappear stolen cargo, I guess? Honestly, the inner workings of Twamie's operation are never made totally clear, because that's not actually the main focus of this episode. The meat of it is what's happening inside the cargo crate prison where, after Agent Park single-handedly takes down Twamie's lackey, finds said lackey's gun still being pointed at her…by her fellow prisoner. "I know you blame me for what happened, but I didn't kill her," the man says to a confused Park. "It looks like you did come back here to die."
A look of understanding comes over Park's face: "Lussier?" This is the man that Park got herself in trouble looking for during her time at the Anchorage field office, but we still don't understand why. He handcuffs her to the cargo container and prepares to set out on his own, but Park tells him that he's a junkie with no clue how to get out of the surrounding woods — he needs her. So they sneak out together, agreeing that Lussier will carry the gun and Park will carry the bullets. However, they didn't agree upon a plan if Lussier stepped into a bear trap, which is exactly what happens.
Park gives him back the bullets, and heads off to look for help, but soon she's being marched back by Twamie's man that was sent to look for the escapees. And just as the man is about to shoot Park because word has reached them that the FBI are on their way, the FBI arrives. Liz shoots the man pointing the gun at Park, and when he suddenly pops back up a few moments later, Lussier takes him down completely, saving Park's life.
And now, through a series of explanations given to Liz, and then Agent Cooper, we finally get to find out who this man is to Agent Park. Lussier was her mother's boyfriend; they were both addicted to heroin in Park's childhood, and she has long blamed him for her mother's death. That's why she took a job at the Anchorage field office: to hunt him using a number of highly non-FBI-certified methods; so many, that her director agreed to cover them up as long as she never returned.
But it's when Park shows up at Reddington's lair (the one where he's been preparing Alaskan salmon for, like, six days) that we find out how all of this has really affected Park. Because, of course, Reddington is the reason Lussier was in that cargo container in the first place. "I intended on bringing you together, yes, but by abducting him, not you," he tells her. "That was unforeseen." He tells Park that his world is full of people seeking revenge but he doesn't see that inside her: "I see a smart capable young woman, filled with self-loathing...and I think if you have a debt to settle, perhaps it's with yourself."
Finally relenting, Agent Park explains to Reddington that Lussier and her mother were addicts, and she understands now that they were helpless to help each other — and as a seven-year-old, she was helpless too. In a flashback, we see that after Lussier left her mother, she went into withdrawl, and little Agent Park — Elena — only knew that her mother was suffering. So when her mother asked her for help, she gave it. She didn't know that she was giving her a lethal dose of heroin. It was easier to blame Lussier for her mother's death than herself — but harder still to blame no one, and simply face the helplessness of the situation. Red's intervention seems to help quite a bit with that, so as usual, his methods are messy as hell, but the work.
Later, when Cooper asks Liz why she didn't tell him what she knew about Park, she says that it was because she didn't think anything needed to be done about it. She says that they know when it comes to family, it's complicated. "And in a situation like this," Liz says: "I think we should give everyone the benefit of the doubt." But just like her maybe-dad, Lizzie can be a little over-the-top. Because when it comes to love, sometimes too much benefit can be given to far too much doubt. For example: Aram continuing to excuse Elodie's red flags.
But after finding the prenup she lied to him about in the last episode, he's finally had enough and asks Reddington for help finding out if Elodie killed her husband. Reddington tells Aram to get a sample of the dead husband's blood, and he can give him a definitive answer. But while Aram waits for the results, he uncovers much more on his own: he sees a man leaving Elodie's apartment that he recognizes from the Les Fleurs du Mal event where they originally went undercover…
As it turns out, Elodie's husband wasn't the one who first took an interest in the Fleurs du Mal dangerous events, Elodie was. The man exiting her house was the inventor of the violent mechanisms that nearly killed Charles, and later, Elodie. But Charles was supposed to be killed by Les Fleurs du Mal all along, because Elodie paid to make it happen. And in the undercover follow-up mission Elodie was always meant to barely escape death because it was all designed to lure Aram into her orbit. So that she could, in his words, "seduce me into giving you a murder weapon" in the form of one of the Blacklisters she was always asking him about.
"Do you understand these rights I've just read to you," Aram asks as he arrests Elodie for the murder of her husband, both attempted and finally successful, as Reddington's report confirms.
"No, I don't understand it at all," Elodie responds as she's taken away by officers.
"Neither do I," Aram says sadly to the closing elevator doors.
A FEW LOOSE ENDS
- And honestly, neither do I! While I enjoyed the high-drama of this storyline, I don't really understand why this had to happen to Aram, and also…Elodie could have finished her husband off pretty easily without Aram's access to Blacklisters, right???
- Is there a suggestion that Reddington's results were incorrect, and Aram made a mistake in taking the Fleurs du Mal man's word over the word of the woman he loved? Do I just dislike Elodie so much that I'm blind to what any of this means?
- I did, however, quite like the rollout of Park's personalized storyline: slowly, and then all at once. I also thought it was a really lovely performance by Laura Sohn.
- Still, I simply must pick one nit: you're telling me Park risked her career on hunting this man for years, and she didn't know what he looked like???
- Remember when Ressler used to get kidnapped all the time? Oh, those were the days! I guess Park's our escape artist now…
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.