The Blacklist finale recap: A novel approach
Did Special Agent Elizabeth Keen — stay with me here — just turn into a supervillain? As she strutted her way across a rooftop, coat billowing behind her in the wind, looking out over a metropolitan skyline like she was about to take flight, the imagery had all the makings of a superhero origin story. But when you consider the context…
Well, Lizzie just declared her allegiance to a vengeful mother who seems to care exclusively about saving her own skin. In voice-over, Liz announces that she's no longer afraid of the darkness that's been beckoning her to come closer ever since Reddington first entered her life: "In fact, I embrace this part of me," she purrs. "And wherever it takes us on our way to the truth." And finally, the real kicker for the supervillain evidence column: This whole brooding final scene is scored to the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black." A perfect Blacklist musical moment to add to a series full of them… and a daaaark sign for the future of Reddington and Liz.
I see a red door and I want it painted black / No colors anymore, I want them to turn black
In these trying times, when people are using kitchen tables as offices, dish towels as face masks, and in a pinch, coffee filters as toilet paper, The Blacklist had to get creative too. Having production shut down by coronavirus with half of episode 19's scenes already filmed, but half of them very much not, meant that the cast and crew could either leave the audience to sit and wait with a promise that the four episodes remaining in the season 7 lineup would come eventually, or they could figure out a way to finish episode 19 and give us (just a little bit) of resolution.
So The Blacklist turned to animation to fill in the episode 19 gaps for a series that often looks and feels a lot like a graphic novel anyway. What the Blacklist team managed to put together in a few weeks is pretty remarkable, especially in regard to molding the overarching narrative of the episode to match up to the comic-book-style visual. It is, of course, not perfect. The action-packed animation scenes are splashy and fast-paced, making them feel a lot like an old-school video game… while the close-up dialogue animation looks a liiiiittle like a Barbie movie, just in a much darker color palette. But what is a show that lives and dies on its mythology to do when it needs a proper ending?
The Blacklist found a way to put a cap on season 7 while still offering enough plot momentum to propel the story into an eventual season 8. This impromptu finale episode ends on a note that feels dramatic enough for a season finale without, y'know… finally revealing Reddington's true identity by way of a cartoon or something equally horrifying.
The way forward we're given instead is Liz struggling to get out from between her two (maybe) parents, and ultimately realizing that the only way forward is to move onto one side or the other. I don't think anyone will be pleased to learn that Liz chooses Katarina in her breaking-bad moment on the roof. My personal fear for this character I've known so long is that Liz is so worried about being forced to choose a side that she's not worrying enough about who's on her side. But I guess that's why Liz finally makes this move into the darkness: She's just tired of the fear.
THE KAZANJIAN BROTHERS, No. 156/157
The episode starts off business as usual with a cold open in New York City, where a man with a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist has had a bounty put on his head. But when two people start rushing toward him with guns, another two men pop out of a van, shoot those first two people, and throw Mr. Briefcase in their car, telling him they're there to protect him.
The scene quickly switches to Liz sitting at Dom's bedside in the warehouspital, and we seem to be hearing Liz's thoughts played out loud as we watch Megan Boone sitting still, staring — another clever quarantine trick used a few times throughout the episode. "What would I even say to you if I could?" she thinks. "I don’t care who Reddingon is… but the people who've died to keep the secret — Tom, Mr. Kaplan — I did care about them. I loved them, and when they died, a part of me died with them: a good part here, a kind part there, until after seven years, I'm not sure what parts are left."
Oof, Lizzie is going through it, and this is when we learn that the Blacklist team has been too. Our stars show up out of character, filming from their homes to tell us that after production was halted, they all got to work completing this finale: "an unusual solution for a trying time." And when the regularly scheduled episode kicks back in, I think Megan Boone is greenscreened into the bedside scene, finishing Liz's thought process, and leading the way forward into the rest of the "unusual" episode: "I feel like a series of lights have been turned off and I'm standing at the edge of this darkness… and if I take one step closer to it, if I lose one more good part of me, I'll be transformed." BOOM — transformed to animation, baby!
ACT 1: LIZ'S DILEMMA
The comic book structure really works well for the episode, even when the animation is a little iffy. As Liz is exiting the warehouspital, she spots a man in a car's side mirror and quickly slams him up against a van. Apparently, he's been following her for days, and she knows he's working for Katarina. When she forces him to take her to Katarina, she's hiding out in a hotel. Lizzie tells her angrily telling her that Dom is off limits and to stop having her followed. "You gave me your orders, now I'll give you mine," Katarina replies. "Don't pick Dom over me, knowing what he did… he stole my life, he trained me and betrayed me."
Listen, I know she doesn’t want to die or whatever, but if Katarina had a tagline it would be: "ME, ME, ME!"
Katarina says she's discovered why the Townsend Directive is after her, and when Liz asks why, Katarina asks if Liz is on her side. "I'm your daughter," Liz replies. "But are you on my side?" Katarina snarls back. Taking this for the toxic behavior that it is, Liz storms out of the hotel and over to Reddington, waiting to talk to her at the National Mall. Before they meet, Dembe advises Red that if Liz knew Katarina was still alive and didn't tell him, "it may mean [Katarina] has taken Elizabeth into her confidence… which means Elizabeth cannot be in yours."
They hold off on making that call just yet, as Red tells Liz about Frank Merwin, an accountant who hides money for criminals, but who now finds himself on the run from one of those very clients trying to kill him. Red wants the Post Office to find the men who helped him escape, the Kazanjian brothers who "provide security to criminals… indifferent to the carnage they leave behind." Liz suspects Red has ulterior motives for finding these "criminal escorts" — like using the Kazanjians to locate Katarina — but when has that ever stopped the Task Force from following up on a Blacklister before?
ACT 2: THE ESTRANGED WIFE TALKS
An animated Park and Ressler head to Merwin's home and find out that he hasn't spoken to his wife in two weeks, but just as they're about to leave, Merwin's young daughter comes downstairs saying that her father just called. Aram finds out that the call came from a nearby hotel landline, but when Liz and Ressler arrive, a man who's stationed in the lobby tips the Kazanjian brothers off about the Feds' arrival. Liz catches the man in the act of calling, so she and Ressler take off to the floor where the concierge says his rooms are…
And the animation theme reveals itself to be best during a chase scene with some kicky music behind it and ample opportunities for comic book text pop-ups. Shots ring out — "BANG BANG BANG" — as Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz" plays and an animated Liz and Ressler chase the Kazanjian brother around stairwells and hallways with Merwin in tow. But just as Liz has caught up with them, a very unlucky woman walks out of the elevator, and the brother take her hostage. "She could sense something, intuition was gnawing at her," pops up on the screen as the image slides from Liz's face staring at the brothers' faces…
We know that the Kazanjian brothers are the two men who fake-killed Katarina, but Liz doesn't… yet. "Katarina Rostova… know her?" Liz asks while the brother still have a gun pressed to the woman.
"THEIR SILENCE SPEAKS… VOLUMES!!!" I understand why they use these text bubbles because a few weeks isn't exactly enough time to animate nuanced emotions onto cartoon faces… but they also really crack me up.
ACT 3: A CONNECTION EMERGES
Of course, it's less funny when the Kazanjian brothers shoot the woman because Liz wouldn't put her gun down, but we're later led to believe she lives. After the brothers and Merwin get away in the commotion, Liz has an exchange with Ressler where she tells him the brothers told her they knew her mother with a look: "I was right to suspect there's a connection — Reddington is using us to get to the Kazanjians so he can get to her."
Which is what makes it especially bad that Reddington scares Aram into telling him a break in the case before he tells it to Cooper. There was a phone uncovered from the Kazanjians' hotel room, and the last call made on it, right before the FBI arrived, was to Stanley Birch, a man who specializes in disappearing criminals for a price, which Reddington knows… because Reddington literally knows Stanley Birch… because Reddington knows everything and everybody.
And as we learned from his Al Roker run-in last week, most of them will gladly do anything he asks. So when the Kazanjians arrive at Stanley's shop, Stanley takes Merwin to continue his escape, and Reddington's men take the Kazanjians. By the time the FBI arrives, they're all gone, and Liz is now positive that Red is using the Kazanjians to get to Katarina…
And she ain't wrong! Liz confronts Red in the kitchen he's always hanging out in now, where he asks her if she's hungry. "I am — for the truth," she sasses back, asking if there's any chance that's on tonight's menu.
"Specialty of the house," Reddington responds. "I'm never dishonest, only withholding." And I actually do mourn not getting to see the real-life James Spader say this line, because I really like this rephrasing of the former "Reddington never lies to Liz" idea which was… never accurate. "Withholding" is such a perfectly vague word, I'm shocked Red's never used it to describe his special flavor of truth before.
Liz tells Red that she knows he thinks Maddy Toliver is alive and that he's trying to find her. "And I know you know I'm not Ilya Koslov," Red counters. "I'm past caring who you are," Liz replies, a fun little lie she's been telling herself recently. Red confirms that he put Liz on the Kazanjian case in order to find Maddy Toliver because he thinks she's alive, but mostly because he thinks she means them all harm: "You, Agnes, me, Dom, Dembe, his imam." Then Liz begins getting angry, asking why Katarina has a reason to harm them: "Did you give her a reason?… All of this is because of whatever you did to her, we're only here because of you!"
Liz continues getting angry at Reddington while he asks her to stop, saying that this isn't is fault…
And then he collapses. He can no longer see Liz's face or understand anything she's saying — and the first call Liz makes for help is to Katarina. "Are you still having me followed?" Liz asks. Katarina is there in a matter of seconds, picking up her daughter and her sworn enemy in the car she'd been following them in.
ACT 4: RACING AGAINST TIME
In the car on the way to the warehouspital, Katarina tells Liz that she's helping because Red is important to Liz, and he was once important to her. "You nearly bled him to death," Liz reminds her. "For a truth that could save my life," Katarina replies. She asks if Liz knows what the Sikorsky Archive is, and Liz tells her not to start with clues unless she's ready to give the whole truth. Katarina says that it's a blackmail file with a lot of compromising information about a lot of powerful people, that she's apparently been falsely accused of stealing. She believes that Reddington knows who actually stole it, and she won't be safe until she can prove it wasn't actually her.
Katarina says she knows Liz is feeling caught in the middle, but choosing a side seems simple to her: "I'm trying to save his life, even though he won't lift a finger to save mine."
While Red is getting dropped off at the warehouspital, Dembe is questioning the Kazanjian brothers. He finds out that when they fake-killed Katarina, they received the bounty from the Townsend Directive, part of which they're supposed to wire to "Maddy Toliver." To do that they're supposed to meet with a man named Wayne Ott and wire the money to him, and then he'll then deliver the money to Maddy Toliver.
Dembe has the Kazanjians arrange the meeting with Ott for that day, and once Red has recovered from his episode — and his doctor has given Liz no information about his condition, per Reddington's orders — Red tells Liz about the meeting with Ott: "He knows how to find her, and I know how to find him." And I like to think Red is only this obvious about testing Liz' loyalties due to recently losing consciousness. Because normally Red would just show up at the meeting with Ott on his own, and the Post Office would be one step behind him, getting to arrest whichever Blacklister they were looking for, but only after Red had gotten what he needed from them first…
But this time, Red tells Liz the information about Ott the moment he gets it. It's a test to see if she'll warn Katarina about the meeting being a setup, which even Liz recognizes…
And Liz tells Katarina anyway. She tells her about the Ott meeting being a setup, and that Red told her about it as a test to see if she's helping Katarina or not. If Ott doesn't show up for the meeting with the Kazanjians, Red will know Liz told Katarina she's been had, but Liz doesn’t care about that, she just doesn’t want Red to get to her.
ACT 5: THE GETAWAY
But Katarina knows better than to have Ott not show up at the meeting — it's better to have Red believe that Liz is still on his side and feed him information via Ott that she can easily defend against. So Ott meets with the Kazanjians, they exchange wiring information, and presumably, there's some information exchanged about the whereabouts of Maddy Toliver, although we don't see it.
Liz shows up at Katarina's door, not understanding why she gave Reddington a way to find her. "I did it because I'm sure you were right," Katararina tells her (maybe) daughter. "It was a test to see if you're really in the middle… but what Raymond doesn't know is, you're not in the middle, are you?"
And here it is, the big reveal: "I'm on your side," Liz tells Katarina, sitting down on the bed with her. "And he can't defend against that." Then she gets a text from the warehouspital that Dom's vitals are improving and he should be waking up soon. And when she arrives, Liz tells this man — her grandfather, who she's been so angry at Katarina for injuring for so long — that she needs him to know something when he wakes up: "The person who did this to you, my mother… I'm on her side now." A very cool thing to say to a man who's been in a coma for months! "I'm committed to helping her find the truth she's looking for, and anyone who is in her way, is in my way," she continues. "That includes you, and that includes Reddington."
Liz's flip of allegiances happens fast, and I will be very clear in saying that I don’t get it, and I don't like it. But Liz has made her choice, and that is incredibly clear when an animated version of her dramatically takes to the roof of the warehouspital, striding over to the edge to lookout over the city, as her speech to Dom continues in voice-over: "I was afraid earlier of that darkness I was telling you about — that it might somehow overtake me, that it might just swallow me whole. But now that I'm here, I'm not afraid."
Liz is embracing the darkness around her that she's feared for so long — and she's counting on it finally leading her to the whole truth. For her sake, I hope she's made the right choice. From the roof, she dials a number on her phone: "Mother, it's me — I'm ready."
I look inside myself and see my heart is black / I see my red door, I must have it painted black
Maybe then I'll fade away and not have to face the facts / It's not easy facing up, when your whole world is black
A FEW LOOSE ENDS:
- This episode is dedicated to Brian Dennehy, who played Dom and sadly died in April. I don't know what his passing means for the character of Dom, but I do know that Dennehy was such a pleasure to watch on The Blacklist (and so many other things! I'm going to rent Driveways tonight, his final and wonderfully reviewed film!) and he will be sorely missed.
- Act 5 was named "The Getaway," in part because Merwin's getaway is thwarted by the Task Force in the most dramatic of animated fashions: After Ressler and Park instruct him to put his hands up in front of the helicopter he's supposed to be boarding, he cooperates… and then releases the lever on his briefcase, sending the papers indicting his clients flying everywhere.
- So is the Sikorsky Archive just… the Fulcrum 2.0?
- The Kazanjian brothers are instructed to wire $75,000 of Maddy Toliver's money to a separate account… as of now, that may be Red's only lead in actually finding Katarina.
- Still no clue what's going on with Reddington's health!!!!!!
- I give the whole cast and crew of The Blacklist major credit for facing this challenge head on, and I also loved seeing them all at home. As it turns out, all of the stars are just teddy bear versions of their intense characters, and all of the crew seem just the right amount of crazy to be able to make this show. See everyone right back here for season 8!
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.