The Blacklist recap: Save Elizabeth, save the world
For a Blacklist episode that opened up with such energy — and perhaps the smuggest Blacklister to ever grace our screens (and damn those turtlenecks for making me still raise a li'l eyebrow at him) — things ultimately got real dark, real fast. We're talking the death of three characters we had come to know and Liz had come to love, plus finally reckoning with the question that's been kicking around the edges of this entire season: Can Elizabeth Keen be saved?
And at this point, with a madman putting a bounty on her head, most of her allies dead or working against her, a rap sheet a mile long, and every bridge burned at the FBI… what might salvation even look like for Elizabeth Keen?
Cooper thinks it's rehabilitating Liz through the proper legal channels any other fugitive would be put through. Reddington thinks it's bringing her into the crime lord life full-time. And Liz… well, Liz seems to think that she probably passed the point of no return a long time ago. "I used to believe in salvation, that good was rewarded and evil punished," she says while sitting next to her murdered half-sister in the back seat of a car she stole while on the run from a hitman. We soon realize that this is her last-ditch effort at a prayer to an unknown god: "I don't believe that anymore… but if there is a next life, and you do exist, please take care of my sister."
As the camera pans from body to body in the episode's final scene — all people killed because of their connection to Elizabeth Keen — it's hard not to agree with Liz that a brand-new life might be the only way to escape the rubble of a current life that threatens to overtake her more and more everyday…
And yet, if you can put aside all the existential crisis, and murder, and that bit when Liz gets dragged off screaming in handcuffs, this episode is pretty fun! Thanks mostly in part to a sassy Blacklister with a penchant for turtlenecks and telling off his boss…
THE PROTEAN, NO. 36
Of course, his criminal schtick is nothing new: The Protean steals the identities of the recently deceased to avoid being traced while he carries out his many, many hitman crimes. Townsend has hired the Protean to capture (but not kill — that has to happen in front of Reddington) Liz, who is currently hiding out with her team in an apartment in D.C. after escaping her last run-in with Townsend, and the writers waste no time in the Protean discovering said hideout. We don't even see his process! We just see him getting his thumbprints all over a few Polaroids of Liz and her team, and then the next thing we know he's sliding the lock open on Liz's safe house and shooting Skip, Esi, and Liz's bodyguard Jax in cold blood.
It's incredibly violent and tragic, but Esi and Skip do at least get one final moment to display their true character: Skip is smarmy yet loyal even in his last breath, and Esi is a badass, flying out of the kitchen to tackle the Protean, even after being shot in the chest. Unfortunately, Esi is eventually overpowered, and when Liz returns from her rooftop phone call with Cooper, in which he informed her that Reddington has hidden away Ivan Stepanov and all the answers he holds, she discovers her entire team dead on the floor.
Reddington has already worked out that Townsend hired the Protean, and teams up with Glen's mom, Paula, and her unique charms in order to call every white man who crossed through U.S. customs in the last 48 hours whose identity the Protean may have assumed — unfortunately, the Protean works faster than the Maryland Bingo League. In no time, he's tracked down Sweet Spy Baby Agnes, whose multiple handlers Liz has already notified to be on red alert. One of them takes her out of school right as the Protean arrives to… well, I don't even want to think about what he was going to do. Especially considering the fate of his next target: Liz's half-sister, Jennifer Reddington.
Jennifer calls Liz crying, saying she can tell someone broke into her house and she assumes it has something to do with Reddington. But as the camera zooms out, we see that the Protean has her at gunpoint, and has been listening while Liz tells her where to meet her that night so she can give Liz the Reddington update (y'know, that Reddington shot her [alleged] mom, so she teamed up with the man who formerly hunted her [alleged] mom for 30 years in order to bring Reddington down together, but now that man has turned on her and plans to hunt her for the next 30 years, or until he feels avenged for his family's murder that he mysteriously now blames her for, whichever comes first).
But there's simply no time to get that update, because when Jennifer spots Liz at their meeting spot, she dives into her car and tells her to drive, at which point Liz spies the Protean with a gun trained on her. He shoots as she drives away, and Liz soon realizes that Jennifer's been hit. Never a particularly affectionate long-lost half-sister, Jennifer ponders what she ever did to deserve this, and then she realizes: "I did something… I was your sister." Ouch! But also true — if Liz doesn't feel like she's an actual harbinger of death by the end of this episode, then she is made of Teflon.
Liz lays Jennifer to rest in the back of a stolen Subaru Outback with the aforementioned prayer (Esi and Skip get a shout-out too), and she calls Ressler to send a team to retrieve her sister's body…
At which point Ressler informs Liz that the Protean saw the tags on the outback and knows the address of the house she's been squatting in, the house she's in at that very moment. But just when we think Liz is about to get got, she gets. While the Protean is on the phone with a livid Townsend, calmly telling him exactly where he can stick his timelines because he'll have Elizabeth Keen tied up in a bow by day's end, Liz comes up behind him, points a gun at his head, and tells him to get back in his car because he's going to tell her everything she wants to know about Townsend.
Unfortunately for Liz, that's the moment FBI shows up. Suddenly Ressler, Aram, and Park all have their guns trained on Keen, and it's a very unnerving visual! Especially because Keen isn't backing down. She won't take her gun off the Protean and is screaming that she has to get the answers she's looking for!
To be fair, following the death of three subordinates and a half-sister in an effort to get to her, and with the guarantee that her daughter will surely be next on the list, it's understandable that Liz has come a bit undone. But it's still hard to see. In the end, the Protean tries to wrestle the gun away from Liz, Ressler shoots him dead, and Liz's former co-workers place her under arrest. As they slap the handcuffs on and she sobs over yet another lost chance at answers, Cooper calls Reddington to let him know Liz is in custody and "safe." To which Reddington replies, "I'm the only one who can save her."
A pretty common refrain from our guy, and one that I can't help but feel if Red had let up on a little earlier, perhaps we wouldn't be dealing with the Townsend Initiative 2.0 (this one for Masha Rostova). And yet at this point I know he must be right: Liz will never be an agent again, and the systems Cooper believes in will never rehabilitate her if she remains the target of people like Townsend.
But Elizabeth Keen isn't a lost cause yet. She can't be — we still have three episodes left in season 8.
A FEW LOOSE ENDS
- Coupla Agnes Qs: Are we to understand that she's still in grave danger, given that the Protean found her but didn't stay alive long enough to do anything about it? There were a loooot of close-ups on her adorable face.
- And secondly, did Mrs. French move to D.C. to become Agnes' full-time nanny? I just assumed they were doing Madeline cosplay in Paris this whole time?!
- It really is sad to watch Liz lose so many people she cares about… but in the immediate aftermath of her team's deaths, when she was walking down the sidewalk trying to wipe away her tears, I couldn't help but think of the John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch masterpiece "I Saw a White Lady Standing on the Street Just Sobbing (And I Think About It Once a Week)."
- A reeeeeal interesting aside from Reddington after Dembe scoffs at the concept of a creature of habit: "My colleague finds my increasing attachment to certain habits to be a distinct liability since, in my line of work, predictability and mortality often go hand-in-hand." Which habits is Red having a continued attachment to these days, hmmm?
- Paula's thoughts on Reddington: "I think you're a good egg. A bit poached for my taste, but you want to do what's right, and I'm tickled to carry on the family tradition of helping you get it done." Marylouise Burke playing Glen's mom is simply perfect casting.
(Video courtesy of NBC)
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.