The Blacklist recap: A fugitive once more
On this week's episode of The Blacklist, as Raymond Reddington watches the lifeless body of Katarina Rostova get wrapped up by his team of cleaners, he wonders aloud to Dembe if killing her was a mistake. "You ask a tactical question when I see only an ethical one," Dembe replies. "It wasn't a mistake, but it was wrong." First of all: What a line. Is anyone currently cross-stitching sage Dembe quotes on Etsy? But beyond that, Dembe's distinction between what makes something right or wrong provides a lens through which to take on this rather world-altering episode.
Tactical questions very often have an objective answer — a choice you made either yielded the result you intended, or it didn't. Ethical questions are more subjective — was that result a good one or a bad one? This is, of course, the persistent conflict of The Blacklist itself. The Post Office lets Reddington's ethically questionable decisions slide because their tactical achievements are undeniable. But ooooh, they never like it. And for Liz, Red has now gone one step too far on her ethical scale: He's killed her mother when she explicitly asked him not to. Unfortunately, I am here to tell you that Elizabeth Keen officially doesn't have an ethical or tactical clue what she's doing in this episode.
Liz is big mad that Reddington murdered her (maybe) mom in cold blood… so in return, she's going to murder her (maybe) dad in cold blood. I can't help but feel there's an ethical flaw in that. And Liz's revenge-murder weapon of choice in this episode turns out to be stolen explosives, even thought she probably could have gotten her hands on almost any other weapon that she could have had a little more control over…
And I can't help but feel that's a tactical error. Explosives are the weapon of someone who thinks they have nothing to lose, but as is pointed out to Liz many times throughout this episode, she has a lot to lose: friends she cares about, her freedom of not being in prison for life, her daughter. But if it means getting rid of Reddington, it seems that Elizabeth Keen is prepared to throw ethics and tactics to the wind and simply blow up her whole life.
I wish you could have seen my face when I discovered that this episode's Blacklist title wasn't a person. It wasn't even a place — it was a thing.
The cold open consists of Liz packing up her clothes, her fake passport, and a bunch of cash to hole up in a motel, where she discovers a voicemail from Katarina documenting the final moments before Red killed her. I think if Liz had listened a little closer, she might have some questions about why Katarina sounded positively gleeful saying, "I can't imagine what it must be like for you — knowing you can't kill me because of how much Elizabeth loves her mother." But Liz is too upset to see anything other than the fact that Red did indeed kill her mother, and now she has the evidence to prove it.
Liz marches into the Post Office like she didn't recently commit a casual felony kidnapping of her grandfather and tells Cooper she has the evidence to convict Reddington of murdering Katarina Rostova. But Cooper is kind of like… Liz, we let Reddington murder Blacklisters all the time, plus that lady tried to murder him first, and also she's a known Russian spy who's accused of murdering hundreds of Americans.
"I know what she's done, but none of it justifies her execution," Liz barks. And yet…
She somehow makes the ethical leap that what Reddington has done justifies his execution. Because the next thing we know, Liz is luring Aram away from his desk, stealing one of his requisition forms, getting her hands on the titular 16 ounces of Semtex explosive, and confidently walking out of the Post Office to murder Reddington with it.
It's a quick emotional pivot we're asked to make! We've seen Liz mad at Reddington, we've seen her turn against him, we've seen her try to get him arrested — but I don't think we've ever seen her try to personally end his life. Liz calls Reddington, and for a moment it seems like she might actually be willing to listen to his explanation for killing Katarina, as Cooper has suggested she should. But when Liz arrives at Dom's house to hear Red out and spread Dom's ashes at a nearby lake, we know she has the passenger side door of her car rigged with the explosives… and we know that she then invites Red to ride in her car to the lake.
But before he can open the door and set off the bomb, Red collapses against Liz's car, coughing blood all over the window. Dembe immediately sweeps him away to an actual hospital (as opposed to a warehouspital), and once Cooper arrives to secure Reddington's floor, Liz's hopes of revenge-murdering him are squashed.
That is, until she comes up with a much wilder plan than exploding Reddington in front of all his criminal colleagues. No, now the plan is to explode him in front of all of her FBI colleagues.
I find it both a little sweet and a little sad that Liz goes to Esi — the highly competent private eye she originally hired to investigate Katarina, who Reddington then coerced onto his own team — for help with her murder plan. This is a woman she's spent little time with and has very little reason to trust. But as Liz states over and over in this episode, she needs a few less men in her life telling her they know what's best for her, and perhaps a few more women who will just believe her. Moments like this make me miss Samar (a tactical decision maker if ever there was one) and wish that Liz had more helpful allies in her corner.
Of course, I also wish Liz were a better judge of character, and that she hadn't made false promises to Essie that are likely to get her killed. But here we are.
Liz convinces Esi to help her kill by Reddington by telling her that Reddington will probably eventually kill her, so Esi might as well get there first. The plan is basically to create chaos inside Reddington's secure hospital wing in order to make it just unsecure enough for Esi to plant the bomb in Reddington's bed. First Liz calls in a tip to the U.S. Marshals that known fugitive Raymond Reddington is in the hospital. That creates a sufficient distraction for agents Cooper, Ressler, and Park, who have to explain why, as FBI agents, they're preventing these marshals from arresting the No. 1 person on their own most-wanted list.
As for Reddington's security team, Liz says they just need to tell them the truth. Esi arrives at the hospital with an urgent message: Elizabeth Keen is trying to murder Raymond Reddington. Red's security let Esi into Red's hospital room, where she tells Dembe that Liz showed up at her door talking about how Red killed her mother so now she's going to kill him, and Esi told Liz she'd find out what room he was in. Dembe has Esi call Liz and tell her the room number, so that Liz will reply with her own location: the hospital's east stairwell.
But Liz isn't in the east stairwell when Dembe and Red's other guards rush to find her. And Esi is left alone in the room with Reddington. Now, if I were a murderin' rogue FBI agent trying to kill my (maybe) dad because he killed my (maybe) mom, and I had one chance to do it, I might choose smothering this already unconscious man with a pillow, or shooting him with a silencer, or almost anything other than strapping a bomb to his bed…
But that's what Liz has instructed Esi to do, so she straps the bomb on and scurries on out of there to text Liz that it's in place… right as Ressler and a handful of nurses arrive in Red's room to check on him.
Why Liz thought she could be sure Red would be alone when she detonated the personal pan pizza of bombs, I have no idea. But he most certainly is not. When the bomb starts beeping a few seconds after Esi leaves the room, Ressler throws a chair through the hospital window and chucks the bomb as hard as he can into the sky.
And then we don't see him again for two more scenes!!! But when we do, Ressler is fine — and shirtless, which is a different kind of fine — and Liz is desperate to find out what happened, given that Esi arrived back at the hotel saying that Liz's "agent friend" showed up just as she was leaving. Liz calls Aram, who tells Liz that he knows she took his requisition form, and thanks to her he's now under investigation as a co-conspirator to attempted murder. "Did you say attempted?" Liz chokes out, realizing her plan failed. She begs to know if Ressler is okay, but Aram says he won't bear witness to her crime. He pauses, then tells her that the next time he sees her, she'll be under arrest.
To which I say: daaaamn. And good for you, Aram!
Liz's next call is to Reddington, who is not only alive but now conscious. She says that he told her to think like a criminal, and now she is one, and she's coming for him. Liz says that Red is old, he's sick, and she has one more ace in her back pocket that trumps all his many assets: "I'm willing to kill you, but you don't have it in you to kill me, and you never will — that's why I'm gonna win." Liz hangs up with Red and assures Esi that they can stay one step ahead of Reddington and the FBI, because she's learned how to do it from the man himself.
This declaration about staying one step ahead, of course, follows two failed murder attempts that have put one of Liz's best friends on the line for attempted murder and nearly gotten her other best friend killed, and that's without Red even running conscious interference on them. So Esi must be feeling very confident. And then Liz shows up at Ressler's apartment door with her big, trembling eyes, telling him how upset she was when she nearly killed him and asking for one night of rest before he has to start chasing her and she has to start running — and he lets her in! This lady has some nerve, and some luck.
The episode ends with Reddington and Cooper coming together to once again assess how they have to protect Elizabeth from herself. Cooper asks how they should start, and Reddington solemnly responds: "By putting Elizabeth Keen at the top of the Blacklist." And I get this from a dramatic point of view. But from a praaaaaactical (and dare I say, tactical) point of view…
What if we just told her the truth now?! If Red's two reasons for not telling Elizabeth the whole truth are that she'd never forgive him and that knowing the truth would endanger her… those ships have sailed. Liz is actively trying to murder Reddington, somewhat inactively abandoning her daughter, and definitely about to end up in jail for life.
And so it is my greatest hope that by putting Elizabeth Keen at the top of the Blacklist, it will means she's so dangerous that she may actually be entitled to learning a few family secrets — and therefore, so can we.
A FEW LOOSE ENDS
- "I'm here to take the top fugitive from your most-wanted list into custody, is that a problem?" "It's… complicated." This was a very good Cooper episode.
- On that note, Cooper telling Liz, "I won't be lectured by you on professional ethics," really cracked me up. Even before stealing explosives from the FBI and almost murdering one of her co-workers with them, Liz has committed, like, 100 crimes.
- Re: those explosives: I saw a man hand Liz what looked like a little red square of Play-Doh, and the next thing we knew, it had been fashioned into a full-on bomb. When did Liz learn how to make bombs???
- "You saved Reddington's life." "Is that a compliment or a criticism?" Also a good Ressler episode!
See you back here next week to find out what it looks like when Elizabeth Keen is a fugitive, but this time with an alarming willingness to murder.
James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington, a mastermind criminal who teams up with the FBI.