The Blacklist recap: Man plans, God laughs
Red and Dembe search for Dembe's kidnapped imam, which leads them to a corrupt prison crime ring… and to Katarina Rostova.
The 150th episode of The Blacklist is simultaneously about everything the series has been working toward and nothing at all. On the one hand, this hour covers the return of Katarina Rostova, Reddington's mysterious illness, the kidnapping of Dembe's imam, and Dembe's subsequent sorta-kinda-betrayal of Red, and that's all on top of a wild little Blacklister plot. I mean, the cold open is eight minutes long, for goodness' sake. That's how much is going on in this episode — oh wow, and I almost forgot to mention Al Roker.
On the other hand: Even with all those happenings, this episode ultimately boils down to the single existential question our beloved Task Force is always facing: When is a choice no longer a choice? In the end, we're no closer to understanding what Katarina is after, or why Lizzie thinks she can somehow work with two diametrically opposing forces, or what Red is sick with, or why Al Roker is hanging out with the FBI's most wanted criminal (other than his incredible taste in food and drink, I presume). But we've definitely thought a lot about the choices our characters have made — or as this episode winds up positing, the absence of choice they've been faced with — that have landed them in their current positions.
Those positions, of course, being: Liz sitting in a car with her (maybe) mother, realizing that her (maybe) father now knows both that Katarina is still alive and that Lizzie has learned he's not Ilya Koslov. And Red, knowing those things, still intends to bequeath his criminal empire and all that comes along with it to Lizzie.
Oh, did I mention that Red has gotten really into sorting out his last will and testament after mysteriously passing out a few episodes ago, and then having a doctor tell him in this episode that his "life depends on" listening to reason about his condition? What is going on here?
ROY CAIN, NO. 150
I had forgotten just how many hanging threads we were left with before Ressler's very special episode took over last week, but as soon as tonight's episode opens, we're hit right in the face with all of them.
Katarina Rostova has kidnapped Dembe's imam, but Dembe and Reddington don't know that. They only have a single fingerprint to go on, so what starts as a classic scavenger-hunt-for-clues episode quickly turns into an oh-damn-my-arch-nemesis-isn't-actually-dead-and-all-my-secrets-might-still-be-exposed episode. Katarina tells Imam Asmal that they're both "innocents caught in someone else's web of deceit," but nothing about the way she seems super-ready to kill him makes her seem very innocent. Still, the imam refuses to give up any secrets Dembe has confessed to him, so Katarina tells him she'll just have to get the secrets directly from the source by dangling the imam's life over Dembe's head.
As for Dembe and Reddington, their only lead on who took the imam is the fingerprint of a man who's currently serving a prison sentence in complete isolation at Wallens Ridge State Prison. Liz and Ressler head to Wallens to interrogate Arturo Ruel about how his fingerprint could have possibly ended up at the scene of a crime, while the warden looks on through a one-way mirror. But Ruel gives Liz and Ressler nothing. In fact, he's quite sassy to them, writing down the name of his old cartel boss, tucking it in Ressler's shirt pocket, and saying maybe he'll have some answers for them…
But wait! When Liz and Ressler get back to the car, they discover that the note doesn't hold a name at all, but a message Ruel couldn't say out loud: "want to talk, not here."
Unfortunately, a guard at the prison makes the same discovery about the note while reviewing the security footage from the interrogation. Soon after, we see Ruel shanked by another inmate as he's being led to through the halls by a guard. With that lead lost, Liz and Ressler interview the other inmates who were in permanent isolation with Ruel, and Liz can't help but notice that none of them seem to have rap sheets that would have warranted an isolated prison sentence. It smells like something fishy is going on at Wallens…
And Red has a way of finding out what, because Marvin Gerard just got out of Wallens prison a few months ago. But when Red approaches Gerard about intel, he's working in a toy store and trying to keep his nose clean so he can get his law license reinstated. That means no working with Red… unless working with Red is exactly what he needs to get his license back. See, the head of the D.C. office, Paul Wynn, is keeping Gerard's application from being approved because he thinks Girard "doesn't possess the moral character to practice law." But wouldn't you know it, Red just so happens to have a Paul Wynn connection too…
And it's Al Roker, y'all. I really could not believe Red and Dembe were walking into this restaurant, hugging this man who looked exactly like Al Roker, and then calling him "Al." Because it was Al Roker, who apparently exists in the Blacklist universe and has his exact same job, with the only difference (probably) being that he occasionally pals around with the FBI's most wanted criminal. They reminisce about their last evening together at Le Coucou, and Red says, "Imagine the trouble we'd find if you could stay up past 9!"
It's all very weird, and very fun.
It seems that Roker needed to be brought in because Paul Wynn is his new lawyer, and dangling the idea of losing Al Roker as a client could be highly persuasive — which Roker is happy to do for his beloved criminal friend, and that criminal friend's beloved criminal lawyer. Wynn agrees to reinstate Gerard, and Gerard gives up the dirt on Wallens. While he was at the prison, Gerard heard talk while that there were certain inmates who got special treatment from Warden Cain, and for some reason that special treatment involved being put in isolation.
Gerard says that guard Vincent Martin is the leader of the isolation crew, so Liz and Park head back to Wallens to speak to him. But as they're arriving, they see Martin leaving through the prison gates, four hours before his shift is up. They tail him to an abandoned warehouse, where Liz peeks in the window and finds all four of the isolation inmates she interrogated gearing up with "enough military grade equipment to start a war." But as soon as Liz and Park call in for backup, a van barrels out of the parking lot, so they're on the move again. They watch as the inmates carry a ladder into a building that Aram reports is the safe house for a lead witness in a murder trial and her daughter.
Agent Park and Liz rush the building and manage to save the mother and daughter, as well as capture one of the inmates. Upon questioning, the inmate tells Liz that in return for Warden Cain taking care of their families financially, they perform criminal tasks for him. But they never know who they're targeting or why, which means the only person who'd know who put the target on the imam is Warden Cain himself…
And Red is happy to wait inside the warden's house in the dark, drinking his grapefruit juice until he arrives home to discover Raymond Reddington pointing a gun at him from the kitchen island. Red is none too happy that the warden has been using the labor of incarcerated men for monetary gain, and he's definitely not happy when the warden says he "inherited the business from [his] daddy and his daddy before him," elaborating that his great grandpa used to catch freed slaves and lease them out to the highest bidder, and wrapping it all up with: "There's no reforming 'em — what come through my gates, they ain't people… might as well put 'em to good use."
Disgusting! This dude is completely despicable — the only good that comes from him is telling Reddington that the person who hired him to kidnap Imam Asmal was named Maddy Toliver, a.k.a., Katarina Rostova's alias. But what comes after that is very, very bad.
Not only has Reddington just found out that Katarina is still alive, but when he storms the address the warden gave him (right before Reddington offed him), he finds Dembe there. See, while Red and Al Roker were getting their extortion on, Dembe received a call from Katarina, who said she would kill Imam Asmal if Dembe didn't meet her within the hour without so much as a sniff of Reddington alongside him. And when Dembe arrived, she told him if he didn't give her the information he was looking for, the imam would die. "A man's life is more important than a man's secrets," Dembe tells his imam when Katarina gives them time to talk it over. But the imam tells him there is no easy answer: "Either choice carries a burden I wish with my whole heart you didn't have to carry."
When Reddington arrives, Katarina flees, but Red knows Dembe hasn't given up his secret — whatever it may be — because if he had, he'd already be dead. Dembe, ever the truth-teller, tells Reddington that, no, he didn't tell Katarina anything… but he was going to.
Later, Red consults with Imam Asmal, telling him Dembe already betrayed him once, and he "made it clear there wouldn't be an encore." But the imam tells Red that he's making a mistake by looking at Dembe's reaction to Katarina as a binary choice: "I think he had no choice at all." Marvin Gerard later echoes those words when Red asks him to set aside some time to review his will with its primary beneficiary: Lizzie. Red says Liz is headed toward a dark and dangerous place: "She doesn't see it, or can't accept it, but her path is… undeniable." Marvin says that Red makes it sound like she has no choice.
"I guess that is what I'm saying," Red replies, looking over to Dembe.
And in a very dark and dangerous place indeed, Katarina slithers into the passenger seat of Liz's car. Liz warns her (maybe) mother that she can't keep going after all the people Liz cares about. "I'm not going after them, I'm giving them a choice," Kararina replies. "Dembe made the right one — if it comes to it one day, I hope you will too."
A FEW LOOSE ENDS:
- I really just do not see what Liz is getting out of this relationship. Katarina is mean, and she's not even giving up any good secrets! Plus her whole "I don't think one of us can live while the other survives… and I think the outcome is in your hands" thing is some toxic mom manipulation if I've ever seen it!
- "Think again, you evergreen dip-spit." "I swear to God, I'll have your nuts in a Cheerio." Is… is this how lawyers talk to each other? In front of Al Roker??
- I wonder what the overlap is of other people who watch both The Blacklist and The Challenge, and were shocked when one of tonight's inmates was played by Jordan Wisely?!
- I think Harold Surratt has been so wonderful in this role as Imam Asmal.
- I see what they did there with that Blacklister number for this 150th episode — congrats to all involved, (except the 150th Blacklister, who was super-gross)!