The Blacklist recap: Lies, lies, and more lies
This is one of those Blacklist episodes that makes you ask the existential questions. Because, sure, there are two violent shootouts, one armored tank, and a casual $32 million jewel heist — but when you boil this episode down, it's all about the fundamentals of what brought us to the series in the first place. Why did Raymond Reddington decide to work with the FBI in order to gain access to Elizabeth Keen's life? What is he protecting her from? Why does he trust Liz and the Task Force with so many elements of his mysterious organization but not others — not the ones that seem the most important to their livelihood?
For the last few episodes, the Venn diagram of who shares a common goal, who shares a common enemy, and who's sharing which secrets has been slinging around like a bunch of hula hoops between Reddington, Liz, and the Task Force. Everyone is asking everyone else to trust them completely when absolutely no one on this show should trust anyone else.
Reddington is highly capable but always lying about something; the Task Force is typically earnest in its intentions, but often pretty inept on the whole; and Liz is a complete wild card — unpredictable and proving to be kind of a manipulative jerk, at times. These are not the people I want on my team! And they don't really want to be on each other's teams either, but they're tied together by the reality of their situation. The problem that presents itself in this episodes — and has presented itself throughout the series — is that only one of these three parties possesses the full knowledge of what that reality is.
"This is about why you came into her life in the first place," Cooper says when he realizes that Reddington is actually begging for the FBI to get to Ivan Stepanov in order to keep him from telling Townsend a truth that would endanger Elizabeth's life. But the thing is… Elizabeth is always in danger. She has spent an entire 8-season series in danger! What is this scale that Reddington is using to assess what endangers her most, and therefore, which things are most worth hiding? It's clear why Townsend needs to be kept in the dark about this top secret, but why is Elizabeth in more danger by knowing herself?
Listen, none of this is a new concept on The Blacklist — Reddington has always separated truth from transparency. He's always been sure that things would be fine if everyone would just give him complete control. But after seeing a chink in the armor like Stepanov, I'm starting to have my doubts. And as usual, I have my questions. Which now include: What exactly did Stepanov say to Townsend that made him turn on Elizabeth?
The only thing we know for sure is the question it was a response to: "Tell me, was it Rostova or Reddington? Rostova… or Reddington?"
IVAN STEPANOV, NO. 5
Well, that's a high number. And once everyone gets on the same page about where and who Ivan Stepanov is, things finally get No. 5-level interesting.
When the episode starts, the Post Office thinks Liz successfully extracted Stepanov as planned, Liz is hoping that the Post Office never trusted her and extracted him themselves, and Reddington only knows that Stepanov has been taken, but not who's taken him. In the end, they all find out the truth: Townsend hacked Ressler's phone, found out that Liz was headed to extract Reddington's alleged longtime Russian handler, sent his men to Russia to abduct Stepanov himself, and now has a shock collar bolted around the man's neck in order to keep him awake long enough to lull him into a submissive hypnagogic state, so that he can finally learn the truth about who stole the documents that lead to the death of his family.
So the Task Force and Reddington have no choice but to team up in order to retrieve Stepanov and save Elizabeth from Townsend…
Oh, did I mention that while Priya Legari is making her second tea-based attempt on Townsend's life at the instruction of Reddington, she witnesses a brunette woman storm into his home and get angry at him about abducting some man named Stepanov? When she reports that information back to Reddington, as well as the Park Avenue location where Townsend's residence is located, Red begs her to wait outside the building and follow Townsend if he leaves. He then begs Cooper to send a team to extract Stepanov, his "oldest and closest friend," after deciding that the risk of Stepanov being taken into FBI custody is well worth the reward of getting him out of Townsend's custody.
It's about as desperate as we've ever seen Reddington. He's furious when he learns that Townsend found out about Stepanov by way of Liz and the Task Force's communications, telling Cooper he has no idea the harm he's done. Cooper replies, "By my account, it would appear you're the one causing harm by feeding us half-truths, keeping secrets from Elizabeth, making an enemy of Townsend, and now coming to the FBI to help save your oldest and closest friend, who happens to be a Russian spy."
Damn, Cooper, go off! Still, Cooper agrees to help. But Priya reports to Reddington that Townsend and Liz have left the building before the FBI arrives, so Reddington tells her to follow them wherever they go, knowing it will probably be to wherever Stepanov is being held. Reddington does not, however, relay that information to the Task Force, which is busy raiding the Park Avenue building, and executing a complicated interrogation process to find out where Townsend's residence is hidden within the blueprints.
Priya does successfully follow Townsend and Liz to a warehouse, and it reports back to Reddington… who tells her that she needs to follow them inside and retrieve Stepanov. Priya informs Red that she steals jewels, not people, but he informs her that if she doesn't prevent Townsend from questioning Stepanov, the answers he gives will get Elizabeth killed immediately. He also offers cash.
Priya agrees, macing a guy in the face and then knocking him out cold, because Priya is a 5'1" badass who seems to be scared of absolutely nothing, including the dry cleaning bill it must take to keep her entirely cream wardrobe so pristine. But it turns out Red is not entirely correct about Townsend's immediate need to kill Liz once he gets the answers he wants.
Inside, Townsend is busy interrogating a sleep-deprived Stepanov about N13, but Stepanov won't talk, only whispering "Masha" when he recognizes Liz. When Liz leaves the room, however, Townsend asks Stepanov one more time: "Tell me, was it Katarina Rostova or Raymond Reddington?" Stepanov cracks and whispers something into Townsend's ear. When we see Townsend next, he's discovering Priya trying to get her out per Red's instructions… but he doesn't kill Liz like Red thought he would. He chloroforms her, and when she comes to later, loaded in a car with Priya, Townsend smirks: "Watching you suffer is going to positively destroy him."
Unfortunately for Townsend, his plan to torture Liz in front of Reddington is slightly altered by the fact that Reddington has just slammed through the wall of the warehouse in a tank. What follows is an intense shootout in which Red's team is far outnumbered by Townsend's, but Red, Dembe, Liz, and Priya are able to barricade themselves in the room with Stepanov. While Priya works on rigging an electric shock for the men trying to break into their hiding place, Liz asks a wounded and dying Stepanov what he could have said to make Townsend suddenly turn on her.
"Your mother only ever wanted to keep you safe," he whispers, crying softly. At that moment, Priya's mechanism shocks Townsend's men, and they're all able to rush back to the tank… which Townsend's men have just shot a bazooka through the front of, killing the driver. At that moment, the FBI storms in, getting into a second shootout with Townsend's men, Elizabeth flees on foot, and Red's crew escapes in the tank to a warehouspital to see to Stepanov's wounds.
Stepanov is very emotional, telling Reddington that he let him down, and now Townsend "knows," and he's painted a target on Elizabeth's back. But Reddington tells him if he's going to take blame, "Take it for something you're actually responsible for — me. What I am, I am because of you. You can take the blame for that." Huh! That's vague. And speaking of vague…
When the Task Force inevitably arrives at the warehouspital to take Stepanov into custody, Reddington fusses at Cooper again for pursuing Stepanov when he explicitly told him not to, while not giving a single reason why, just that they had to trust him. And while he's delivering said scolding, Stepanov conveniently disappears from the warehouspital and can't be taken into custody — so crazy that the Task Force doesn't trust Red implicitly!
But he will certainly keep trying to tell them what to do, and they will certainly keep trying to play along, each party picking and choosing what constitutes honesty and protection as they move forward. For now, Reddington tells them to forget Stepanov and focus on Townsend, who has turned on Elizabeth and anyone Reddington cares about: "Which believe it or not, includes you, Harold. We're all in his crosshairs now, and the only way out is through — I'm willing to do that. Are you?"
A FEW LOOSE ENDS
- I guess we'll find out if he's willing to do that next week! And maybe we'll find out what Stepanov told Townsend in a few years.
- "You know the irony of irony? It's a word you can understand but can't possibly define." "I can — you asking me to find a missing Russian spymaster." Cooper was truly on one this week, and I liked it.
- Aram's little "uh oh" when Cooper tells Reddington that they've been working with Liz to identify Stepanov all along.
- "Priya, I miss you already." Same, Reddington, same!
- "Agent Park, I look forward to the day when you are as wise as you are aggressive. Until then, I suggest you protect yourself from further embarrassment by saying nothing." Everyone is so rude to Park, and yes it does make me laugh every time.
(Video courtesy of NBC)