The Blacklist recap: It's a good old-fashioned heist
It may feature multiple switch-a-roos, various double-crosses, and at least one fair-weather professor, but at its core, this episode is all about the heist.
Between last week's "love always wins" and this week's "love is a knot that even death cannot untie," it sure is starting to seem like L-O-V-E is the key to Liz unlocking the truth about Reddington. (Well, either that, or this funky little typewriter everyone is so hot for in tonight's episode.) So, in the name of staying on theme, why don't I tell you what I love…
Oh, that's right, I'm talking about a good old-fashioned heist episode! This hour of The Blacklist may feature multiple switch-a-roos, various double-crosses, and at least one fair-weather professor, but at its core, this episode is all about the heist. Because not only is watching two parties try to steal the same object fun, but it also perfectly juxtaposes Lizzie's past and present. As we watch the Task Force arrive at the heist locale in heroic slow motion, approaching the tiny typewriter they plan to steal with all the power and protection that comes with being an FBI agent, we're simultaneously watching Liz creep around in the building's subbasement, hoping her explosive goo works because the consequence of it not working is likely her own death at the hands of Neville Townsend.
Technically, the goo does work, but it doesn't get Liz the tiny typewriter, and in the end, none of it gets her Reddington. And with each new time Liz digs her heels in deeper, only to mostly fail, the question screams louder: When you team up with one very bad man to expose another very bad man, exactly what are you accomplishing? This episode drives home that Liz may know the answer to that question less and less every day, but that hardly means she can stop. Because the only way out is through…and there's simply going to be a lot of heists, a few existential crises, and an unfortunate number of plastic-bags-over-heads in between.
THE RUSSIAN KNOT
Our third episode in a row without a numbered Blacklister? Oh, things are certainly amiss. And if the titles weren't sign enough, then Liz entering Townsend's home to find five men with bags over their heads, suffocating one-by-one is another solid indicator.
Townsend is enraged that Liz's plan in Kansas wound up being just another failed attempt to capture and/or kill Reddington despite her promising it would work this time. To express his rage, he places a plastic bag over her head until she nearly passes out. When he finally takes the bag off, Liz gasps that she has another lead to expose Reddington as N13 — and Townsend tells her she has one last chance to prove it.
Of course, Reddington is nothing if not one step ahead of Liz at all times — and as we come to find out, his usual 20 steps ahead of Cooper — so he's all over Liz's next lead. After getting a call from a man named Belsky who's an expert in Cold-War-era steganography, Reddington shows Cooper a photo of a billboard. It looks to be an advertisement for a psychic named Madame Zorba, featuring the tagline, "Love is a knot that even death cannot untie." But as Reddington tells Cooper, the entire billboard is actually a secret code that he believes Townsend and Keen are using to communicate their next plan of attack.
For reasons that we don't hear — though Reddington's all-knowing-ness often goes unexplained — he believes Townsend and Keen's billboard message can be decoded by a machine invented by the Soviets during the Cold War called the Russian Knot. It looks like a little typewriter, can decrypt texts in 10 different languages, and
Reddington says Townsend has gotten his hands on one of these, and if the Russian Knot was used to create the code, then only the Russian Knot can be used to decrypt it…and the only Russian Knot still in public existence currently resides in Minsk at the Belarusian Great Patriotic War Museum…
You know what time it is: HEIST TIME!
But not by Reddington, by the FBI's very special-est Task Force. In advance of cluing Cooper in, Reddington took the liberty of donating a stolen Cézanne painting to the Belarus museum, you see. The FBI will arrive in Minsk on the night of the museum's big fundraiser, inquiring about their recent acquisition of a stolen painting; hoping not to cause a scene in front of their donors, the museum will be more likely to comply with this foreign agency, and while in compliance, a few choice agents will peel off, loop the security footage, disarm the sensors, steal the Russian Knot, and replace it with a fake.
What Cooper doesn't know is that while he's having this plan explained to him by Reddington, Liz is laying out her own much more, uh, rustic plan to her own team. They're going to steal an employee's security badge, get into the lower basement directly below the Russian Knot display, fill the cement up with Ruddiger's explosives, and steal the Russian Knot.
Sound like the beginning of National Treasure? Good because it feels like the beginning of National Treasure. Now, it's time to steal the Russian Knot of Belarus.
The scene of the two attempted heists taking place simultaneously from above and below is high-octane perfection, all resulting in the delicious final image of Park and Ressler getting to the Russian Knot just as the floor drops out beneath it. As they peer over the edge of the hole, they spy their former colleague and sometimes lover (respectively), Elizabeth Keen looking back up at them with the Russian Knot in her hands. Liz and Ruddiger take off running, and Ressler and Park take off after them. Park catches up with Liz first, who drops the Russian Knot as they come to blows. When Ruddiger discovers them, he knocks Park out, and Liz goes looking for where she dropped the machine…
Only to discover Ressler holding it. "You don't understand, I'm dead without the device in that bag," Liz pleads with him. And I really assumed Ressler would just hand it over because he has the willpower of a toddler when it comes to this woman. But when Ressler mentions something about Liz only wanting the machine to keep them from reading Townsend's messages, Liz looks so confused that it completely throws her off her game. She runs out of the museum and back to her team to figure out why the FBI was trying to steal the same device she was.
Because, as it turns out, there is more than one way to tie this Russian Knot. Liz wasn't after the Russian Knot because she was trying to stop the FBI from decoding her messages, she was after it because she needed the Russian Knot to decode Reddington's messages.
Liz calls Ressler and urgently tells him that Reddington is lying to them. In the storage unit full of clues that her mother left behind, Liz found evidence that Reddington uses the Russian Knot to decrypt messages in the Classifieds section of the Washington Post. She thinks the only reason he sent the FBI to steal the Russian Knot was so that she couldn't steal it and decode the messages he's been passing to the Russians as N13. But the only way to prove that Reddington is N13 now is to decode the messages using the machine that the FBI currently possesses. "I am not the enemy — he is," Liz tells Ressler. "Please let me prove it to you."
So, Ressler gets Cooper to agree to a meeting with Liz to prove once and for all that she's telling the truth about Reddington being N13…
Unfortunately for Ressler, Cooper secretly plans to apprehend Liz at said meeting. Liz shows up in an unusually bright red jacket, sits down with Ressler, and they get to decrypting the classifieds clippings that her mother left behind for Liz. But instead of spitting out a super-secret message, the machine just prints a long series of numbers. At that moment, Liz glances up and spies a few very obvious undercover agents closing in on her. She rips off the list of numbers, and takes off running. When Ressler takes off after her, calling out that Cooper lied to him, the park is suddenly swarming with dark haired women in bright red jackets.
They were decoys planted by Liz so she could sink into the background if she needed to. And the exact same thing could be said for Reddington's decoy billboard. Sure, once Cooper brings the Russian Knot to Reddington and he shows him how to input the billboard's message, decode the list of numbers it spits back out, and decrypt the the location and time of a clandestine meeting at an abandoned warehouse, that's enough for Cooper to believe that Reddington was telling the truth all along. But Liz knows that Reddington planted that billboard as a decoy, a feeling she confirms once she finally figures out how Reddington knew she would be coming for the Russian Knot in Minsk…
Following the little bag-over-the-head incident with Townsend, Liz and her team consulted an expert in Soviet-era decryption—Belsky—not knowing that he was under strict instruction to report any questions presented to him about the Russian Knot directly to Reddington. That's why Red and Dembe showed up in his office at the beginning of the episode, and that's why Reddington created the billboard and sent the FBI on a Belarusian goose chase. Because, as we watch his Eastern Friend using his own Russian Knot machine to decrypt a message reading, "DECOY WORKED, SITUATION AVERTED," we can only assume that Liz has been at least partially right this whole time.
And once she gets the alphanumeric intel from Ressler, she's able to decode her own strip of numbers, the ones she swore would prove Reddington is N13: "IT'S TIME, MOBILIZE ASSETS."
A FEW LOOSE ENDS
- Liz mobilizes alright — straight to Townsend’s house to throw a plastic bag over his head, hissing at him never to threaten her again: “Because while we may be partners in this hunt, I DO NOT WORK FOR YOU!”
- I don’t like that this episode reveals Anne died, I do not like it one bit. She was too good of a character to let go this early!
- Of course…we never saw Anne die; we saw Red remembering Anne’s head hit the table. And we never heard Reddington say Anne died to anyone except her daughter who he delivers $3 million in assets to. And then there’s that line we hear Red say to Dembe as he’s reminiscing about his first time meeting Anne in the park: “Anne had a daughter — has a daughter.” Is he in denial? Or are we in for another of The Blacklist’s miraculous resurrections?
- “Are we really talking about robbing the Belarusian War Museum?” “I, uh, feel like we’ve done worse.” Preach, Aram. Preach.
- Team Reddington has a new member! As it turns out, Glen’s mother Paula is just as good at finding people as her son was, only her approach involves a little more honey than vinegar — and swap the meatball subs for expensed chicken dinners.
- Cooper, like…absolutely needs to fire Ressler, right??? Baby boy is compromised.
(Video courtesy of NBC)