Agent Ressler teams up with his sibling to dig up a skeleton from their past, complete with signature Blacklist flashbacks.

By Jodi Walker
May 01, 2020 at 09:54 PM EDT
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Here I was thinking the Ressler brothers flashback hour would simply be a fun little bottle episode where we'd learn that yet another member of the Task Force is pathologically fueled by the death of a parent, plus one itty bitty murder during their adolescence. But no! The Blacklist had to go and rip my heart apart right there at the end by zooming out to show us the bigger picture outside the bottle.

Because when a show has been on this long — or rather, when a fictional FBI special task force has been working together this long — there's simply no separating one part from the whole. It was a little odd to hear Lizzie finally speak truth to the shambles that her life has come to during what was ostensibly the Ressler episode, but sometimes it takes almost losing someone to realize just how valuable they are to your livelihood. And if this episode drove one thing home, it's that there is no Blacklist without Ressler. Because there is no Lizzie without Ressler, and there is no Reddington without Lizzie, and there is no Blacklist without Reddington. Everything is connected, and I found it rather moving to hear Lizzie vulnerably state that to her friend and partner in no uncertain terms.

Even if she did cover up a murder in the process. It's basically a drop in the bucket at this point anyway.

Virginia Sherwood/NBC

BROTHERS

I like Ressler as the straightforward cop of the Task Force: no messy romantic entanglements, any hints at a pill problem long forgotten, all interoffice relationships strictly (probably) platonic. So while I wasn't necessarily clamoring for a Ressler flashback episode, the second that title popped up without a Blacklister number? Oh yeah, I was all the way in.

At the end of last week's episode, we saw Ressler's older brother, Robbie (Anthony Michael Hall, perfectly cast) show up in D.C.; together, they make up the titular brothers of this episode. The cold open puts us in 1995 Detroit, where two cops are chasing a criminal. They split up, and the criminal ends up shooting one of the detectives, calling out, "I got him, I got him" to… someone. The other detective runs from around the corner, sees the criminal standing there, shoots him without a word, then calls the shooting in on his radio: "Ressler's been hit." He leans down to his partner and says, "I told you to take the money, Bob, like the rest of us did. I'll look after Lisa and the boys."

Oh yes, that was Ressler's father who just got killed by a crooked cop, and we've got ourselves an origin story, folks. In flashback we see the Ressler boys as older teenagers, sitting around the kitchen table, seeming to have opposite personalities than we know them to have now: Robbie is wearing a Police Academy T-shirt, scolding his younger brother for skipping class and smoking weed with his friends. The doorbell rings, and it's the crooked partner, Tommy Markin, there to tell Mrs. Ressler her husband was shot and killed on duty.

In the present, Ressler and Robbie are 15 miles outside of Detroit, driving back to their childhood home. At the end of last week's episode, Robbie told Ressler a field near their house was being dug up that week, including everything "buried underneath it." So, y'know, that had some implications. And after Ressler navigates an impromptu party full of redheads that his mother threw for his long-awaited return home, we find out that those implications were exactly as unsubtle as they seemed.

At the wake for Ressler's father, while getting drunk in his car, young Ressler overhears Tommy Markin talking on his phone outside: "It's cleaned up, just heard from forensics. No further investigation, just a good shooting. We're safe." Young Ressler is sure that Markin got his father killed on purpose, but Robbie doesn't want to hear it. He tells his little brother that their father trusted Markin, and they should too, not to mention that little Donnie was drunk at the time he overheard the shady conversation. "Maybe we could prove it, like on TV!" Ressler shouts (#meta), insisting that he can get the evidence they need. But Robbie tells him to knock it off and behave before he makes things any harder on their mom.

The next time we see the formerly rebellious young Donald Ressler, he's breaking into Markin's house and rifling through his files to find proof that he's dirty. Markin comes downstairs immediately because Ressler is not being very sneaky (honestly, is he ever?). He tells Markin he knows he had something to do with his father's death, and he's going to turn him into the cops. "I am the cops," Markin replies menacingly. Ressler pulls out his father's gun.

"You think you're tough?" Markin sneers, being quite rude for someone who recently killed this kid's dad. "Your father was tough, your brother's tough — you don't even have the balls."

BOOM! Ressler shoots Markin, and I can't say I'm too mad about it, although it does proceed to haunt him — and especially Robbie — for the next 25 years of their lives. Because Ressler of course calls Robbie after shooting Markin, knowing his older brother will tell him what to do. But he seems surprised when Robbie tells him to go home, put the gun back where he found it, and forget this ever happened. And now I am a little mad at current Ressler, because he's always rolling his eyes at what a screwup his older brother is, when it turns out that very same older brother covered up a murder for him.

Robbie buries Markin's body in the empty field that we now know is about to be dug up to make room for condos. So the night Ressler arrives back in Detroit, he and Robbie sneak out to the field and dig up Markin's bones, including his badge, which Robbie buried alongside the body. But as they're putting Markin's remains in Robbie's trunk, we see that there are two other shifty men at this construction site, watching them. As the brothers wipe down their shovels at a second location, preparing to throw them in a random dumpster, Ressler tells Robbie he's sorry he's been so hard on him: "I was a prick when we were younger, and I'm the reason we're taking care of this now, but you had my back."

"Of course I did," Robbie tells him. "You're my brother."

If only it could be like this forever! Instead, the Ressler brothers hear an engine turn, and run out to find that the men we saw earlier at the construction site are stealing Robbie's car. As it turns out, Robbie's garage hasn't been doing as well as he's been telling their mother it has, so he borrowed $50,000 from a local mob boss. Now it's been six months and he owes $150,000 with interest, so the mobsters just took what he put up as collateral: his car. Y'know, the car with the dead body of a cop in the trunk, complete with police badge for handy identification.

The mob boss, Jakov Mitko, calls Ressler at the bar where Robbie is telling him all this, and says he has Robbie's car and its very special cargo, so it would be a good idea if the Ressler brothers swung by his greenhouse. Once there, Mitko tells him that everyone thought he was crazy for loaning money to a man with an FBI agent brother, but he thought it could prove beneficial — and it has. Mitko tells Ressler that if he goes to the Detroit FBI field office and retrieves one file for him from Department 12, then he'll give them back the car and the cargo, and even forgive Robbie's debt for good measure.

Seems easy enough, except as Ressler tells Robbie after he punches him, Department 12 is where undercover officers file their sealed reports, so whatever file Ressler hands over to Mitko would most definitely be getting someone killed. Ressler is still planning to do it, but Robbie says no: He'll take full responsibility for the body in the car because Ressler isn't alone in this mess. In flashback we see that when young Robbie went to bury the body, Markin regained consciousness. Ressler hadn't actually killed him when he shot him. "In that moment, I suddenly had this clear thought," Robbie tells his brother in the present: "I knew I was the only person who could protect you, Donnie — from Tommy Markin, and anybody else like him who might come along."

Robbie hit Markin with the shovel, killing him for good, and went through with burying his body.

Which brings us back to now. Robbie never told his brother that he had to finish killing Markin, because he knew how that would weigh on Ressler, and he says he doesn’t regret not telling him. "It did exactly what I thought it would do — it made you the person you are today." Robbie says he'll turn himself in for Markin's body so that Ressler doesn’t have to steal the file, but Ressler says they'll turn themselves in together. "I left you alone once to clean up a mess; I'm not gonna leave you alone again."

The next time we see Ressler, it seems like he's confessing, but when the camera turns, it's revealed that he called Lizzie to Detroit. He's telling her the full details of what happened with Markin, and now Mitko, because he knows she'll take on the case and do the right thing.

Which is patently absurd — our girl's principles are looser than a goose! Lizzie tries over and over again to talk Ressler out of turning himself in, but he refuses. He wants to catch Mitko in the act of theft and extortion so he can get his gang put away for good, and then he and Robbie will come clean about what they've done when Mitko inevitably rats out the body in Robbie's car. We see in flashback that while Ressler Sr.'s death and the resulting Markin murder were what made Robbie head down a rough path, they're also what made Ressler join the FBI. In his eulogy for his father, young Ressler says that now he has a path to follow: "A path that shows me how to grow up right, how to stay out of trouble — how to be good, like him."

Liz begrudgingly agrees to Ressler's plan and runs point on sending Ressler and Robbie undercover to hand over the file to Mitko. In return, he gives Ressler back Markin's badge, but just as Mitko is telling Ressler he intends to extort him into doing more shady undercover projects, a lackey comes out yelling that there was nothing on the file. It's unclear what the original plan was, but if you can believe it, there's a shootout between Mitko's men and the FBI. Liz shoots Mitko just as he gets a knife to Robbie's neck.

But Mitko doesn't die. The next time we see him, he's telling Detroit detectives that a dead police officer's body was in the trunk of Robbie's car, But he's not telling them anything else until they cut a deal. And when the detectives check the car to confirm his story…

There's nothing there — no body. Ressler stops short of confessing because there's no reason to if they're not being accused of anything. Later he gives Robbie a necklace of his father's that Robbie once gave him: Saint Michael, the patron saint of police. Back in D.C., Ressler shows up at Liz's door, and he doesn't want to know how she got rid of the body or scrubbed the car clean. He just wants to know why — why would she take such a huge risk, one that he never asked her to take?

"It wasn't for you, knucklehead, it was for me," Lizzie snaps. She tells him he can be "a total dipstick" and ruin his life over something he did when he was a teenager some other time, but not right now. Because right now Lizzie needs Ressler to be around. "Have you looked at my life?" she asks a confused Ressler. "I'm a widow and a single mom, a marionette with a high-functioning sociopath pulling my strings. My grandfather tried to murder my mother, and my mother is a legendarily lethal Russian spy who moved in next door without even telling me who she was." Well, when you put like that — oh wait, she's not done!

"It's like I'm in the middle of a monsoon that's constantly threatening to drown me in bad news, and somewhere in the middle of that FEMA disaster of a life is just one tiny island of calm. And if that weren't there… I would be swept out to sea."

It's really sweet, and really sad, and after all these years quite moving to see the love that these two have for each other… how much they need each other. Ressler tells Liz that he's there, and there's no way he’ll let her be swept out to sea. And they have a nice long hug on their own little island of calm.

A FEW LOOSE ENDS

  • You've just watched The Blacklist: The Departed: Detroit.
  • I found it a little distracting that the actor they cast as Young Robbie looked so much like current Donald Ressler (especially since he also had current Donald Ressler's personality)… but I guess he also looked a lot like Anthony Michael Hall, who I would like to see again around these parts.
  • Mitko was serving Big Reddington Energy in his greenhouse giving that grandiose speech about how he liked plants because they're obedient and uncomplicated.
  • Speaking of — no Reddington of any kind in this episode! Weird.
  • "So which am I?" "You're a knucklehead and a dipstick, and you're someone who I rely on for like… everything" All together now: Awwwww.

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Episode Recaps

The Blacklist

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