The Blacklist recap: Keep your spies close
Reddington sends Nicholas Obenrader to the Post Office.
It really is true what they say about relationships: you can't have a good one without clear, honest communication. Two people — or two criminal/law enforcement entities, as it were — simply have to be on the same page if they're ever going to grow and evolve, and not lose out to a madman who takes his fitness inspiration from The Most Dangerous Game.
You see, now that Elizabeth Keen is back out of her hidey hole and in communication with the Task Force, they're determined to work with her rather than against her. But, as it is the conceit of The Blacklist, they're also determined to work with, not against, Raymond Reddington. This means that at various points throughout tonight's episode, the most trusting members of the Task Force — Aram, Cooper, and now featuring a forever heart-eyed Ressler — insist that they can trust Reddington and/or Keen because they share the same goal while Agent Park rolls her eyes. Because how can you share the simultaneous goals of two intrinsically opposed people?
The enemy of your ally cannot… also be your ally. The key element the Task Force seems to be missing is that while they may want to uncover the truth about N13 like Liz, and they may want to take Townsend down like Reddington, that doesn't mean they share the same endgame. Ultimately, Liz wants Reddington destroyed, and Reddington…well what Reddington ultimately wants is a permanent question mark, and the Task Force of all people/law enforcement entities should know that.
But it's also true what they say about love being blind — so trust the Task Force will! Which leaves plenty of room for Reddington to execute one of his claaassic Rube Goldberg operations wherein a thief knocks over a criminal manager so that a criminal consultant can replace him with a different thief who then turns into an assassin…and so on and so forth until the marble knocks over the bottle to pour your soda, or whatever. But as usual, the soda will almost definitely be murder.
I don't love when the titular Blacklister winds up being little more than a pawn, but it does give way to an excellent switcharoo, and even a little amateur theater for Agents Ressler and Park!
Reddington assigns the Post Office a Blacklister named Nicholas Obenrader, a consultant for criminal organizations who just helped Townsend clear up an IRS issue (have to hate when your money launderers get audited). The Task Force assumes they're trying to catch Obenrader because he can tell them valuable information about Townsend's criminal enterprise. But you know what they say about assuming when it comes to Raymond Reddington: you will be wrong 100 percent of the time. Reddington knew when he assigned Obenrader that he would never spill information on Townsend to the FBI, and once the Task Force has him handcuffed in the Post Office, Red tells them as much. "Mr. Obenrader understands the blowback on his loved ones would be far too great," he tells Cooper. "I put the man on your radar so that you could help me make a new friend."
While the Task Force has been tracking Obenrader, Reddington has been clearing a pathway for his Rube Goldberg marble. First, he used one of his associates to implant the idea in Townsend's head that his project manager has been stealing from him, so that Townsend might be open to a reputable consultant like Obenrader suggesting a new employee to him. Then Reddington met with a glamorous thief named Priya Laghari, offering to make her so rich that she could start scaling glass buildings with suction cup hands just for the thrill of it — and all she has to do in return is infiltrate Neville Townsend's organization. And finally, Reddington convinces the Task Force to pretend to move Obenrader to a CIA black site, so that Reddington can pretend to abduct Obenrader (fake killing Ressler and Park in the process, complete with blood squibs and everything!) and convince him to recommend Priya for the thief position Townsend is looking to fill.
The dominoes fall just as Reddington planned them, obviously, and the next we see Priya, she's sitting down with Townsend to talk health benefits, plotting how to slip poison into his drink, because despite telling the Task Force that they were helping implant Priya as a spy, Reddington was, in fact, implanting her as an assassin.
And while Reddington is the only person in this episode smart enough to not trust anyone else, perhaps he trusts his own plan a little too much. He's so thoroughly invested in the steps he's taking toward assassinating Townsend that he fails to notice that everyone around him is working toward a different goal: finding and capturing his Friend in the East.
Just as Priya pops open her ring to procure a poison tablet, Townsend gets word that he's needed elsewhere. While all of this thieving and criminal consulting has been going on, Liz and the Task Force have been pursuing a different goal — somewhat begrudgingly — together. After the great lengths Liz went to last week to get the itty bitty Russian decoder keyboard, only for it to end up in the hands of the FBI, she passed along the Classifieds messages Katarina left for her to they Task Force in hopes they might still prove once and for all that Reddington is N13…
If you can believe it, Katarina's little newspaper clippings were not so concrete. But they did reveal that Reddington and someone had been communicating, and the address of a Parisian café appeared more than once. Aram is sent to scope out the café, an outing that Liz and her bodyguard crash (eating Aram's croissant in the process, which is one of the rudest things to ever happen in 167 episodes of The Blacklist). From the café's security footage, Aram discovers that Reddington has been meeting a known Russian operative, Ivan Stepanov, a.k.a Mr. Friend in the East. Given that the FBI is not going to be able to easily extract a Russian operative from Moscow for questioning, Cooper sanctions Liz to go get him, using her newfound criminal ways of persuasion.
And yet, when we finally see Stepanov extracted at episode's end, it's to the surprise of all three of our protagonists and their many shared goals: Liz, the Post Office, and Reddington. Because at some point, Townsend's employees became weary enough of his trust in Liz, and tapped the phone of that pesky FBI agent who's always leaving her voicemails. So, when Ressler calls to tell Liz about Stepanov, Townsend;s team intercepts it, and his men make it to Stepanov first.
Once he has Stepanov in his custody, Townsend tells him that he wants to know why he's been working with Reddington all these years, and why his family had to die in order for them to carry out their mysterious plans. "I have a lot of whys," Townsend growls. "Let's hope you're prepared to give some answers."
Oh buddy, you really don't know what show you're on, do you?
A FEW LOOSE ENDS
- To be fair to Reddington’s very fun plan, Priya is still embedded in Townsend’s organization, and she could still assassinate him. The question is, can she do it before Reddington is exposed as a Russian spy, which as a reminder, is where the Task Force draws the moral line.
- If you’re wondering if it’s any clearer what “consultants” do in the criminal world, it is not!
- Reddington’s current feelings on Ressler: “Black shoes, cheap suit, flat stomach, regulation cut — don’t get me wrong, he’s bent, just not as bent as we’d like him to be.” Oh, how far they’ve come.
- “Whoever said crime doesn’t pay wasn’t very good at it.” Liz is especially sassy in this episode, but I think her ego might take a ding now that Townsend’s caught her Stepanov-handed.
- I do love a glamorous Blacklister, and not only is Priya a monochromatic dream, she’s confidence goals too: “I feel like I’m in the presence of greatness.” “It’s a fact, not a feeling.”
- Aram in Paris is the Emily in Paris we deserved!!!
(Video courtesy of NBC)